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By Tamar Barzel
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Indiana University Press, 2015

ISBN 978-0-253-01557-0

328 Pages

PURL 2.1. Shrek, "Yo! I Killed Your God," early 1990s performance at the Knitting Factory.

Media reference: p. 57   

About this recording

Shrek, "Yo! I Killed Your God," early 1990s performance at the Knitting Factory. On Marc Ribot: Descent into Baldness, directed and produced by Cassis Birgit Staudt and Joerg Sochting. (c) Cassis Birgit Staudt and Joerg Sochting. www-marcribot-descentintobaldness.com. Marc Ribot (electric guitar and vocals), Christine Bard (drums), Jim Pugliese (drums), Sebastian Steinberg (bass guitar), and Chris Wood (electric guitar). Courtesy Cassis Birgit Staudt, Joerg Sochting, and Marc Ribot.

Cassis Birgit Staudt and Joerg Sochting's as-yet unreleased film, Marc Ribot: Descent into Baldness, chronicles guitarist Marc Ribot's work of the early 1990s. (The title is a sly reference to ‪Vernon Frolick's Descent into Madness: Diary of a Killer [Hancock House Publishing, 1993].) This excerpt from the film features the piece "Yo! I Killed Your God!" which Ribot wrote for his No Wave band, Shrek (Yiddish for "anger"). With the band performing Albert Ayler’s "Bells" in the background, the clip opens with Ribot explaining why he had begun wearing a Star of David pendant while performing:

I'm an atheist, you know? So I started wearing a Star of David, because [in the 1980s] I was touring a lot in Europe in bands with black members . . . like the [Lounge] Lizards, the Jazz Passengers. [We] had a couple of incidents in which the black guys in the band got harassed. And so I figured, why should they have all the fun, you know [laughs]? I mean, there was a consensus [against antisemitism in Europe] that lasted for a while after World War II, but that's faded. And as it fades, it's gonna be necessary to fight these battles again and again. And part of fighting the battle is to be visible. Because unlike black people, a lot of Jews could "pass."

Drawing sardonically on the antisemitic trope of Jews as Christ-killers, in this performance Ribot intones the words of the song using No Wave's bitingly anti-pop vocal style:

Yo! I killed your god! And I don't feel much remorse. I don't have to go back two thousand years to find an innocent victim to cry about.

Yo! I killed your god! It’s the one thing I’m never supposed to say. Neither one of us has much faith in your good intentions anyway.

Yo! I killed your god! [This] you say after a couple of drinks. Why do you only leave it to your retarded brothers in the KKK to say the dirty words I know you’re thinking? 

Yo! I killed your god. That’s what this machine gun's for.*

Throw away your images, throw away your books. Keep away from me with your metaphor.

Throw away your images, throw away your books. Keep away from me with your metaphor.

Throw away your images, throw away your books. Keep away from me with your metaphor.

Ribot's lyrics and delivery are an obvious source for the song's acerbic character, but other elements also contribute, including the electric guitar line and solo, whose dissonant intervallic content and angular melodic contour are key aspects of Ribot's distinctive voice as an instrumentalist. The dialogue among voice and instruments is another factor. Drawing on blues tradition, electric guitar lines in rock often comment on a song's melody and lyrics in call-and-response fashion. In this song, stuttering, unpredictable, and attenuated interjections from drum set and electric guitars create a destabilizing effect, while the guitars' terse, unmelodic interjections during the verse echo the lyrics' sardonic message.

Rhythm contributes to the song's unsettled character in a few more ways. The song is in a six-beat meter (six beats to the bar), but several rhythmic elements pull against this underlying pattern. The song's foundational five-note bass guitar riff and a four-note electric guitar riff, which cycle over the six-beat pattern, create an uneven division within the meter. The guitars, bass guitar and drums give a strong rhythmic, melodic, and dynamic accent to the first beat of each bar, rather than creating a flowing quality that a six-beat meter often implies. There are also several interruptions to the meter (0'58", 1'38" and 2'47"). At a few points, the drum set adds some predictability by articulating regular patterns, but these patterns also clash with the other, uneven instrumental parts. If a song's groove emerges out of the alchemy of its rhythmic parts, this one has a lopsided, stop-and-go quality that bolsters the lyrics' caustic message, departing from punk rock's insistent rhythmic symmetry, from the familiar blues shuffle, and from the general idea of a balanced rock groove.

*The line "That’s what this machine gun's for" is a reference to singer/songwriter and activist Woody Guthrie, who in the 1930s painted and pasted the words "This machine kills fascists" on his guitars.