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If my house was burning down and I had to get out in ten seconds, this is what I would grab, in roughly this order: a painting my dear departed mother made for me, my teenage diaries, my sweetheart and my Big Stick records. Family heirlooms? Pah. Legal papers? No way. Clothes? Forget it. I AM A BIG STICK FAN, and I don’t care who knows.
Big Stick popped up in the UK via New Jersey in the mid-eighties with a handful of records, including the visionary Crack Attack, Drag Racing and Jesus Was Born On an Indian Reservation. By the 90s they had, um, “legal difficulties,” so they changed their name to Drag Racing Underground and put out some more brain-sizzling records. In ’96 they returned to Big Stick and released Pro Drag, which is too awesome to describe and includes tracks such as Girls on the Toilet, You Better Not Be Spendin’ No Money on No Racecar and Do Not Rape My Sister at the Municipal Pool. They’ve got sound files on their website so listen up, and now they’re back with new stuff – yeah!
If your taste in music is of the melodic, soulful, tuneful, variety then don’t bother reading any further. But if you like your favourite bands to look kind of funny, be oddly mysterious drag racing afficionados, create weird disjointed rhythms, play nasty raw guitars, make strange samples that glue themselves to your brain, sing dispassionately to heavy fucked-up noise in stoopid voices, and write the smartest and funniest lyrics in the world, then John Gill and Yanna Trance are the ones for you.
I used to work as a porn-packer for a swingers’ contact magazine. I played Crack Attack to my co-workers and within a minute they were cowering with their hands over their ears and begging me to turn it off. I was genuinely surprised by their reaction. Are you?
John: Well, Crack Attack does possess some elements that might rub folks in slightly abrasive way. If they wanted to cower from the song, it’s a free country and I guess that’s their right. Although they don’t know of all the joy they were depriving themselves of, ha ha.
Yanna: What a bunch of wusses!
What’s with Friends and Cars? I have to skip that track every time.
John: ‘Friends and Cars was my reaction to all the folk hysteria that was going on at the time. It’s kind of a parody of all that. The truth is that the song does deal with the grim reality that for many people their car is simply a beast of burden more than it’s a happy-go-lucky form of carefree transportation.
You are also Drag Racing Underground, right? The narration on that video From England to Englishtown sounded a lot like Broadcast Booth to me.
Yanna: Yep, we are www.DragRacingUnderground.com. We’ve been doing the Drag Racing Underground thing since 1989.
John: We’ve got a whole catalogue of drag racing videos now. Currently we’re pretty busy mastering them all to DVD format. Glad that you mentioned Broadcast Booth, that’s still one of my favourite dittys. It was a lot of fun making that record. I enjoyed playing the voices of three different characters.
Please sum up the appeal of the drag strip for you in ten words.
Yanna: The sights, the sounds, the volatility, the fire, the people!
John: I like the scene and car culture aspect of it.
Who or what is the anti-Big Stick?
Yanna: That’s a weird question. Maybe all the American Idol stuff is the “anti-Big Stick”, I dunno.
John: Any music that’s too overly produced and lacks any soul is the anti-Big Stick in my humble opinion.
What do you do in real life?
John: In “real life” a lot of our time is dedicated to the Drag Racing Underground business. We spend a lot of time at the drag strip. We also do music a lot. We did a film score awhile back for a feature film by NY filmmaker Holly Angell Hardman titled Besotted. We’d probably like to do more work like that. We’re also recording a new album for Blast First/Mute UK.
Yanna: John’s right about us doing lots of drag racing related work. Besides working on the videos for our Drag Racing Underground business, I also write for drag racing publications. I cover Old Bridge Township Raceway Park’s heads-up Ultra Quick 8 scene for the track’s Raceway News and also for a magazine called Fastest Street Car that’s put out by the same people who do Hot Rod magazine. And like John said, we did the music for Besotted, that was a neat challenge. And for the last few months we’ve been working on a new album.
Jungle Pam told me that the drag strip is too corporate today, that “the circus left town.” What do you think?
John: Jungle Pam does make a somewhat valid point. Unfortunately the escalating expense necessary to campaign race cars these days requires lots of corporate involvement, mainly corporate sponsorship. These days, instead of seeing a field of cars with cool names and wicked paint jobs, you’re more likely to see a bunch of cars that are simply fast moving billboards. That’s the proverbial price of progress, I guess. Not to say that it’s all bland, ’cause there’s still cool stuff out there, but it’s definitely changing. There’s still a lot of great grassroots drag racing going on, ya just don’t see it that much because the media doesn’t really bother to expose it. We’re really into heads-up doorcar racing now because that’s a form of racing that’s pretty damn close to what drag racing used to be when it got started. We also like nostalgia drag racing because it mimics the old school days when the sport was kind of cooler in some ways.
Yanna: I love Jungle Pam. She’s a great gal. I’ve met her a couple of times and I think she’s the best. She’s a genuine icon of drag racing culture. Pam and I had a toast after the Raceway Park Funny Car Reunion a couple seasons ago at a bar not too far from the track called Vitale’s. Pam is the real deal. It is sort of a bummer that drag racing now needs so many corporate dollars to exist, but the truth is that practically the whole world has gone corporate. There’s hardly anything left in this society that doesn’t have a corporate banner smacked on its ass somewhere. Big time money is where it’s all going. But like John said, we’re really into the heads-up racing and nostalgia scene.
Is it embarrassingly bad to like top fuel dragsters and jet cars instead of the more obscure classes or car?
John: Not really, I mean, the top fuelers and the jets make the big noise, and have a much more obvious appeal. Personally, I like the big-time and small-time racers. Top fuel and jets are like watchin’ somebody play guitar through a loud Marshall stack of amplifiers, while some of the more obscure classes are like watching someone play through a smaller amp or playin’ an acoustic guitar.
Yanna: Good analogy, John…ha ha.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Yanna: Hope your readers will check out www.dragracingunderground.com I highly recommend that even if you aren’t a hardcore drag racing fan that you get a copy of our Floppers Diggers and Doorslammers video. It’s a gas! Get it!
John: And stay tuned for our album that should hit the streets sometime in ’04. We’re having a good time making it and I believe it’s gonna be a kick for our fans. So far we’re pretty happy with the way it’s coming together. Thanks, Charlotte, for having us.
I’m weak with pathetic fan-girl gratitude, the pleasure is truly mine.