I’m almost positive I’ve relayed this story at the site before, but since it fits so well with what we’re about to discuss, I’ll tell it again:
In early 1996, I was dating a girl — we’ll call her the Voluptuous Redhead — whose huge, um, tracts of land were dwarfed only by her solid religious convictions. Though I’ve been a fairly unrepentant heathen for most of my life, I was raised among religious people, and can play along when it’s called for (and in my early 20s, the heaving bosom of a young lady still constituted “called for”) — which is how I found myself, despite some rather profound misgivings, at a Jars of Clay/Michael W. Smith concert.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m relatively familiar with the pop/CCM crossover army of the ’80s and early ’90s, have spent my fair share of time listening to Smith and Amy Grant, and I actually enjoyed the first Jars of Clay album. I think Christianity — or at least its various rules and regulations — is pretty silly, but I admire the beliefs at its core, and although a lot of Christian music during that era was bogged down in hokey production, it can be pretty moving if it’s done right. All of which is to say that, in spite of my low expectations for the concert, I went in thinking it would at least be something I could sit through.
I actually ended up leaving before Smith took the stage, after getting so pissed off at a PSA-style video that begged concertgoers to help Smith cure the horrible epidemic of children being born into non-Christian homes (swear to God), but that isn’t why I’m telling this story now. The reason for my flashback is actually what happened during Jars of Clay’s opening set — specifically, the way the band repeatedly exhorted the crowd to “show people that Christians can rock out too!”
Can Christians rock out too? Absolutely. Christians can do just about anything (except entertain me — I keed, I keed!). But there’s something about that kind of defensively exuberant declaration that instantly makes it sound like you’re either a liar or desperately unconvinced of what you’re saying, isn’t there? It’s kind of like me getting up every day and publishing a column that says “Hey, guys! Let’s show the world that people who live in New Hampshire know how to use the Internet!” I mean, is there any better way to convince someone of a stereotype’s roots in the truth? And it didn’t help that the Jars singer looked and sounded like the kind of guy who spent his teen years frantically avoiding wedgies; really, he made Mikey Walsh sound like Vince Lombardi. I’m not kidding when I say that, since that night, I’ve never been able to listen to the band’s music without squirming.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the music of Christian rock parody band ApologetiX — specificially, their 1999 album Biblical Graffiti, which that bastard Jason Hare sent me last week in a .zip file helpfully marked “Earmageddon.”
Yes, you read that right: ApologetiX is a Christian parody band — according to their Wikipedia page, they see themselves as “a cross between ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and Billy Graham” — and I have now spent more than two hours of my life listening to one of their 12 (twelve!) studio albums. Biblical Graffiti, released in 1999, contains a walloping 22 pop hits given a Biblical kick in the nuts, from the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” (done here as “One Way,” and containing the line “Chiggity-China, the Chinese Christian”) to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” (“Enter Samson,” sigh). I’ve listened to each of these songs at least twice now, and when I wasn’t picturing myself beheading Jason with a copy of the CD, I was flashing back to that night at the Jars of Clay concert. These songs may cover a pretty wide spectrum of Top 40 history, but to me, they all sound like one long cry of “Let’s show people that Christians can be hip and funny too!”
I feel it’s important to stop here and acknowledge the rich Earmageddon tradition, which has, for the most part, confined itself to the outsider fringes — the dwelling place of Wing, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Lou Reed — and point out that, in the context of those other acts, ApologetiX is pretty good, or at least something close to actual music, and from a certain point of view, it’s hard not to give them at least partial credit for simple, blessed competence. But on the other hand, it’s just as hard not to hate them for turning what must have been years of music lessons into the ZZ Top parody “Smart Blest Man.”
Based on the sheer number of albums they’ve produced, as well as the rueful affirmations of more CCM-savvy friends, I’ve deduced that ApologetiX is a fairly successful band, but I haven’t been able to figure out why. These songs don’t work as cleaned-up versions of secular hits (what I like to call the “Mormon movie theater effect“) because the band tends to choose targets that were already pretty innocuous (Bryan Adams, the Police, and Fastball are a few of the acts that go to Bible school on this album), and they don’t work as parodies because they’re not funny. What, you need some examples? Fine:
In Armageddon Valley someday (someday)
Christ’s returning in the air
Rows of thousands that have that have called His name
And no one seems too scared –“Armageddon Valley Someday” (a.k.a. “Pleasant Valley Sunday”)
Bringin’ all the world together one day
Then saying that he’s God Almighty next day
Oh, but you fell for all his tricks
By listenin’ to 666
God’s not who he is you’ll see tomorrow –“Revelation Man” (a.k.a. “Secret Agent Man”)
I wanna put your name down in my will, in my will,
I wanna give you a crown, and I will, and I will.
I wanna save your whole planet, yeah, I wanna save your whole planet,
Yeah, yeah, and I will, I will –“Put You in My Will” (a.k.a. Matchbox 20’s “Push”)
So don’t delay, act now! Your time is runnin’ out!
By now I’m sure you’ve surmised — There’s two places to arrive
And if you follow the way you’ll have no sorrow, but if
The offer’s shunned, you might as well be droppin’ on the sun –“Droppin’ on the Sun” (a.k.a. Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun”) (download)
Do you see what I just wrote up there? Do you see it? I’ve listened to a Christian parody of a Smash Mouth song. Which means that even if every other song on Biblical Graffiti was a spot-on hysterical sendup — and not one of them is, although I have to give the band credit for being clever enough to turn BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” into a song about noted Biblical stutterer Moses (download) — Jason Hare would still be a fucking asshole. But on the bright side, I can now let go of several years’ worth of guilt over making him listen to Metal Machine Music, and start looking for something really horrible to send him for the next chapter of Earmageddon. Son of a bitch must pay.
It fails as parody, and it fails as a more wholesome alternative to entertainment too offensive for Christian sensibilities. Really, this music is good only for real-life Reverend Shaw Moores, people so insecure in their faith that they can’t tolerate even a moment without some sort of affirmation — the more simplistic and condescending, the better. In retaliation, I think I’ve decided to start a rock band that performs secular covers of hits by CCM artists. Turnabout is fair play, after all. I’m thinking Amy Grant’s “Find a Way” would work perfectly as “Marry Gays,” and with a little work, we can turn Kathy Troccoli’s “Everything Changes” into a kickass crowd-pleaser called “Sex with Random Strangers.” Who’s with me?