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Well-versed tunes

(Handout)

Well-versed tunes

Christian parody band puts Biblical message into familiar songs

Only one band’s music has played on both The 700 Club and The Howard Stern Show: ApologetiX, “That Christian Parody Band.” Lead singer J. Jackson—his full first name is known only to his family—has rewritten everything from Elvis and the Beatles to Linkin Park and Eminem. He describes the results as “a cross between Weird Al [Yankovic] and Billy Graham,” but he didn’t set out with that goal: He wrote his first parodies to entertain high-school friends at parties, getting the idea of rewriting songs from a bully who’d done it to tease him.

Jackson describes his first years in rock ’n’ roll as “taking the road more traveled.” But even as his first several bands failed, his questions about Jesus and the Bible grew. He chronicled what came next in “Choirboy,” his parody of a Kid Rock track from 1999: “I didn’t know Jesus—I just would beg Him for favors / Finally straight out of college I made Him my Savior.” Jackson realized he’d made music an idol, and initially tried leaving it entirely to work at his family’s print shop outside Pittsburgh.

Songs kept rearranging themselves in his mind, and he prayed to discern whether he should return to music. The band that resulted took its name from the defense of Christian faith—“We all loved apologetics, and it starts with an A ... it’s after Abba, but before Audio Adrenaline!”—and made its humble debut at an open-mic night in the spring of 1992.

Jackson’s quarter-century of experience shows, with results that look, sound, and even feel like the original tracks despite their completely reimagined—and newly Biblical—lyrics. Where Weird Al Yankovic turned “American Pie” into “The Saga Begins,” filling the song’s generous length with a comical retelling of Star Wars Episode One, ApologetiX made it into “Parable Guy” instead: Echoing Don McLean’s elegy of rock’s early years, the new version looks back on Jesus’ parables and asks wistfully how it must have been to hear them—live.

The original song’s somber-then-energetic tone suffuses the new version, and other parodies in the catalog make clear how much effort Jackson puts into keeping the “flavor” of the songs he rewrites. “Bone Digger” echoes the hip-hop swagger of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” even as it redirects West’s skepticism to Darwinism’s missing evidence; “One Night in Bethlehem” has Murray Head’s jaded chess player from “One Night in Bangkok” wondering what’s so special about one particular Baby. “The Real Sin Savior” keeps Eminem’s unafraid-to-be-different attitude from “The Real Slim Shady,” but applies it to life as a Christian.

That last track, which earned “Fringe Song of the Year” at the 2002 Christian Music Awards, features another ApologetiX trademark. Jackson refers to it as “musical index cards” to help people remember Scripture: He embeds chapter-and-verse Bible references in the lyrics, so that listeners who memorize them will remember where to look for specific themes. Sounds stilted, but Jackson makes it smooth.

The process reminds him of a childhood Christmas present: When I was a kid, I got something called “Chip Away” for Christmas one year. ... It made you feel like you were the one sculpting, but the finished product was already in there; you were just doing the labor. That’s how it feels with these parodies. I feel like God gives me a musical “Chip Away” kit, I come along with my little chisel and hammer away, and He lets me feel like I’m being an artist, but He had the parodies in there all the time.

—ApologetiX’s music is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and YouTube, and at apologetix.com