Hello, and thank you for joining me again for part two of the listen-along to Pin Points and Gin Joints, the 2009 Mighty Mighty Bosstones album. I covered “Side A” in my last post, which ended up being way too long, so here we are with Side B.
“Wasted Summers,” is a song penned to a Boston Red Sox player who left the team to go play for the Yankees, because we’re a Boston band and honestly why would you not write a song about baseball? World needs more songs about baseball. (I know the specifics have been explained, and the player named, but I don’t follow baseball so I don’t remember who it’s about, and I’m too lazy to go look it up.)
“Sister Mary.” This song should probably be its own entire entry. It’s about the history of ska, and of the Skatalites, and of Desmond Dekker, all told in Dicky’s trademark directly oblique way. There’s so many references to early Jamaican ska in here, (and I’m probably missing a bunch because I’m by no means a scholar on Jamaican ska).
Can you remember
The school in the slums?
Can you hear the trombone
The guitar and the drums?
These lines are a reference to the Alpha Boys School, where several future members of the Skatalites went to school (and learned their instruments), along with trombonist Rico Rodriguez and a bunch of others. The headmaster of the school was Sister Mary Ignatius Davies.
Hey Sister Mary, can you teach me the song?
While they drag him out of there in scandal and shame
And Mr. Cosmic, the slide –Will you play along?
The man on the street couldn’t handle the fame.
Mr Cosmic is, I think, Don Drummond, famed trombonist and graduate of ABS. He put out an album (compilation?) called Don Cosmic. (There’s also a song called “Don Cosmic.”) “The Man on the Street” is also a Drummond song. So is “Scandal.”
Can you remember
When you left the school?
Half the world seemed wonderful
The other half seemed cruel
Pardon me sir, you were half out of your mind
The magic you’d make
And then the fame you would find
From Wikipedia: “In 1965 Drummond was convicted of the murder of his longtime girlfriend, Anita “Marguerita” Mahfood, an exotic rhumba dancer and singer, on 1 January 1965. He was ruled criminally insane and imprisoned at Bellevue Asylum, Kingston, where he remained until his
death four years later. The official cause of death was ‘natural causes.'”
On the Eastern Standard Time (“Eastern Standard Time” is a song written by Drummond, eventually recorded by the Skatalites. It’s also a band; they named themselves after the song.)
The teardrops in the rain (I’m honestly not sure about this one. There’s a Specials song from 1998 called “My Tears Come Falling Down Like Rain,” about Drummond; and there’s a NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble song called “Teardrops from My Eyes,” but my google skills are failing me in terms of finding what Drummond-specific song this may be a reference to.)
Sweet Anita Margarita (Anita Mahfood’s stagename)
She was crying out in pain
There’s also a trombone solo here, which makes sense in a song about a trombonist. I’m curious if the solo calls back to or sounds like any of Drummond’s songs, but I don’t know enough about his discography to identify.
Sister Mary cannot save you now
You might as well admit
You left your trombone all alone
And she held on to it.
This seems to indicate that Sister Mary Ignatius got Drummond’s trombone back after he went to prison/mental hospital? I’m not sure if this has basis in fact. Knowing Dicky, he wrote this song after reading a book about the whole thing, so maybe it’s cited (or hypothesized) somewhere. The biggest book about ska history that I know of, by Heather Augustyn, didn’t come out until 2010, but it’s possible that Dicky had an advance copy. (Or that he just knew! Dude’s listened to ska for decades now.)
“It Will Be.” I always get this song in my head now when I’m anticipating going to a Bosstones show, even though that’s not what the song’s about at all. “It will be! Wait and see! It’ll be when you least expect it, Wait and see it’ll be electric.” It’s more just about good things coming to find you when you least expect them, which is the opposite of a Bosstones show (I always know when those are coming).
There’s a little bit of a “When I’m 64”-ish theme going on here? “Will you still need me, will you still feed me…” “So patiently you’ll have to wait and see/And the waiting will be well worth it I’m sure.” Maybe a little “Innocent Man” by Billy Joel–he’s talking to someone who’s been crushed, all but trampled, all hope gone, but here’s Dicky, see, and he says, “I can go but I know I’ll wait around,” because he knows this thing they have (or might be starting to have) could be electric.
It occurs to me that even though I’m reading these lyrics and thinking about an “Innocent Man” sort of situation, that’s not necessarily true, I don’t think. Dicky could be talking to a friend who’s going through a breakup. Like, yeah, this sucks right now, and I’m not the one who can save you from it (I’m not the one you’ll fall in love with), but I want you to know that this bright future is out there for you. That you’ll find and love somebody electric.
Good grief this is long I’M SORRY IT’S JUST THAT ALL THESE SONGS ARE GREAT.
Also I really should stop for lunch? I’m super hungry. When I first started this series it was “Hit play and then type as much as you can while the album is running,” so it didn’t take that much longer than the run time of the album to write an entry, but now I’m all pausing and going to double check things on the internet and it’s taking a really long time. Like I thought I would be able to write the last two entries today but I haven’t gotten much done at work and I have a whole homework project I need to do and everything is just a lot right now?
“Death Valley Vipers.” This song is weirdly divisive among Bosstones fans. I know some who say they skip it when it comes up on their player, and would be fine if they never heard it live again. But I like it. It’s a tribute to a specific Army unit stationed in Afghanistan, I think, some far remote outpost in a really dangerous area of the country. “Death Valley Vipers/Proud daughters and sons/Direct descendants of survivors/Marching orders from no one.” My reaction to this song is always really visual. Like I see a whole music video in my head. Maybe it’s because of the mention of Death Valley, but I imagine a 1950s Buick breaking down in the American desert, the couple in it alone and stranded, taking pot shots at a cactus to keep themselves occupied. There’s a motorcycle gang that comes along at some point, and there’s a moment when you think the couple might get attacked, but then they join the biker gang. And it turns out that this gang, which is full of the ghosts of people who have died in the desert–Central American immigrants, Native American warriors, Okies, people killed by Vegas gangsters, people killed in car crashes, etc–roam around on vintage Kawasaki dirt bikes, protecting people who are still alive, adopting those that have died in their territory.
“The Bricklayer’s Story” is a solid song in the Bosstones’ tradition of writing songs about Boston, or people from Boston, or just working class folks. You get the feeling that these are all people that Dicky has met in a bar at some time or other. (Dicky could almost be an ethnographer who works out of dive bars.) A tribute to a working class guy who worked hard his whole life. A tribute to people who work hard, who do things for others, even if it comes at a price to themselves (there’s a whole verse dedicated to cataloging the injuries that the bricklayer incurred over his life). This song stands beside “Temporary Trip,” “A Jackknife to a Swan,” maybe even “Hugo’s Wife.” Love songs to ordinary people.
“Pretty Sad Excuse” is the last song. Like several other final songs on Bosstones albums, especially post-hiatus albums, it sounds like two songs mashed together. It’s longer than is usual. The first half is sweet and sad, and the tempo is slow. If you’re at a show, it gives everyone a chance to rest and breathe, establish a slow little circle pit, give hugs to the people you’ve never met before but are now friends with.
I feel so disappointing more times than I don’t
I feel like such a let down and I’m nervous that I won’t
Deliver when I’m called upon to step up when I’m needed
I feel like such a failure when I’m sure that I’ve succeeded
I call myself an outcast, more than likely I am not
An outsider on the inside and I hope I don’t get caught
I feel like an impostor who should not be on the roster
Someone understands this and of course I’ve almost lost her
If I cherish or I value something then it’s safe to say
I will dismantle or destroy it and I’ve always been that way…
“Half the time I’m petrified, and I’m terrified the rest. If I’m not being selfish than I’m probably depressed.” If that’s not a relatable sentiment I don’t know what the fuck is. This song is about being successful when you’re not sure if you deserve it; maybe you’ve just fooled everybody. What creative person hasn’t dealt with imposter syndrome at one time or another? What person, period?
A pretty sad excuse that is fostering a sad existence
The thought of altering myself just meets my own resistance
A pretty sad excuse that is fostering a sad existence
Half the time I’m petrified and I’m terrified the rest
If I’m not being selfish than I’m probably depressed.
Okay okay but you gotta wait for it (wait for it!) because the second time they sing the chorus and Dicky repeats the line, “Half the time I’m petrified and I’m terrified the rest” twice, you gotta GET READY and SPREAD OUT and BE PREPARED because the guitarist is about to hit the distortion pedal and the horns are about to kick in and down in the crowd, Lerch and Matty Ciq and Steve and Jeff and Aaron are about to CRASH and then there will be a CIRCLE PIT and it will be so so fast and so so fun because this is the last song so we’ve got to say goodbye with a vengeance, you know, we may never get to dance like this again. Don’t worry, they’ll pick you up if you fall, they’ll grab your glasses if you lose em (and if you’re lucky they won’t even have been stomped on yet), and they will hug you when the song finally ends, and you will be sweaty and gross, aching in a way that you only do when you’ve been crashing against other people in a mosh pit for three hours, and it will be beautiful and wonderful and you’ll never want it to end.