Saturday, July 31, 2021

Song Highlight: Chat Pile - Dallas Beltway

Disclaimer: This post describes a song dealing with violence toward children.

In my years listening to music, I have heard many songs detailing violent or disturbing subject matter. The list of metal bands singing about atrocities is almost endless, though not many of those songs actually feel unsettling. A lot of this is due to the fact that their exploration of violent subject matter is usually just for shock value and has no air of believability. The song “Dallas Beltway” by Chat Pile is one of the first songs in awhile that unnerved me. 

Chat Pile is a four piece noise rock band from Oklahoma City combining the angular menace of Big Black and the muscular heft of the Jesus Lizard. The band’s interesting name comes from a toxic byproduct of lead and zinc mining (known as “chat”). The town of Picher, Oklahoma was declared uninhabitable in 2009 due to more than 100 years of unrestricted lead and zinc mining leading to poisoning of the groundwater and undermining the stability of most of the town structures. It is a fitting name for a band as bleakly oppressive as Chat Pile.

The song “Dallas Beltway” is unsettling because it is somewhat reserved, not playing its hand immediately. A rhythmic, almost artificial sounding drum beat opens the song which is quickly accompanied by guitar feedback, and then a bassline with an undeniable groove. When vocalist Raygun Busch comes in, he does not sing. Instead, he calmly narrates a situation, as an unnamed narrator. The narrator is driving the Dallas Beltway:


“Dallas

Driving the beltway

Thinking about my dad and

Thinking about his dad and

His dad before him

Thinking 'bout how we all were raised”


Initially, you do not know why he is driving on the Dallas Beltway, but he is pondering his father and his father’s father. In the next lines, the narrator becomes a little more agitated, and starts to stutter and slur his speech. He lets the listener know that he has done something wrong, and tries to convince you to listen to him:


“Thinking 'bout

I'm thinking 'bout where I went wrong

Okay, listen, I’m normally a reasonable guy

Listen, okay? You look at me- people trust me”


“Normally” he is a reasonable guy, implying that in this instance he has done something uncouth. Finally the listener is given more information about what the narrator has done:


“Okay I’m not that kind of person, but

You wanna see what ordinary hands can do to something fragile?


Watch me

Watch me

Watch me

Watch me

Watch me

Never felt

Rage

So pure

So clean

So right

I disgust myself

Yeah, that’s right”


The narrator has used his hands to harm something fragile, which immediately sets your mind wandering. And since he adds that he “disgusts himself”, we can assume that whatever this fragile thing is, it is not trivial:


“I know

I know I’ve done something bad

I know this is the end of the line

I know what's in the trunk is reason enough to end my life”


The narrator has killed someone and their body is in the trunk of his vehicle, as he drives the Dallas Beltway. And based on earlier information about harming something fragile, he has probably killed a child. In the next few lines, the narrator becomes increasingly agitated, until he finally reveals what he has done:


“I know

What can I do?

I keep driving

Round and round

Round and round

Can't turn back time

Can't turn back time

And I know, and I know

There’s no forgiveness for parents who take their children’s lives

I know”


Indeed he has killed a child, though it is now apparent that he has killed his own child.


“So tired

Oh, fuck it!

You wanna see what’s in the trunk?

You wanna see what’s in the trunk?

C'mon fucker, look

Look

Look

Look at it

Look at it

Look at it

I swear to god I never thought this would happen

But now that I think about it, it's all been leading here

Out on the beltway

Dallas

Born and raised

Born and raised

Born and raised”


The song ends with the narrator considering how his entire life was leading to the moment that he murdered his own child/children. Perhaps that is why he was thinking about his father and father’s father, pondering generational trauma? As related earlier, what makes the song effective at eliciting a response is that it slowly reveals itself. It lets the listener’s mind do the work. Oftentimes, your mind can go to scarier places than whatever might be related in words. Saying less ends up making the song all the more chilling.

Buy Chat Pile’s music here.


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