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Song parodies spread the Bible's words

Wednesday, December 23, 1998

By Rebecca Sodergren, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Eagles probably never guessed that "Hotel California" would be resurrected as a Christmas song.


The band ApologetiX from Herminie, Westmoreland County, does Christian parodies of classic and modern rock, country and other popular songs. In most cases they sound surprisingly like the original bands, but the message they carry is sometimes exactly the opposite.

Catch this rewritten chorus of "Hotel California" (renamed "Hotel Can't Afford Ya"), told in the voice of the innkeeper on the night of Jesus' birth: "Welcome, but the hotel can't afford ya/Such a lovely place, but we're out of space/Ran out of room and the hotel can't afford ya/It's that time of year, with the census here."

The song is one of 18 on the group's new CD, "Jesus Christ Morningstar." The other selections range from "Go Right Now" (parody of "All Right Now" by Free) to "John 1:1" ("Fun Fun Fun" by the Beach Boys), from "Parable Guy" ("American Pie" by Don McLean) to "Narrow Way to Heaven" ("Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin).

The band's name comes from the word "apologetics," which means "the defense of the Christian faith." It's something the band members - J. Jackson, lead vocalist and parody writer; Karl Messner, lead guitarist and producer; and Keith "Stan" Haynie, bassist - hold dear to their hearts.

"We believe strongly in being able to explain why you believe and what you believe," Jackson said.

But the band's name also serves as a parody in itself by calling to mind Dramatics, Stylistics and other '60s bands, as well as modern bands like Anthrax (because of the X on the end of their name).

Jackson, Messner and the group's former drummer met at a Bible study in 1990. Jackson already had been writing parodies but was playing them alone on acoustic guitar.

"The original purpose of the band was to help each other remember the details of some of the Bible stories," Messner said. But later they started to think they might be able to spark an interest in others - "not by preaching, but by giving them these 'Cliffs Notes' of the Bible."

Now the band's stated purpose is to get people interested enough in Bible stories to open up the Bible for themselves.

"We want to let them know the Bible is more than David and Goliath and Noah and the Ark," Jackson said. "A lot of people learned six Bible stories when they were kids, and they think that's all there is. I thought that."

But for many who take a look at the Bible again, "we believe God will do the follow-up work," Jackson said.

Many of the songs unabashedly state the band's beliefs that Jesus is really God and that the Bible is really God's Word. "Fakey Shaky Parts," a parody of Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart," lays out in no uncertain terms the band's view of people who claim to believe Jesus without believing the Bible: "Don't tear apart the sacred Word of God - You just gotta take it as it stands/Cause if it's all a farce with fakey shaky parts/You might as well dump it in the can."

But besides conveying information and statements of faith, some of the songs are just plain funny. "L.S.F.," a parody of the Beatles' and Elton John's "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," begins, "Picture yourself on the Mount called Olivet/You're standin' with Jesus ... a marvelous time/Then while you talk He begins to rise slowly ... and gives you His final goodbyes/Aeroplane flyers were seldomly seen down in Jerusalem then/Look for the Lord with the sun in your eyes and He's gone!/Lookee, in the sky, He's flyin'!/Lookee, in the sky, He's flyin'!"

The lighthearted approach sometimes wins the attention of those who don't necessarily profess faith in Christ. The group plays for lots of church youth group functions, but they also played at the Electric Banana in Oakland a few years ago and opened for Blessid Union of Souls at Graffiti. Weird Al Yankovic has heard the group's parodies, and his drummer likes ApologetiX enough that he recently offered to record - for free - some drum tracks for the group's next CD.

The group doesn't have any qualms about making use of what started as secular music. In fact, Haynie loves it. "I like the harder-edged stuff more because I was brought up on metal - or brought down, depending on who you talk to."

Jackson said he thinks the Christian community is more responsive to the use of pop- and rock-music styles than it used to be, particularly with Christian artists Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, D.C. Talk and others crossing over into secular music.

"The message we bring sometimes offends, yes." But rarely does the music style.

The music helps to portray the band as people who love the Bible but "we're normal people, and we're fun - I hope - to be around," Jackson said. He said that instead of being holier-than-thou, the band tries to convey the message that being a Christian is "not about being 'religious' or about doing good works; it's about a relationship - it's about being a bad person who needs a Savior."

The only problem with the music is trying to imitate the original groups. The toughest parodies were of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which Jackson said has about 20 different vocal tracks, and of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" (not exactly easy for a male singer).

But the group is up to the challenge, Jackson said, because the members all have wide-ranging tastes in music.

Even more important than that, "When you're passionate about something, you're going to do it. The band combines Christ, music and humor, and we get to use all three together."

ApologetiX will play a concert at 7 p.m. Jan. 2 at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, 1570 Clay Pike, North Huntingdon. Information: 724-863-2591 or 724-523-2221.

The band has released two CDs - "Ticked" and "Jesus Christ Morningstar" - as well as a number of tapes. To order by credit card, call 877-655-6565 or 724-872-6565. The group's Web site is

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