Thursday, December 6, 2012

THE RED RIPPERS/Over There... And Over Here: First Ever reisue of legendary 1983 album

Written and recorded by Navy pilot Edwin Bankston, this rare 1983 album’s nine battle-scarred country-boogie dispatches chronicle the experiences of Bankston and his fellow vets in Vietnam and back home. Scarce and seemingly inscrutable, the sole recording credited to the Red Rippers has long captivated and mystified record collectors.

When we first encountered Over There … and Over Here, we were fascinated by the prescient, genre-dredging synthesis of Waylonesque honky-stomp with early ’80s new wave production values and eerie, out-of-time psychedelic guitar leads, weirdly reminiscent of the Blue Öyster Cult and the Meat Puppets at their most desert-drunk. We were intrigued by the cord’s ambiguous provenance (Oracle Records?) and moved by its complex, apparently deeply personal articulation of an enlisted man’s efforts to break on through his fear, anger, and disillusionment during and after the Vietnam War.

Once we finally tracked down songwriter, singer, and guitarist Edwin Bankston in Phoenix, Arizona, he told us that he wrote these nine potent blues during the decade following his return in 1972 from serving on the Navy aircraft carrier Kittyhawk in Vietnam. He recorded them while stationed in Pensacola, Florida and sold the resulting 1983 album through an advertisement in Soldier of Fortune magazine, largely to other veterans. The songs concern his own and other vets’ harrowing experiences both in country and back home, and are utterly unlike most popular music commentaries on the Vietnam War.

You’ve heard the strident protest songs blasted forth from that myth-shrouded era; many retain a visceral power and poetic outrage, but few, beyond a professed empathy for flimsy, victimized stock characters, accurately represent the actual lived erience and agency of soldiers.

Assuming the role of folklorist or documentarian, Bankston composed up to forty songs based on real-life wartime stories recounted by fellow vets who attended his concerts, many of whom were united by their marginalization and alienation from both the military and the antiwar movement alike. They felt disgust for warmongers as well as wartime atrocities, for the popular as well as the underground press. Ed’s evocative, ambivalent lyrics are at once highly critical of the U.S. government’s engagement in Southeast Asia and thoroughly patriotic. The album reflects this sense of dislocation, describing scenes of chaos, death, disembodiment and absolute burnout. It feels as relevant as ever given our ongoing foreign military engagements and the daunting challenges our veterans continue to face.

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