In an era before Aguil-era, the only Christina worth mentioning was Cristina Monet. Her connections were impeccable: the great grandniece of the painter Claude Monet; a wealthy, socialite who, as a child, was babysat by Basil Rathbone, the quintessential Sherlock Holmes; a woman who married the heir to the Mothercare empire who also just happened to be starting up his own record company with a trust fund. That man was Michael Zilkha and the record company he founded was ZE Records, probably the hippest record company on the planet in the early 1980s. Cristina’s first record, ‘Disco Clone’, was produced by John Cale; her second, ‘Is That All There Is’, by August Darnell (aka Kid Creole) and ‘Things Fall Apart’ was produced by Was (Not Was). ‘Is That All There Is’ pointed the way to ‘Things Fall Apart’: it was a brilliant re-imagining of the Peggy Lee nihilistic, classic, suicide song complete with the sound of crashing glass and reliance on alcohol to obliterate reality.
‘Things Fall Apart’ is another lyrically desolate but entirely groovy punk funk classic about mental disintegration and the way in which this is accentuated at Christmas. The song starts with tinkling Christmas bells and piano before a classic, ferocious guitar riff is unleashed. Once heard, never forgotten, it dominates the musical framework over which Christina raps the verses and sings the chorus in a dead eyed monotone entirely in keeping with the lyrical content and a mind strung out on despair and drugs. The darkness inherent in the refrain, “Good morning, midnight. It’s Christmas,” is reinforced by the chorus, “Things fall apart / But they never leave my heart.” From the opening line, “My mother said I’m a survivor,” through the trimming of “the cactus with my earrings that we’d meant to pawn”, to the desertion of the boyfriend, this is a brutal world Cristina is presenting to us but one which also has moments of beautiful, lyrical imagery: ” They killed a tree of ninety seven years and smothered it in lights and silver tears.” The end of the song finds Cristina at a Christmas party where, ” They all got wrecked, they laughed too loud / I started to feel queasy in the crowd.” There are then two alternative endings to this song. The versions posted on YouTube differ from my 12″ single. On the YouTube version, we are told “I caught a cab back to my flat / And wept a bit and fed the cat,” which lends a sense of bathos to the song which doesn’t quite work for me. On my record the final line is, “I caught a cab and went back home / Alone again alone.” The pathos and loss in this line is a far better conclusion, its bleakness entirely suited to the sense of loneliness Christmas can engender.
With The Waitresses’ ‘Christmas Wrapping’ appearing around the same time, New York seems to have suffered a blizzard of anti-Christmas songs. Unfortunately, just as Times Square was sanitised for public consumption, it would seem Christmas has become safe again for the general public who don’t want to be reminded of their mental frailty and how easy it is for things to fall apart. Cristina will always be there to remind us.