Fellow vinyl enthusiasts well know that joyful rush that comes only when you finally track down a particular record you've been looking for since forever, and manage to find it at a fraction of the cost you should have paid for it. It doesn't happen often, but we who spend hours digging through crates of $1 and $2 vinyl in thrift shops, junk shops, and record conventions, or who stay up all night doing web searches with slight misspellings hoping to find that orphaned eBay listing where the seller mistakenly put his "Misftis" singles up for auction at a 99-cent starting bid, do occasionally uncover a gem or two among the endless boxes of crap.
I got that rush last week. After years and years of searching and passing up on copies with three-digit price tags, I finally snagged a copy of Cristina's impossibly rare 12-inch single "Is That All There Is?" Thanks to an eBay gift card hanging around from Christmas, my out of pocket cost was under $10 for a piece of New Wave vinyl that often fetches fifteen times as much!
In the late-'70s New York underground scene, the violent, atonal No-Wave blurtings of groups like Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and The Contortions were evolving into the much more melodic "mutant disco" scene. The skronky horns and flat, off-key vocals of No-Wave, melded with Punk Rock nihilism and driven by a mid-tempo 4/4 beat, were wrapped in the trappings of the Studio 54 scene to create a sound and image that was at once too polished and danceable for the scruffy CBGB's crowd and too artistic and intelligent for the Disco crowd. Of course, the artists making this music wished to be part of neither crowd, often ignoring the punks and viciously skewering the club set.
Onto this stage stepped Cristina (born Cristina Monet), a 23-year-old Harvard dropout with a moneyed pedigree, a razor-sharp wit, and a perfectly affected persona for the scene: she was alienated, condescending, and icy. She was gorgeous and unattainable, and oh-so-bored with everything. Her biography on the Ze Records website notes Richard Strange's spot-on assessment of her: "In a sassier, zestier, brighter, funnier world, Cristina would have been Madonna."
She entered the music business by marrying Michael Zilkha, who would shortly thereafter found Ze Records. Her first musical foray (also Ze's first release as a label) was an incredibly biting, sarcastic single, "Disco Clone," which featured additional vocals by an uncredited and then relatively unknown Kevin Kline. Her next single would seal her status as a New Wave legend: a take on Peggy Lee's 1969 hit "Is That All There Is?" that viciously ripped the entire New York club scene to shreds and so appalled the song's writers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, as to have them bring about a lawsuit to have the record withdrawn within weeks of its release and all unsold copies destroyed.
Cristina had rewritten the lyrics of the song to update it a bit, describing the "bored-looking bankers dancing with beautiful models" and "boys with dyed hair and spandex t-shirts dancing with each other" that populated NYC nightlife, and declaring her love for "James" who "beat [her] black and blue," but she would still "kill for that guy." On her final turn through the chorus, she changed the line "let's bring out the booze and have a ball" to "let's bring out the 'ludes and have a ball." It was all too scandalous for 1980, and the record was yanked despite being one of the most requested singles on legendary Los Angeles radio station KROQ. Despite the controversy and the record being pulled, the song was included on the first Rodney On The ROQ compilation album (noted only as "Surprise!" on the record label), which was the only place it could be found for many years.
A couple more singles followed, along with two outstanding albums. Her 1980 debut lp, Cristina, was written and produced by August Darnell and Coati Mundi (both founding members of Kid Creole & the Coconuts); four years later she enlisted Don Was of Was (Not Was) to produce the incredible Sleep It Off (and co-wrote that albums stunning single, "Ticket To The Tropics," with Doug Fieger of The Knack)...and then she quit.
Both albums were reissued on CD in 2004, with Cristina being retitled Doll In The Box and including the early singles - including the much sought after "Is That All There Is?" However, both CDs have since gone out of print and now fetch a pretty penny themselves, although the music can be downloaded at much more reasonable prices from Amazon.com.
But, since I finally found an original vinyl copy of the "Is That All There Is?" single at a bargain price, I have chosen it to be this week's NW4NW entry. No video clip was ever made, of course, but a fan kindly posted a clip with the cover art and lyrics on YouTube for us to enjoy. Cristina did make a promo clip for 1984's "Ticket To The Tropics," which I have seen exactly once in my life and cannot be found online anywhere to my knowledge...oh how I would LOVE to see that one again. As a bonus, however, I'm including an audio-only clip of that wonderful song as well. See how long it takes you to figure out what she's really singing about...