Every winter our mailbox overfloweth with Christmas albums, from exceedingly unlikely sources.
But a disc of traditional Christmas songs, on Epitaph, from L.A. punk icons Bad Religion? That’s downright bizarre.
After all, the group has pointedly critiqued organized religion; vocalist Greg Graffin, an atheist, even wrote a book about it: Anarchy Evolution.
But, wouldn’t you know it, Graffin is also a former choir boy at school, with fond memories of these songs.
“I remember fun singing events,” Graffin says of his childhood performances. “It wasn’t about a religious feeling or celebrating a sacred time. It was just really fun performing these songs.”
Bad Religion first tackled Christmas covers at KROQ’s Acoustic Christmas event in 1993. Their rousing rendition of “Silent Night” was the hit of the evening and is still heavily played on the station during the holidays.
This year, the group took to the studio to record other classics including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” They got the full punk rock, Bad Religion treatment.
While band co-founder and guitarist Brett Gurewitz grew up in a Jewish household, he still has fond memories of Christmas.
“We always celebrated Hanukkah in my house,” Gurewitz says. “But on Christmas Day I would still get a present from Santa Claus. My parents told me that even though we weren’t Christians, Santa Claus still gave presents to all of the little Jewish boys and girls.
“I was always jealous of the Christmas songs,” he goes on. “Most of the Jewish songs were crap.”
Gurewitz says the idea of performing these songs was “hilarious. Clearly, it’s a satire. We were rolling on the floor a lot of the time…it felt like a Monty Python skit to me.”
This is not so clear in the songs themselves, however…
In fact, there doesn’t appear to be anything tongue-in-cheek about them. And for his part, Graffin considers the work a celebration of quality music.
“A good song is a good song, regardless of its meaning,” he says. “The best part about good songs is they have metaphors and symbolism. The metaphors and stories in the Bible are some of the best stories that have been constructed by mankind. Even though we don’t have to celebrate them as a religious ceremony, they make for pretty darn good subject matter in terms of songs.”
While he feels incorporating a religious tone into the holiday is an “extremist position,” Graffin says, Christmas is still important to him because it provides an opportunity to take a break, spend time with family and friends and do personal introspection.
But there’s still a problem:
“I think consumerism has become a bad religion itself,” Graffin says. “It breaks my heart to think of families that feel like a failure to their kids because they can’t afford to buy expensive gifts. I think that’s a tragedy. We’ve turned Christmas into a consumerism festival. But on the same token, I don’t think it should go back to being about religious piety.”