There’s a story behind every iconic song. In the case of “Broadripple is Burning” by now-defunct Indianapolis rock band Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, that story is uniquely tied to the song’s geographic birthplace.
With mentions of neighborhoods like Broad Ripple, where the band played shows, and Fountain Square, where the band lived and partied, the song has touched listeners far beyond Interstate 465, even making its way onto Season 15 of American Idol. Now with more than 17 million plays on Spotify, the tune has a personal meaning to every individual, and that especially rings true to those who played it countless times over the years.
Through this oral history, the complicated story of “Broadripple is Burning” is told via the voices of former Margot members, along with those who were around during the mid-to-late 2000s when the song came into being. From lyric changes to complete chord shifts, “Broadripple is Burning” ultimately became an animal of its own in the end, forever leaving an imprint on the city it came from.
Richard Edwards: Current solo artist and former frontman of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Tyler Watkins: Former bassist of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Chris Fry: Former drummer of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Erik Kang: Former multi-instrumentalist of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Kristen Reilly: Sings on Not Aminal version of “Broadripple is Burning”
Kenny Childers: Bloomington-based songwriter, founder of Gentleman Caller, and late-era member of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
Heidi Gluck: Longtime musician and late-era member of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
David “Moose” Adamson: Former member of Edwards’ band before Margot (Archer Avenue) and longtime Indy musician with projects like Sedcairn Archives, DMA, and Jookabox
Benny Sanders: Former member of Indy-based bands Jookabox and Everthus the Deadbeats
Todd Robinson: Owner and founder of LUNA Music
Rhett Miller: Frontman of Dallas-based alt-country band Old 97’s
Children, Broadripple is burning
And girls are getting sick
Off huffin’ glue up in the bathroom
While their boyfriends pick up chicks
KENNY CHILDERS: I had written a song called “Broadripple Nightclubs,” which was a pretty dumb song. It had the line, “Broad Ripple nightclubs don’t burn down by themselves / They need your help,” which I had stolen from a Vulgar Boatmen flyer. I thought it would be pretty funny to sing that in Indianapolis, just for the purpose of antagonizing people, and I had Richard come in and sing on it.
RICHARD EDWARDS: Kenny asked me to sing on a song of his that featured a line about burning down Broad Ripple nightclubs, so I did that at some point while writing these records. I’m sure the seeds were planted there. Kenny’s song is so wonderfully bratty, and as usual, I wrote something a bit more dour.
CHRIS FRY: As I recall, we had played a couple shows with Gentleman Caller, and they had a song called “Broadripple Nightclubs.” The Margot song was, at least in part, a nod to that song.
RICHARD EDWARDS: I wrote the song in the parking lot of our old studio while waiting for whoever it was that had the keys to show up and let me in to start rehearsal, or recording, or whatever it was we happened to be doing that night. Maybe I putzed with a tiny bit of lyrics later, but the whole thing was basically done in that 10-minute period, more or less.
KENNY CHILDERS: I remember loving that he was singing about “the kids” in “Broadripple is Burning,” as if he were apart from them, which I suppose he was. He always had kind of an old man vibe, which is why we get along so well.
CHRIS FRY: The first version [of “Broadripple is Burning”] that came out around 2006. We were insane with big dreams in 2006. We did tours with no tour support, taking seven or eight musicians on the road. I remember losing band members on the road that didn’t have cellphones. Every night on tour, we’d have to try to make friends with fans with hopes that we could sleep on their couches or floors.
TODD ROBINSON: I first heard the song, when Richard brought the Artemis Records 7” single in for us at LUNA. That was around 2006 or 2007, I believe. My initial reaction was how much I liked the song and how it seemed to capture the feeling of the neighborhoods at the time.
RICHARD EDWARDS: I had moved out of Broad Ripple and into Fountain Square pretty early on in the Margot experience. I just kind of remember Fountain Square being filthy but fun. Broad Ripple was already becoming kind of not our scene. Older folks and college kids. It felt like a place where the culture was sort of dying and giving way to something much less interesting. It had that newly dead smell. There was no spark; it was all fizzle. We had moved there after high school because we thought it was happening, and we felt totally swindled. Especially coming from playing Muncie a lot, where it was all youth, passion, bad decision-making, fun, and inspiration.
DAVID “MOOSE” ADAMSON: Like any street with a bunch of bars, there are goofy aggressive drunks looking to mess with people. You can go there in a pretty good mood and come back feeling worse about the world. That’s the part of Broad Ripple that the song reminds me of.
CHRIS FRY: When the song was written, the Patio had already announced that they were selling and closing up shop. I remember the sentiment in the original music scene at the time was that Broad Ripple was going to lose the best part of its culture and replace it with another place to take Jello shots or smoke a hookah.
TYLER WATKINS: I definitely witnessed the demise of Broad Ripple with Richard while he lived in Broad Ripple in the Archer Avenue days. For the most part, the demise was in our heads. I don’t think any less of the neighborhood today, but at the time, it felt as if the musicians were moving out and the fraternities were moving in to Broad Ripple. It was somewhat of an exodus to the more affordable Fountain Square for us musician-types. Also, the Patio, Margot’s hometown venue that helped launch our career, closed its doors, leaving only the Vogue as a proper rock venue in Broad Ripple. And small Indy indie-rock bands could much more easily fill the Patio at 200 capacity than the Vogue at 800.
RICHARD EDWARDS: That [the Patio] is the first place I saw people really respond to it [“Broadripple is Burning”], and us. After the first time we played it there, the band wanted to go party at the Alley Cat. I didn’t want to go, so I decided to walk back to Fountain Square. I remember six hours of reflecting on how I’d just experienced something I’d been striving for since I was a little kid, and wondering why it hadn’t made me happier than it did.
And darling, I’m lost
I heard you whispering that night in Fountain Square
The trash-filled streets made me wish
We were headed home
RICHARD EDWARDS: We played the Patio and Vogue pretty much exclusively, but our hanging out took place in Fountain Square. It wasn’t goofy brunch joints and killer Asian street food then—just crumbling bars and desperate people. Neighbors would set each other’s houses on fire over disputes of minuscule importance. They’d douse mattresses in gasoline, lean ‘em up against the house, and light ‘em on up. We always had these weirdo neighborhood folk breaching our parties, and it became a problem because they would try to make ladies uncomfortable and just be general assholes. We almost bought the joint that became the Brass Ring. Anyhow, mostly people just hung at our house all night, which was horrible and wonderful.
CHRIS FRY: Fountain Square was just starting to be on the radar for people in the original music scene due in large part to Radio Radio opening. The majority of Margot would migrate into living at my brother’s house near Fountain Square. In the early 2000s, that neighborhood was like the Wild West. Three of our neighbors houses were burned down by a gang called The 2-1 Fatals. Our cars were getting their catalytic converters and stereos stolen, and neighbors would show up unannounced to our parties with their house arrest anklets. Sometimes we would wake to cars exploding for either insurance fraud or someone exacting revenge. There was always a little bit of tension, excitement, and fear wrapped together. I think you get a good sense of that in the song. Fountain Square has come a long way since then.
TODD ROBINSON: I can hear that song and think about Mpozi‘s gallery in the Murphy Building, one of Big Car’s first spaces. I also remember Margot occasionally staging shows at Radio Radio, well before there was anyplace besides Peppy’s to get a bite to eat.
THE MARGOT HOUSE
There was love inside the basement
Where that woman used to lie
In a sleeping bag we shared upon
The floor almost every night
And darling I’m drunk
And everything that I have loved has turned to stone
So pack your bags and come back home
RICHARD EDWARDS: We were working and playing at night and sleeping by day back then. Living on top of each other. I was finally doing what I’d been trying to do my whole life, but I was not really enjoying myself. Our first record had come out, and we were touring, playing to pretty full clubs, meeting girls, and staying up all night talking about the future. I was writing a lot of songs, and they all happened real quick. “Broadripple” is a staying-up-all-night-and-talking kind of song.
KRISTEN REILLY: They had built walls between the existing rooms in the [Margot] house to create sub-rooms for each band member. Our room was the size of the mattress that took up the entire floor and had shelves above us where our clothes were hung. Most of the nights in that house were spent drinking whiskey and wine on the back porch, listening to music, and talking until we crashed back in the cubby with a fan blowing on us so we didn’t sweat to death. Although it sounds rough, I was 20 years old and enjoying every second of the freedom that came with living in a house full of artists and musicians.
ERIK KANG: I always think more about the stretch between Broad Ripple and Fountain Square. We had a lot of events and parties up in that area, usually at the Vogue or at friends’ houses. And we’d eventually after-party or crash back at the Margot house in Fountain Square. The song has a sense of desperation to it, and that’s how I usually felt when someone was driving me back to the Margot house … desperate to find a place to go to sleep and get away from everyone for a bit of peace, in a house regularly occupied by 10+ people.
KRISTEN REILLY: The feeling of the song is a pretty accurate depiction of my memories in both of those neighborhoods. Booze-infused interactions and young, lost people falling in and out of love/infatuation, confusion, etc. My relationship to these places was mostly nights of drinking wine and trying to figure out who I was. Early 20’s are full of a lot of strong emotions about your surroundings and the people surrounding you. These neighborhoods served as the backdrop for my formative years and most of my mistake making.
RICHARD EDWARDS: My favorite thing about the song is how it’s rendered that neighborhood [of Broad Ripple] fiction. I love when people who love the song pilgrimage there and are totally let down. That is a wonderful feeling. I know that’ll come off as obnoxious, but I’m so pleased that, as far as the internet is concerned, I destroyed a place that somewhere along the line decided a bunch of Brothers nightclubs were more important than the Patio, and turned it into some weird emo mecca that some kids have actually sought out, only to be completely disillusioned once they arrive. I can’t tell you how much that tickles me. Maybe that’s the song’s ultimate lesson. Take the place in which you live and turn it into somewhere you’d rather be.
A NUCLEAR EVOLUTION
If my woman was a fire
She’d burn out before I wake
And be replaced by pints of whiskey
Cigarettes, and outer space
Then somebody moves
And everything you thought you had will go to shit
We’ve got a lot
Don’t ever forget that
And I’m wasted
You can taste it
Don’t look at me that way
‘Cause I’ll be hanging from a rope
I will haunt you like a ghost
RICHARD EDWARDS: I hated the song almost instantly, so by the time we recorded it (initially on our own before we signed with Sony) I was basically instructing the band to try and murder it, or at least strangle all of the longing and vulnerability out of it. That version is on the rarities box set, I believe. I remember feeling very disturbed that the chorus was getting big applause and cheers when we played it live. It didn’t seem like something to hoot and holler over. I would hate it if young people thought I was glorifying depression and anxiety or advocating for the escape from those maladies through substances. In the instance of this song, it felt as if the audience and I weren’t on the same page, maybe. I also just thought the song came too easily and was musically simple. It was the kind of song I could write without effort, and I tend to distrust those.
CHRIS FRY: The song has had many versions, different tempos, a major/minor key change, and at least two lyrical changes.
TYLER WATKINS: Initially, the dark tune impressed me, to say the least. As a band, we tackled the song with a rumpus folk explosion. Everyone’s first instinct was to make it a rocker, with heavy hitting quarter-note hits throughout. “Broadripple” bounced along with Richard shouting lyrics over garage rock, a Wurlitzer, and a swooning cello. We played the song that way while we toured as a baby band for the following year or so.
ERIK KANG: I think everyone around Margot felt it could be a popular song for the band, so there was a lot of emphasis on getting the recordings right. In part due to that pressure, and in part due to the numerous ideas we had for the song, we cut all sorts of versions. The biggest change was when it took on a totally different chord progression. I think we debuted that version at the Irving Theater, and people were so confused … and pissed. There was also a period of time when the song became an audience sing-a-long, which prompted Richard to change some of the lyrics. Maybe it was coincidental, but I think he enjoyed catching people off guard with things like that.
And I wrote this on an airplane where the people looked like eggs
And when a woman that you loved was gone
She was bombing East Japan
And don’t fucking move
‘Cause everything you thought you had will go to shit
We’ve got a lot
Don’t you dare forget that
CHRIS FRY: Lyrically, there was a change “I wrote this on an airplane, where the people look like ants” to “where the people look like eggs.” That change came when we were on tour with the British band South in 2006. South had a very charismatic roadie/merch seller that went by “Little J.” Little J had misheard the lyric and approached Richard. He said, “The line about people look like eggs is brilliant!” From then on, the line was eggs.
RICHARD EDWARDS: I think this is true. If someone English liked a line, we figured it was more Beatles-y. But I’ve always tried to turn phrases into unexpected and weird what-have-you’s, so who knows.
CHRIS FRY: Another lyric change was from “snortin’ coke up in the bathroom” to “huffin’ glue up in the bathroom.” My memory of that change is that it had something to do with how certain people in the crowd were interpreting the lyric. Like, there would be some bros fist-pumping and screaming “snortin’ coke!” Like it was some kind of party anthem to them. The change to “huffin’ glue” definitely stopped the fist-pump, drug reference excitement.
RICHARD EDWARDS: Coke felt like some kind of fucked-up applause line. And since I think coke, and in general the people who enjoy lots of coke, are about as gross as it gets, it felt right to change it once we saw how it was going down amongst a certain contingent.
TYLER WATKINS: We eventually signed with Epic Records and relocated our recording efforts to Engine Studios in Chicago. Richard, Andy, and myself lived in the studio apartment for about five months through the album’s completion. I ended up with the task of mixing “Broadripple.” This version was mellow with Richard and his acoustic guitar being in the forefront. Emily Fry and Kristen Reilly chimed in with angelic vocal harmonies.
KRISTEN REILLY: To be honest, I remember being surprised that Richard asked me to come to Chicago to sing on it. He and I have always had the kind of friendship where you can really piss each other off, even to the point where you don’t talk for a while. But we always come back around and laugh about it. We’re both very stubborn. Leading up to these recording sessions, I remember we were in one of our spells of being pretty irritated with each other. One day out of the blue, he sent a typical Richard text that was something to the effect of, “Get your ass up here and sing,” which meant things were fine and we probably forgot why we were pissed off in the first place. So I drove up to Chicago and sang.
A LASTING LEGACY
And I’m wasted
You can taste it
Don’t look at me that way
‘Cause I’ll be hanging from a rope
I will haunt you like a ghost
CHRIS FRY: Man, that song has legs. I was more than a little surprised when it made it onto American Idol. It’s kind of funny that that song never had a music video, or was ever really promoted. It is a viral phenomenon that is hard to explain.
ERIK KANG: People still send me texts when Pandora or some other streaming service plays it. I get nostalgic when the song comes on because I remember random events from that era.
BENNY SANDERS: It’s not radio-friendly, but it’s such a cult little song that got out to everyone. Even recently, I was sitting at a bar in Joshua Tree, California, and the song came on their playlist. I remember crying. It’s a song that had legs beyond the city.
KENNY CHILDERS: It was a great song then, and it’s a great song now. I have no idea why it’s continued to have a presence that has grown over the years. It’s a pleasant surprise. It just seems like it keeps getting passed from one YouTuber to another. I hope it keeps going so Rich can get him a sweet hot tub.
KRISTEN REILLY: Richard is a great songwriter. He painted a picture well and put it to a great melody, and that’s why it was successful. When a writer has the ability to convey something from a true place, it resonates with people, and that’s what he did.
TODD ROBINSON: Like all good/great art—it speaks to and touches on the universal themes of love and loss that we can all relate to. Truly a timeless articulation.
HEIDI GLUCK: People might love that song because humans love to wail things like, “I’m wasted.” But really, I think it’s just one of many examples of a perfect Richard Edwards song—a gorgeous wistful melody. He’s probably got 30 more like it that he never put out.
TYLER WATKINS: I’m not sure if the song “Broadripple is Burning” had a heavy influence on our moderate success level. But, in the studio, we often joked with Richard about some day being the cliché rock dude who people would talk about and say, “You know, that ‘Broadripple is Burning’ guy.” We were totally messing around with him, but maybe a tiny bit serious. So yeah. We all knew the tune was one for the books.
RHETT MILLER: This is one of my favorite songs in the whole world, and I’m lucky enough to be friends with Richard. When I first became friends with him and asked him about the song, he dismissed it for having been too easy to compose. He said he just dashed it off. In his mind, I think that is an indicator of some shallowness maybe. But maybe that is part of what makes it so great. It was born of the incredible instincts of a great writer, not overly filtered, reworked, or thought out. Just brought into being, fully realized. He said he was just sitting in a parking lot, waiting for a rehearsal to start. And there it was. I think this song is a real testament to Richard’s natural genius.
RICHARD EDWARDS: I don’t ever think about it. I’m happy when it does stuff for people I love. It has, on occasion, put clothes on my kid’s back or paid for her soccer gear. It paid for the down payment on a house I shouldn’t have bought. It’s bought me plane tickets to Los Angeles or New York, where I’ve gotten into wonderful trouble. It was a kick seeing it on American Idol because my daughter and her mother watched that show and that felt neat. It’s helped finance better subsequent music. But it doesn’t mean anything to me. However, I love that it holds meaning for a lot of young kids who are starting to feel that feeling of being lost in the world and not quite knowing why. If anything I make helps make a young person feel less alone or more understood, I can’t imagine anything better than that.