Life, Liberty, And The Freedom To Throw Panties

One of these men did not drink O'Doul's: Best Fight Story order a round at the Terminal Bar
Darin Back

Chad Johnson is waiting for his favorite boozer to darken the doorway of the Terminal Bar. He surveys the regulars who line the walls like birds on a wire; they toss nods and hellos his way with rhythmic regularity. "You know the drunk who's ranting just before 'Built to Last'?" Johnson asks, referring to a song by his band Best Fight Story that appears on their most recent CD, Free Everybody (Fight or Flight Records). "He's usually here by now. If he gets here soon, you can meet him."

Because there's always room for one more ranting drunk, we scan the bar for him. During one of Best Fight Story's live recording sessions at the Terminal, Johnson explains, the man in question sat a little too close to the equipment. When the band played back the tape, they could hear him ranting on and on about fucking this and fucking that and piss something or other. But Best Fight Story felt that such ramblings were as much a part of their music as was their own performance, so they let his voice open "Built to Last," a song whose lyrics, appropriately, talk about driving your Ford drunk.

No one is ranting tonight, though. In fact, no one is talking much at all. At a little round table just inside the door, three of the four members of Best Fight Story sit quietly watching the Timberwolves game and nursing their beers. In plaid shirts and knit caps, BFS look like their music: just as comfortable with urban sound as with roots rock. There's not a dishonest face or quick talker in the bunch. These guys are the kind of folks who can talk working-man politics and not sound like a pain in the ass.

Best Fight Story seem to find the most poetry in the pedestrian--and the grotesque. "When you started pukin' you swore you heard the devil at the bottom of the bowl," Derek "Iron Lung" Johnson sings on "Built to Last." Though on "Free Everybody," he's got bigger problems on his mind: "Free all the starving from always being hungry. Free all those rich folks from wanting to get their hands on all of your money." The lyrics are street-level peacenik enough to rock the patchouli off the Sisters of Camelot. Though musically the band is cohesive enough to warrant your undivided attention at your local watering hole.

"Don't believe pop songs," Iron Lung warns on the album's first track. "Life ain't easy like they try to make it sound." He sings the words lightly, if ironically, atop a bouncy three-chord progression. But his songs still seem to have a little pop in them: "Built to Last" borrows the ringing, enharmonic guitar motif heralded by U2 in the '80s, while "Dumb Asses" warns against debt, smoking, and pollution in the style of the artist formerly known for his pizzicato falsetto. Compared to these tracks, "Hole in the Sky" sounds like a no-holds-barred folk ballad.

You can often hear Best Fight Story play these songs at the Terminal, where Iron Lung books the bands and hosts the Tuesday night open mic. He and his little brother Chad also play bluegrass in the group the Boot Draggers and front the Dylan cover band Tangled Up in Bob. Maybe spending so much time playing in bars has improved Best Fight Story's tolerance for ranters like the "Built to Last" guy. "White Black," a bluesy, heavy metal reminiscent piece, pokes fun at their affinity for a fantastic tirade.

While on vacation in New York, Iron Lung stumbled across a street evangelist who reminded his followers that there's no life on mutherfucking Mars, that the river's gonna turn to blood, that Jesus says he's gonna save us, but his real plan is to come back and kill us giant size. "Jesus is a-comin' black," he said. "White Black" is a love song that Iron Lung wrote about the evangelist, reminding the listener that it's sometimes good to step out of your own experience and listen to what other people have to say. Though Tim Hall, who plays guitar for the band, remembers a woman who heard the song at a Best Fight Story show and screamed out "Oh, no he didn't! Did he just say Jesus would be black?"

The band members smile at the memory. It's clear that they're pleased when their music affects people. "I want people to always be thinking," Iron Lung admits. "I don't write a lot of songs about relationships. This album is more politically thematic. There's a massive tradition of politics and music working together, and I'm not just talking about U2." They all laugh. "We're trying to get people to vote for George Bush because we think it will help Best Fight Club's popularity."

Politics aside, though, they admit that they're in it for the music. "If a song caught on for its insightfulness, that would be great," says Johnson, smiling. "But really, I just want 1,000 screaming fans with bare breasts throwing panties." He pauses. "Do you think opening for Aerosmith is out of the question?"

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