Song that fires up troops in film

July 12, 2004|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

Since Revolutionary times, American soldiers have brought music into battle, but the latest entry in the "songs to kill by" category - as seen in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 - is a long way from the peppy inspiration of the fife and drum.

Moore's anti-Bush, anti-war documentary, in a scene reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, features footage of troops in Iraq pumping up for battle by listening to the pounding rhythms of "Fire Water Burn," an eight-year-old release by the punk/hip-hop/Beastie Boys-inspired group, The Bloodhound Gang. Its chorus, which features a well-known 12-letter epithet, goes like this:

The roof the roof the roof is on fire

We don't need no water

Let the [expletive] burn

Burn [expletive] burn.

"This is the one we listen to most," a soldier says, holding up a copy of the CD, One Fierce Beer Coaster. The documentary shows how the troops have the music pumped into their helmets, and depicts a soldier singing part of the song's chorus. Scenes of carnage follow.

From the proud anthems of the Civil War ("Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") to the nihilistic rock favored by troops in Vietnam (Jimi Hendrix, The Doors), soldiers girding for battle have found inspiration in music.

In Iraq, music reportedly piped to soldiers - as they invade, or liberate, depending on one's point of view - has included Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries (used for that purpose in the Vietnam movie Apocalypse Now), Metallica's "St. Anger," and Drowning Pool's "Bodies."

For The Bloodhound Gang, a group that got its start playing campus parties at Philadelphia's Temple University, the song's inclusion in Moore's documentary has been a boon - both sales of the 1996 CD and downloads of the song have increased since the movie's recent release.

The band, whose members are huge Moore fans, was so honored by his request to use the song they say they gave him a break on the usual fee. As for their song becoming a war anthem, the group, known more for sophomoric toilet humor than astute political statement, is willing to live with that.

"[Michael Moore is] the master of delivering a compelling point in an entertaining manner," lead singer Jimmy Pop said in a statement on the band's Web site.

"As long as our troops aren't illegally downloading our songs, we could [not] care less if we're killing machine ... music," he said.

Ironically, says the band's manager, Brett Alperowitz, the song isn't about destruction at all; it's about partying. "What they're really talking about is bringing the roof down at a party," he said.

Still, "this was just a thrill," said Alperowitz, marketing director of Republic Records. "When we got the request, I called the band and said, `We're doing this, right?' It was just the fact that it was Michael Moore, and we're big fans. We trusted he wouldn't make the song the anthem to war, which he did, but that's OK."

"Fire Water Burn" is not The Bloodhound Gang's biggest hit. That was "The Bad Touch," from the band's third CD, Hooray for Boobies, in which Pop sings the refrain: "You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals/So, let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel."

One Fierce Beer Coaster was certified gold in 1997, Alperowitz said, and is now enjoying an increase in sales, thanks to the movie. The five-member band has found even more success overseas, with its albums going double platinum in New Zealand and platinum in Austria, Germany and Norway.

The band's songs have been featured on the soundtracks of at least three other movies (Half-Baked, Scary Movie and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), "but nothing this impactful," Alperowitz said.

Most of the band's five members are from Montgomery County, outside of Philadelphia. Some of the group's appearances, including one in College Park, have been marred by protesters, upset over the band's use of what they considered racist and homophobic lyrics.

While the band's youngest member turns 30 this year, its music, heavy on bathroom humor and sexual innuendo, appeals primarily to teen-age boys.

Alperowitz said the band has "been quiet for a little bit," but is working on a fourth album and is about to leave on an overseas tour. He doesn't expect the use of "Fire Water Burn" by U.S. soldiers to hurt the band.

"There's no such thing as bad press," he said. "All this just renews interest in the band."

"I don't think they're advocates of war," Alperowitz said of the band members. "We don't do politics a whole lot. That's not to say Jimmy doesn't have his opinions, but he's more likely to be thinking about his latest poop joke for a song."

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