Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Medium Rare

mediumrare

The triumphal return, both of my Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ listening series, and of the Bosstones themselves. The album was released in 2007, and coincided with the return of the Bosstones from a three-year hiatus and of the Hometown Throwdown (which was suspended during said hiatus). I associate this album with a lot of happiness.

First up is “This List,” one of three original songs on the album (the rest are b-sides), which is about the current wars that the US was (and still is, sigh) fighting at the time. Bush #2 was still president, and if I recall correctly, it was also around the time of the troop surge and the re-taking of Fallujah and the whole war feeling like a mire we would never get out of. (This is also roughly around the time that the band the Street Dogs started to gain national punk prominence, in no small part to the leadership of Mike McColgan and his vocal support for vets and against the war). Dicky Barrett talks directly to GWB in this song, and it does feel more immediate than a lot of other anti-war songs I know. Maybe because it’s so specific and because it was a war I was so aware of and living adjacent to and watching and following. I mean, it’s one thing to hear the Clash sing about the Falkland Islands. It’s another to hear the Bosstones sing a song to the current president about the current war and telling him to go to hell.

Next up is “The Meaning,” a b-side from Pay Attention, and is up there as one of my favorite Bosstones songs overall (b-side or not). It’s got the sort of rapid-patter rhyming from Dicky that I love, and also it’s about the creative process, which I can relate to a good bit. Also, I love the line, “You don’t have to know the meaning, just know that there is meaning in what is being said to you.” I suspect Dicky meant it towards the fans (like me) who tend to ask him to explain this song or that song, but it also reminds me something that my mom—whether she knew it or not—was pretty good at when I was a teenager. I did a lot of shit as a teenager that my parents didn’t understand, chose career paths (or resisted career paths) they I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand. But my mom was better than my dad at recognizing when something was important to me, and that mattered more to her than her need to understand just what the hell I was doing. It was important to me, and that was good enough.

Also I love the guitar noise in this song. I guess it’s the wah pedal? Whow-whow.

“What’s in you, out of you, remember we love you, we’ve gotta go but you should know that we’ll be thinking of you.”

Third song! “Don’t Worry Desmond Dekker”! Instant fucking classic. Always makes me think of Boston and the Hometown Throwdown. Also one of the three new songs. Has the power to make me cry when I hear it live. “And I, I can hear laughter. It stays with me after all this time. And I, I’ve still got your records, the Clash and the Selecter. Don’t worry, Desmond Dekker’s doing fine.” (“Except he’s not,” as Joe Sirois says, “Because he’s dead.”) It’s about time and friendship and the good and bad ways relationships evolve. Hey there, 737, I’m thinking about you and the Buckminster Hotel and I’m going to get to see you all in a little over a month and it’ll be great. I know I’m not the biggest party animal but I fucking love you guys and want to give you hugs.

“From the dirt up to the sky, and we climbed up to the sky, and carried on the only way we can. Laugh on and live, learn how to forgive, what we have could be as good as what we get. If you’ve forgot, now I’ve still got what you gave to me way back when we first met.”

 I’ve still got what the Bosstones gave me. Laughter and new friends and more music than I could listen to in my lifetime. Validation as an imperfect person trying to muddle her way through the world. Trips to Boston and walks in the snow and the best goddamn hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life.

“To California” is a b-side that I’m pretty sure was never released before Medium Rare came out (unlike “The Meaning,” which is on the vinyl release of Pay Attention). According to Wikipedia it was recorded during the Jackknife to a Swan sessions in 2002. It’s the story of a guy who decides—impulsively?—to move to California to uh…make money, I guess. “Just like a modern 49er.” He only makes it as far as Atlantic City, though, so he is not successful at his goals. And then he stows away on a train. I love how the horns and the guitar work together in this song. I feel like there should be more songs about people make impulsive, complicated decisions with poor planning and low success rates.

“The One With the Woes All Over It.” Full of “whoa whoa whoas” in the chorus because what’s better than acoustic puns? About what happens when it all ends, and why it ends, and what happened to lead up to it. This isn’t a song that I relate hugely to my own life (it’s another of Dicky’s super-specific songs that’s clearly about one person’s experience), but I enjoy it all the same.

“So Many Ways.” God, I love this song. It was released as the b-side for a single back in the day (by which I mean, 1997 or thereabouts). The guitar is so good. Dicky’s vocals are so good. The lyrics are so good. This is one of those songs that finds its way into a lot of little cracks in my life. It’s not like, ohmygod, I can relate this song to this one big experience I’ve had. Instead, I relate this song to hundreds of little moments and choices that happen all the time. It’s always just below the surface. “There’s so many ways to do this, so many ways I must pick one.” Like you’ve got all these paths in front of you, and several of them might be successful, but when you pick one, the others disappear. “So many ways, I need someone to tell me what it would take to do this. And it’s out there, hell it must be, help me I no longer trust me.”

I no longer trust me. For a guy that I think of as confident, who has clearly made at least a few good decisions in his life and been a success, Dicky talks a lot about not trusting himself. He sings a lot about his own faults. I could probably learn something about giving voice to those doubts without (seemingly) letting them eat my life.

“A Reason to Toast” is another song from the Jackknife era. There’s definitely at least two versions of this song floating around. It’s a song about…toasting. Like what you do at Thanksgiving or at a wedding. And wherever else people raise glasses? You can write about literally anything in this world, kids. Anything can be a song. (That’s its own kind of creative confidence, really, to write a song about celebrating, and channeling those thoughts of celebration into…toasts.) Why are all of you writing songs about girls and loss of girls and how much you love girls and you never want to leave girls when you could be writing about raising glasses in a toast.

“Who’s Foolin’ Who.” This song was on a comp in the late ’90s that I had. Give me a minute and I’ll think of it. It was all ska. It also had the Pilfers on it, which is how I got into the Pilfers, and a Smooths song, which is how I got into the Smooths. “Sure the whole world might be fooled, make sure no one’s foolin’ you.” Fun, bouncy, but slightly nostalgic horns. Dammit what’s the compilation. I could look it up but I don’t want to. It was volumes 3&4 of a comp, the first of which also had the Bosstones on it but came out in like 1990. MASHIN UP THE NATION. Damn straight. That’s it. Such a good comp. If you ever see that floating around on ebay, grab it. I can’t imagine it’s still in print. 

“Katie.” About…Dicky’s ex-wife? Ex-girlfriend? Ex-friend? About walking away from someone who has hurt you, someone who sucks up all your energy and just isn’t worth it anymore. Fits thematically with “Over the Eggshells” on Pay Attention (though I don’t actually recall when this song was written/recorded) (edit: I just checked Wikipedia and apparently it was recorded during the Jackknife sessions). About wrapping yourself up in some armor, pulling away from someone that’s hurt you, turning your back, and walking away. A song about self-care, oddly. I take reminders from wherever I can about how it’s actually okay to protect myself.

“This Time of Year.” If anything can get me thinking of a flashing wall of Santas, a stage covered in Christmas lights, pinning myself to the rail in front of the stage, standing in the cold outside for hours…it’s this song. It’s about how December isn’t just about Christmas and holidays and presents and whatever. December is Throwdown time. I can see the stage at the HOB in my head. I’ve got a smile on my face. I’m going to see my friends soon. “This time of year, it gets me and it never lets me act like I don’t care. This time’s my favorite time of year because all of us are here together.” I’ve been saving up for Throwdown since January. And it’s almost here. All of us will be here together. The Bosstones will play this song. And many other songs. And I’ll see my friends. And there will be beer and pizza and friends.

“Chocolate Pudding” is not, as appearances would lead you to believe, a cover song. The Bosstones wrote it, and it’s one of the few songs not sung by Dicky (on lead vocals here is Tim Burton, one of the sax players). Pre-hiatus, this was one of the rarest songs to hear them play live, though I’ve heard it enough post-hiatus that I think some of the shine has worn off. Also, kids, you can write songs about anything. Including chocolate pudding.

Years ago, I made my sister a mix tape of songs that I did not hate (she likes Destiny’s Child and Miley Cyrus and Brittany Spears and car rides with the two of us were not the easiest, from a radio standpoint), and I put this song on it. My sister will now just randomly start singing this song. I am so proud to have gotten my sister to like a Bosstones song (at the time that I made the mix she was really into those snack pack pudding cups). And now we have some common ground. Not over eating pudding (I don’t like pudding that much), but over listening to songs about it.

“Is It?” I love this song. It’s another b-side from the Let’s Face It era. I got it on a CD single, either “Rascal King” or “The Impression That I Get.” It’s about getting all that you wanted…and having that not be everything you hoped for. Joe Sirois has some awesome drum playing in this song. I’m not a drummer, so I don’t even know what the fuck he’s doing or if it’s good compared to other drummers, but I like everything he’s doing here.

Now that I think about it, and now that I’m trying to write about them, I’m realizing that lots of these b-sides have a weird personal feeling to them. I only ever listened to them in my car, usually by myself (my friends did not share my taste in music). The Bosstones didn’t play them live back then. They’re not songs that I ever shared with anyone, not the way that I share the experience of hearing “Devil’s Night Out” live with 2,000 other people, or the way that so many of us Bosstones fans can relate to hearing “Impression” on the radio or on MTV and having that change our lives. A lot of these songs–like “Is It,” like “Storm Hit” (which is not on this album but is an amazing song), like “The Meaning”—feel like they’re just between me and the Bosstones. The fact that a lot of them are demos, a little more raw, a little less layered from a production standpoint, helps with that feeling.

“Thank You For the Records.” A slow song, or at least one that starts slow, as final Bosstones tracks seem to do these last few albums. I don’t know who Dicky is singing “to” in this song—who he’s thanking—but when I sing along, I’m thanking him. I’m thanking the Bosstones.

Thank you for the records.

Thank you for the shows.

Thank you for the music.

Thank you for the friends.

Thank you for the standard you set, how you seem to treat each other and how I know you treat us fans.

Thank you for introducing me to this world of ska and punk and all of the beautiful people who are also here.

Thank you for your generosity.

Thank you for your humor.

Thank you for taking every possible opportunity to take a shit on Spin Magazine.

Thank you for all the wisdom and the common sense.

Thank you for the Hometown Throwdown.

 

Thank you for the records.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Where’d You Go? EP

wheredyougoAaaaaand we’re back. First up in my brain is, why didn’t I write about Where’d You Go? five years ago (jesus, five years ago, that’s completely weird somehow) when I wrote about the Bosstones’ other EP, Ska-Core, the Devil, and More. Who knows. Maybe because Ska-Core has such a funny origin story about how I first started listening to it and what an unknowledgeable person I was then.

Interestingly, Wikipedia’s entry on the WYG EP contains contradictory information: the body of the entry says it was released in 1991, the sidebar says it was released in 1992, just before More Noise. I’m currently listening to the album on my phone and I’m nowhere near my CDs or vinyl to fact check this, also, I’m lazy. I do remember that the moment when, as a 16-year-old-or-about-there kid, listening to the CD as I walked to school (I remember the exact spot on the sidewalk), I heard the lyrics in the third verse (“I opened a fridge I opened a beer I played a tape I couldn’t hear..”). Like, heard them and understood the words without having to consult a lyrics booklet or the internet. (Looking up Bosstones lyrics was one of the first things I used the internet for. Seriously.)

Next up, “Sweet Emotion.” Pre-Bosstones, I think I mostly knew this song from those long commercials they used to show on daytime TV about buying CD sets of “hits from the 70s and 80s” or whatever they were. My parents didn’t listen to Aerosmith (and it took me awhile before I caught on to the fact that part of the reason the Bosstones chose Aerosmith to cover was probably the fact that both bands are from Boston). Man, the guitar and base sound so thick in this song. Is that even an adjective I can use? Also I like the horns taking on the harmonic part of the chorus and Dicky just chopping all the words into tiny little vocal pieces.

“Enter Sandman.” Nate Albert told a story in an interview once about getting to play this onstage with James Hetfield, in Denver, apparently (way way way before my time). This is also the first song I learned to play on guitar. It is really easy to sound like a badass on this song. (Thanks, Metallica, for writing a deceptively simple song that’s more entertaining to play than “This Land is Your Land,” another early song I learned.) Other song that is fun and deceptively easy: “Rainbow Connection” by the Muppets. Fuck you, Muppets are awesome.

Take my hand, we’re off to never-never land.

Yeah I just enjoy the hell out of the guitars in this song. Nate Albert, I miss your guitars. Also, oh yeah, fucking Barry Manilow quotes in the middle of a punk band covering a metal song because that’s how they roll.

“Do Something Crazy,” not a cover, but now going much faster than it did on Devil’s Night Out. When in doubt, do everything again, only faster.

And lastly, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” a Van Halen cover. Now that I think about it, the Bosstones have made covers a pretty regular part of their output. They just put out a cover of “What the World Needs Now is Love” by Burt Bacharach last month. But anyway, I have this thing in my personal history where the Bosstones have gotten me into a ton of music, either because they toured with the band or because they mention them in interviews or because they cover their songs. This song was one of several elements that got me curious about the British 2-Tone band The Specials, because the Bosstones (I’m pretty sure it’s the saxophone player Tim) quote the song “Nite Klub” in the bridge. Ahh, says sixteen year old me, I see we are covering a Van Halen song and quoting a Specials song. Obviously I will go buy the Specials LP and never listen to Van Halen again.

Short entry because it’s an EP and that’s how I roll. I missed the 19th Hometown Throwdown last month and am still a little sad.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: A Jackknife to a Swan

kackknifeIt snowed several inches last night, and it’s like one degree outside today, and my car’s power steering is broken, so I’m stuck in my house and thought that I’d return—long overdue—to my listening series of the Mighty mighty Bosstones’ discography. Up today (and hopefully my laptop’s battery lasts as long as the album does) is A Jackknife to a Song, put out after Pay Attention, after the Bosstones got dropped from their longtime label Mercury (which had turned into Island Records), and was instead put out by Side One Dummy Records.
I remember being nervous before this album got put out. This was still before I had any kind of regular access to high speed internet, and I’ve never really listened to much radio, so I hadn’t heard any songs (maybe one) off this album before it came out. It was the first album with Lawrence Katz on guitar instead of Nate Albert (Katz had been touring with them for a couple of years at this point, but Albert co-wrote the songs on Pay Attention and performed guitars on the album), and I was really nervous about how the sound would change. The Bosstones have gone through relatively few lineup changes since 1987, and me and pretty much every fan I was in touch with knew that the loss of Nate shook the band down to its foundations. (Literally. Nate is one of their founders.)
But I love this album. I think it sounds better and fresher and more energetic than Pay Attention, which I have always associated with the rumors of the band’s exhaustion and stress and Nate leaving. It stakes Lawrence’s territory as a songwriter, guitarist, and member of the band in his own right. It’s got the songs about people that Dicky writes that I love so much (this one being “Mr Moran,” about Sammy Gravano, which actually inspired me to go out and find a biography about the guy), random moments in Boston history (“Jackknife to a Swan”). This is also the album where Chris Rhodes replaced Dennis Brockenborough on trombone and backing vocals, and you can hear him and his energy back there. This album just plain sounds fun, (and I can attest to it being hella fun to hear just about any of these songs live).
Writing the above paragraphs took me through the first two songs, and now I’m up to “You Gotta Go,” which got me through a couple of collegiate run ins with terrible roommates and roommates’ boyfriends. Motherfuckers who ate my food and played with my keyboards and threw my shoes down the stairs and refused to flush the toilet because it wastes water and deadbeat boyfriends of roommates. I’m so glad to not have to live with any of those people anymore, and hearing Chris Rhodes yell “So pack your bags, cuz THERE’S THE DOOR!” was always cathartic.
“Everybody’s Better,” a slow ska song, is reassuring to me in the best way. This sounds dumb and silly, but it makes me feel like I’m sitting in an inner tube in a nice warm ocean being sloshed back and forth (yes I know oceans don’t slosh. Shut up.) It’s one of those songs that makes me feel okay about myself, like I’m safe with myself. I feel okay about being one tiny person in a world of 7 billion. Everybody’s better than I am, I think, everybody’s better than me. But I matter, as a matter of fact. And there’s this lovely chunky guitar, and the saxophone drifting in towards the end. You know, to be king you don’t need a castle.
“Sugar Free.” I’m gonna be honest that I don’t super understand what “Sugar Free” is supposed to be about. And it’s one of those songs that (as far as I know) Dicky has declined to explain. But there’s this great spinning sort of guitar part, and the horns coming in and weaving around it.
“I looked up to the Citgo sign, you used to be a friend of mine.” The Citgo sign, mentioned here in “I Want My City Back,” is also important to the 737 because we can see it from the Buckminster Hotel, where a huge chunk of the group stays every year because it’s walking distance to the House of Blues, where Throwdown is every year. I love this song because it’s so much about Boston, but also in the past 5 years Denver (where I’ve lived for 30 years) has changed to the point that parts of it are unrecognizable, and not in a good way. I can’t afford to live in my own city anymore, and neither can a whole bunch of other people. There’s a sadness you feel just looking around, this was once our sacred ground, but now it belongs to hipsters and artisan hot dog shops.
If I can get super symbolic for a moment, this song could also be…well, my experience with the Bosstones is the exact opposite of this song’s experience of Boston, or my current experience in Denver. “How should I feel when the place where I first learned I could feel/Is no longer where I left it when I left it not so long ago/How should I feel?…/How should I feel…?/ I don’t know.” The Bosstones, Bosstones’ shows, punk shows, ska shows…those are the places where I learned to feel. Where I learned how to transition my kid-level feelings and teenage-level confusion into adult-level perceptions and emotions. And I’m so, so lucky that they’ve been there for me all that time. I’m lucky that they share themselves to the extent that they do. I’m lucky that they’re the guys that they are, and that I’ve gotten to know them even tangentially. I’m lucky that I haven’t had to change my opinion on them or leave them behind. They’re the same to me as they’ve been since I was 15, even as they’ve grown and I’ve grown and time has passed. I’m so lucky to have found this band. Someday, I will wish for my band to come back. But not today, today I still have them, so I’m grateful for them.
Have I written before about how many landmarks and streets I know in Boston just because they’re mentioned in songs by the Bosstones and the Dropkick Murphys and the Street Dogs and other Boston bands? It’s a little bit funny. When I visited for the first time, it felt like I knew the city, even though of course I didn’t.
“Chasing the Sun Away” is another slow-ish, sweet ska song, with nice fat horns. It’s a break up song, a grief song, a song about the disparity between how you feel on the day after and what the world is actually. Why doesn’t it rain buckets when you’re sad? Why is that such a universal cognitive dissonance for people to express? Why do we all instinctively understand what it means that there’s a cloud always following Eeyore around?
This is also one of those songs that, if you played it next to just about any song from the band’s first five years, you wouldn’t believe that it’s the same band. It’s so different. And not just stylistically, but the way Dicky writes, the way they approach recording, the layering and…arrangement, I guess, is the word? They’re so much sophisticated than they used to be. Which is understandable, because they’re 30 years older than they were, but not all bands evolve to the scope that the Bosstones have.
“You Can’t Win,” I’ve always thought might be about the Bosstones’ experience on a major label (or maybe just the last couple years), but really, it could be about any experience trying to deal with a big monolithic corporate entity that you have no power against. It could be about the companies that caused the 2008 collapse, and their collusion with the government. It could be about citizens and the government generally. It’s about not having power. It’s about knowing that you don’t have power. They might let you in, but they’ll never let you win.
“Old School Off The Bright” is one of my favorite Bosstones songs. Of all time. It makes me think of Throwdown every time I hear it. Of being on the rail. Of dancing as best you can even when you’re in a crush of people. Of flashing lights and soapy snowflake machines. It’s got the fast, ever-rhyming lyrics of Dicky’s that I love so much. I love the drums and how they trade places with the horns. I love how it brings in everyone. It makes me actually want to party, and I hate going to parties. It cheers me up when I’m down. It makes me dance no matter where I am. This might be a perfect Bosstones/Throwdown song. Get the crew together, it’s the old school off the bright.
“The Punch Line” sort of thematically reminds me of “Everybody’s Better” (which in my head somehow always gets pronounced “Everybody’s Butter” because my brain apparently likes stupid and meaningless puns that are not even puns really) about not being a bully. About knowing the consequences of your actions. Of choosing right, right over wrong. Do what you know is right, don’t wait for someone to tell you what’s right.
“Go Big,” this was one of my early favorites on this album, though I don’t think of it as such anymore, not because I dislike it at all, but I think just because they don’t play it live very much so I don’t get the “yay! live music! throwdown!” high off of it that I get from songs like “Everybody’s Better” and “Old School Off the Bright.” But it contains the line “Put on your big boy pants,” which I tell myself sometimes when I’m trying to make myself do something. Also, random trumpet.
I love “Shit Outta Luck” because it’s about…traffic? Being stuck in traffic? Who writes a song about being stuck in traffic? Joe Gittleman apparently instead of Dicky. You can hear it a little (“tear it down to the ground” is something I associate with Joe), but it also contains the amazing line “a major road rager with a bone to pick” and the lovely line “it’s more fun when you don’t give a fuck,” which is something to think about when doing anything creative. Also, turns out, not the only song the Bosstones have recorded about traffic (the major other one being “Illegal Left,” about Dicky arguing with a cop about a ticket that wasn’t even being given to him). When you’re from Boston, I guess you spend a lot of time thinking about songs in cars.
“Seven Ways to Sunday” is weird, at least contextually speaking, because it’s an acoustic bluesy song, and the Bosstones are…neither of those things, even while everyone who listens to them knows that expecting the Bosstones to stay in whatever stylistic box you put them in is a fool’s errand. There’s also a lady doing guest vocals in the background, and I wish I could sing like her, but I cannot. Also a harmonica. Also no horns. I wonder if they’ve ever played this live. Steve could tell me. It also in keeping with a recent (like, since Pay Attention) tendency for them to put oddball songs at the end of their albums–“The Day He Didn’t Die” winds down Pay Attention, “Favorite Records” winds down Medium Rare.

Mighty Mighty Throwdown

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On December 26th, I woke up at 3am and caught a bus to the airport. We were leaving the city and crossing the plains (Denver’s airport is east of the city) when the sun came out for the day. It didn’t seem to rise as much as shine through a place where the night sky had been rubbed thin.

After sleep-stumbling my way through security, I caught a plane to New York City. I had a four-hour layover in the City, and then I caught a Chinatown bus to Boston.* When I realized that I was going to be in NYC, I admit I purposefully timed my bus ticket so that I could a little time in Manhattan. I haven’t been back since I moved away a year and a bit ago. So I took the train in from JFK and walked from the 49th and 8th subway station to Shake Shack (which was not as good as I remember), and from there to Penn Station, where I lingered and wrote in my journal and people-watched. I was in New York for long enough to remind myself of some of the reasons why I didn’t like it–the crowds, the smelly homeless people**, the dirt generally–but also some of the reasons I liked it, and still like it, the impossibly tall buildings, the number of stories you can tell. The feeling that anything can happen here.

By the time I got on my bus to go to Boston, the sun had fallen again (it had gone down while I was camped out in Penn Station), so we drove north through Manhattan at night. The bus was completely full, and the driver had the heat on high, and everyone was uncomfortable. The guy behind me–who seemed, like most of the bus, to be a college-age kid heading back to Boston after spending Christmas in NYC–was talking to somebody on the phone, helping them process what I think was a rough Christmas with the family, and didn’t think they were doing anything worthwhile in life. I admit I listened, because he was giving good advice. “Do you have any ideas about stuff you can create that the world needs?” he asked at one point, which I think is a good thing for anyone to think about now and again.

We went uptown on Amsterdam Avenue, past all the places I knew. The store I worked at. Stores I used to shop at and places I used to run errands. Past Roosevelt Hospital, Lincoln Center. A few blocks west of Columbus Circle, but I mentally noted it as we went by. We turned east at 106th, and then resumed our northward trek on Frederick Douglass Blvd, so we didn’t really pass the Columbia neighborhood.

When it comes down to it, I always liked New York best when I’m a little bit removed from it. On a bus going through Upper West Side, or on the Q train going over the Brooklyn Bridge, or on a boat in the Hudson River looking at the Statue of Liberty on one side of me and the skyline on the other. Anything that kept me from having to face the actuality of living there.

I’ve traveled the route from New York City to Boston and back several times, though always in the winter, always past the sad spindly deciduous trees that are waiting for spring. We passed by a Metro North train making its way to New Haven. The bus driver stopped a couple times to stretch, and finally noticed how broiling we all were, and turned the heat off with an apology (and distributed bottles of water, which was lovely, though I drank sparingly of mine because I didn’t want to have to use the bus lavatory). As we drove, I started seeing snow collecting along the edges of the road. Cold in Boston, at least in the recent past.

As I got closer, I started getting text messages from friends who were already in Boston, telling me to come to the Buckminster hotel, rather than my friend’s apartment (well, I could’ve gone to my friend’s apartment, but he wouldn’t have been there, since he was at the Buck). I finally got there around 11:00pm, EST, after sixteen hours of travel. Stashed my suitcase and my backpack in someone else’s hotel room and was greeted by smiles and hugs and beer. Hung out and talked, listened while other people talked. Eventually, the friend and me (after deciding that couches at the hotel were a terrible idea) took the T back to his apartment, where I fell asleep on a couch anyway, but a larger and more comfortable one than the hotel ones. And the next morning I got to watch Doctor Who and The Daily Show while we drink coffee. And then we went back to the Buck, back to Kenmore Square, back to the madness and the hilarity. I am not always relaxed and comfortable in big crazy groups, but I spent a fair amount of time leading up to this trip reminding myself to have low expectations, and give no fucks, and loosen up, and have fun. And knowing that even if the Buck ended up being a not fun place, the concerts I was going to go to would be.

Low expectations, keeping it simple, and playing it by ear turned out to be the key. Deciding that nobody will mess with me and my ability to enjoy the Mighty Mighty Mighty Bosstones. This, for me, is the recipe to knowing how to party.

*Turns out that traveling this way, while it takes about 16 hours, saves about $250.
**I understand that this makes me a total judgmental asshole. And not all of the homeless in NYC are smelly. But homeless people in NYC reach a level of decrepitude that I’ve never seen in any other homeless population in any other city. This probably says more about NYC than it does about the homeless.

Throwdown #16, part 2

citgoOn my way put of Boston. The clouds are shining silver in the early morning sun. Most people at the Buck are probably still sleeping.

I heard “Disappearing.” I heard “Haji.” The Bosstones can still, no matter what else is going on in my head, make me forget everything and have a good time. I danced in a skanking pit (not mosh pit, since everyone was skanking, I guess it was a skanking pit). I hugged friends. I made new friends.

And I figured out something that feels so stupid and elementary, something that people have been trying to tell me for years. Since I was a kid. To say what I learned, I have to first describe some things that are not my favorite things about myself.

I’m pretty shy and introverted. I like structure and predictability. I don’t like having to talk loud (though I do, eventually, when I come out of my shell or get hyper). I don’t hardly drink, and my ability to cope with loud and unpredictable and silly drunk people can be low, especially when they’re present in large quantities. So at large drunken unstructured gatherings—which the 737 parties at the Buck are, in great measure—I’m afraid that I come across as hating fun, or being uptight, or unfriendly, because I tend to sit in the corner and check my phone instead of talking to people. And part of me doesn’t understand why people have to get so loud (because they’re drunk), or belligerent (because drunk) or sick (because drunk). Since I don’t drink enough to get drunk, and because I’m inhibited enough that I’m actively afraid of becoming disinhibited, drunken revelries have never made entire sense to me. And, like any big social group, there’s gossip and drama and people who don’t like each other and people who talk shit (and yes, I am occasionally one of those people). As an introvert, this might be the part that baffles me most. If you don’t like a person, why put up with their presence? Why make nice to them? Don’t pick a fight or anything, but why waste your energy? I don’t want to throw anybody—no, nobody—out of the 737, but Jesus H Christ, sometimes I really just wish we could behave like motherfucking adults (again, I am including myself). I try to watch myself because I know I can be a judgmental person, and this is one area where I catch myself at it a lot.

But I realized this week, this thing that Quakers have been telling me my whole life. About love and acceptance. Yes, the 737 are a bunch of drunken immature rail-hogging bastards (including me. Minus the drunkenness). But they are also generous and compassionate and patient with each other—and with me. The same guy who got belligerent with the HOB staff and thrown out of the show checked in with me when it was clear that I was on the edge of an anxiety attack in the middle of the party, and then he moved over thirty people to another room just to give me space like it was was no big thing at all. The one who smokes pot in the bathroom also gave me food and wouldn’t let me pay him back. My friend’s boyfriend, who mostly comes to be with his girlfriend, not to hang with the group or even see the band, bought me dinner and held my bag for me so I could ride the rail and not deal with coat check. The woman who has made some…questionable?…romantic choices is also the one who took me away from the party and hugged me and let me cry when I was upset about an ex. People tolerate me being the rude person texting through conversations. People pick up merch and mail things to people who couldn’t come to the show. And if I couldn’t learn to deal with the drunken madness and revelry, I would also miss all that compassion and hospitality and acceptance. Lenny Lashley is kind of a mess but he makes some beautiful goddamn music.

And yeah, I know that not all bad behavior can be overlooked in favor of a person’s better nature. But a lot can, and probably a lot more than I think possible. In my family, being accepted into a gathering—hell, being respected as a person—is predicated on not causing a ruckus. I can’t tell you how foreign and strange and liberating it is to realize that that isn’t always true. Lord knows those mad drunken bastards have been overlooking and forgiving quite a few of my own faults over all these years while I figured that out. I would be more afraid to talk about this side of myself that I don’t like if I wasn’t reasonably certain that the 737—who are fairly perceptive—hadn’t already observed it and forgiven it in me. I’m sure I’m not as good at hiding it as I like to think.

Thank you guys, so much, so much more than I can say. For accepting and forgiving me. For letting me hang out with you. For not treating me as I sometimes was tempted to treat you. You are all such beautiful, worthy people. Don’t ever change.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: More Noise & Other Disturbances

morenoise.jpgThe return of the “Bosstones Discography Stream of Consciousness” series. Today we have More Noise & Other Disturbances, the Bosstones’ second full-length album, the last one on the Taang! record label, the first one with Joe Sirois and the first one that really introduced (in unavoidably in-your-face fashion) the plaid theme that would run through the Bosstones for the next eight or so years (technically, the Where’d You Go? EP introduced it first, and their live shows introduced it before that; maybe it’s my geographic distance from the Boston scene but I tend to assume that albums have the farthest reach when it comes to these things). But anyway, chronology aside, there’s a large picture on the inside of all the boys in as many different stripes of plaid as they could possibly assemble. I believe Dicky even has a plaid cummerbund.

Also, I missed a Bosstones show just yesterday. Free, in Boston Common. Apparently 40,000 people were there. I have a certain amount of jealous hatred for all of them, not gonna lie.

Okay. Song one. “Awfully Quiet.” This is one of those songs that you think is pretty easy to get a handle on, but then when you really listen carefully to it, there’s so much going on in the background. Like the intense bass line. Like the fact that the drums and the horns are adding more to the cacophony than even the punk guitar. That, for all his vocal roughness, Dicky’s lyrics are incredibly clear (and incredibly fast). It’s not the most profound song ever, maybe, but I think it presents a compelling argument for the idea that a solid, compelling song doesn’t have to be about something deep or profound or controversial or moving.

“Where’d You Go?” opens with the sound of a Harley, which in the music video is actually a Vespa, leading to much amusement amongst the people. This is one of the earliest non-Let’s Face It Bosstones songs I ever heard, and I think, too, it was one of the first songs that I was able to decipher the lyrics to myself (for Let’s Face It I didn’t have to because the Bosstones have published their lyrics with all of their albums; by the time I got the rest of their discography I’d looked up and printed out all of their lyrics off of the Internet, and knew most of the lyrics before I ever heard any of the songs). This is a song that they still play live, almost all the time. I think it’s also one of the two that ended up on the Clueless soundtrack. It also presents an argument for a song that is solid, and compelling, but is about a very specific moment in time, about Dicky doing this one very specific thing, and not even trying to extrapolate that out to something universal. This is one of the things I like about him as a lyricist: he writes universal thematic songs, sure, but he also writes songs about specific days, or specific people. Songs that nobody else could ever, ever write, because they never had this experience he had. And it’s not like it’s a life defining experience, it’s just him waiting for someone to come home and meet him. But it’s his experience, and he turned it into a story and into a song.

“Dr. D.” Also still played a lot. Also a song about a specific person, and about gratitude, and about the things that make a person a good person. About patience and compassion and hospitality.

“It Can’t Hurt” contains the immortal lyric: “You had to do what you had to do/And you bit off more than you could chew/Open your eyes and look at where you’re at/Shut your mouth and swallow that.”

I’ve more or less stopped typing, and am just listening, because I’d forgotten how good this album is. It’s been so long since I listened to it front to back.

And now we get to “What’s At Stake,” a….funkified? But still utterly threatening-sounding cover of Minor Threat’s song. This is one of those songs where, instead of complimenting the guitars or providing a counterpoint, the horns are instead managing to pile on, to add to the anger and the power and the I’m-going-to-hit-you-in-the-face-with-music aspect of the song.

Also, the last part of the chorus to this, when I looked up the lyrics someone had posted on a Bosstones website that it was “Get yourself back up before it’s too late or your life and day will be on fake,” or something like that. Then one day it just clunked into my head: He’s saying “or a life of pain will be your fate.” The Internet doesn’t always get things right.

“Cowboy Coffee.” Another that still makes common appearance in set lists. It’s fast and ska-y, and is fun to watch Ben dance to. Cowboy Coffee is an actual thing; it refers to making coffee straight in the mug you intend to drink it from (sort of like how you make French Press coffee, but without the filter so that you don’t get grounds in your cup). I remember practicing “hurricane breakneck speed rapid fire dreams” so that I could sing along to it (it goes by fast). This whole damn album goes by fast. I mean, we’re already on track 7 of 11.

Classic Bosstones lyric:

The place is packed, I needed that.
The bottle’s cracked, I’m glad for that.
A good night’s rest? Forget about that.
I feel alive in this dive so I’ll drink to that.

Coming after the songs above, this song is kind of deceptive. You have songs like “Awfully Quiet” and “Where’d You Go,” which aren’t super profound, and then “Dr. D,” which is more obviously profound but still isn’t really. “I’ll Drink To That” sounds like it’s just about getting to a party, but really, it’s also about finding your reasons to live. It’s about making a choice. It’s about what gets you through the day. It’s about how, sometimes, even if you don’t have much of anything figured out, you can have just enough figured out to enjoy tonight, and let tomorrow be tomorrow.

“Guns and the Young.” This is probably the first song that I really ever got into that you could call a punk song, or a hard song. Understand that I came from a family of Motown, of Peter Paul & Mary, of New Orleans soul, of Billy Joel. Liking punk rock didn’t come naturally to me. And one of the early things I liked about ska was its ability to talk about deep things while still sounding happy. But this song sounds angry, as it should. The opening montage of sound clips and drums and news clips is one of the most powerful moments in the Bosstones discography to me. Another song where the horns cut like razor blades. Kids are dying, and the Bosstones are pissed. And, on a certain level, Dicky’s not just singing about gang violence and the media. He’s singing(yelling) about his own neighborhood. His own gang. His own childhood. He was 27 or 28 when the song was written and released, which–especially in the punk rock world, which has such a large number of youth–isn’t that far away from being a kid in the wrong neighborhood.

“What do you do if he’s packing? What the hell can one man do? What do you do if he’s cracking? Hope he can’t shoot straight?” Everyone’s helpless in this song, including the kid with the gun, and the Bosstones are pissed, because life doesn’t have to be this way, and they know it. Kids know when they’re being cheated.

Okay I just got distracted for ten minutes looking for video footage of “Bus No. 9,” a Nickelodeon show that Dicky Barrett was on like once in 1998. Which doesn’t seem to exist on youtube. How strange. Anyway!

“He’s Back” is one of those songs that starts out sounding like one song, and then when the intro is over, it turns out they’re playing something completely different. There’s rumor that this song is about Joe Gittleman, the bass player (untrue). As far as I know, Dicky’s never clarified who, exactly, the song is about. They also still play this song regularly. They still play a lot of this album regularly. It’s a combination of them being both solid songs, that I imagine are fun to play, and a lot of the songs are crowd favorites.

“Bad in Plaid” is a song that I don’t think they do hardly ever play. It’s just a silly, jokey song (even Dicky’s said as much). The Bosstones take a weird amount of pride in their appearance considering they sort of look like a convention of used car salesmen exploded all over them.

“They Came To Boston.” This is the song that I got onstage to at the 2000 Throwdown (and, as a kid from Denver, that was just completely and awesomely appropriate). Jump, spin, jump, spin. Only time I’ve ever crowd surfed and I got on stage for it. I should’ve stage dove off, but I chickened out.

The part where he says, “Don’t want to swear, but it seems clear that I’m going to haft….AWWWW FUCK” is a fun part of the song to sing along to in any instance of slight annoyance. Also fun horns. Also fun lyrics. ALSO FUN. THE BOSSTONES ARE FUN.

Outro of the album and I’m thinking about Throwdowns (#16 was just announced!), about friends, about Boston, about dancing your way through life.

They came to Boston.
I came to Boston.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Pay Attention

payattn.jpg Where is it we’re going?
Who was it who said it?
Which stones are worth throwing?
Who will we discredit?
A pathetic aesthetic
In a world less poetic
It’s not where you come from,
It’s going, go get it.
–“Where You Come From”

The return of the “I listen to all the Bosstones albums and type shit as they go by” series, hooray!

So, Pay Attention was the Bosstones’ first studio album that was released after Let’s Face It. It was also the last album on which Nate Albert, the Bosstones’ original guitarist, played or wrote songs (he left to go back to school and take care of an ill family member). The Bosstones, casualties of corporate mergers, were moved from their longtime home at Mercury Records to Island/Def Jam after Let’s Face It was released. Pay Attention was the only record they released on Island/Def Jam before they were dropped (or left of their own accord). It was recorded in the midst of what was, for the Bosstones, a time that was even more emotionally hectic than usual (at least, I think so, from my far-distant vantage point), and I think that because of that the album doesn’t have some of the helter-skelter spontaneity of other albums. It’s close to being overproduced to me. (I’ll be up front here and admit that my line of “overproduced” basically means “I can hear Dicky harmonizing with himself and that’s disorienting because one Dicky is enough.”) But still, it’s a good album with some really good songs on it, and sort of a turning point in the Bosstones’ history. This is also the first album for which I was a far at the time of its release. Well I guess LFTME was really the first one, but this is the one that I remember going to the record store on the Tuesday it came out and getting the album and listening to it for the first time on the way home (this was the before you could mediafire whatever you wanted the day after the band took to the studio).

That whole paragraph took me four minutes to type, and in that four minutes, the first song “Let Me Be” went by. I heard “Let Met Be” live this summer in New Hampshire, and oh man, it was intense and awesome. There’s a part at the end where the song starts to break down and layer itself on top of itself, and when that happens live, it sort of makes me brain explode. Also I like the slow, deceptively muzak-y way it starts and then ka-blam, kicks back in.

“Skeleton Song” was one of my early favorites on this album. It’s about Dicky’s encounter with some of his own character flaws that came up, at least in part, as a result of the stardom and whatever that the Bosstones found with Let’s Face It (I could find the interview in which he said this but I only have 52 minutes and I’m still a song behind in the listening). Catchy horns, humble lyrics, textbook Bosstones.

“All Things Considered” is one of a bunch of songs that Dicky writes about the people he encounters. This particular one is “an older guy that comes around from time to time, we’re sure that he fought in the war, the war in Vietnam.” This is one of the things I appreciate about the Bosstones, and about Dicky–he’s interested enough in people and their stories to write a song about encountering this crazy guy in a bar, and rolling with the guy so to speak, just being okay with hearing his stories and not worrying about whether they’re accurate. Just giving him someone to talk to. “All things considered, what he’s telling us isn’t hurting anyone.” Dicky will take the time to talk to the people that people typically don’t talk to or write songs about. It’s even in Devil’s Night Out–the first verse of the song “Howwhywuz Howwhyam” goes, “I used to talk to cab drivers, but now I just don’t bother. I’d empty out my pockets if someone asked me for a quarter. There was a time that I’d give the time to the old, the weak, and the weird. I just don’t know what this is so, but I’ve never been so scared.”

“So Sad To Say.” The hit single that wasn’t. The follow-up to “The Impression That I Get,” the plaided up music video. Never really caught on. I don’t think it’s even in the favorites of the Bosstones themselves, it’s not a regular part of their set list (though also not totally unheard of like some). I relate to this song a whole lot more now than I did when it first came out. About thinking that a relationship would last a long time, only to have it fall apart. Yeah. Been there. Am there right now, as a matter of fact.

My animosity has got the best of me
It’s been feeding off the sadness deep inside me
That’ll fade I pray
And in time it will I know
So far it’s fading slow
Just one more thing, okay?
It’s so sad to say.

“Allow Them,” incidentally, has a short clip in it of Dicky (I think it’s Dicky?) talking to a skunk through the window of the studio. Apparently they were recording on a farm that had at least one skunk wandering around.

“Failure has far too many fathers. Succeed and you’re an orphan till you die.” This whole song is about the shittiness of bureaucracy. I think it was written with the music labels in mind, and the Bosstones’ experience with the big-time music industry, but you could listen to it and think of the government, big corporations, religious institutions, anyone that wields power over individuals and makes them compromise themselves, tells them lies.

“Deception is an axe they wield/there’s wands to wave with every call they field/This just is not us at all/And if it is we’ve dropped the ball.//We know who’s not a carrier/They hide behind the barrier/But they’ll destroy themselves somehow/It’s up to us if we allow/They will destroy themselves if we allow them to.”

Well, I hope so.

Pay Attention was released in 2000. The next song, “High School Dance” was written about Columbine. I grew up in Littleton, and I tell you, I didn’t listen to this song–except for that first day, on the way home in the car the day the album was released–for probably ten years. I just recently listened to it again and realized I could get through it without crying. It’s a really atypical Bosstones song, with a slow shimmery guitar, the horns sounding sad and slow in the background. I think the reason this song gets to me is because it comes the closest, out of all the songs I’ve heard about school shootings and angry young kids, to capturing what I remember my initial reaction being, which was not sadness and terror for the kids killed, but sadness and terror for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, that they got themselves so sad and messed up that they went out and did that. I hated my high school, but even as a sad, messed up, bullied teenager, some corner of my head knew that the best revenge against this culture that I didn’t fit into was to get away from it and live well. Harris and Klebold didn’t have that corner in their brains, I guess, so for them, the best revenge was just straight up revenge. “Hello world, remember me? I’m the sad little fuck that you failed to see.”

About halfway through the song, it stops being slow and eerie, and gets louder, the horns get funky and dancy. It slows down for the verse, but speeds up again for the final chorus and outro. The song doesn’t try to get to any large truths or answer any questions about school shootings. It just stops.

As someone who is constantly walking on eggshells and watching what I say, I really love “Over the Eggshells.” “I’m over the eggshells I’ve been walking on/My eggshell walking days are done/I don’t give a fuck about the applecart/And I’ll upset everyone.” Damn straight, Dicky. Wish I could be more like that. On days when I actually am like that, this song helps reassure me that I should be like this more often, not less. It helps me not talk myself out of my anger. Sometimes anger is good. Sometimes anger is healthy. Also, I love the horns in this song, the melody under the verses, the way the horns and the guitars are sort of trading places and taking turns at sounding angry.

“She Just Happened,” a sweet little song about one of Dicky’s ex’s. It’s not a love song, but it’s a fond one. The problem with listening to this song for years is that whenever anyone says anything like, “What just happened?” your brain immediately fills in with “She just happened! She just happened to cross my mind.”

This album came out in the spring, I believe. I’m trying to remember if I owned my little Nissan Sentra by that time, or if I was still driving my mom’s Dodge Intrepid (man, what a piece of shit that was, even my dad regretted buying it). I think I was in my Nissan. I remember driving home with the windows down, it was a glorious warm sunny day, and at stop lights I would glance quickly down at the lyrics to try and learn them quickly. (Though the lyrics on the booklet aren’t in the order that the songs play, so that’s annoying.)

“Finally” and “I Know More” are two songs that are fun to sing along to for the sheer wordplay and phonemic effort that Dicky put into making sure the lyrics sounded good. Dicky seemed to write “Finally” specifically in an effort to get as many words that start with F into a song. And to say “finally” a lot. “Finally” also has one of the more fun horn bridge parts (is that what it is? I don’t even know if that’s what it is) about 45 seconds from the end of the song. “I Know More” is a really good example of why it’s hard to translate Bosstones songs into American Sign Language:
I know, more I know
Now than I knew then
I know, I know
Now, now, I know
More than I knew
Less than I thought so.

I mean, what?

For this release I was actually on the Bosstones’ street team and got mailed a ton of posters and drove around town leaving them at record stores and such. I’m sure a ton of the posters that I dropped off places (and I even tried to make displays which I’m sure looked totally shitty) got dumped in the trash the minute I left the shop. And yes, I had my Nissan at this time, I remember now. Also, I bought this record at local Denver record shop Twist and Shout the day it came out, and I got a free Pay Attention tshirt. Which I now no longer wear because I don’t wear XL shirts anymore (funny how I don’t remember being self-conscious about my body and growing tits, but I must have been because I wore enormous fucking tshirts all through middle and high school, and only started wearing shirts that fit me in the latter part of college).

“Riot on Broad Street” is the song that got my dad, begrudgingly, respecting the Bosstones. I don’t think he thought much of them until he saw the lyrics for this one. I made him a mix of Bosstones songs at his request, and this is one he mentioned liking. It’s a song, based on a true story, about a riot between a funeral procession and a fire engine about who had the right of way on Broad Street. I don’t think they’ve ever played this live, at least, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. I should check with the Tall Kid about that though.

“One Million Reasons” and “Bad News and Bad Breaks,” for some reason, always make me think of Nate and his departure. I’m pretty sure “One Million Reasons” really is about Nate, but “Bad News and Bad Breaks” might just be my own mental association. Nate leaving was rough on the band. It came close to breaking them up. He’d been with them since the beginning, had been an essential part of crafting their sound, and he was going. When they wrote/recorded this song, I don’t know if they’d found Lawrence as Nate’s replacement yet. (And oh man, did Lawrence have a hard time getting Bosstones’ fans acceptance as Nate’s replacement. There’s still people out there who think that the band suffered an irreparable blow when Nate left, and that things have just never been the same.)

Man. There’s just a ton of sad songs on this record. It’s really introspective, and doesn’t have the political songs to balance stuff out like most of the other albums. It also, I think, has longer horn lines than a lot of previous albums. It lets the horns spin out a little bit more, take up a little more space.

“Temporary Trip” is the second song on this album about a down-and-out guy that most people wouldn’t pay attention to (maybe that’s part of where the album title comes from. Pay Attention to these guys and people generally. People deserve compassion.) They do play this song semi-regularly. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s a good, solid song.

“Where You Come From” is one of my favorite songs on the album, but then, I’m susceptible to life-lesson sort of songs. The rhyming and wordplay in this song is also just fun. When you learn to sing along to this song, you feel accomplished.

It’s not where you come from, it’s more where you’re going
And knowing the going might get strange.
The world’s greatest writers are all drunks and fighters,
Get going, that isn’t going to change.

Stop procrastinating. Get going. Do something. The world’s greatest writers are all drunks and fighters. This song also contains one of my all-time favorite Bosstones lines: “A pathetic aesthetic in a world less poetic.” Who rhymes pathetic and aesthetic? I mean, seriously?

“The Day He Didn’t Die” is the last song on the album, and one of its most heartfelt. They will sometimes play this song at Throwdown, and Dicky often has trouble getting through it. It’s about his uncle, who died the day after Christmas. It’s a tribute to him and the life he lived. I don’t think I need to say much else, it speaks for itself I think. Though I will say: one day I was driving west on County Line Road in Littleton, climbing the hill that comes right before Broadway, and the sun was setting over the mountains and it had just stopped raining. The sunbeams were shining through the clouds in a way that was just perfect for this song. I didn’t take this picture that day, but this is the closest thing I have to what the skies were doing (this was taken in NYC on my way to a Slackers show):
sunclouds.jpg

And that’s the end of the album. Not sure what I’ll review next.