:: Tuesday, December 03, 2002 ::

Rise Above

CD Review: Rise Above -- 24 Black Flag Songs To Benefit The West Memphis Three.

Rise Above Album Cover

In May 1993 a horrific incident took place in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three young children were brutally bound, mutilated and murdered. Nothing of the sort had ever happened in the small community, and local police had no experience of dealing with this sort of crime. Having ineptly destroyed forensic evidence during their investigation they decided that the murders must be Satanic ritual killings. The local community similarly became caught up in the "Satanic" witch-hunting frenzy.

Police suspicion immediately fell on a young man called Damien Echols. Like many young working class teenagers he had been in and out of trouble with the law. The local police seemed to have something of a vendetta against Echols. They had been after him for years. Oh, and Damien and his friends liked rock music and horror novels.

After a number of attempts to get "witnesses" to testify, police finally questioned Jessie Misskelley, a young man with learning difficulties. After 12 hours of questioning and lie detector tests (he passed but was told he had failed) in a room which prominently featured a baseball bat in the corner, Jessie implicated himself, Damien Echols and Damien's friend Jason Baldwin in the murder.

The three were tried in an atmosphere of "Satanic panic" in the local community. Like something out of The Crucible, local people started to "remember" all sorts of terrible things about the youths on trial. At the trial amongst the evidence presented was a Stephen King book, heavy metal t-shirts and lyrics from Pink Floyd and Blue Oyster Cult albums, items that have sold millions of copies world-wide. This was supposedly evidence that the three were involved in a satanic cult.

When the verdict was delivered Jason and Jessie found themselves sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole, and Damien was sentenced to die by lethal injection.

Reading about this case on the West Memphis Three website, I found myself filled with anger and incredulity. That such a mediaeval atmosphere of hatred could be created and that such an appalling miscarriage of justice could happen in supposedly the most advanced industrial nation in the world is shocking. But of course Britain is no stranger to the lynch mob-mentality.

Singer Henry Rollins was similarly affected after watching a documentary about the case. Inspired to action he organised this benefit album, in which a variety of stars record the songs of Henry's old band, the seminal punk legends Black Flag.

As Henry states in the sleeve notes, this is no ordinary benefit album, this is a 'must have'. Highlights include Chuck D of Public Enemy on the title track, Lemmy of Motorhead with a throat burning version of 'Thirsty and Miserable' and tracks from the mighty Ice-T and Iggy Pop. If your tastes are more contemporary you might want to check out the contributions from members of Rancid, Slipknot, Ryan Adams and Queens of the Stone Age.

If you can't face hardcore punk the way it was meant to be played then just go to the WM3 website and make a donation.

No-one should be executed for their clothes or their attitude. Free the West Memphis Three!

:: Alister | 4:27 pm | save this page to del.icio.us Save This Page | permalink⊕ | |


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