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.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Question the Answers

qta.jpg“Kinder words here we could pick.
A kind approach might do the trick.
Hurt you, hurt me–well that needs to stop.
Kinder words here we could choose.
We’ve kind of got a lot to lose.
The temperature, we need that to drop.”
–Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “Kinder Words”

Last year sometime, when I was more successful about writing here regularly, I started doing a series which was a sort of free-association review/reflection on each of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ full lengths and EPs. You can find the other reviews here. I thought I’d get back to it, since I didn’t even get halfway through. The Bosstones are my favorite band, and one that was really formative to my teenagerhood/adulthood.

So with that, on todays’ playlist is Question the Answers.

QTA opens with Joe Sirois alone on drums and gradually crescendoing guitar feedback that breaks into a pretty slamming opening, that abruptly transitions into bouncing horns, and we’re into “Kinder Words.” This might be my favorite opening song of all the Bosstones’ albums (except for maybe “Devil’s Night Out” opening the album of the same name. I’m not even going to try to rank which of those grabs my attention more). When I was in high school I used to use this song to wake up to. This was before the days of iPods in clock alarms, so I think I woke up to my regular alarm and then hit play on my boom box. But the gradual opening, that then slams into the guitar riff, is better than coffee.

I can’t listen to this song without thinking of the music video for it (findable on YouTube), which features the Bosstones as members of a chain gang who escape off the back of a pick up truck and proceed to sing the song while fleeing over the country with their legs chained together, O Brother Where Art Thou-style (though QTA was released in 1995, so it was really more of a Cool Hand Luke-style). So entertaining.

Second song on the album is “A Side Silence.” With a couple of exceptions off of Devil’s Night Out (mostly I’m thinking here off “Patricia”), Dicky rarely wrote personal songs during the early years of the Bosstones, but this is one of them. Early on when he wrote personal songs, they tended to be a little esoteric and vague, and this is no exception. I didn’t entirely understand what it was about until I read an interview in which he was asked about it, and he said (with the caveat that he generally doesn’t like talking about his lyrics) that it was about a kid in the gang that he hung out with who used to crack him across the face every day just for laughs, and how he and the other kids in the gang didn’t do anything about it. “The kids that watched this every day now watched him hit the ground/No one spoke and no one moved, no one made a sound.”

Next up, “Hell of a Hat.” Another wildly entertaining music video that takes place in a Japanese karaoke bar and features Lars Frederickssen, crazy Japanese chefs beating the shit out of fish, and Ben Carr dancing on a table. Not that kind of dancing. Another song about Dicky’s general uncomfortableness with guns (see also “Guns & the Young,”) and with show-offs. For some reason, in my head, “Kinder Words,” “A Sad Silence,” and “Hell of a Hat” are kind of a trilogy, even though they’re different musically and in lyrical subject matter. But they go together, they feed into each other. They’re a set.

QTA is one of the weirder albums, guitar-wise. I’m not a guitarist, so I can’t review it competently, but I can hear Nate experimenting here and just going wild. I recognize a Big Muff fuzzbox (or else I heard him talking about using it in an interview), building up walls of sound, these abrupt changes in tempo and style and sound, doing all this crazy almost percussive stuff behind the horn lines and just creating this really interesting soundscape (sorry, Bosstones, for using a word like “soundscape” to describe what you were doing). The Bosstones tried a new strategy to record this album; they were on the road almost constantly during this time period, and rather than taking an extended time off the road to record the whole album, they would stop into a recording studio here and there between tours and record two or three songs at a time. This album was recorded at different studios and with different producers, and it was a strategy that I think the Bosstones ended up didn’t work for them logistically, but the album itself hangs together really well–it doesn’t sound to me like it was recorded here and there, it sounds like a whole, cohesive album. It sounds alive and spontaneous, and it sounds like they had energy to put into it, unlike their other album that was recorded amidst much touring and turmoil, Pay Attention (a statement that I’ll elaborate on in my write-up of that album).

“Pictures to Prove It” is a breakup song. I think this is an example of something that Dicky does lyrically that I really appreciate: when he writes a song that is in a well-worn lyrical trope (say, the breakup song), he manages to approach it in a way that not many other lyricists to–in this case, talking about the relationship and its demise only indirectly, and mostly focusing on photographs that he has lying around that prove to him that his memory of the relationship is an accurate one. “Pictures to prove it, smudged with fingerprints and tears, cigarette ashes, and our first few happy years. They’re old now, they’re faded, and the edges all are frayed. I’ll always have these pictures, but I wish that you had stayed.” He takes a symbol of a thing and turns it into the thing itself. Not a lot of writers–especially lyricists, who tend to be direct folk–do that.

“We Should Talk” is one of the weirder songs, to me, on the album. It’s about how much Dicky hates talk shows, and musically, it bends more toward hardcore (I guess? What the hell is this anyway?). It’s an entertaining song but not one that I can sing along to. 1995, I guess, was kind of the height of trashy talk shows–was it pre-Ricki Lake? Jerry Springer was around, probably Montel Williams, Maury Povich (who, I swear, no longer does anything but paternity tests). Sally Jesse Raphael. Nate sounds like he is grinding broken bottles inside his guitar amp, weaving feedback elegantly into transitions and behind horn lines. Elegant feedback? This is a thing? In Nate Albert’s hands, I guess it is.

“A Dollar and a Dream” is also a weird song. It opens with the sound of coins falling to the ground (or maybe breaking glass, but given the subject matter of the song, I always assumed it was coins). It’s sort of a spoken word poem on Dicky’s part, at least at first, with the drums loping along slowly in the background and the horns, slow and mellow, sound like they’re doing the aural equivalent of doodling (a technique they’ll use again in the opening bars of “Let Me Be” on Pay Attention. I am comparing QTA to Pay Attention a lot. The albums bookend each other in an interesting way).

AND THEN THERE IS GUITAR AND THE HORNS ARE RISING AND WE ARE OFF. Horns and drums are still playing together, but now they’re sort of hitting me in the face, and Nate is–once again–filling the blank spots with growls and punches and backing up Dicky, who is no longer talking semi-casually like he’s reciting beat poetry in a smoky basement coffeehouse, but ranting and raving and possibly destroying a dressing room in his rage.

And then all is quiet. Dicky’s back to sitting on a stool at an open mic session, maybe smoking a cigarette, talking to the audience about his experiences. “I had a dream I had all the answers to all the questions I’d ever been asked. And in my dream I had all the answers to all the questions I’ve ever asked myself. Man, what a dream, it sure felt great. I took to the streets because I couldn’t wait to freely give wisdom and share what I knew. I had a dream and that’s all I had.” This, in a sneaky way, is where the album title comes from. The narrator has a dream he has all the answers to all the questions. But merely finding answers to questions isn’t what we need to be doing.

Abrupt timbral shifts like this song has are kind of a specialty of the Bosstones’. Sometimes it’s obvious, like in this song or in “Break So Easily” off of Let’s Face It, soft verses followed by slamming choruses, changes that are not just in the pace of the drums or shifting from the clean to the distorted channel on the guitar, but changes in Dicky’s voice, in his mood. Someone on the Bosstones forum once said that so many of the Bosstones’ songs sound like two or even three songs smashed together. You hear it most often in song intro to song verse transitions. Like in “Kinder Words,” the drum tempo and guitar build there is something that never happens again in the song. “Drunks and Children” is another song that has actually cycled through three or four different intros, a new one each time the Bosstones record it. It’s sort of like movements in classical music, except each movement only lasts thirty seconds or maybe a minute, and you don’t notice as much, maybe because Dicky’s stories hold things together.

“Stand Off” is a not-quite-breakup song, a song about a breakup that hasn’t quite happened yet. Maybe it’s not about the breakup of a relationship, it could just as easily be about a friendship breaking down. I like this song, and though it’s never been super-special to me, it does have one part of the lyrics that I love: “I don’t understand where we went wrong. I don’t understand how we fell apart. Did I wait too long to write this song? I always thought I was smart.”

“365 Days” is another weird, almost-hardcore song (that seems to start off as another song entirely) that’s hard to sing along to (well, not for everyone, but for this non-screamy girl it certainly is). I think it’s about going on a bender, or maybe about the Throwdown which is five days long, or maybe about the week between Christmas and New Years (“Twist off another and bring on next year”). This song gave Bosstones fans the ongoing joke about long necks (of beer bottles) and twist offs vs church keys. When I first heard this song when I was 15 or so, I didn’t know what a church key was. My dad mostly drank beer in restaurants, and the alcohol I most often saw around the house was wine, so what Dicky calls a church key I just called a bottle opener. Caused some confusion to this young naive girl, I tells ya.

The song ends with something that sounds like it was taped off of German-language radio, but was actually taped specifically for the album. Allegedly, the person is saying something like, “The Bosstones wanted to cover [such and such song] for this album but the record label wouldn’t release the rights to them.” The band put it in there mostly to see if the record label would notice and make them pull it, but either the record label didn’t notice or didn’t care, so there it is. (If anyone out there speaks German and wants to let me know what the actual translation is, that’d be often.)

Ahh, “Toxic Toast.” One of my favorite songs off the album. One of the best songs to hear live, especially if John G (if I try to spell his last name I will mangle it) is there on keys, especially if the keys sound like a piano. A sweet, nostalgic song about a chaotic house that Dicky used to live in. “Raising hell with reckless style, and sure our time was poorly spent, but toxic toast still makes me smile.” Toxic toast being, apparently, the invention of one of the housemates (and subsequent inside joke amongst the residents).

I have stopped typing to just listen to and appreciate this song. I actually sang this song to my younger sister as a lullaby. A cappella, it works. Also, I am probably a bad example for the younger generation, if songs of residential chaos and substance abuse are things I freely expose my sibling to.

“Bronzing the Garbage” is allegedly a song about a breakup of Nate Albert’s, but I don’t remember where I heard that. There’s songs from both sides of a breakup on this album. I can imagine my ex-boyfriend singing “Bronzing the Garbage” to me while I try to sing “Pictures to Prove It” to him. There’s a point here where it sounds like they’re sending Dicky’s voice through a filter that he’s maxing out–it sounds like he’s coming through a crackly telephone line or on of those old, crappy, boxy cassette recorders. It’s a rough song about rough emotions. Sometimes, the Bosstones will write about rough emotions and pair them with sweet, soft (for them) music. Sometimes the emotion and the music match perfectly. Like here.

“Dogs and Chaplains” is the last studio recording of “Drunks and Children,” a song that first appeared on a compilation pre-Devil’s Night Out (it also shows up on their live album released in 1998 or 1999). I think I like this version best, I love the intro, the speed at which it goes by. This song is also one of the most quoted on Bosstones’ websites, tattoos, fan sites, forums, Facebook statuses, etc. “You know, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve had my ups and downs, my ins and outs, my share of bad breaks. But when it’s all been said and done, I raise my beer and I swear, God it’s been fun!” Also, this song is great live. Great. I’ve seen it live enough times now that even when I listen to a studio version, I can see Ben in my head, dancing.

And finally, “Jump Through the Hoops.” A song about drudgery (and, again, the intro sounds like an entirely different song until the horns kick in), about having to play along, about wanting to quit. I love this song, I do. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, doesn’t necessarily stand out, but I’ve always loved this song, and it always comes to my mind when I start to get bored with my daily routine.

Now I’m just listening without typing again. QTA isn’t necessarily the album that has the songs that I connect with most profoundly on it, so it’s not my favorite, but it’s a really good, solid album. I hear new things in it every time I listen to it (especially when, like now, I listen to it using my dad’s high-quality headphones, instead of my shitty iPod headphones).

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Don’t Know How to Party (orig. published May 22, 2011)

We’re not building bombs
Or storing ammunition,
We’re just playing songs
Hoping people will listen.

 

–MMB, “Our Only Weapon”

 

Don’t Know How to Party is the Bosstones’ major label full-length debut.  I’m not sure where in the line it falls on when I got it (understand: I started listening to the Bosstones in the summer of 1997 and owned everything they had ever done by Christmas of that year).  I think that this album has some of the weirdest Bosstones’ tracks, some of the ones that I found most compelling as a teenager.  It was released in 1993, for whatever that’s worth, in retrospect, it’s a sort of weird album no matter what context you try to put it in (other than “Bosstones context”).  In 1993, the style of music the Bosstones were playing was still very unique to them.

This has nothing to do with DKH2P, but I keep thinking about the Bosstones community lately.  My boyfriend and his brother have listened to the Bosstones for about as long as I have.  All three of us were at the Hometown Throwdown in 2000, and in 2007, but we didn’t know each other and I don’t remember them being there (which is a little weird, because they’re 6’5” and 6’8” and sort of stand out in the crowd).  We didn’t really meet until 2009.This is how the Bosstones community is.  You meet somebody, and it turns out that they’ve been standing next to you at the rail for years, and you just hadn’t noticed them.

The song “Don’t Know How to Party” (playing now on my iTunes, yay) is also somewhat notorious in certain Bosstones circles.  See, there’s this Bosstones fan named Billy.  He’s from Everett, MA.  He’s listened to the Bosstones since…I don’t even know.  I met him at the Throwdown in 2000, because we both got to the Axis (the venue) early every day, and were in line next to each other.  He has the dubious distinction of being the first person ever to get me drunk.  “DKH2P” is Billy’s favorite Bosstones song.  He requests it at every show (and as he’s always on the rail, the band always hears him).  Dicky has been actively refusing to sing the song forever.  But BIlly is nothing if not persistent, and in 2008 or 2009, Billy finally got his wish.  The Bosstones played it live.  And I think they dedicated it to Bill if I recall right.

The Bosstones will do this, if you hang around long enough.  I mean, they play shows because it’s fun for them.  I don’t think they’d do it if they weren’t having fun.  But they also want it to be fun for us fans, and they read the online forum, and every now and then they’ll do something that I can tell is sort of a special thing that they’re doing because we asked.

“Someday I Suppose”, song #4 (which just came on)….one of my all-time favorite Bosstones songs.  And Bosstones videos.  It’s just so goddamn catchy and awesome.  “Plans are made with promises so certainly uncertain”…yep.

The first time I saw the Bosstones live was in October of 1997, at the Mammoth Theatre (which is now the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, CO).  I went with Anna (the one who introduced me to the Bosstones to begin with), her brother Sean, Sean’s friend Whit…I think our friend Kim was there too.  Anna’s parents drove us there in their minivan, and then waited outside the theater for us to get out.  The theater was in what was considered, by middle class suburban standards, to be the “bad” part of town (when I turned 21 I moved to that “bad” part of town and lived there happily and safely for five years).  Dicky signed me my LFI booklet at that show, I got a t-shirt, I learned how to skank by watching a rude boy near me.  I learned what a rude boy was.  I was so star struck at meeting Dicky (this was before I realized that just about anybody can meet Dicky, or really, most any punk rock musician).  I also saw the Dropkick Murphys on one of their earliest US tours, Bim Skala Bim, and the Amazing Royal Crowns (who had not yet been sued by Royal Crown Revue).  That night was just…god, for a 15-yr-old girl, that night was epic.

“A Man Without” is a song about being homeless, a song about begging, a song about invisibility.  “I’m screaming can you help me, oh lord, but no one hears a man like me, it’s easier if they don’t see.  So let’s just pretend to feel, and make believe I’m not real…”  I don’t think Dicky spent any time actually homeless (though I think he’s come close), but does a really compelling job of putting himself in the shoes of the homeless guy in this song.

And then we blast right into “Holy Smoke,” which has got some of the fastest guitar work I’ve heard this side of Catch-22.  One of the critiques I’ve heard of the Bosstones is that they often sound like they’ve taken several songs and smushed them together.  I think that’s a fair observation, especially on their earlier stuff.  Often the transition from intro to first first is completely abrupt and different.  Holy Smoke has some of that, though not a huge amount; I think it’s just tempo changes that throw me off.  This song just has a lot going on, layers of horns and piano and multiple guitar tracks and Dicky singing awesome lyrics.

“Illegal Left”…for some reason (maybe because when I first got the album I didn’t have a driver’s license, and because Illegal Left turns are something of a rarity in suburban Denver) I didn’t get this song for a long time.  I thought it was about Dicky being pulled over, not about Dicky arguing with a cop who had pulled over somebody else.

I think I probably got this album for Christmas 1997, now that I think about it.  That doesn’t really matter, but there it is.

I used to spend a lot of time just reading Bosstones lyrics.  Not just listening to the albums over and over (though yes, I did that), but reading the lyrics, even when the music wasn’t playing.  Dicky’s one of the greatest lyricists ever.  I’ll put him up against any other rock lyricist.  He cares about saying things that matter, but he also pays attention to the phonetics of sound, to finding unique (and plentiful) rhymes and different ways of saying things.

“Tin Soldiers” is a cover of a song by the Stiff Little Fingers.  I’ve mentioned how I would go out and buy albums by artists if Dicky mentioned them in an interview.  SLF is probably the first time I went and bought a band’s album because the Bosstones covered one of their songs (though I would eventually buy Minor Threat for the same reason).  And SLF is a really good band, a little naive and idealistic, but then, so am I.  Bosstones still play “Tin Soldiers” (usually with a major break in the middle for Dicky to introduce the rest of the band).  I also used the title “Tin Soldiers” on a story that I wrote; the first story that I ever got published.  So, yeah….little threads, running through my life, popping up in weird places.

It’s funny, as I listen to more and more Bosstones albums, it’s somehow harder and harder to keep coming up with things to talk about.  Playing right now is “Almost Anything Goes,” a song about New York City, which Dicky would like to get out of so he can go back to Boston.  It’s funny, Dicky (in this song at least, I don’t know about in real life) is sort of ambivalent about NYC, he would rather get back to Boston.  Since I was 14, I’ve wanted to live in NYC, and I think when I first started listening to this song, I didn’t pick up on a lot of that ambivalence.  Who wouldn’t want to live in NYC?  I don’t understand people who don’t want to live here, this city that never sleeps, with all these people bumping into each other 24/7.  With the miles and miles and miles of underground tunnels and secrets, crazy buildings, Central Park, St. Mark’s Place, Harper Lee, the NY Times, the Brill Building….so much of the United States’ history was crafted here.  Not more than any other place in the country, I know, but still…there’s just so many stories, piled up on top of each other here.

“Issachar” is definitely one of the Bosstones’ weirdest songs.  Supposedly it’s about their former road manager, Jack Flanagan, and it’s sort of clearly full of inside jokes and weirdness that I don’t understand and am not meant to.  (“Where’s the wizzler? Where’s the corn? Get jacuzzi on the horn.” ….wtf?)  I had a friend once try to translate this song into plain English, it came out pretty funny.  I still don’t know who’s toasting.  I always assumed it was Kevin Lenear, but uhh…that might be a racist assumption.  I’m pretty sure it’s not Dennis Brockenborough (the only other black member), and they don’t say that they brought in outside talent, but who the hell knows.  It’s such a disjointed song, but also strangely compelling, if you like it enough to listen to it 30 or 40 times and let it start making sense.

“What Was Was Over” is (I think) about Dicky and the Bosstones breaking off business relations with Taang! Records, and signing to a major.  But it pops into my brain at other weird times, like when I was trying to learn sign language (which doesn’t use “to be” verbs, and so this song is hard to translate), and in my junior year of English when my teacher forbade us from using “be” verbs, to try and get us out of using the passive voice, and I took a strange sort of happiness in listening to this song.  “And after all that we’ve been through, Is is gonna have to do.”

“737/Shoe Glue”….another of those songs that gets me all excited, because of its associations in my brain with the Throwdown and, of course, the 737.  Every year at the Throwdown we do the “737 Walk,” in which we trace DIcky’s route to the 737 mailbox, with our trusty tour guide, the Tall Kid.  We also tend to go insane when the Bosstones play it (they opened the 2010 Throwdown with it) because we think they’re playing it all for us.  “Shoe glue” is also probably one of the Bosstones songs most quoted out of context.  I’ve always sort of wondered how these two songs got shoved together, they don’t really have anything to do with each other.  At 4:32, it’s a long song by Bosstones standards, but not overly large.  I guess they were two songs that weren’t quite enough to make it on their own, but together, they work out.  They’re each sort of 75% of a song.  Together you have 150% of a song.

 

Let’s rock! It’s fucking my walk and soaking my sock
Who knew? It’s not stopping my step or stepping my stop
We’ve got it up and we won’t let it drop
Beer here, don’t want to see clear
I see no point in wrecking the joint.
We’re here to quench our thirst a bit
But we won’t get the worst of it.
Turn it up! More than a notch
Like a punch to the face or a kick to the crotch
An all-night neverender
Benefitting from a bender.
If nothing’s worrying you, that’s key
‘Cause nothing’s worrying me.

 

And nothing’s worrying me.

 

Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  Don’t Know How to Party.  Mercury Records, 1993.  Status: out of print.

The Mysterious Case of the Last Dead Mouse (orig. published April 11, 2011)

Step right up, ladies and gents
The last dead mouse costs fifty cents
It’s a steal at any price,
Gone once gone once gone once gone twice.
Half a buck, last in stock
Be the first one on your block.
No need to walk, no need to feed, satisfaction guaranteed.

 

    –Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “Last Dead Mouse”

 

Because my friend Xtine just scored one of these, before I talk about more Bosstones full lengths, I will take a moment here to talk about the most coveted piece of Bosstones memorabilia: the “Last Dead Mouse” 7”.

So the disc (yes, I have one, that’s a photo of it at the top) is plaid.  It is very pretty.  Nobody knows exactly how many were pressed (well, I’m sure the Bosstones do, but they’re not saying).  They were promo material given away to radio stations.  Sometimes I think about them floating around out there…I’m sure plenty of people took them home from the radio station and sold it, or kept it, or forgot about it.  Maybe there’s some radio station out there that still has a cabinet of 7”s somewhere, and a forgotten LDM is inside.  I know some of the Bosstones have some.  I’m sure plenty have been thrown out over the years.  For as long as I can remember, they hardly ever show up on ebay, and when they do, they go for a minimum of $100 (usually more).  I think I know three people with a LDM 7”.  And one guy who owns five, but we don’t like him very much.  I can’t entirely fathom why these records were even made–”Last Dead Mouse” was never, as far as I know, a single off of the Don’t Know How to Party album.  It’s certainly not the best song off the album and it’s not (and hasn’t been for a long time) a song they play live very often.  But there it is, together with another semi-random B-side (“Every Trick in the Book”), and because of its scarcity (and because Bosstones fans are insane), it commands a higher price than other records that are much, much more famous.

It’s a little ironic to me that a song that is about the stupidity of mass consumerism and snake oil salesmen became the most sought-after Bosstones item out there.  The narrator of the song is a guy who believes he can sell anything to anyone (“Last dead mouse but I’ll get more! I’m a businessman and an entrepreneur. Folks say that I’m nuts, they can say what they please. You have to be crazy with prices like these.”)  People will buy anything, be they dead mice, or Last Dead Mouse.

The thing about the Bosstones is, if you’re aware of them, if they’re in your orbit, they are often a major force in your life.  But if you’re unaware of them, or if all you know is “The Impression That I Get” (their one major “chart hit”), you probably know next to nothing about them.  They don’t get a lot of press, especially these days.  And they’ve never really been the cool band to like.  You sort of have to know where to look for them.  So that they inspire such dedication and collector-glee comes as a surprise to a lot of people.  Surely, a band that people are willing to follow around the country on tour is a band that everyone should have heard of, right?  But somehow that’s not the case with the Bosstones.  Nobody understands Bosstones nerd-dom other than other Bosstones nerds.  It’s like Louis Armstrong said about jazz: “If you need it explained to you, you’re never going to get it.”

The story of my LDM 7”: One of my fellow Bosstones nerds, Eric, bought a pack of goodies from Joe G (Bosstones bass player) a year ago, to benefit victims of the Haiti earthquake.  As a surprise, one of the things Joe included in the gift pack was a Last Dead Mouse 7”.  (Free LDM?  He’s a lucky sunnuvabitch.)  Fast forward a year, and Eric wants to buy a personalized Flyers jersey for his dad, who’s turning 70, and who Eric is taking to opening day (baseball season opener, that is).  So he’s selling his LDM 7” to pay for the jersey, and somehow I was the one in the chat room when he offered it up.  So I snatched it.  I like that my LDM has a story and that I know what the story is.  He’s glad that the LDM went to a good home, and I’m glad that I got to help him take his dad out for a good birthday.  And I’m happy to have this beautiful (and coveted) record.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Devil’s Night Out (orig. published April 3, 2011)

In his favorite club,
In his favorite seat.
I saw the devil,
wing tip shoes on his feet.
Pork pie hat on his head,
He was digging the beat.
And the band ripped like demons
When he screamed,
“Turn on the heat!”
    –Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “Devil’s Night Out”

 

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.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Ska-Core, the Devil, & More (orig. published March 13, 2011)

“Brian Kagen hurt himself, he needs Gee-off to come to the side of the stage…Brian Kagen hurt himself…‘cause I know. Pass this around.” –Dicky Barrett (talking to the crowd)

 

Part two in my ongoing series: Ska-Core, the Devil, and More

One day, my friend Anna (who first introduced me to Let’s Face It and who, for a time, was my Bosstones partner in crime) called me up.  She’d found a Bosstones album for only $7 and had bought it (this is before we knew what EPs were).  So the first time I heard the Ska-Core, the Devil, and More EP, it was over the phone.

We both agreed that “Someday I Suppose” was an excellent song.  To this day, it’s probably one of my favorites (and, after “Impression,” probably the song that the most people are familiar with).  This song was one of the earlier examples (in terms of me hearing it, not in terms of him writing it) of Dicky’s ability to play with words and phonemes.

Dicky has said in interviews that Ska-Core, because it was the Bosstones’ major label debut, was more of a message to the people they were working with than a piece of music for the fans. They covered a bunch of 80s hardcore and metal songs, partly to snub Curtis Casella (who owns Taang! Records, the label the Bosstones had just departed from), and partly to confuse the executives at Mercury.  So the next song I heard was “Think Again,” originally a Minor Threat song.  Neither me nor Anna—who liked the Offspring and Blink-182, and so had more of a tolerance for punk guitars—liked it.  We didn’t know it was a cover at the time.

Next up is “Lights Out.”  I don’t think we even listened to the entire song.  By this time, we were wondering what had happened to the happy, saxophone-laden, upbeat band that Let’s Face It had introduced us to.

I’m not even going to get into “Police Beat.”  I mean, can you imagine a couple of 15-year-old middle class suburban white girls possibly relating to such a song? “Police beat me out of the crowd/Doesn’t make a difference if we’re allowed/There’s no questions asked/They just want to kick my ass…”  Props to the Bosstones for making a siren noise out of a guitar, though.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit just how little I knew about music and its history when I was 15.  Like I said before, my parents had wide tastes, but then other things were completely left out—and because we didn’t have MTV and because my mom mostly listened to NPR, there wasn’t a whole lot of chances to introduce me to new stuff.  “Simmer Down” was a song me and Anna really liked, but I don’t think either of us knew at the time it was a Bob Marley cover.  Regardless, this EP is probably around the time I started to internalize just how much range the Bosstones had, in terms of music they liked and styles they would play.  I redoubled my efforts to find out more about them and the music they liked,  though I don’t think Ska-Core directly inspired me to go out and buy any of the covered artists.

The last songs on the EP are a live recording of two songs, “Drugs & Kittens” and “I’ll Drink to That.”  “Drugs and Kittens” is a song (originally called “Drunks and Children” that the Bosstones have recorded I think three times, calling it something different every time.  It’s a staple of their live set).  I don’t remember how I felt about these songs when I heard them.  I listen to them now, and they’re amazing, the drums and the horns are just clicking along, with major energy.  I could dance to this in my living room.  Hell, I could dance to this right now.

Man.  I got nothing to say about these tracks.  They’re just so good and so enjoyable, I can sit and listen to them and not do anything else.  Of course, I’ve seen the Bosstones so many times that listening to tracks like this brings me back to all those shows, to the sweat and the smell and the lights and the noise and the people being all crazy.

Oh, this EP also had a recording of the correct Bosstones chant which has a half beat rest between the second “Mighty” and “Bosstones.”  Between when the Bosstones went on hiatus and when they came back, the fans seem to have forgotten this chant, which is a damn shame.

This EP also has the probably now-almost-nonexistent “hidden track” after about 25 minutes of silence—a recording of “Howwhywuz Howwhyam” which, now that I am listening to it, I actually can’t identify if it’s live or studio.  Almost certainly live, as if there were two studio versions of this song I think I would be aware, but the quality (particularly of the horns) is pretty high.  Though Dicky sounds farther away than he normally would.  Hidden tracks are one of the reasons I was, then, grateful for cassette tapes: I put the whole Ska-Core EP on a cassette, sans silence, so I didn’t have to bother with it.  Though I also listened to the CD version so many times that I could time the scrub forward feature down to the second.

Okay.  Time’s up.  Next: Devil’s Night Out.

 

Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  Ska-Core, the Devil, & More.  Mercury Records, 1994.  Status: out of print.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Let’s Face It (orig. published March 13, 2011)

Why were we put here?
What for? We’re unsure
We sure weren’t put here to hate.
Be racist, be sexist, be bigots,
be sure–we won’t stand for your hate.

 

–Mighty Mighty Bosstones
 

So I figured, in the absense of posting anything productive about my life, I’d post an album-by-album retrospective of me and my favorite band, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  The idea here is that I listen to an album, typing as it plays, about what I remember about listening to that album.  Since the Bosstones have had a fairly ridiculous level of influence on my life, I expect these entries to be sprawling, random, and a little scary.

And the first song is half over already. Oh dear.

So, Let’s Face It was the first Bosstones album that I heard.  I was introduced to the Bosstones by my friend Anna when we were both 15.  She had cable TV (I never did), and saw their video for the single “The Impression That I Get,” and brought the CD over to my house for a sleepover, telling me she thought I’d like this band (boy, was she ever right about that one).

At the time, I had not yet found a musical identity that was “mine.”  Most of the music I listened to was still what my parents listened to; that is, movie soundtracks, Billy Joel, the Neville Brothers, and oldies in general.  I had noticed my friends getting into music in seventh or eighth grade—Green Day, Blink 182, the Offspring, Hootie and the Blowfish, Nirvana.  I tended to not like the music of my friends and contemporaries.  I didn’t connect with it, it all sounded sad, or it was about romance, or breaking up, or drugs, none of which interested me.  I had a Hootie and the Blowfish CD, and Weird Al’s Food album, and I think I had Des’ree’s first album on cassette.  I listened to Mix 107.5, which at the time was Top 40, I think mostly because I felt like I had to, because that’s what the kids were doing.  I realized it was profoundly uncool to still be listening to the Neville Brothers, and was deeply uncomfortable with my sense of myself as a late bloomer, but I really never could get into “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls.

I think I liked the Bosstones from the word go, even though I didn’t understand many of the lyrics.  But they sounded upbeat and happy, and they had the horns that I so enjoyed in my mom’s old Neville Brothers and Motown records.  And I could tell that they weren’t just singing about romance and breakups—“Violence, when will they learn?” is an early lyric that stood out, the anti-bigoted message of “Let’s Face It,” the anti-drug message of “Royal Oil.”  I think I was also intrigued that they didn’t look like your typical mid-90s rocker.  The cover art had them snappily dressed in suits, plus they were older, no longer in their mid-20s (at the time, I thought that this was their first album, so I found it interesting and cool that such old guys would put out such a record and somehow get on MTV).  I used to look at the faces of the band members and try to guess who might play what—I hadn’t seen the music video for Impression at that point, and the liner notes for that album doesn’t say who’s who.  (At some point, I decided that either Ben or Dennis looked like they could be the lead singer.  Oh, this is also when I thought that the first half of the album and the second half—which is much more hardcore than the first—were sung by entirely separate people.  That’s right, I thought Dicky Barrett was two people.)

Trivia fact: “The Rascal King” is about James Michael Curley, Boston’s first Irish mayor and benchmark for corrupt politician.  Also, fair notice: Dicky Barrett knows quite a lot about Boston’s history, more than the average Bostonian.  This is also one of the many songs he writes that is essentially a character study of somebody.  When Dicky writes about people, this is how he does it—with attention to their story and their personality, instead of writing about how he sees them or feels about them—and I just find it to be so much fun.

“Well it’s so hard to face/that in this day and age/somebody’s race could trigger somebody’s rage”…man, that spoke to me so much when I was a kid.  “Now how far have we come/how come there still are some/who won’t let some march to the beat of a different drum.”  I was a misfit kid.  I’d never been really popular or really confident with my peer group.  My half-hearted attempts to fit in (pleas to my mother to let me buy some new clothes instead of hand-me-downs, or the aforementioned radio listening) were mostly met with ridicule by my peers.  And here’s this band, cluing me in to the idea that maybe it’s not me—maybe it’s the world.  Maybe it’s okay for me to be awkward and weird.  Maybe other people should accept that I am that way, rather than make fun of me because I don’t quite fit in.  I know the song’s about racial prejudice and homophobia, but I took it really personally.

“That Big Bit Me” somehow became the song that I ended every single mix with.  I used to be really into making cassette mixes for my friends, to expose them to this new and awesome music that I was getting into.  When I got to the last minute and a half, not long enough for an entire song but too long to leave blank, I’d turn on “That Bug Bit Me” and tape until the tape ran out.  That was how I ended things.  I honestly don’t remember how I got into that habit—I think it started out as a joke between me and my friend Kakki that got out of hand, that I turned into my own inside joke.  (Yes, I have inside jokes with myself.  Whether this is a cause of or a result of me not having many friends is open to debate.)

Speaking of Kakki, she was around when I was first getting into the Bosstones.  She was the one who told me their style of music was called “ska” and that they were from Boston (Bosstones! Boston! A pun! Funny!).  Keep in mind, this was just before the internet entered my life (actually, the Bosstones were one of the first reasons I started poking around on the internet at all), and though my parents’ musical tastes are diverse, they don’t include reggae or ska at all.  When I first heard the Bosstones, I had no context whatsoever to put them in.  So I took small words like “ska” and “Boston” and did with them what I could.

My mom has worked as a librarian for many years, since before I was born.  Sometimes, if she was working a 4 hour shift (shifts were either 4 hours or 8), she would take me to work with her, and I’d either do homework or just read.  I was a quiet, library-loving sort of kid.  But after I got this album by the Bosstones (and I don’t actually remember buying Let’s Face It for myself, just listening to Anna’s copy, though I definitely did buy a copy fairly early on), I would go with her to the library and use the public internet terminals to search for information on the Bosstones or on ska.  This was before Google, remember, even before any advanced searching ability.  I searched the internet the same way I searched old card catalogs—with ever-narrowing category searches.  First you click on Music, then you click on Punk/Ska, then you search by artist, then you go to M, and then you find all the websites about the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  There was no official site, but oodles of fan sites with FAQs and stories and old interviews that the webmaster had typed up.  If you found one comprehensive site, it would lead you to others, either via the links page of the Web Ring links.  So I started reading all these interviews with Dicky and the other Bosstones, or articles or whatever, and printing them off (at 10 cents a page) and keeping them in a 2 inch binder, which I still have.  (One of the webpages also had all of the Bosstones’ lyrics published and a discography, which I printed off and read like they were poetry.  I probably had all the Bosstones’ lyrics memorized before I even owned all the albums.)

Oh, I’m up to “Break So Easily.”  I didn’t like this song for the longest time because I didn’t understand what it was about, and because it’s so jarring.  Then somehow I found out that it’s about a murder that trombone player Dennis Brockenborough witnessed, and it immediately became more accessible and more awesome.  And I could see how the musical style mirrored the lyric theme, and found that cool.

Anyway.  So, when people would interview Dicky, he would recommend bands like the Specials, Madness, the Clash, and others.  This is the thing about Dicky—he’s always been good about paying tribute to other artists.  Well, all the Bosstones have.  So I took the bus down to Tower Records in Cherry Creek and bought myself the Specials’ singles collection and London Calling by the Clash.  My belief that the Bosstones played ska was disabused the first time I listened to the Specials.  The Clash were, just plainly, awesome.  Musically interesting, musically different, and they weren’t singing love songs.  Neither were the Specials.  When you look at my music collection today, it’s still pretty devoid of love songs.  I guess I don’t have much use for them.

About halfway through Let’s Face It, the style gets much more crunchy and punky.  Dicky’s voice deepens, the themes get more ominous.  A guy gets killed by drunken party goers, somebody gets shot in the street, and Dicky gets beat up by a junkie.  I remember not being crazy about these songs, not necessarily understanding them, but listening to them anyway.  In this, I think the Bosstones did something for me that no other band could have done: I have always loved the lyrics.  Loved them enough to put up with aspects of their musical style that didn’t immediately appeal to me (like Dicky’s Rottweiler growl and Nate Albert’s more hardcore guitar techniques).  Many of their songs, I liked both musically and lyrically; but plenty of the songs I only liked lyrically.  If Dicky hadn’t increased my tolerance for noise, I don’t know when or how I would have ever gotten into H2O or the Bouncing Souls or Operation Ivy or any number of other bands.  Even these days, my taste tends towards the melodic, but it’s just another subtle way that the Bosstones influenced me and my tastes.

Okay.  I’m up to “1-2-8,” the final song on this first album by the Bosstones.  The first album that I owned, I mean.  I got into the Bosstones all out of order, something I’ll try to portray as these episodes go.  1-2-8 is another song I didn’t understand for a long time, but I get it now that I know more about the Bosstones and about their history.

That’s the sort of weird thing, is that the Bosstones have introduced me to a phenomanally large amount of stuff—and I’ve liked almost all of it, whether it’s bands or philosophies or musical style or professionalism.  The album’s over, though (Paul Kolderie just said “great”), so this entry’s over.Next time: Ska Core, the Devil, and More

Mighty Mighty Bostones.  Let’s Face It.  Mercury Records, 1997.  B000001ERG.  Status: in print.