Oh, Tell Me That’s Not Glorious: A Thing About Racebannon

This post has been a long time coming.  Even before I started to consider starting to consider starting a blog, I’ve been writing about this album.  I’ve filled probably 20 pages or more, between my hard drive and my notebooks, about what is easily one of my Top 20 personal favorite albums, in any genre (and honestly, it’s in the Top 10 most days).  Naturally, most of those pages are not fit for human consumption, but I feel pretty confident that I can put together something at least remotely meaningful about Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In, the third album by Bloomington, Indiana’s own genre-defying metal/punk/noise juggernaut Racebannon.  I’ll start with a bit of background on how Racebannon came into my life.


Photo from musicalfamilytree.net

The year was 1998.  I was still very much a Metalhead, but I was also sad, which led me to the dark, sad world of emo (back when emo was played and listened to by sad dudes with receding hairlines wearing sweaters and khakis, and not skinny dudes with haircuts that swooped over one eye wearing gaudy t-shirts and their little sister’s jeans).  Jawbreaker was an immediate favorite, because I have ears and a soul, and Jawbreaker vocalist/guitarist Blake Schwartzenbach’s post-Jawbreaker band Jets to Brazil was also big shit to me.  I also really dug the Promise Ring (they once played Rhino’s All Ages Club with a little band called Jimmy Eat World opening for them – that’s history right there, kids), Braid, and early Alkaline Trio (I still listen to their first two albums several times a year).

Anyway, one Sunday afternoon shortly before my 21st birthday (April 12, 1998 to be precise – sometimes it pays to keep a journal), my brother-from-another-mother Travis and I went to the aforementioned Rhino’s to see an all-day mostly emo show, headlined by Braid.  A total of seven bands played, most of them forgettable, but the fifth band would go on to have a profound effect on my life, albeit several years later.  Travis and I had never heard of Racebannon (in fact, we thought they were called “Rayspan”), and all we knew was that they were a local band.  We assumed they would sound more or less like the other bands on the bill.  I can’t speak for Travis, but personally, I’ve only been more wrong once in my life, and that was when I married my ex-wife.

Four scruffy-looking dudes around the same age as Travis and me got up on the stage, and the one with the giant pile of curly hair on top of his head walked over to a chair with a tape player sitting on it and pressed play.  Some forgotten sample began to fill the small room as the band stared menacingly out at the crowd, the curly-haired frontman pacing back and forth like some kind of escaped mental patient.  The tension built for maybe a minute or so, and then all hell broke loose in a concussive explosion of skull-splitting drums, chest-rattling bass, and riffs thicker than a Porterhouse steak.  The instant the music began to crash out of the monitors, the frontman began to convulse and flop and shriek and scream, and we had to get the fuck out of that room.

If you’ve never been to Rhino’s All Ages Club, it may be difficult to understand how bad the sound can be in there; they often have really good/great shows, but if you’re not standing in just the right spot, the sound can be atrocious – all cacophonous and drenched in echos.  Imagine standing under an overpass of a busy interstate highway during rush hour, directly beneath the flight paths of the nearby international airport while someone stands next to you repeatedly hitting a metal trashcan with an aluminum baseball bat, while another person stands on the other side of you and yells directly into your ear.  That should give you a tiny bit of an idea what Racebannon sounded like in that tiny club that gray Sunday afternoon.  But in a really good way.  We ended up watching their set from the other side of the big front window of the club, safely out of range of permanent hearing damage, and it was a thing of demented beauty.

Fast forward to late August 2006.  I’m separated from that ex-wife I mentioned earlier, and have moved back to Bloomington after three years in Austin, Texas.  I’m living in a tiny bedroom in a house in the middle of Campus Partytown, USA with two hippies, a traveler , a dog, and four cats (for the record, I still love all those people and animals dearly).  I was sad and angry, and I was desperately searching for something that would speak directly to my soul.  Meanwhile, I took a part-time job at a fantastic restaurant/brewpub, where something about one of my supervisors stirred some unknown thing in the dark recesses of my memory.  I knew that I knew this guy from somewhere.

About a week into the job, one of my co-workers mentioned an upcoming Racebannon show.  Here’s what happened in my brain:  “Racebannon!  Holy shit!  Mike A. is that insane curly-haired lunatic from Racebannon!  Why did I marry her?!  I’m so scared of him now!  But he seems so nice!  I should buy a Racebannon album!  Goddamnit I hate her!  I wonder which album I should buy?!”  I had a lot to work out in my brain.

Next payday, I walked directly to Landlocked Music and perused the Racebannon selection, settling on the one with the title that made me laugh: 2002’s Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In.  I walked home and put it on the stereo, and it literally did not leave my stereo for the next two months, except for the day I listened to it on the way to and from work through a borrowed Sony Discman (I cut a full three minutes off my walking time that day).  I would work, walk home, press “Play”, select “Repeat”, and sit in my room, usually reading the lyrics.  Sometimes I’d try to write, but the album was too distracting to write much.  Sometimes I’d hang out with some friends, and sometimes I’d watch a movie or something, but when I wasn’t working, hanging out, or watching a movie, I was listening to Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In, over and over and over again.  I would fall asleep every night listening to it on repeat, which meant that I would wake up listening to it.  Maybe you’re wondering what drew me so strongly into the album, and I wish I could put my finger on it, but I have never been able to do that.  All I know is that I could not stop listening to it.  I even bought all the rest of the Racebannon albums to try to break myself out of the trance, but after a few songs I’d put it right back on.

I suppose I should say something about the album itself.  It’s a concept album (one of the greatest ever made, and I’ll fight anyone who tries to argue that) which tells the story of a frustrated young man named Rodney Mitchell, who wants nothing more than to be a star.  One night in a fit of desperation, Rodney smashes his face into the bathroom mirror, declaring, “My pointless vanity has finally broken me.  Still, fuck this world!  I wanna take it all!  I would give my soul just to take it all!”  Old Scratch himself then appears before Rodney and makes the young man an offer he can’t refuse before disappearing with some parting words: “And remember, one day I’m coming back.  Till then, show the world what yr made of.”

Rodney wakes up to find himself transformed into Rhonda Delight, who quickly rises to the top of the entertainment world, becoming the most famous and most-loved diva the world has ever known, star of stage and screen, hobnobbing with the likes of “Sean Penn, Thurston Moore, and John F. Kennedy, Jr.”  Like the very best Faustian bargain stories, this one finds the protagonist quickly spiraling out of control while living a life of excess (“Let me kill this fifth of whiskey and I’m good to go.  I’ll perform fine.  Aww, what do you know?  I could do this paralyzed, deaf, blind, fuck you, I’m ready to go.”), only to end up on life support as the Father of All Lies comes to claim what belongs to him.

There aren’t a lot of words I can think of to describe how this album sounds, but a few come to mind: terrifying, beautiful, spastic, sublime, perfect.  Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In is absolutely fucking superlative.  I’m listening to it (for the fifth time in two days) as I write this, and parts of it are moving me to tears.  It is SO FUCKING GOOD.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, but I do recommend that if (when?) you check it out, you do it up right: cancel all meetings, send your kids to their grandparents’ house (where applicable), turn off your phone, your television, and anything else that might distract you, get yourself a tasty beverage, sit down with the lyrics in front of you, and press play.  If you enjoy any form of extreme music, I can’t begin to imagine that you’ll be disappointed.  Just know that you might have trouble getting away.

I should point out that the rest of their albums are really great, too.  This one, however, has what the French might call a certain je ne sais quoi.

Until next time, Stay Heavy, you heavy fuckers.


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