Beat the Champ

Cover of Beat the Champ Back of Beat the Champ

Title: Beat the Champ 1
Released: 2015
Label: Merge

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Lyrics only — sorry!

Apologies, but I haven't had the chance to annotate this album yet — if you'd like to help, please email me! This page is just a placeholder so that you can read the lyrics. Full annotations, liner notes, and the rest will come when the page is fully annotated.

Want to help? Read here and pitch in!

Liner notes


which I used to watch twice a week on the UHF channels on a black and white TV in a place on Piedmont Avenue that we rented from a dude named Arnold Pan.

My stepfather's father had been a wrestling promoter in Indiana in the '40s and '50s. It's always a challenge for me to state simply what things were like between my stepfather and me, because there were few sweet spots that didn't end up getting polluted or corrupted by the dynamic of abuse, but in wrestling we had a point of contact: in many ways, he was a child who'd never grown up, and he liked to play the part of an antagonistic older brother at the fights. He would take me to see the matches at the Grand Olympic, a magnificent old building then going to seed: roller derby was also a big deal there. After the building got sold, it hosted punk shows for a while. It's a church now. My stepfather — Mike — would cheer the heels loudly and unapologetically, sometimes to the point of getting into heated altercations with people in the seats nearby. He would be the only person in the building applauding Eddy "the Continental Lover" Mansfield, who was, for one brief, forgotten moment, the most hated heel in all southern California.

Wrestling became big business in the '80s; the regional territories, which had been a relatively small-stakes game, were folded into national promotions. Prior to this consolidation, professional wrestling was a cheap ticket for a working family. If you went mid-week, the Wednesday night card would set you back five bucks. There were no frills and no pyrotechnics. The only merchandise for sale was the program, printed in one color on a single page folded four ways. It cost one dollar.

The situation in my house was deteriorating badly and permanently during the span of my hyper-fandom, which lasted from when I was nine until I was maybe thirteen. My life was chaotic and frightening. I did not cheer the heels. I feared and hated them. I wanted to see them punished. When, in the heat of battle, the good guys would abandon the rulebook in order to fight fire with fire, something inside me responded primally.

These were comic-book heroes who existed in physical space. I was a child. I needed them, and, every week, they came through for me. The southern California territory was not a major franchise, and most of the wrestlers who inspired fanatical devotion or froth-lipped anger at the Olympic were no-names beyond the southwest. In 1982, the southern California promotion was sold to Vince McMahon, and that was the end of that. During my teenage years, it was music that would save my life, but this album is for Chavo Guerrero, Sr., master of the moonsault, on whom I pinned my hopes when I was very young.

—John Darnielle, Durham, North Carolina

Early preorders of Beat the Champ came with a bonus 12" 45 rpm record, Blood Capsules b/w Dub Capsules, which unsurprisingly contained two songs, Blood Capsules and Dub Capsules.

Table of contents

  1. Southwestern Territory
  2. The Legend of Chavo Guerrero
  3. Foreign Object
  4. Animal Mask
  5. Choked Out
  6. Heed Turn 2
  7. Fire Editorial
  8. Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan
  9. Werewolf Gimmick
  10. Luna
  11. Unmasked!
  12. The Ballad of Bull Ramos
  13. Hair Match

Southwestern Territory

Small screen, July evening view
Up and down Grand Avenue
Where the legends get made
Out with the boys' brigade
Part of the motorcade

Flew home from Texas last night
Slept on the flight
Work like a dog all day
Born to chase cars away
Die on the road someday

I try to remember what life was like long ago
But it's gone, you know
Climb the turnbuckle high
Take two falls out of three
Black out for local TV

Stand in that cold empty hall
Wait for your name to get called
Burn like hillsides on fire
In the squall of the ringside choir
High as a wire

Nearly drive Danny's nose back into his brain
All the cheap seats go insane

Keep my eyes open and try to think straight
No one drives on the 60 this late
I feel like the last person alive
Francisquito to Glenshaw Drive

I try to remember to write in the diary That my son gave me
Climb the turnbuckle high
Take two falls out of three
Black out for local TV

The Legend of Chavo Guerrero 2 3

Born down in El Paso, where the tumbleweeds blow
To the middleweight champ of all of Mexico
Dad fought many bloody battles, and he raised four sons
Chavo was the oldest one

Old man Gory could pop, like a live grenade
Raised his boys in the way of the trade
Héctor and Mando, young Eddie G
But Chavo meant the most to me

Look high, it's my last hope
Chavo Guerrero coming off the top rope

He came from Texas seeking fortune and fame
Rose pretty quickly to the top of the game
Defender of the downtrodden, king of the hill
Tag team champion with Al Madril

Before a black-and-white TV in the middle of the night
I'm lying on the floor, I'm bathed in blue light
The telecast's in Spanish, I can understand some
And I need justice in my life, here it comes

Look high, it's my last hope
Chavo Guerrero coming off the top rope

Red Shoes Dugan, holding his arm high all out of breath
I hated all of Chavo's enemies, I would pray nightly for their deaths
Descending like fire on the people who deserved it most
Almost completely unknown outside of Texas and on the West Coast

He was my hero back when I was a kid
You let me down but Chavo never once did
You called him names to try to get beneath my skin
Now your ashes are scattered on the wind

I heard his son got famous and he went nationwide
Coast to coast, with his dad by his side
I don't know if that's true, but I've been told
It's real sweet to grow old

Look high, it's my last hope
Chavo Guerrero coming off the top rope

Foreign Object 4

Whipped like a dog, down on the cards
Square in the spotlight sweating real hard
All soaked in blood like a newborn babe
Sharp thing hidden in my hand shaped like an astrolabe

Gonna stick you in the eye with a foreign object
Gonna poke you in the eye with a foreign object

March through the red mist, never get my vision clear
Learn to love this kind of atmosphere
Strike funny poses, keep my weapon hand low
Whip my head around a little, get blood on the front row

I'm gonna jab you in the eye with a foreign object
I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object
Foreign object, foreign object, foreign object

Sink my teeth into your scalp, take a nice big bite
Save nothing for the cameras, play the angles all night
One of these days my legs will both snap like twigs
If you can't beat 'em make 'em bleed like pigs

I'm gonna jab you in the eye with a foreign object
I'm gonna stab you in the eye with a foreign object

Ba, ba da da, ba ba ba da, foreign object
Ba, ba da da, ba ba ba da, foreign object
Ba, ba da da, ba ba ba da, foreign object

Animal Mask

"One, two. Two, three, and."

Eighteen-man steel cage free-for-all
Through the noise I hear you call for help
You can't protect yourself

Frog mask and yellow cape
So desperate to escape
I came to you, hands wrapped in adhesive tape

That was when we were young and green
In the dawning hours of our team
Some things you will remember
Some things stay sweet forever

Seen you backstage once or twice
Animal gimmick pops real nice
Elbow sweep and tiger dance
Little extra fighter's chance

Hold on, I cried, I'll be right there
Pull your mask down through your hair
They won't see you
Not until you want them to

That was when we were green and young
Battle cry rising from your tongue
Some things you will remember
Some things stay sweet forever

Choked Out

Diamonds in the firmament
All reserves completely spent
Someone set up the oxygen tent
Everybody here's real proud to present
Choked out

Two hundred dollar take-all purse
Half-nelson to suplex reverse
Worried look on the face of the ringside nurse
At one, for once, with the universe
Choked out

Choked out, choked out, choked out

I stretch and strain with all my might
Drift off into the velvety arms of the night
Kick and claw and scratch and bite
Fire up the grill, everybody eats tonight
Choked out

No brakes down
An endless dark incline
Most of the boys
Won't ever cross this line
If they all want to die dead broke that's fine, that's fine
Everybody's got their limits
Nobody's found mine

Crowd screaming like hounds in the heat of the chase
All the colors of the rainbow flood my face
I lift right off into space
I can see the future, it's a real dark place

Choked out, choked out, choked out
Choked out, choked out, choked out

Heel Turn 2

Get stomped like a snake
Lie down in the dirt
Cling to my convictions
Even when I get hurt
Be an upstanding well-loved man about town
In your child's mind that's how it goes down

But I tried
The losing side
I don't want to die in here
I don't want to die in here

Drift down into the new dark light
Without any reservations
You found my breaking point
Spend too much of my life now trying to play fair
Throw my better self overboard, shoot at him when he comes up for air

Come unhinged
Get revenge
I don't want to die in here
I don't want to die in here

Stay good under pressure
For years and years and years and years
President of the fan club up there
Choking on his tears

Let all the trash rain down
From way up in the rafters
I'm walking out of here in one piece
Don't care what comes after

Drive the wedge
Torch the bridge
I don't want to die in here
I don't want to die in here

Fire Editorial

Two blinded in Detroit
Something must be done
Jaws dropping at ringside
In the blood tide
When the fireball hits

Down Indiana way
Make 'em check their guns
Real tears when it's over
Smell the sulfur
When the dark vault splits

Lord of the hidden pocket knife
Tawdry dreams all come to life
Save yourselves
Save this town, save everything not nailed down

War in Ontario
Dead before the bell
Crushed hopes of the young breed
All the best bleed
All the proud boys break

Who will stand before the flood?
Who will mop up all the blood?
Who alone?
Skin, bone, steel, stone
Swim or drown
Save this town, save everything not nailed down

Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan

The winter's wet, and the summer's hot
Take a match in Puerto Rico, why not
Power and adrenaline flowing like amber
From the recesses of the earth, put on your waders
And twitch when the water runs high sometimes
Twitch when the tide ebbs low

See the sights, maybe go downtown
Sometimes you get some heat, sometimes it follows you around
When the blade hits the bone, everybody hears it sing
Shower room full of people, no one hears a goddamned thing
And twitch when the current runs wild sometimes
Twitch when the contact howls

All that racket out there in the arena
I'm on a stretcher, here come the cleaners
And the sky goes dark and there I am
Climbing down the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram
I drop from the top of my tall steel cage
Drop to the concrete floor

Werewolf Gimmick

I was not there for rehearsal, I don't need it any more
When I show up just in time to pop you can clear the goddamn floor
Empty out the locker room, let me find my space
Let him who thinks he knows no fear look well upon my face
Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms
Know how a man becomes a beast when the wolfbane blooms

Sail past all the grasping hands, floodlights white and hot
Bring my vision into focus, find out what I've got
Some sniveling local babyface with an angle he can't sell
Full werewolf off the buckle like an angel straight from hell
Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms
Run howling through the carnage when the wolfbane blooms

Half the city sound asleep and safe inside their beds
Get lost inside my thoughts and nearly tear his face to shreds
Blood pooling on the canvas as the atmosphere gets hushed
Bring your heroes to the wolf den, watch them all get crushed
Get told to maybe dial it back backstage later on
Everyone still in this building right now: dead before the dawn
Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms
The pure at heart go putrid when the wolfbane blooms


All gone, all gone
Watching it go up out front on the lawn
Stay on my feet somehow
I'm strong now
Stuck there, no air

Head high, head high
Tongues of fire that reach up for the sky
Rise through the smoke
The dust of the grave
I will be saved

Pause in mid-stride
Pause in mid-stride
And ride, and ride, and ride, and ride

Burn hard, burn hard
Smoldering pieces landing in the yard
Trace names in ash
Big names, old friends
And dead ends

Those last few frames
Go down so fast
Rise through the flames and end again in flames at last

Stay free, stay free
Invisible armies march by night for me
Stay on my guard
Burn hard
Rage on
All gone

Pause in mid-stride
Pause in mid-stride
And ride, and ride, and ride, and ride


Rain beats down, down on the outer walls
Down on the skylight, where the streetlights
Shine like unquenchable coals
And I'm up high, trying to say goodbye
The only way I know how
Crude and graceless
Peeking through the eyeholes
Seeing the real you

And just after midnight
When it feels like it's getting late
I will reveal you
I will reveal you

Crowd's half-gone, just a few hangers-on
Come to see me finally tear through the stitching at last
You don't care, you look almost relieved down there
Like you're free, like you can breathe now
Like they've sawn off your cast
One more sleeper to see through

And by way of honoring
The things we once both held dear
I will reveal you
I will reveal you

Cast of thousands
But we were the real two
When I'm alone
Before a mirror late at night
I will reveal you
I will reveal you

The Ballad of Bull Ramos

Drive a great big truck
When I'm old, when I'm old
Haul the wrecks down to the wreck yard
Help the boys unload
Keep my hair nice and long
Because I can, because I can
Any of my old friends who have no place to turn to
They know to call me any time they come through

Never die, never die
Stand with a bullwhip in my hand
And rise, rise
In the desert sand

Work days, work nights
Finally get laid up
By a piece of broken glass
On the floor of the shop
And the doctor recognizes me
As the operating theater goes dim
Aren't you that old wrestler with the bullwhip?
Yes sir, that's me, I'm him

Get around fine on one leg
Lose a kidney, then go blind
Sit on my porch in Houston
Let the good times dance across my mind

Never die, never die
Stand with a bullwhip in my hand
And rise, rise
Surrounded by friends

Hair Match

You'll be maybe lunging for the bad guy's hip
No one anticipates the sunset flip
The referee and your opponent will hold you there
And we're gonna bring in a folding chair

We'll stipulate that there will be no cameras filming
But of course there will be several in the building
And if by chance somebody hits record
And stands real still somewhere back behind the soundboard

Cheap electric razor from the Thrifty down the street
Two guys down around your ankles so you'll stay put in your seat
Buzzing razor held aloft and just about to strike
I loved you before I even ever knew what love was like

Some people leave before it's over, but most of them stay
Some hide behind their programs, some turn away
Out in the parking lot you look up at the stars
And all the cheap cars


Many thanks to Wil Hall, who transcribed this entire album and gets full credit for it being posted. You are the best. Thanks also to Anjalene Whittier for transcribing the liner notes and contributing the first few annotations!

Of course, thanks as always to Caliclimber, whose stellar Flickr page provided the album art.


  1. When announcing the upcoming album (along with a prerelease link to The Legend of Chavo Guerrero), John said:

    The wrestling songs, several of which, surprise surprise, are really more about death and difficult-to-navigate interior spaces than wrestling 000 those will all be let out of their cages on April 7th in North America... The album's called Beat the Champ, and features cover art by Leela Corman; the vinyl will be two LPs at 45 rpm with lyrics printed on the gatefold. Why lyrics now, after a whole career of refusing to print lyrics? I don't know. Instinct. I am especially proud of these ones. They are rather more emotional than you might guess at first blush.

    There's more about the album over here, on Merge's site... All copies of the deluxe LP are gold and green vinyl until we run out — gold for the championship belt, green for the payout LA wrestlers got when they took home the Beat the Champ title. All that glory. All that shine. Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms. Some people might be thinking to themselves, JD, wrestling, I don't know, I've never really been into wrestling, but did I steer you wrong with the Bible album, even though you may not have been super-into the Bible? Fear not. In a world of false promises and hollow gimmicks, please rest assured that the old maxim still holds true, whether scrawled on the back of a claim check or carved into a bench in an abandoned locker room: you can't trust much, but you can trust the Mountain Goats.

    Mountain Goats news. The Cream of the Crop. January 20, 2015, retrieved July 29, 2019.

    Given their related themes, there is likely some relationship between this album and Undercard, recorded as the Extra Lens. Thanks to Anjalene Whittier for pointing this out! 

  2. "A song about my childhood hero, Chavo Guerrero, may he live a thousand years and all his days be filled with joy." Mountain Goats news. The Cream of the Crop. January 20, 2015, retrieved July 29, 2019. 

  3. The music video, stylized as an '80s VHS-tape, features JD and the real Chavo Guerrero Sr. and a number of others in various ring/ringside activities. 

  4. A foreign object is an object inserted into a professional wrestling match, typically contravening the official rules of the game. Various types and methods have been used — often by Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Sr.'s brother, in line with his "I lie! I cheat! I steal!" catchphrase anm persona.