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Photograph by Deana Newcomb

Lizard Vision: Does this remind you of a dream you had recently? If so, seek help immediately.

Slime Time

The Austin Lounge Lizards rally around UCSC sports with 'The Banana Slug Fight Song'

By Steve Palopoli

For decades now, whenever the brave men and women of UCSC sports have taken it to the field, they've been looked upon as spineless and slimy. This has nothing to do with anything our legions of top-notch players have done as athletes, and everything to do with their mascot.

Ah, the banana slug. It stares out from all things UCSC-merch-related, smiling in that ludicrous, anthropomorphic way team mascot animals are often forced to smile. It charms. It delights. It ever-so-subtly hints at intellectual and spiritual superiority. It completely and utterly fails to intimidate the opposing team.

Until now.

That's right, the Austin Lounge Lizards, who return to Santa Cruz Oct. 11 for two Kuumbwa shows, have finally provided our fearless Slugs with "The Banana Slug Fight Song," a track from their upcoming album that's already being played as a single on KPIG.

But though the song asserts the inevitable victory of a team that is "racing across the field, partially congealed," and contains the battle cry "Sla-sla-sla-slather you with slime! We we we we win another time!", it was, incredibly, not the untapped fearsomeness of our beloved yellow bellies that drew chief Lizard songwriter Hank Card to our side.

"I always thought banana slugs was a funny mascot, obviously," says Card. "Then somehow the idea of banana slugs racing down the field came into my mind. I got the first few lines and thought 'Well, that's kind of funny.'"

Card says he's practically leaving a trail of goo in his wake over the finished tribute.

"I'm really pleased with it," he says, "I've never written a fight song before. But I grew up in Oklahoma, where football is big. So I kind of know the genre, if that's the right word for it."

What is there to know? Well, for one thing, keep it snappy. Besides being very funny--and for locals, no doubt rather stirring--"The Banana Slug Fight Song" is also one of the Lizards' shortest songs ever, clocking in at under a minute.

"They're pretty quick," says Card of fight songs. "You gotta get drinking. Plus, you can sing 'em three or four times in a row."

Locals might be surprised to find a band from Texas interested in our slug, which was up to now so lowly on the mascot totem pole. But Card's fellow Lizard Tom Pittman says the little guy has become kind of a cause célèbre.

"That's bigger than you might think it is, the Banana Slugs," says Pittman. "You go to Strawberry [Music Festival], they have skits and plays around banana slugs. One of the first times we saw Riders in the Sky, they had some sort of a poem about a banana slug. It's been floating out there."

Hear that? That Slug is a money mascot! Take that, Bruins!

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Lizards have had a long symbiotic relationship with Santa Cruz that stretches back many years.

"We're probably better understood there than anywhere, except maybe here at home," says Pittman. "I don't think there's really a better demographic in the country or the world for us than the Santa Cruz area. There's more of a concentration there of people who appreciate what we're doing. I think that has something to do with the school, and something to do with KPIG radio. It's one of those chicken and the egg situations. KPIG radio probably couldn't work in just any climate. But it works there."

That "The Banana Slug Fight Song" both parodies and celebrates its subject is 100 percent Austin Lounge Lizard style. For 20 years, they've been walking a fine line with their humor, sending up bluegrass, country, gospel and rock music with songs that faithfully recreate their musical structure, but push the lyrical content into absurdity or mine the clichés of the genres for laughs. And while unsparingly nailing past targets like the Oak Ridge Boys ("Put the Oak Ridge Boys in the Slammer") or Newt Gingrich ("Gingrich the Newt"), they've also affectionately stuck it to subjects they love, like Leonard Cohen (the brilliant "Leonard Cohen's Day Job," in which Field Commander Cohen takes a job as a mechanic and waits for Joan of Arc to drive in "in her Charger of white, and ask if it all could be finished tonight") and their beloved Texas ("Stupid Texas Song").

Of course, since the Banana Slug tribute is likewise both a great gag and a great fight song, the Lizards are definitely running the risk that it will actually be adopted by UCSC--or at least UCSC athletes--as a real source of Slug pride.

"I'd be very pleased," admits Card. "In fact, I emailed someone in the sports department at the university before I finished it and said, 'Do you have a fight song?' and he said no. I didn't tell him I was actually thinking about writing one. But if they already had one, it wouldn't be funny. He was very polite, and I'll send him a copy of the CD. I should say that the CD is going to say that it's unofficial, and not endorsed by UC-Santa Cruz. But that doesn't mean they won't like it."

Fair enough. And by the way, Hank, what's up with all these animal songs, which over the course of eight albums have covered everything from chickens to dogs to monkeys to newts and now slugs?

"I think animals are funny. I just find them amusing," he says. "I never thought about it much, but I think newts and lizards and banana slugs are much funnier than, say, bears or something. Although bears have their charms."

The Austin Lounge Lizards. 7pm and 9:30pm on Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center; 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Frank Meyer opens; tickets are $20, call 831.479.9421.

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From the September 24-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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