Ska Summit, 2003 (Part 4)

This is the final installment of my four-part series on a concert festival I went to when I was twenty. For the first entry, along with a more detailed explanation of why I’m posting such a thing, go here.

I Ran All The Way Home (Doo wah doo wah doo)

The conversation the next morning consisted almost entirely of groans of exhaustion and pain. We were all sunburned (I think Dan, Joe, and me took prizes for the worst), and Andy had sprained his ankle somehow, and the everyone was sore from eight hours of dancing and standing on concrete. We all wanted to go home and talked Dan out of bungee jumping, but had to stop for souvenirs at the World’s Largest Souvenir Shop, and eat breakfast (steak for breakfast! Okay then, Vegas) so it was past 10:00am by the time we got going.

Conversation faded in and out, mostly restricted to what needed to be talked about. We would stop for gas and get out and talk a bit and get revived, but as soon as we got back in the car the conversation would fade away. We were all tired and kind of cranky, too tired even for post-ska exuberance. But it was stored away, we’d take it out and think about it and then put it away.

“We should do this again next year, only spend more time in Vegas.”

“Catch 22 needs to play next year.”

“And the Mad Caddies. And Less Than Jake.”

“And the Pietasters.”

“And the Smooths. Well, if they got back together.”

“Or did a reunion show like Attaboy Skip this year.” (If there’s any former members of the Smooths reading this, one more tour, please, just one.)

We got through Utah without incident, hitting 128mph in Andy’s car and passing a van that had “Ska Summit 2003” written on the back window in soap. As soon as the sun sank behind Utah, I fell asleep.

 

One Week Later

April 6, 2003

I finally got a decent night’s sleep on about Thursday (we’d driven back to Denver on Sunday). I’m writing this sitting at Action Shot’s band practice. Life is back to its regular routine. I told everyone my Ska Summit stories, but left out the total exhaustion part because that’s not what sticks in your head. The image that comes to mind is the Toasters onstage, Bucket (guitar player/lead singer) bobbing back and forth on the balls of his feet like he does, his eyes shut against the bright stage lights; Jack Ruby (other lead vocals) rolling around onstage and throwing things at Sledge. Sledge looking angry and then, at the last minute, breaking into a grin. Dave Waldo, the keys player, hoisting his keyboard onto his shoulder like a boombox. The saxophone player and the trombone player dancing, holding their horns away from their bodies; the people around me gently bumping shoulders as we danced.

Ska Summit, 2003 (Part 2)

This is part two (er, obviously) of a four-part series on a concert festival I went to when I was twenty. For the first entry, along with a more detailed explanation of why I’m posting such a thing, go here.

Welcome to Sin City

Las Vegas, NV

By the time we make it to Vegas, the mountains behind us were turning purple and the sky was going dark. My first glimpse of Vegas was full-blown, lit up, neon lights going. A little overwhelming for a kid who doesn’t even like the neon sign on top of the Quest tower in Denver.

We made it to our hotel room around 9:00 and we’d been in the car for thirteen hours. We were all tired and cranky and slightly delirious; I was so hungry I was lightheaded. We didn’t think it would be worth it to try and find the ska party at Julian’s, so we met up with my friend Lori and found dinner. Then we went out wandering on the strip.

I think Las Vegas is a sort of corrupted Disneyland for adults. I mean, what kind of grown man builds a hotel shaped like a castle? (I know, I know: a rich grown man.) Vegas is some kind of weird alternate reality. Does it always have that smell?

In front of the New York New York hotel was a small group of anti-war protesters holding signs and handing out fliers. Behind me, a big beefy tourist muttered to his companions, “Oh great, more protesters. Just don’t say anything.” Then as soon as we were past them, he started talking about them, how sick he was of protesters, they don’t know anything, they’re stupid. I was so mad I could barely talk, but I managed to say, “I like how you can mock them behind their back but won’t say anything to their face.” I realize humanity will never come to a consensus on anything, and I don’t care if people disagree with me as long as they show some degree of respect for my viewpoint. But don’t talk shit about people behind their backs. All that proves is that the kids on the street corner, handing out fliers, putting their opinions on display, have more nerve than you.

Okay. Off my soapbox now.

Not much else to say about the strip, I guess. The water fountain show in front of the Bellagio was awesome. That pool, I think, has more water than the entire state of Colorado. And again, there is a hotel shaped like a castle. A castle.

Ska Summit, 2003 (Part 1)

I’ve been going through boxes of old papers (and thinking that someday maybe I’ll go through the Documents file on my computer), seeing what I can get rid of, when I came across this travel journal from 2003 written on looseleaf notepaper. Originally, I was going to just type it up and store it on my hard drive, but I decided to post it here for a couple reasons. One is that I wasn’t actually a bad writer when I was 20 (when I was typing it up I did clean up some grammar/sentence structure things, but really not that much). I’m a little disappointed that I’m not a demonstrably better writer 13 years on, actually. I feel like I should be embarrassed by my 20-year-old writer self, but skill-wise, she’s still pretty close to my 34-year-old self, I guess. The other thing is that I considered myself to be a pretty timid and non-risk-taking teenager/adolescent/young adult. I was never a sneak-out-at-night-and-go-drinking teenager. My friends and I never bombed down I-25 at 110 miles per hour with the music as loud as it could go just to see if we could (well, there was that one time…). But I was reading this and realizing, I did some potentially stupid things, I just didn’t think of them as stupid at the time. And still don’t think of them as stupid, which is maybe partly why I identify as a non-risk-taker. But impulsively driving to Vegas with five other kids and sleeping in a hotel on the strip and going to a ska show? Potentially dangerous. Potentially dumbass kid thing. It was weirdly reassuring to know that I was a dumbass when I was 20.

So, here it is. Broken up over several entries, I’m sure. Also I don’t have pictures to go with this because I didn’t have a digital camera in 2003. Use your imagination, I suppose.

 

Part One

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Colorado

Friday, March 28

6:00am


A god-awful hour for high school and college kids. We–Andy, Dan, Joe, Kyle, Nick, and me–met at King Soopers while the sun is still streaked across the sky in purple and orange. A quick run through the store to grab donuts, beef jerky, Mountain Dew, coffee, and water; another quick stop for gas, and we’re on our way.

It snowed on Thursday night and Colorado was cold and windy, the highway slushy and wet. We piled into two cars with a walkie talkie in each. Most of the first several hours were spent trash talking each other through the walkies.

The quickest road out of Colorado going west is I-70, which climbs through the foothills and goes up and over Vail Pass, and then slides down the other side, into the mesa country of western Colorado and then out into Utah. People live all along it. It’s the road skiers take to most Colorado ski resorts. Mining towns are littered all along it (or, more accurately, it was built along the old road that connected mining towns to Denver). It’s our way out of Colorado, and almost all the way through Utah, until it dead-ends at I-15 and we turn south.

We had to stop in Vail because the slush kicked up so much dirt behind the cars in front of us that Kyle’s car ran out of windshield wiper fluid. We tried to get to an exit but Kyle ended up pulling into a turnout–he couldn’t see at all and was hanging his head out the window, Ace-Ventura style.

If you’ve lived in Colorado for a long time, like I have, and spent a lot of time camping and backpacking and skiing in the mountains, like I have, the mountains develop a personality. They’re huge megalithic chunks of rock that alternate between not caring if you live or die, and actively trying to destroy you. There is no such thing as friendship with the mountains–the most you can hope for, if you know them well enough, is a sort of benevolence. Everything you need is there, if you know where to look, but the mountain won’t help you find it. It’s put it there, and that better be enough. You don’t think about jet streams and cold fronts in the nature, it’s more like nature being in a bad mood. Once I was one an eight-day backpacking trip. It rained for six of the eight days. By the fourth or fifth day, we were tired of the mountain and cursing the weather gods, because it felt like they were toying with us. That’s what the mountains do: they toy with you. It can be beautiful sunny weather at 11:00 in the morning, and by 1:00 it’s raining and you’re hiding from lightning and digging in your pack for long underwear. Beautiful and stunning landscapes hide loose rocks that can sprain your ankle (a minor injury, normally, but potentially lethal when you’re twenty miles from the nearest road and nobody knows where you are). The mountains are full of deer and elk and everybody wants to see them, while avoiding attracting the attention of a cougar or a bear, forgetting that the supposedly harmless herbivores kill more people every year. What’s beautiful is dangerous, the seemingly harmless can be deadly, and only bitter experience can teach you the difference. That’s what the mountains have taught me.

Humans’ attitudes towards the mountains vacilate between changing it, controlling it, and leaving it exactly the same. We build towns and highways, carve trails, put houses on hilltops. We chop trees and control the animal population, which can no longer control itself. But then something happens that’s out of our control, like a wildfire that destroys thousands of acres of vegetation. It’s a vicious and brutal process, but a natural one, part of the mountain reforging and renewing itself, keeping a balance. Given time, the landscape can renew itself, but humans are impatient. We don’t give the mountain any time anymore. After a forest fire we go in and plant quick-growing seeds that will take root and lessen the eroding. Back and forth, hot and cold, that’s how the mountains are. You learn to live with them because they sure as hell don’t care if they live with you. And they won’t ever be subdued.

While I stared out the window for a good four hours thinking about all this, the mountains slid past us, the highway threading between and around and through the peaks. We held our breath going through tunnels (except for the Eisenhower tunnel, which is too long) and listened to music. Traveling to a show, getting there is half the fun. You listen to music and in the back of your mind is the thought, “By this time tomorrow I’ll be hearing this music live and it will rock.” As for me, I don’t have a lot of friends who will tolerate ska, let alone seek it out. Dan and Andy are the only guys on this trip that I really know, and everyone else is friends of theirs.

When we stopped at a gas station in Grand Junction, Andy helped himself to some of Dan’s CDs in the other car. We weren’t five minutes out of the gas station when Dan came crackling over the walkie talkie. “Hey fuckers!”

“Yes, bastard?” returned Andy.

“Do you have my CDs?”

“Define ‘have’.”

“Are you holding them in your possession, asshole.”

We couldn’t answer for several seconds because we were laughing too hard. Finally Andy managed to say, “Well, maybe.”

“Fuckers.”

We turned up the music and held the walkie talkie up to the speaker.

Utah

Stupid Utah.

The first impression that I have of Utah is a big blank tan expanse of nothing. The sign that says “Now Leaving Colorful Colorado” is painfully accurate and it seems like not only have you left Colorado, but all the color as well. The sign that said “Caution: Eagles on Highway” caused some discussion. Eagles doing what? Something dangerous?

We also spent some time in Utah seeing how fast we could get Andy’s car to go. I-70 in Utah is long, flat, and empty, and there’s nothing to hit (except eagles, apparently). We got up to 122mph before fear got the better of us. Best not to die a horrific fiery death before the Ska Summit.

We stopped in a town called Green River for gas and lunch. One thing I’ve observed about people: if you’re a freak wandering around alone, no one takes any notice of you. I can wander around Denver by myself in all my punk/ska clothes and nobody cares, except sometimes to ask polite (if silly) questions. “Toasters? So you like kitchen appliances, eh?” “Avoid One what?” “H2O? I also like water.” But when you’re part of a posse of freaks, people are a lot more likely to fear and despise you–and a lot more likely to show it. In Utah, a bunch of spiky, blue- and red-haired freaks wearing trench coats and patch-covered hoodies, are trouble. The ladies at Burger King wouldn’t speak to us, the customers all stared at us, and the gas station attendant wouldn’t sell us cigarettes.

Our growing feelings of dislike toward Utah increased when Andy, Brian, and Nick were pulled over by an unmarked state trooper. He didn’t use radar, didn’t check the ownership of the vehicle, and told us there was snow and ice on the (totally dry) mountain pass, and that they might crash and “not know what happened.” (“Wow, we seem to be at the bottom of a canyon. How’d that happen?”) What’s more, Kyle, Dan, Joe, and me in the other car kept going and pulled off at the next exit, but Andy and them didn’t. We wasted an hour trying to find them. Stupid Utah.

Mighty Mighty Throwdown

image

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.

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.

The Sounds of the City, Sometimes They Comfort Me…

IMG_0129.JPGThis is an excerpt of a piece I wrote about New York this semester, about why I moved here. I really like this one part so I thought I’d share.

When I was a kid, New York was NYPD Blue, the title sequence with fireworks and the Chinese dragon and percussive subways. Andy Sipowicz’s violent bluntness and Donna Abondando’s flattened vowels.

New York was gardens in fire escapes and trees growing in Brooklyn.

New York was Broadway musicals like Cats. Bright lights and businesses open 24 hours. Where I grew up, the only thing open 24 hours was the grocery store and the gas station.

New York was where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lived. Spider-Man, Batman, the Gargoyles. The X-Men live up the road in Westchester. “11th and Bleecker? (sniff, sniff)…Nope, this is only 9th St! Get it?” (I didn’t get it, but I loved it.) Everybody (except maybe Batman) made use of the sewers and the subways. Before I knew about the actual homeless people who live down there, there were the Morlocks, unsightly mutants in the X-Men universe who live in the sewers because they’ll be lynched if they venture aboveground.

A little bit later, as a teenager, New York was punk. Cigarette smoke and graffiti. Mutilated subway cars. Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

New York was black and white photos of skinny, shaggy-haired men in sunglasses looking unimpressed. Rock rock, Rockaway Beach. Rock rock, Rockaway Beach.

The Wetlands had all-ages punk and ska matinees every week. I didn’t know “Take the A Train,” but “Underground Town” by the Toasters was in pretty constant rotation. Nervous nun with a heavy bag shakes her head at the man in drag, in the underground town, riding on the subway in New York City.

Maybe England gave punk its fashion sense, but New York gave it a soul. Six years ago, a very hot summer night. Avenue A, with my friends, hanging tight…The air was tense, muggy as fuck, Lower East Side, running amok!

The Bouncing Souls are actually from New Jersey, but I didn’t discriminate. Punkers should be pale and pasty. The pizza here is fierce and tasty. East Coast! Fuck you! (“Fuck you” here said in a self-congratulatory way, as in, “I dismiss everywhere that is not the northeastern seaboard”.)

New York was about making your own rules and carving out your own space. New York was self-sufficiency and exploration, where only the resourceful survive.

What I didn’t see then was that with self-sufficiency comes loneliness. And while stories get written about people who have survived, who’ve become legendary, below them are layers and layers of people who came here with dreams bright in their hearts and who left with nothing but ashes. Or who didn’t escape at all.

You never read stories about them.

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.