Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Our sharksploitation festival continues here at the B-Movie Catechism with this little ditty from one of my favorite Muppets of all time, Rowlf The Dog. You know, you really have to hand it to the Muppets. I mean, who else could take what was a fairly vulgar boogie woogie song back in its day and turn it into a comedy sketch fit for kids of all ages? And do it without changing any of the words?

Heck, even the mighty Martin Luther (oh so infallible authority that he was) had to make up new lyrics when he utilized a few ‘de-rhythmed’ secular folk songs as the basis for some of his hymns. These days, we call the process of what Luther (and hordes of others from the middle ages on) did a contrafactum which, according to the Free Dictionary, was “a vocal composition in which the original words have been replaced by new ones, either secular words substituted for sacred, or vice versa. In the 16th century the Reformation was responsible for several changes of this kind, especially from Latin to vernacular words in the conversion of plainsong melodies to hymn-tunes.” And though the term contrafactum isn’t usually applied to more modern works, the technique has continued to be used. And why not, “why should the devil have all the best tunes?” At least that’s what William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, asked when he was chided for replacing the words of popular songs with Christian lyrics in order to appeal to the street people he ministered to. Now I’m not sure if Catholic artist Nick Alexander shares Mr. Booth’s philosophy, but he sure doesn’t mind playing around with constructing contrafacta, especially when it involves that rapidly approaching time of year when we all must consider eating some seafood…

Contrafacta and sharksploitation, two great things that never go out of style.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Nick's "40 Days" was filmed in the church where Smiter the Archdeacon and I got married! That's cool!

Incidently, the only deacon to be a Doctor of the Church is St. Ephrem of Syria, who wrote a gazillion heresy-smashing hymns to the tune of secular or heretical hymns. An obvious patron saint for the genre. He wrote his sermons in verse, too--thousands and thousands of lines of it.

Xena Catolica

(former) Rocket Scientist said...

Nick Alexander is really funny and a great musician and composer besides. His first album "A Time to Laugh" contains my favorite : "Old Time Gregorian Chant", a parody of "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger.

EegahInc said...

That's really neat about the church. I'd love to have an old style building like that around to attend mass at.

I'd like to see Nick perform one day, that'd be a blast.

PaperSmyth said...

My favorite Alexander song, so far, is Salad Bowl because I just can't get enough of people turning trash into treasure. Thanks for giving me a chance to introduce my kids to his music and the term contrafacta. :)

EegahInc said...

Now why am I not surprised there are so many Nick Alexander fans reading this blog :)

I wonder if contrafacta is actually still used to describe what Nick does. I'm sure the folks at The New Liturgical Movement would know, but I kind of doubt they visit here too often. Oh well.

Nick Alexander said...

What a surprise!

I am reeeaaallllly honored and humbled to be mentioned on this board.  I take great pride that our "40 Days" video is mentioned in the same blog that honors "Student Bodies", "Motel Hell", and "Battle Beyond the Stars.". Yay, Eegah!

If there's any clarification, I have never heard the word "contrafacta" until this post.  And just as well, because I don't consider what I do as that, but as parody writing, primarily, with the same religious sensibility that Allan Sherman ingrained his parodies with his Jewish-ness, or Ray Stevens w his Southern Protestantism, or Weird Al ingraining Amish Paradise w the beliefs of the Mennonite tradition (had he be of that denomination).

It has to be that way, because of copyright laws, not all that stringent in Luther's day.  The Supreme Court has allowed parodies to be fair use, but it needs to be distinguished as a parody, and not merely rewriting the lyrics.  As I understand it, humor is a mandatory component.

That said, the fact that I can ingrain my own personality as a Catholic convert AND a fan of (sometimes admittedly cheesy) pop songs of yore, is a plus.  That it (sometimes) works as a catechetical tool is a plus.  That it also cleans up otherwise non-family-oriented lyrics while preserving the integrity of the pop songs themselves.

Thanks again, and Keep up the good work!


P.S. You may want to jump in on the message board, as there is going to be a vote on the best horror movies.  Scott Derrickson (Exorcism of Emily Rose), is helping organize this.

EegahInc said...

Hey, Nick, the honors all mine. As you can see, you've got a few fans around here.

Thanks for the clarification. I'm no music historian, but as I understand it, the word parody is used to refer to everything except the stuff produced during the middle ages. I'm sure there's a reason for the distinction, but I don't know what it is. Maybe I'll harass the folks at the next Renn Fest and see if they can explain it to me. Surely the Kissing Wench has a Phd in music theory.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by. If you've got anything coming up soon, let me know and I'll be happy to plug it.