Steve discusses the naming of Big Black and Rapeman

The following is taken from Rock Names by Adam Dolgins, a thorough book discussing the genesis of various band names, from ABBA to ZZ Top to Everything But The Girl. It's a good, fun-to-read reference book. There's a 2nd edition out now.

Big Black began in Chicago in 1983 and revolved around fanzine writer Steve Albini. In an interview, Albini explains why he picked the name Big Black, in addition to his later group, Rapeman:

Why don't you tell me how you came up with the name and whose idea that was?

Big Black was a name that I came up with when I was in college. It was just sort of a reduction of the concept of a large, scary, ominous figure. All the historical images of fear and all the things that kids are afraid of are all big and black, basically. That's all there was to it.

Was there any racial context at all?

No. I kind of wish that there was, because then all the people that have been saying that would have some basis for their arguments.

So people would say that?

Oh, people say that all the time. But, y'know, people are fucked, as we all know.

When you've been confronted with that, what has been your standard rap?

"Go fuck yourself" is my standard rap. There's no point in explaining something to somebody who's already made up his mind. You just tell them to eat shit and walk away. I found out after the fact that there was an African percussionist who called himself BIg Black -- not African actually, just a black guy from America, who made a bunch of sort of psychedelic-jazz percussion records. I actually have some of them. They're pretty horrible, but he was using the name ten years before I was. I think he started in '67 or '68, using the name Big Black.

[Note: The dearly-departed Wax Trax! records on Lincoln had a big jukebox with a Big Black 45 on it. -- Andy]

Did someone bring this to your attention?

No, actually. I just found one of his records in a record shop.

Do you recall any other names that you considered before going with Big Black?

I was in a band before that called Small Irregular Pieces of Aluminum.

What was the origin of that?

We had trouble coming up with a name. Actually I considered just keeping that name because I like it. But at the time I was concerned awith what it sounded like and it sounded "New Wavey" to me, and that was a sin.

How about Rapeman?

Rapeman is the title character in a Japanese comic book that I had come across through a friend of mine. The comic book is just a total mind-bender. There's a whole genre of comics in Japan, rape stories where women are raped in really graphic detail for whatever reason, and it's an amazing thing that this is just an accepted part of their sort of normal popular culture. Seeing one of these comic books really blows your mind if you're not familiar with the concept, and if you're looking at it as an American would look at a comic book, as something bery lighthearted, and y'know, sort of children's entertainment. You open up this comic book and there's this superhero who rapes people, as his profession. It's pretty amazing. So Ray Washam and I -- the drummer from Rapeman -- he and I were both sort of obsessed with this comic book for a while, we just thought it was the most amazing thing and kept looking at it, and we just realized that we should call the band that.

It's memorable, that's for sure

I caught far more shit for calling a band Rapeman than I did for Big Black, not that it really mattered to us. There were far more picket lines to cross.

When you say picket lines, I'm sure you got some heat, but was there actually boycotting of shows, and--

Oh, yeah, there was tremendous brouhaha. On our first American tour, there were actual picket lines and news crews at three of the gigs. It was the typical motely alliance of housewives and lesbians at the picket line. Housewives offended by the concept of punk rock and lesbians offended by the concept of rape. The really annoying thing was that the majority of the people on the picket line were precisely the kind of people that we would have like at the gig, people that politically basically think like we do. But sometimes people are so dead set on being stupid that they won't allow themselves to experience something themselves. That's all part of the natural selection process that determines the audience of a band, and I can't really say if that's good or bad. When we were in England, there was an enormous brouhaha at a university that had rented out a hall to a promoter to do a show. The national press were called in, and there was an attempt to boycott the gig, and the university returned the money for the deposit and tried to cancel the gig, but the promoter wouldn't allow them to. Because of all the attention, it ended up being an enormous success.

That often turns out to be the case when there's a storm of publicity

Yeah, the gig endedup being a sold-out show, and since the university didn't take any of the money that they had contracted for, the band and promoter both made a whole shit-pot of money.

Are you pleased in retrospect that you took both those names? Any regrets?

It's a matter of indifference to me. We picked the names for us, it made not a shit difference to us what anybody else thought of them.