It's Christmas at CHIRP Radio, and we're looking for a cure for the common carol. Instead of bending to the will of the average 24-hour holiday muzak stations, we're spending the season unearthing a bunch of winter-approved tunes that you probably haven't heard for a while (or maybe even ever). Today: the Pet Shop Boys reexamine the reason for the season.
Pet Shop Boys - "Birthday Boy" (2002)
One topic that we haven't devoted much time to during this project is a pretty massive one, Christmas-wise. Of course, I'm talking about the birth of Jesus, which, connection to old pagan rituals aside, is a pretty large motivating factor behind the popularity of this whole holiday shebang. The Savior's birth also doesn't get a ton of play outside of contemporary Christian circles these days, which is a shame: in the right, non-evangelizing hands, it's a story of goodwill and perserverance that still holds relevance, even for the heathens out there.
One of my favorite modern looks at the story also rolls up a little of the Easter tale, too; found on their 2002 record Release, the Pet Shop Boys' "Birthday Boy" find the titular character celebrating his Christmas Eve birthday while confronting his imminent death at the hands of unnamed assailants.
The best explanation for the song is found buried in an old interview with Tennant and Lowe from issue #25 of their fan club newsletter Literally. In it, Tennant describe the song's subject as "someone who's killed out of hatred and whose killing changes everything." Tennant's Christ figure isn't just Jesus Himself; the song's "birthday boy" also represents a pair of modern martyrs. Tennant continues:
[P]eople die for our sins. Stephen Lawrence dies for the sin of racism. Matthew Shepherd dies for the sin of homophobia. And in doing that they make people confront those sins and they help to cleanse the sin away, and they become Christ-like figures.
The most haunting moment comes at the end, when the song fades away with a snatch of the classic carol "In The Bleak Midwinter." It's Tennant's last, macabre reminder, that "[while] carols [are] being played in the shops... in some dark street some boy's just been murdered." By setting the action at the holidays, "Birthday Boy" challenges the good people of the world, Christian or otherwise, to own up to and reconcile the safety of their Christmastime comfort with the victims out there whose names, in death, might inspire change.