Devil’s Night Out was the second full-length by the Bosstones I bought. In retrospect, it’s kind of funny that I got the “bookends” of their discography first and then filled in the middle. It’s also a minor miracle that I stuck with the band after this album, as the things that I’ve cited in the past as being my reasons for liking them–namely, the more ska songs and the positive, political lyrics–are, in some ways, least in evidence on this album. I don’t remember my initial reaction to hearing this album or why I ended up liking it, but I remember listening to it a lot. I really like this album.
“Devil’s Night Out,” the first song up, has become one of my favorite songs by the Bosstones to hear live. Everyone has their personal live favorites, and this is mine. It’s just so crunchy and out there and in your face. The intro is just…beyond words for me. When I hear the intro, to me it means, “Something awesome is about to happen. Something that is going to rock your face.” For me, that intro is excitement and sweat and getting roughed up in the mosh pit. That intro is when I truly arrive at the show. In the live album, Dicky introduces the song with, “I’m ready to do this; I think I’ve got myself just about where I need to be–ARE YOU READY, BOYS!!!” So it clearly is a special song to him too; and maybe the way that intro (the live album version) sort of crescendos is part of the reason I find it so compelling. I don’t know. Also, post-hiatus, the line “Three long years, millions of beers, but the Devil is back SO GIRLS DRY YOUR TEARS!” has taken on retrospective significance.
Am I getting older? Or are things getting harder? How did I, as a 17 year old, even relate to those lyrics? I don’t think I did. Well, I sort of did, but in the sense that to me, there was no question–As I got older, things got harder. The longer high school lasted, the more I hated it. But even though I’ve never really seen myself in this song, and don’t consider it one of my personal anthems, I think I recognize it as a very real and honest song. It’s possibly one of the more personal songs Dicky has ever written–certainly it’s the most personal on this album. There’s a vulnerability in it that I think I connect to.
“Drunks and Children.” Another live favorite, another favorite, period. The Bosstones are somewhat unusual (not in punk circles, but certainly in wider music business circles) in that they still play a fair number of songs from this first album. The first four songs (“Hope I Never Lose My Wallet” is the next one up) are all set list mainstays, and “Do Something Crazy” and “Little Bit Ugly” appear with regularity. This song, too, is sort of a joke amongst Bosstones fans and, maybe, the Bosstones themselves. For a long time, they re-recorded it semi-regularly with a different intro and a different title each time. This particular early recording is not my favorite, but I still like it.
“Wallet.” Oh, Wallet. Another live favorite, if only because Ben Carr’s dancing in this song tends to be amusing. Ben is sort of indescribable, so I won’t even try, except to say that he is the official dancer of the Bosstones–he dances onstage all through their set. It’s actually strangely fulfilling to watch him when you’re crushed against the barricade–it makes me feel less bad about not being able to dance myself.
“Haji.” This is probably the only Bosstones song that I could do without. I don’t dislike it, I just don’t care about it one way or another. I’m completely indifferent to its existence. I don’t understand it, and I don’t care that I don’t understand it. The end.
While Haji is running its course, a word about the DNO lyrics booklet–the booklet is full of photos and flyers of early Bosstones shows (along with a photo on the back jacket of all of them sitting on the steps to a house). I just remembering staring at those photos, trying to infer a story around them–much the same way that I stared at the photos in Let’s Face It. There’s one photo near the end of Dicky, Joe, and Nate. Dicky and Joe are looking blankly at the camera as if to say “What the fuck? Why are you taking this picture?” and Nate looks like he’s crying (his eyes are all red, and he has that tense look around his mouth). I have never understood that photo–at what moment it was taken, and why, and why the Bosstones included it in the CD art–it seems a really raw photo to put in what is essentially a light-hearted album. Or maybe there is no story behind it, or maybe I’ve completely misinterpreted the facial expressions of the guys. But that’s definitely one of the unanswered things that keeps me curious about this album.
“Patricia”…One thing I appreciate about Dicky, especially as I’ve gotten older, is that when he writes songs about people, he is clearly writing about specific people in a specific situation. He doesn’t write generalized love songs, and he doesn’t write songs about how he feels about people–he writes songs about the people. His songs are full of characters, of rounded-out people. Patricia, who I’ve always assumed is one of his ex-girlfriends, is one of those people. “When demons haunt inside of her, still she fights, still she tries, and she will fight until she dies.” Dicky doesn’t need to say he respects her; it’s clear from the way he wrote the song that he does. He’s kind of an unusual lyricist in that regard. Most lyricists write about specific emotions that could be about just about any person. They do this in part because that helps the audience relate to a song and make it their own. Dicky writes about specific people and lets you infer his emotion. I have a lot of respect for that.
The guitars on this album are definitely crunchier than on almost any other album except for maybe Don’t Know How to Party. And also so damn catchy. Nate doesn’t have his style down perfectly yet, but the elements are there–the ska verses, punk choruses, and catchy as fuck riffs and little phrases that work their way in and out of the other instruments (including Dicky’s voice). Dicky’s voice and Nate’s guitar actually occupy weirdly similar timbral spaces, but they also complement each other–they don’t compete.
“I can’t help it if I wasn’t born a cool man like Dicky.” –Jimmy G (from NYC)
“Little Bit Ugly” is the last song on the album, sort of the odd man out from the rest. It starts with acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Dicky singing a duet with Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy’s Law (now that I think about it, the parallels between “Little Bit Ugly,” on their first album, and “Pretty Sad Excuse,” on their most recent, have similar structures–slow beginnings that kick up in tempo and energy about halfway through. The Bosstones have always been weirdly good at weaving together seemingly disparate musical styles, sections of songs, entire songs. Often their intros seem to have nothing to do with the rest of the song, but somehow it works. I think this is one of the things that’s kept me listening to them, and that keeps them interesting. They work hard to do all these interesting things with their music that I can appreciate even though I know little to nothing about musical theory or orchestral arrangement.
The legend behind this album is that it was recorded, after the Bosstones broke up for the first time, with financial backing from the local mobster. I have no idea if this story is true, but I would not be at all surprised if it is. The Bosstones are some connected motherfuckers.
Next time: I don’t remember exactly which album I bought next–I acquired the entire middle of the Bosstones’ discography pretty quickly after this point. So I don’t know what I’ll do. Probably Don’t Know How to Party or Question the Answers.
Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Devil’s Night Out. Taang! Records, 1989. Status: in print.