Shout at the Devil
Sucking Satan's dick can really change a person.
Just ask Rodney Mitchell, a guy who's been taking his lumps for years playing music in what he calls "nobody's underground" -- the limbo between obscurity and fame that most people know as the world of independent rock. Frustrated and finally fed up, Mitchell had what amounted to a nervous breakdown a couple of years ago: crying, punching mirrors, curling up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor -- the whole thing. "My pointless vanity had finally broken me," he admits, clearly not proud of the downward spiral he'd taken. But it was at that precise moment, that lowest ebb in the tide of his life, that salvation came. In a puff of sulfur, Lucifer, the Archfiend King of Hell, materialized before him with pants around ankles, contract in hand.
Exactly one blow job and sex change later, Rodney -- now known as Rhonda Delight -- was transformed into the biggest pop diva the world had ever seen.
This Faustian tale is from an album called Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In: The Story of Rhonda Delight, a noise/hardcore/rock opera written by the Bloomington, Indiana, outfit Racebannon. At first glance, it would seem the opera is over before it's even begun: The cover of the CD is a picture of a fat lady singing, a beefy, platinum blond chanteuse with a fur coat and streaked mascara wrapping her greasy red lips around a microphone. But look closer: That's no lady.
"That's our singer, Mike, as Rhonda Delight," says guitarist James Bauman in a warm, Wabash drawl that's not quite Great Lakes, not quite Dixie. "And that's him painted up as the Devil on the inside of the CD, too. We wanted the record to have that androgynous feel. Mike's really into that kind of thing."
Bauman, Mike Anderson, drummer Brad Williams and bassist Chris "Sal" Saligoe make up Racebannon, a group that has been emptying stomachs and filling underpants across the country for over six years now. Its schizophonic opus, In the Grips of the Light, was one of the overlooked masterpieces of 2001, a gorgeously chaotic wreck of an album that starts out like Hendrix getting a spinal tap and ends up like DJ Spooky with epilepsy. Still, In the Grips was a mere stretching exercise before the spazz-core decathlon that is Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In. The record files Racebannon's toothier edges down to a single, scalpel-sharp point; hunks of Zorn-like improv and free-jazz pandemonium are crammed into the opera's complex structure. Its texture is jagged, its density incessant. A trepan to the cranium would probably be more soothing.
"If it's hurting, it's working," states Bauman simply. "That's kind of our idea."
Speaking of pang, few things in the world sound as painful as getting your dick kicked in by Beelzebub. But is the title of Racebannon's new album just a metaphor for being beaten up? Or is it a double entendre, some kind of dirty slang for Rodney/Rhonda's forced gender conversion?
"Oh, yeah, that's exactly what it is. The title works both ways like that," Bauman says. "Rhonda was Rodney -- a boy -- and then Satan literally kicked his dick in and turned him into a woman. It's a classic tale of selling your soul to the Devil to become a big star; we just followed that same kind of formula."
Of course, after Rhonda Delight becomes an A-list prima donna, the fecal matter starts hitting the fan. Succumbing to arrogance, avarice and a buttload of OxyContin, she ultimately faces Satan once more when he returns to claim her as Hell's own. It's a denouement of epic, even apocalyptic proportions. All the while, Anderson rips the lyrics out of his throat with such blood-gurgling panic, you'd think his words were chunks of barbed wire he'd just accidentally swallowed.
"We were really influenced by that more intense, screamy stuff," Bauman says, speaking of the wave of early-'90s bands like Antioch Arrow, Honeywell and Mohinder that injected brain-curdling screeches into a spastic, atonal mutation of hardcore. The sassy kids call it "screamo" nowadays, though the term had been jokingly circulating around the punk scene years before the Blood Brothers ever reached MTV. "Early on, we were into straight-edge music and hardcore, and it was a pretty natural transition from that to the more experimental stuff. But even though we were influenced by bands like Honeywell, we just naturally started transforming into something else.
"And then with the new album," he adds earnestly, "we wanted to make the music a little more aggressive, a little more metal since Satan's involved."
But regardless of Racebannon's distant relation to screamo, Bauman is perplexed at the parallels drawn between his band and some of that style's trendier exponents. "You know how many comparisons we've gotten to the Locust?" he asks, sounding almost outraged. "Now, how ridiculous is that?" Very ridiculous, actually -- especially since an entire album of the Locust's minute-long songs could almost fit within the confines of just one of Racebannon's torturously distended compositions. "And the Blood Brothers are just some punk little assholes. I don't think they ever really paid their dues. They get by with having a hot name and playing the trendy music of the time.
"That's what separates us from those kinds of bands," he goes on. "We've never, ever wanted to have anything to do with image. We're just some dudes. We let the music do the speaking; it's our music that matters, and that's it. With the Locust, it's all the masks and the costumes, the whole 'Let's be jerks to everyone' thing. And then you see some of these big new bands and they sound like pure garbage. But they look fucking hot. Their hair looks good. Everyone's taking lots of pictures."
True, the men of Racebannon are not exactly what you'd call dazzlingly photogenic. And yet with their new album, these regular-Joe denizens of the underground seem obsessed with the trappings of fame and image and the cult of celebrity. The whole rise and fall of Rhonda Delight is an exploration of these ideas, touching on the well-worn themes of corruption, decadence and vanity that saturate every newsstand tabloid and episode of E! Hollywood Stories. The irony, naturally, is not lost on Bauman.
"Rock stardom equals money and drugs and disaster. That's what we're making fun of," he elaborates. "Finding out about celebrities' problems makes you feel better about yourself. People can watch that and feel better about working in a fucking factory. You can appreciate it when a someone famous has this big disaster. It's like, 'Way to fucking go! You were sitting on top of the world and you fucking blew it!' That's entertaining as hell to me. Everyone loves that shit."
It makes sense, then, that Bauman's been glued to his TV ever since Michael Jackson's recent arrest for child molestation put the King of Pop in the middle of yet another media feeding frenzy. "I've been watching it like crazy," Bauman enthuses. "Fuck him! After that shit first surfaced in '93, he should've just laid low and never talked to another little kid again. He brought it all on himself. I used to be such a Michael Jackson fan, but now he's turned into such a fucking disgusting creature. He's not even living any kind of human life anymore. He lives in a fucking amusement park. I don't think he's ever going to have much of a music career ever again. He's just going to end up this freak who lives in a crazy place that no one ever talks to."
And even though Bauman and crew are far from being paparazzi-hounded pinups themselves, they do have their own kind of friction with the media. "When we get press, sometimes they can't print the title of our album in their magazines or newspapers," Bauman explains. "It's been censored a lot. They'll just call it The Story of Rhonda Delight. 'Satan' by itself isn't really a bad word, and neither is 'dick.' I guess when you put them together, though, that's some bad news. I had dinner with Mike's parents the other day, and they don't know too much about the band or the kinds of records we put out. But they did somehow get a copy of Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In -- which is probably the worst one for them to get. As soon as Mike left the table to go to the bathroom, his mom immediately asked me, 'What is the deal? Is he into drugs? What's going on?' When Mike came back, she told him that she thought he needed some therapy."
But Anderson's parents aren't the only ones who look disapprovingly on Racebannon's Mephistophelean choice of subject matter. "My parents are totally religious," Bauman divulges. "I was a little metalhead growing up, and my mom always thought I was some kind of total devil kid. In '87 or so, there was a special on TV that said, 'Do your kids listen to this music? If so, they're worshiping the devil.' I was watching it with my mom, and they flashed all these record covers and posters of King Diamond and Testament and Slayer. My mom turned to me and asked, 'Are you worshiping the devil?' I just laughed. The next day I came home from school and my posters and T-shirts and records were all in the front yard."
"Well," he says, "I really tried to keep it a secret from my parents, actually. I didn't want them to ever see it or hear about it. They live in Indianapolis, and, unfortunately, the local paper there did an article about us. My dad ran across it and showed it too my mom. I was standing there while she was reading it, and she was like, 'What's this? Satan's kicking your dick in? What the hell is that all about? That's disgusting.' And that's pretty much where it stopped. She didn't want to talk too much about it. But that made it even more fun for me."
Bauman's love for agitating others, however, doesn't end there; in fact, he gets off on baiting his own audiences as much as he does his parents. "We thrive off of getting heckled," he confesses. "Usually when we're done with our set, Mike will leave the stage, and we'll end with this huge wall of noise. I just keep going and keep going. A lot of times, the sound guy will get on the mike and say, 'Okay man, we get the idea. Enough is enough.'
"Then the fans start yelling..." He stops suddenly to laugh, as if the idea of a bona fide Racebannon fanis the most ludicrous thing he's ever heard of. "I mean, the crowd starts yelling, 'You suck! You suck!' I'm just looking them in the face while I'm making more noise. The more you tell me to stop, the longer I'll keep going. That's kind of what we enjoy: pissing you off."
When it comes to getting under people's skin, the last person you'd probably want to get on the bad side of is El Diablo's old sparring partner, Jesus Christ. He is, after all, the ultimate Comeback Kid, a man known to pack a mean left hook, backed by a hell of a posse -- a fact of which Racebannon is all too aware.
"We're moving in a different direction now. We're really into finding Jesus," Bauman comments soberly, choking back a giggle. "We've had a lot of problems with this whole Satan thing, lots of van accidents. We almost died in a horrible wreck on the first day of our last tour -- all this bad shit was going on. But we have a really nice, new van now. We're really going to try to do things right from now on.
"And we're not going to talk too much about Satan anymore," he adds. "We'll be playing songs off the new record on this tour, but we'll be thinking about Our Lord Jesus Christ while we're doing it."
Sure they will. When asked if he's being serious, Bauman replies in a sarcastic twang that pretty much epitomizes Racebannon's whole irreverent, see-you-in-Hell attitude: "Yeah, totally," he says, sounding as unctuously sincere as Satan himself. "Well, except for the Jesus part."
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