The Spirit of Christmas, or better Jesus vs Frosty, was a short film of about four minutes, composed in 1992 by two students from the University of Colorado: Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They used construction paper, glue, an old 8-millimeter camera and a little patience to animate those spartan puppets. Everything was still in embryonic form: some fans of the cartoon would be shocked today to discover that the character that today we call Eric Cartman was originally named “Kenny”. The short movie was reworked many times in the following months, then a copy of the VHS was sent to a musician: Les Claypool, bassist and leader of the crossover band Primus.
We are at the beginning of 1997 and Les is living a moment of transition with his band. He just released the gloomy Brown Album, a rough and groovy album but a bit distant from the typical sound of the band, also because of the arrival of Brian “Brain” Mantra, a drummer much more in the style of Led Zeppelin. For the first time in their career, Primus are not selling more than their previous record. Their label, Interscope, however, is sympathetic with their situation, Claypool and associates had built a reputation of weird, crazy act in the American Alternative Music. Funny, bizarre and not very politically correct.
All this matched perfectly with the ideas of Parker and Stone, the authors of the short movie. The intention of the two is to create a tv show even more desecrating than The Simpsons. Stone fell in love with Primus in 1990, at a festival where the band also performed Pink Floyd covers, and the day after he purchased Frizzle Fry. But several years will pass before their roads would cross. Les received the VHS as a proposal of inspiration for the main theme of the show. He is impressed, he approves the mood of the episode, but, like his two colleagues, he wonders how a series like that will manage to get aired.
Meanwhile, the bassist got in touch online with the two designers, asking more about the theme that they commissioned him. The answer is pretty evasive: “Well, the show talks about this little quiet town over the mountains where nothing happens.” Just few words, but for Claypool they are enough, he realizes a session with Lalonde and Mantra, recording the theme already at the first take and sending it to them immediately. Parker and Stone are surprised by the speed and the affinity that the band shows with the original idea: the song is just fine.
There is only one small detail: the song is too long for the usage as a opening theme. In order to avoid further headaches, they decide to take just a part of it and speed it up. The effect is exactly what they want but, in doing so, Claypool’s voice sounds a bit like Alvin Superstar. So they decide to involve again the the band for last improvement: the vocal part, sung with the right speed and adapted to what they did.
It was last piece of a collaboration that will make history. Later on the drummer Mantra, in the band’s biography, will say that the theme is the greatest source of royalties of his entire career. A 5-minute composition that did better than months of work in the studio. A funny “happening” that the creators of the show completed by inserting Les Claypool in the intro of the series, in that recognizable pose while he duets with the protagonists of the show and Lalonde plays that funky lick that came out so perfect: cartoony like he wanted already during the recordings.
With the following seasons the opening titles will change and the song will get several remixes, including a funny mash-up with Whamola, a song by Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. But probably nothing will match the freshness of the original. It worked perfectly because it was born like that, spontaneous and freaky like the whole series.