Combining Bertolt Brecht, Leiber & Stoller, punk, and disco into a distinctive brew that parodied and questioned '80s excess, Cristina's acerbic wit made her a revered cult figure even though she only released two albums. Born to an American writer and illustrator and a French neo-Freudian psychoanalyst, Cristina Monet Palaci had a culturally literate childhood that led to studies at Harvard and a stint as a theater writer for The Village Voice. While writing for the alt-weekly in 1978, she met and began dating Michael Zilkha, co-founder of the eclectic record label ZE with Michel Esteban and an Oxford graduate whose family owned the British retailer Mothercare.
Cristina began her musical career that summer with one of the label's first projects, "Disco Clone," a single written by one of her Harvard classmates. Intended to capitalize on the disco craze, the John Cale-produced track marked her inaugural collaboration with songwriter/arranger August Darnell (aka Kid Creole). It became a cult hit that led to several more singles, including a reworked "Disco Clone" featuring an uncredited Kevin Kline, a synth pop cover of the Beatles' "Drive My Car," and a version of Leiber & Stoller's world-weary "Is That All There Is?" with new lyrics by Cristina that were so provocative that the songwriting duo was granted an injunction against further sales of it in 1980. That year also saw the release of Cristina's self-titled debut album, which was produced by Darnell and mixed Latin beats and cinematic imagery with disco.
She followed it with "Things Fall Apart," an eerie holiday single that appeared on ZE's 1981 Christmas Record. For her second album, 1984's Sleep It Off, Cristina worked with producer Don Was in his Detroit studio. Joined by the Knack's Doug Frieder and Barry Reynolds and Ben Brierley of Marianne Faithfull's band, she put her own playfully jaded spin on John Conlee's "She Can't Say That Anymore," Van Morrison's "Blue Money," and The Threepenny Opera's "Ballad of Immoral Earnings" as well as original tunes such as "He Dines Out on Death" and "What's a Girl to Do?," which she later described as her anthem. Sleep It Off earned critical acclaim but not sales, and Cristina retired from music.
After starting a family with Zilkha and moving to Texas, Cristina divorced him and moved back to New York to focus on writing essays and reviews. She came out of retirement briefly in 2004 to contribute vocals to "Urgent Anxious," a collaboration with Ursula 1000 that was released in 2006. Also in 2004, Sleep It Off and her first album -- rechristened Doll in a Box -- were reissued by ZE with bonus tracks. ~ Heather Phares