AS A first-strike salvo in the warm spirit of the season of commercialism, David DeBoy brings greetings. This is the 20th year since he first launched his tender ballad, "Crabs for Christmas," on an unsuspecting public. Now he's come back, tongue still firmly as ever in cheek, with a new CD called "Crabs for Christmas for Twenty Years," because if he doesn't mark the anniversary, who will?
"It's a regular Bawlmer smorgasborg," says Arbutus-born DeBoy, 49, going for the full Upper Chesapeake Adenoidal pronunciation. "Actually, I think I dated one of the Smorgasborgs."
Twenty years ago, on a whim, DeBoy wrote and recorded "Crabs for Christmas" - the lament of a Baltimore guy far from home, asking for the impossible gift of steamed crabs from a Santa who's run out of miracles - and it sold 10,000 copies in about a month. Since then, it's become a seasonal favorite for local radio stations - "which some propose has contributed to the city's population decline," says DeBoy.
In fact, the new collection's a wink at the city, with sentimental yearnings between the lines. Take "Christmas on the Stoop":
The sound of jingle bells everywhere
The smell of sauerkraut in the air
Mom's puttin' holly in her beehive hair
It's Christmas on the stoop.
We scrubbed the marble till it's shiny clean
We threw the pumpkin out from Halloween
And painted Wise Men on the front-door screen.
It's Christmas on the stoop.
Take that, Irving Berlin.
DeBoy's worked the edges of show business for much of his adult life. Or, as he puts it - jokingly! - "I've been making money as an actor and a writer longer than I've told the IRS."
After graduating from Woodlawn High and the old Towson State College, he acted in local theater and later had minor roles in John Waters' Cry-Baby and Barry Levinson's Tin Men and Homicide: Life on the Streets. He served as host of a couple of children's shows on WBAL-TV and was a regular on the Maryland Public Television comedy series, Crabs.
He wrote a few plays for local dinner theaters, won a couple of regional Emmy awards for television scripting, and did the book for a musical review, Doctor! Doctor!, which premiered off-Broadway.
"How would I describe it?" DeBoy said the other day. "Uh, a failure. It ran for about 12 minutes."
Primarily, he supports himself as an actor and writer in commercials, industrial films, corporate writing and directing, and some National Geographic voice-overs.
Plus, naturally, the new CD, available at most local music stores, with a dozen DeBoy songs of the season, such as the nostalgic "O, Little Town of Baltimore," where he reminisces about vanished pleasures:
O, little town of Baltimore
What pleasures you did bring
Like Hochschild Kohn
And the Colts end zone
And Haussner's big ball of string.
Plus such ditties as "Aluminum Christmas Tree," "Downey Ocean," "The Flegman Family Christmas Letter," and "The Night Before Christmas in Baltimore," with the immortal lines describing when St. Nick appears:
His face was real round with a jiggly jowl
In the glow from the tree lights
He looked just like Boog Powell.
Pure Bawlmer no?
"Plus, pure commercialism at its finest," says DeBoy, who's posed on the cover of the CD with his wife JoEllen and their three kids. "Originally, I just wanted to play around in a recording studio. I did a few jingles, and it was fun. Then I thought, why not do something with a local angle and get some Baltimore people to listen to it? And I thought, what's more local than crabs?"
But to hear DeBoy, he found himself unexpectedly moved by something else: a desire to communicate in the Bawlmer accent once prevalent in so many neighborhoods but now, as DeBoy hears it, beginning to fade not only from our ears but our memories.
"We've gotten much more cosmopolitan," he says, "and the accent's starting to disappear. This scares me. So, for the anniversary album, it felt like I was setting in stone some of the old memories and sounds. I grew up with those things, and I'm fond of them.
"There are people we grew up with who are slipping away. So, yeah, it's all in good fun. But it's also an audio scrapbook of things fondly recalled."
Such as, in "Christmas on the Stoop," where DeBoy recalls:
Mom served hot toddies so you're feelin' fine
And put a candle in the Elvis shrine ...
Friends, that's real Bawlmer.