New York News

Catholics: Did Candidate’s Rock Imagery Go Too Far?

By Christopher White, National Correspondent

While Justin Brannan is running for New York City Council on a platform to improve mass transit, city schools and neighborhood safety, it’s the subject of his music that’s come under scrutiny by some Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Brannan, a Democratic candidate for City Council, is perhaps best known for touring the world as a punk rocker. While his music may be best known for its angst-filled rants about war and violence, behind the screams is a tale of Catholic schoolboys making sense of the world around them.

Along with the name of his band – Most Precious Blood – his song’s lyrics are peppered with Catholic imagery, which have been viewed by some as sacrilegious. Most notably, one of his album covers has the image of the Virgin Mary with a suicide bomb strapped to her body.

Brannan formed his first hardcore rock band, “Indecision,” while just a sophomore at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge. When the curtain came down on “Indecision” after just a few years, he formed Most Precious Blood.

In an interview with The Tablet, Brannan said he spent his life in public schools, until high school when his parents sent him to Xaverian to “set him on the straight and narrow.”

He described his high school years as a “really great experience,” and given the fact that he bounced around to several institutions for college, his time at Xaverian was the “last time of four years of steady school,” and he considers it his “true alma mater.”

Today, he’s seeking to represent the neighborhood where he grew up, District 43, where he is running to replace Vincent Gentile, who is not seeking re-election due to term limits. Brannan, who previously served as Gentile’s chief of staff, has been endorsed by his former boss.

He is opposed by Republican-Conservative John Quaglione, chief of staff for State Sen. Martin Golden.

When asked about the punk music controversy, Quaglione said, “It’s offensive and it speaks for itself.”

Brannan’s diverse resume also includes stints on Wall Street, The Howard Stern Show and more recently, the Department of Education. He is also the president of the Bay Ridge Democrats.

Yet for Brannan, these images were never meant to profane the faith, but rather to provoke dialogue and discussion – and to raise serious questions that he and his fellow Catholic school classmates were attempting to work through at the time.

While he admitted to The Tablet that “my Catholic faith has been tested over the years,” he also says “Xaverian laid the foundation” for cementing the faith that still sustains him today.

Brannan described his childhood as restless, but where music proved to be an outlet for creation and a way to “give voice to the voiceless.”

“When you’re a teenager and you read ‘feed the hungry and clothe the naked,’ it’s kind of obvious. But then later you realize it’s because you were raised with these important values that were established by your faith.”

“Like Job we found ourselves questioning God’s will,” Brannan said. “I personally struggled to find meaning in the world when my father died of cancer when I was young. I wanted real, tangible proof of God’s love. In some ways this lead me to rebel, but a lot of the music we created was meant to reflect and work through these feelings.”

Brannan and his band went on to tour the world and he attributes the time as critical to expanding his horizons and learning to empathize with others. While he says he never planned to enter into politics, he believed it was his on-the-road education that helped him develop a deeper sense of those with needs around him.

He now sees politics as an outlet where he can respond to those needs in a formal way. “As you grow up, I see every movement has brought me to where I’m here now,” said Brannan.

To his critics that would charge that some of his past music puts him at odds with his faith, he says it’s just the opposite. As for the controversial album with the Virgin Mary, he says it was “more cerebral” than most people understood and that “the band dreamt up that cover to reflect any religion to justify violence. It was never meant to offend or attack anyone. We were trying to have a conversation.”

Today, Brannan is a lector at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Ridge, where he attends Mass each week. His mother has been teaching at nearby Holy Angels Academy for over 40 years.

“As a practicing Catholic, I’m proud of my faith and the ability that it allows us to have to do good in the world,” he told The Tablet.