Robert Earl Keen's "Christmas" Present That Keeps Right On Regifting
For many people, the Christmas spirit fades as soon as the last trash bag bulging with wrapping paper hits the curb. Texas singer-songwriter emeritus Robert Earl Keen is counting on goodwill toward men lasting at least through the end of his "Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee" tour that stops at House of Blues Thursday night.
Photos courtesy of Insight Mgt
The Sharpstown native, now 56, has already based a 2005 book on his Stop N' Go-catered celebration of Christmas at the trailer park. This year Keen is fully capitalizing on his self-proclaimed role as the "Jimmy Buffett of December" by throwing open the doors of his enduring 1994 tune "Merry Christmas from the Family" to the audience.
Thus Keen's stage design could include any of the following items: A can of fake snow, Pampers, tampons, Diet Rite cola, bean dip, celery and a crucial extension cord. (Fun fact: Diet Rite still exists, under the Dr Pepper umbrella.)
"We're bringing in the Christmas spirit," Keen promises from his home in Kerrville. "For any of those people who haven't been knocked over the head yet and don't feel in the Christmas spirit, you come to this show and you will definitely feel in the Christmas spirit. The other thing I want to say is that if you missed The Nutcracker, we're perfect for you."
Other than that, Keen says his 2012 has gone "swimmingly."
"I'm in the third decade of doing this, and it's surprising that I can continue to do it and get new crowds, and everybody in the band is rockin' along," he says. "I don't know -- I'm pretty amazed we've been able to fool 'em this long."
Robert Earl Keen: I really look forward to it. From the time way back that "Merry Christmas from the Family" caught on fire, we've always been sought-after. We have lots of offers in December to play a lot of shows, so I don't know. It seems to work for me somehow.
I [would] get a little worn out thinking about, "What am I supposed to do for Christmas?", and I don't have to do that anymore. It's like my song "The Road Goes On Forever." I don't have to play "Free Bird."
RO: Because you're working so much around Christmas, do you ever find it difficult to do some more family-type things?
REK: Yeah, that's probably the biggest drawback. I don't do as much with my family as I probably should. However, here's the other thing: I don't have a great big family anymore. A lot of people have either moved on or passed away, and it's my wife and my kids, and everybody else is either too far or they don't exist anymore. So I get in some pretty good time with them, and that's what's important to me.
RO: How based in reality is this song?
REK: One hundred percent. It was in November, and I was sitting around, and I was inundated with Christmas songs. The whole mall and grocery store thing was saturated with Christmas songs, just like it is now. I knew all the standards, and I knew all the words, so I could sing them along with anybody else and that kind of deal. And then it really became painfully apparent that I had no connection with chestnuts on an open fire, or sleigh bells of any kind.
I realized that other than maybe the more religious ones, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" or something, I really thought it was like singing some kind of jabberwocky lyrics because I didn't have any idea what any of those things were. I was hanging out, doing my writing thing, and I thought, "I need a song that I can grab onto," and I truly wrote this just for me, just to amuse myself in between trying to write quote-unquote "serious songs."
When I was playing all the songs for the guy who was producing the record at the time, I said, "Oh yeah, and I wrote this song," and he went, "That's brilliant." It turned out every time I'd play it everybody would either fall down laughing or tell me their family story and stuff like that. It's one of those songs that social scientists say has "stick."