. . .
One of the earliest songs written for Dirty, the Thurston Moore sung “Chapel Hill” was actually debuted during the 1991 The Year That Punk Broke shows, and like several songs on the album, it was based on a real incident.
And it’s also a thematic link between yesterday’s song, “Youth Against Fascism,” in that it’s an overtly political song, name-dropping one of the most evil politicians who ever lived — Jesse Helms — and tomorrow’s song, “JC” in that’s it’s about an unsolved murder.
In the case of “Chapel Hill,” the person killed was Bob Sheldon, who owned the lefty Internationalist bookstore in the titular city, after organizing resistance to Gulf War 1.0. Because the shooting was during a robbery, there is reasonable doubt that it was specifically political, but on the other hand . . .
Back in the days when the battles raged
And we thought it was nothing
A bookstore man meets the CIA
And we know
Throw me a cord and plug it in
Get the Cradle rocking
Out with the redneck pig old men
And it’s gold
Musically “Chapel Hill” is a sprawling, multi-part song that wouldn’t have felt unwelcome had it knocked on the door of Daydream Nation, but it’s also pretty hooky, especially on the quieter choruses.
Hair in the hole in my head
Too bad the scene is dead
Memory’s in the shadow
Back in time again
After the second chorus, Moore’s and Lee Ranaldo’s guitars keep quiet, jangling around each other while Steve Shelley does a build on his kick drum, and then it takes off into a scuzzy guitar rave-up, with Shelley and Kim Gordon speeding up and up and up while the guitars get louder and noisier until it all falls apart, leading to an almost conventional Ranaldo solo and the final verse.
Lookin’ away it’s another day
And of course we love you
But radical man meets the CIA
And we said no
We’ll round up the Durham H. C. kids
And the Char-Grill killers
Jesse H. coming to our pit
All ages show
Sadly, that never happened, of course, though it’s a great image. In any event “Chapel Hill” is a lynchpin of the fantastic back half of Dirty, though it was never a single or anything like that.
“Chapel Hill” live in Europe, 1991
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