The Red Rippers :: Over There…and Over Here

You think ‘Viking metal’ and ‘post-Takoma guitar soli’ are niche markets? Let’s talk about Ed Bankston, a veteran of the US Navy and former combat pilot who, in 1983, wrote, recorded and released a record about his experiences in Vietnam and sold it via an ad placed in the perennially batshit mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune. No distros, no reviews, no name-check on the Nurse With Wound list, just a transmission sent from one combat survivor to his brethren and the handful of one-percenters and sympathizers constituting said magazine’s readership. Reissued earlier this year by Paradise of Bachelors, Over There…and Over Here, the lone release by Bankston’s Red Rippers, merits a place at the top of a short list of crucial reissues of 2013.

Superficial listeners may not, at first, hear anything especially unusual about some of the album’s country-boogie churns. Bankston’s robust, full-throated singing style owes a considerable debt to Waylon Jennings, and many of the full band arrangements here stick fairly close to the outlaw country playbook. But listen close and the myriad peculiarities of Over There…and Over Here reveal themselves. For one thing, the overarching mood of the album is far more melancholy than macho, more wistful than warlike. Bankston is a sensitive and astute writer, as comfortable with irony and ambiguity as he is with bellicose boasts. He’s as likely to criticize the unscrupulous government that sentenced him to die as he is to lament the loss of his girl to a ‘hippie’ while away at war. Like William Devane’s character in the 1977 film Rolling Thunder, Bankston’s protagonists arrive home to a hero’s unwelcome and a grim immersion back into a civilian life they no longer understand or relate to. While there is no shortage of rock and roll peaceniks from Phil Ochs to Neil Young to Thom Yorke lamenting the futility and horror of war, Bankston’s eyewitness accounts make those appeals to peace seem facile — even tacky — in comparison.

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