For over a decade one of my favorite holiday traditions has been creating holiday CDs for my family, friends and business contacts. Each year I weed through the sea of Christmas music that has been recorded over the years, picking the perfect mix of music and make 150 CDs. Now there is a lot of Christmas music out there, and not all of its good. Actually, most of its pretty bad. But for every ten bad Christmas songs recorded there is one true gem.
Last year I discovered one of these gems – There’s No War on Christmas (When Christmas is in Your Heart) by power pop favorites The Mockers. A distinctively modern holiday song, the song challenges the “Christmas Controversy” or “War on Christmas” which has become a conservative buzz phrase about the non-existent conflict between those who celebrate Christmas versus those who celebrate the holiday season in other ways based on non-Christian beliefs, religion or alternative traditions. In just over three minutes The Mockers cut through the modern cynicism of Christmas and reveal the true meaning of the holiday season in a catchy, well written and meaningful Christmas song.
Made up of Seth Gordon, Tony Leventhal and Robbie Rist, The Mockers have been a solid presence in the independent music scene since the late 1980’s. With politically charged lyrics, There’s No War on Christmas (When Christmas is in Your Heart) could be one of the most important Christmas songs written in recent years. I had the opportunity to speak with Seth Gordon, who wrote the song, just as the holiday season began who talked to me about The Mockers, their music, the non-existent war, and Christmas.
Sam Tweedle: So Seth, give me a little introduction to The Mockers. How did you guys first got together.
Seth Gordon: Well, Tony Leventhal and I met in Spain when he and I were kids. It’s kind of strange, but when I was a kid my family, who is from New York originally, was kind of sick of the New York rat race of the 70’s so they basically found out that Spain was a great place to live, and it was cheap in those days, so they went and investigated and found out that there was an English school. So when I was nine they moved to the Southern coast of Spain to a small town called Estepona. Well, the first day I walked into the school, which was this time of year forty years ago, the first person I was introduced to was the owner [of the school’s] son, and it was Tony. We were in the same class and we bonded over music. We were massive Beatles fans, even at that age, and we listened to all the sixties records, and garage greats, and all these groovy and happening hits. My family moved back, and then his family moved back, and we stayed friends and at one point we decided to start the band here in Virginia, so he moved here. This was back, believe it or not, in the mid-80’s. We’ve been doing this for a long time, with the same name too. We did the band out of Norfolk for five years, and then at that point in time the music scene wasn’t doing very well so Tony moved back to New York, but we kept the band going.
Sam: How did you guys hook up with Robbie Rist?
Seth: We originally met Robbie at a music conference in Philadelphia, but I knew him because of the power pop music scene that was going on in LA during the late 90’s. So we were excited to meet him because he was a contact to that scene. Nobody was doing what we were doing on the East Coast. So we thought “Wow. Maybe we can get in on it.” There were a lot of great bands coming out of LA, and we were hoping it’d be an entry into playing out there. It definitely helped us. Well when we went out [to LA] to play we spent a lot of time hanging out with Robbie, and a year after that our guitar player couldn’t make it out so Robbie played guitar for us for the first time. The second time we went out he played drums, so we said “Hey. Do you want to be a member of the band for real, instead of just being a pick up guy?” He’s been playing with us for twelve or thirteen years.
Sam: There was a New Zealand band in the 80’s called The Mockers. Do you ever get confused with them?
Seth: No. It’s funny. When we took the name The Mockers years ago, it was because I had seen A Hard Days Night and I had thought “Oh, that’d be a great band name.” This was in the pre-internet days before you could Google to see if anyone had it. Only recently has we’ve gotten a few angry e-mails from people who say “You stole their name” and I say “Well, sorry to say pal, but we’ve been around a lot longer than they were.” I didn’t steal it. I’m also a lawyer, so one of the things I did when we started the band was that I trademarked it. That band hasn’t been together in a long time. The only thing I’ve ran into lately is some Beatles tribute bands out there called The Mockers.
Sam: I was listening to some of your music at work today and you guys write great songs. Its music that sounds like music.
Seth: That’s a good thing. Someone described our music once by saying “I really like your songs, because they’re the kind of songs that when you first hear it you think you’ve heard it before and you’re singing along, and by the end of the first chorus you it’s like you’ve known it your whole life.” To me it’s a great accomplishment if someone walks out singing our songs, and that’s what we try to do.
Sam: How would you describe what you do?
Seth: I think it’s just melodic pop music basically. We obviously have the obvious influences. Robbie will hate for me mentioning “the B word.” He hates “the B word.” It’s not really just The Beatles or The Kinks or The Who or Elvis Costello. They’re all obviously influences, but we’re really people who just want to write songs that make you want to sing, with lyrics that are hopefully intelligent and make you think. That’s one of my biggest complaint about pop bands nowadays is that they are kind of lazy about the lyrics. Paul McCartney is probably the grandfather of doing that. The Raspberries wrote great pop songs, but terrible lyrics. Before I was writing songs, I was writing poems as a kid. To me the lyrics are as important as the melodies. I think Robbie and Tony feel the same way.
Sam: I get it. I like a little substance to my music. We’re living in a landscape where The Partridge Family is more relevant than most of the music on the radio.
Seth: And to quote Paul McCartney, “What’s wrong with that, I’d like to know.” Lyrics seem to be an afterthought to a lot of bands. A good lyric can make a song with a good melody even better, but a bad lyric can bring your song down. A lot of people would argue with me, but I just think a smart lyric just makes a song so much better.
Sam: Now going through some of your music, there seems to be a political theme to some of your songs. How political would you say The Mockers are?
Seth: I think we’re political mainly because we write about things that are important to us. It’s not like we say “We’re going to be a political band” or that we’re protest singers. When we wrote that Anti-Bush song ten years ago it was because we were fed up with what was going on in this country. Tony has a song called Republican Girl which is the same thing. I wouldn’t say the politics are important as much as the issues. We’re all pretty political. I’m probably the most political out of the three of us. So we’re not really a political band, but the issues are so important to us.
Sam: Well let’s bring it forward to There’s No War on Christmas, which I fell in love with when I heard it last year. I love the song. I love the video. I love the message. Take me through what you were thinking when you wrote the song.
Seth: It’s weird. I wanted to write a Christmas song for the longest time, because everybody writes a Christmas song. But I didn’t want to write the usual songs about Christmas cheer. It’s not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of songs. I love those songs. But it’s been done so many times, and I wanted to do something different. Usually titles come to me first. Well two years ago they were going on and on and on about “War on Christmas” and I thought “You know, there’s no war on Christmas. Christmas is what you feel.” Even if someone is horrible to you and says “Christmas sucks,” it’s irrelevant. It’s what is in your heart. If you believe in Christmas, whether it a secular Christmas and just believing in good will towards man and love and peace, or a more religious aspect of Christmas where you believe Jesus was the saviour and all those things, how does it matter if someone turns to you and says “Happy Holidays” or whatever it is? The bottom line is that it’s what is in your heart, and you can’t take that away from me no matter what you try to do. So my enjoyment of Christmas is never going to be affected by some Scrooge or Grinch out there. It’s not going to affect me one way or another because I enjoy Christmas. I love it. It just drives me nuts that these people on Fox News want to turn it into a fight or a war. Can’t we just enjoy Christmas the way it used to be? Bing Crosby sang Happy Holidays. That’s an old song. I don’t remember anyone saying Bing Crosby was starting a war on Christmas because he sang Happy Holidays. So I just started writing out ideas of what I thought was important about Christmas, and I thought “Do you really think Jesus cares if you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas, or if you spell Christmas with an X or a C?” All of those things are so irrelevant of what Christmas is about, which is love, peace, harmony, understanding. That’s what Christmas is all about.
Sam: Well what I love about the song is the fact that it squashes all the cynicism which people like to thrust onto the holidays for whatever reason. To many people feel it’s hipper to hate the holidays then to just enjoy them.
Seth: I’m glad you picked up on that. That’s one thing I wanted to make clear when I sent this out to people. There is no hipster irony here. I’m not winking at all. I’m really not. I love Christmas. I really do. My heritage is Jewish. My father was half Christian, but we always celebrated Christmas. Obviously someone like Bill O’Reilly would consider me a heathen for celebrating Christmas. But I just feel a lot of joy out of it, and to fight over such ridiculousness is so crazy. So really, I’m not winking at all in that song. It’s completely sincere. The ironic thing, that made me feel really good, is when I’ve given it to some really hard right wingers that they loved it. I was kind of shocked, and pleasantly surprised. They recognize the fact that I’m not poking fun at Christians or Christmas. They realize that I’m saying that I’m right there with them. I love Christmas! The thing I’m really happy about the song is that it’s a political song that’s not political. I’m not making fun of anybody. I’m not calling anybody names. I’m not putting anybody down. I’m just saying “Hey. This is a wonderful time of year and it’s about loving one another, so let’s do that.”
Seth Gordon and I have a few things in common. We love Christmas and we love good music. Weave it together and you get There’s No War on Christmas (When Christmas is in Your Heart). Not only do I believe that this is one of the best Christmas songs ever written, but I believe that everybody needs to hear it and understand its meaning. If you feel the way that Seth and I do, please send this video or this song to your family and friends, and spread the message that we can all celebrate the holiday in our own way, and still be unified in a celebration of love and joy.
Meanwhile, Seth shared with me what’s next for The Mockers in 2014. It’s too early to share it, but believe me when I say it’s pretty awesome. Keep The Mockers in your radar by visiting their facebook page, and check out their web-site at http://www.themockers.net/. Also, keep an eye on this page because I’m sure this isn’t the last time that PCA will be covering this band. I can almost guarantee it.