Mission of Burma – ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver | Record of the Day

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches EP sleeve

Mission of Burma was formed in Boston in 1979 by Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott and Martin Swope. Swope was originally only brought in to do the band’s live sound, but ended up adding tape loops which became an integral part of their music. “Then he started showing up on our album covers”, said Conley.

That’s When I Reach For My Revolver became their most popular song and the lead tune on their second release in 1981, the Signals, Calls and Marches EP. In a sweet touch, the band provided a lyrics sheet for this release which took all the words from all the songs and alphabetized them. It was a metaphor for a band whose music was widely considered to be inaccessible – they did some of the work but listeners had to do their share too.

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Miller and Conley shared vocal duties in Mission of Burma. It’s Conley’s voice trembling over the anxious verses of Revolver. Hurt, but defiant he sings:

Once I had my heroes
And once I had my dreams
But all of that is changed now
They’ve turned things inside out

All the tension is released on the chorus. Tentative guitar strums giving way to exuberant chords as Conley hollers:

That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when it all gets blown away

He’d got the phrase of the title from a Henry Miller essay, without knowing that it was (supposedly) first uttered by prominent Nazi Hermann Goring. Reflecting, he said “I wasn’t too happy to hear about that because I don’t want to be linked to that sort of thing. But it was a phrase, it had power, I had this riff. To me, that’s just sort of the alchemy of writing songs.”

Mission of Burma band shot

Following Signals, Calls and Marches, Mission of Burma released an album, Vs, in 1982 before announcing their split the following year. Roger Miller had tinnitus before he even founded Mission of Burma. He knew playing in a band would exacerbate the problem and it had grown too pronounced to ignore. This was one factor in their split. The other was the lack of success they’d achieved outside of their home city, as illustrated during their handful of farewell gigs. Their two final shows in Boston were packed. In Chicago, they played to six people.

Happily, renewed interest in the Mission of Burma saw them reform in 2002. Since then they’ve added another four albums to their discography but That’s When I Reach For My Revolver remains their signature tune. As calling cards go, it’s pretty damn good.

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Nick Perry

Nick writes fact, fiction and opinion in various places including
his music blog noisecrumbs.com. His musical tastes cover indie, grunge, golden-era hip hop, punk, funk, psychedelia and a big portion of distortion. You can and should follow him on Twitter @NoiseCrumbs.

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