Tales From Christian Music III: The Christian Weird Al & Good Charlotte
There are Christian versions of every band. I previously discussed this, but in order to understand the subculture of Evangelicalism that was Christian music you must understand this point. Some are obvious– of course kids who grew up listening to Linkin Park are gonna make their own versions of the band from a Christian perspective and of course Christian labels (some of which are owned by large mainstream companies) are going to try to profit off of any trend (including boy bands).
One of the strangest Christian versions out there though was the Christian Weird Al. Yes there was a band whose purpose was to create parody songs, but rather than turning them into strange comedic bits, they Jesus-fied them. Instead of ripping off a band’s style, why not straight up rip off the song and change the lyrics to make them safe for the whole family? The band was called ApologetiX (a play on the Christian practice of apologetics: essentially a look into the reasons why Christianity is viable and defensible logically).
To their credit, they have been around since 1992, and contain some self-awareness (in their song “We’re in a Parody Band” they admit to being “[part] Weird Al…[part] Billy Graham”). Yet the whole thing feels anomalous–even those deeply entrenched in 90s Christian culture might be a bit embarrassed by their existence.
Yet as a kid that didn’t have a whole lot of access to popular culture, it was easy to latch onto these songs. They were an entry point into songs that were essential to surviving in the world. I couldn’t listen to Kid Rock (this was probably a blessing in disguise) but I could listen to the ApologetiX version of “Cowboy” called “Choir Boy”; this literally became a talking point for me one baseball practice. “The Real Slim Shady” was a pretty explicit song, but “The Real Sin Savior” sanitizes it, opening with the lyrics: May I have your repentance please? Will you tell Him ‘Save me’ and please stand up?. That’s like listening to Eminem without having to feel guilty–really the best of both worlds.
Cut to 2003, my musical tastes had begun to take off a little bit. Pop-punk was starting to hit the mainstream and I had discovered MxPx, Relient K, and Slick Shoes inside of Christian music stores, while hearing Blink-182, Yellowcard, and Simple Plan on the radio. My counter-cultural consciousness was rising and the anti-everything spirit of punk rock had developed in me. At the time Good Charlotte had a hit song called “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous”. It criticized celebrity-dom, talking about their shallow complaints and decrying the inequity of a world where celebs leverage their wealth and fame to avoid the consequences of the terrible deeds they commit. This song resonated with me, pointing out the injustice of the world, and exposing the fraudulence of fame.
Then I entered into a Christian book store–one of my favorite places to go growing up because of the vast amount of music and books they had there, all of which were safe for me to consume. In these stores they used to have sample CDs that were already open and you could take to CD players to see if you wanted to purchase it. I saw that ApologetiX had an album and I wanted to check it out. On the album they parodied Eminem, Jimmy Eat World, and yes Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles…”. The parody version was called “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Nameless” and is a pretty straight forward telling of a parable that Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus, a poor beggar. The rich man suffers because of his lack of generosity and ApologetiX uses the parable to say that earthly wealth makes no difference to God.
The themes sort of align with the original, but the band uses these ideas to quote a lot of Scripture rather than to really hammer the point home. I stood there confused as to why they felt the need to parody that song. Didn’t the themes of injustice and the anger at celebrity worship already align with the stories in the Bible? This wasn’t taking some shallow love song or explicit rap verse and changing it to include Christian theology. It wasn’t even sanitizing the song, it was just taking it and adding Bible verses to it in order to present it to a particular market. That’s when I began to see the band, the store, and the culture for what it was–a place scared of ideas, scared of a world outside of certain boxes, scared of things that didn’t reference the Bible. It wasn’t about combating the prejudices of the world that allow the “rich and the famous” to reign, it was about separating oneself from an outside culture. Sacred spaces were built to the exclusion of others, censorship was enacted for the sake of censorship. Outside ideas could be accepted only as long as we could attach a Bible verse to them.
I had always seen these ideas of separatism as generally good. Even if they were consistently embarrassing, I’d rather be ‘not of this world’ in order to hold to ideals that were true (there’s something secretly punk about that) than go along with a hedonistic culture. But what I saw that day is that the lines were arbitrary. I saw the other side and they looked an awful lot like me. There was a false safety in the confines of the Christian book store and that day it exposed itself, laying bare a larger world. I could accept a separation from the world for the sake of truth and better living, but the censorship that existed was not for this reason. I can’t even be sure of the exact reasons they tried to Jesus-fy the world so that culture at large was erased–most cynically one could accuse the Christian music world of trying to make money off of naive youth or maybe they themselves were seeking out the safety that comes from having a side in a grand US VS THEM narrative–it’s hard to tell and to squarely place blame.
That day, like Neo with the pills in The Matrix, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, I experienced something transcendent. The most perverse part of it all is that it’s all due to a cheesy Good Charlotte song.