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'Latkes, Schmatkes' Gives Christmas Music the Boot

NPR remembers 'The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey' after all.

Lauren Mayer caught a lucky break. She got dissed on NPR.

While chatting with host Liane Hanson on Weekend Edition, music scholar Philip Brunelle singled out Mayers’ “The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey” as a prime example of a holiday song no one will remember, and for good reason.

How big is the audience for Weekend Edition?

“I became an overnight sensation after 30 years," said the San Mateo singer/songwriter. She was besieged with phone calls from old friends and new acquaintances. Hanson even invited her back for a tete-a-tete in the studio.

An energized Mayers has released a CD featuring mostly new holiday songs. Chanukah songs.  “Latkes, Schmatkes” features the light-hearted (“Fruitcake”), the truly sweet (“Chanukah Shalom), and the downright crabby (“I Hate Holiday Music”), delivered in a voice that belongs to musical theater.

Unlike Tom Lehrer, whose word play delighted in “Having Chanukah in Santa Monica,” Mayers is unapologetically edgy.

She puts a fine point on the pressure Jews face each December to transform Chanukah into “the Jewish Christmas,” which it’s not (Chanukah is not a major holiday on the Jewish calendar, and if it had to be compared to a Western holiday, it would probably be closer to the Fourth of July -- a couple thousand years from now).

The enduring Band-Aid hit, “Don’t They Know It’s Christmas Time at All?” gets a do-over as “Don’t They Know Not Everyone Does Christmas?” replete with chiming bells (“…And there won’t be decorations up on my house/I won’t compensate with lights of white and blue”). In "How Does Santa Know," a child ponders how Santa Claus knows whose chimneys to avoid.

Her sons David Visini, 18, Ben Visini, 15, make a cameo appearance as Dr. Dreidel, and MC Menorrah.

She started piano at 3, and became a singer/songwriter because “I wasn’t good enough to be a concert pianist, and I don’t have thick enough skin to be a lawyer.” She ended a five-year love affair with New York to come to the Bay Area (“I joke that I came to San Francisco to meet straight men”).

A veteran of the San Francisco cabaret scene, she works as a vocal coach, in schools and community music, and performs comedy ditties at corporate events. Her husband, Scott Grinthal, sings at St. Agnes Catholic Church. In many ways she misses the city, but San Mateo is a better fit for a family, she said.

YouTube fans may remember Hanson from a Sarah Palin look-alike contest in which she sang “Thank God I’m a Hockey Mom,” while mugging with a stuffed moose.

She’s written some Christmas tunes herself – “I’m like one of those Jewish songwriters who writes Christmas songs, like Irving Berlin.”  

But there's no dearth of Christmas music between the round-the-clock recordings that play in stores, and new artists releasing Christmas albums each year, she said. She opted to head home for lyrical ideas.

“I’m an angry Jewish woman,” she said contentedly.

“Latkes, Schmatkes” is available on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Learn more about Lauren Mayer at www.LaurenMayer.com.

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