Thursday, September 6, 2007

review: my top 5 boston songs

camera's still not working, plus i have to wake up at 7 (!) to drive to nyc, stopping along the way to pick up my friend cristie at a pull-off by the tolls at sturbridge as if she were a truck stop whore (or a pull-off whore, but that sounds redundant), but here's a quicky that i was thinking of today while heading to the savers in west roxbury, listening to my beloved wzbc, driving like a total asshole, and basically feeling at home.

these are 5 songs by bands from boston about boston that i have loved since i actually lived in boston (which was ten years ago, and in the suburbs, but who's counting). oh, wait, i am counting. starting with number...

5. summertime - unnatural axe
the unnatural axe were one of those bands that were around during the era of the modern lovers and the real kids, but i never heard of them until an exbf put them on a mix for me (natch, he was also from boston, or more accurately, the suburbs, cuz really, in my imagination, living in the city itself [allston, jp, and slummerville don't count, assholes!] would entail either living along the freedom trail or having an apartment in the hancock building). anyway, it's about how great it is in the summer when all the college kids leave, and all i can say is, amen, brother. i spent many weekends in harvard square as a youth, and while the epicenter of square shittiness was "the pit"-- the brick sitting area next to the t station that was filled with suburban kids begging for change (for the meters where their cars were parked?) and engaging in the adolescent drug trade-- actual harvard students are/were the worst. nevermind bc, bu, emerson,, i love this song.

4. umass - pixies
not that they're talking about umass boston (which would be funny-- i long for the day somebody pens a tune about cape cod community college, aka 4 Cs by the sea, the school everyone at my high school joked about having to go to after getting rejected at all the ivys they applied to, ha ha ha what dicks!). whatever, western mass is always lumped in with boston, and we're eager to take it (unlike worcester, which we'd easily give to connecticut, no questions asked), and if you've ever met anyone from umass, you'd find this song apt. i happened to know a young man from umass when i was in high school, and while that's another story, he was pretty much the classic stereotype of pioneer valley academia-- smart, smug, and extremely confused. that said, there were a ton of great bands from the western half of the state (hello, dinosaur jr/sebadoh, duh, but i'll throw in new radiant storm king for shits and giggles), and had they written heavy regional songs, i would've included them, too, but it was not meant to be, so, as always, the pixies own the spotlight.

3. crutch - buffalo tom
oh, buffalo tom. the first rock show i ever went to was a wfnx ("BOSTON'S ALTERNATIVE RADIO STATION", hello, 1992)/boston phoenix readers poll concert, and i say rock show because my parents dragged me to folk concerts since i was 5, but shawn colvin never counts for anything, ever. anyway, i was going to see matthew sweet, and my dad came, not just because i was 13, but because he also loved "girlfriend," and my friend cassim came, but i have no idea why. i mention this because, being a readers poll concert, they announced the winners of the phoenix's readers poll for best song/album/video whatever, and buffalo tom swept the motherfucker. "let me come over" is such a great goddamned record, it's aged like george clooney, and i swear, everytime i finally arrive in the city at the end of a long drive from elsewhere, i try to put on the last song, "crutch," not just because it's so pretty, but because every time i hear him sing, "i can't believe i'm back in boston," i can't believe it, either.

[incidentally, the other bands on that bill were the sugarcubes and the smithereens, but we didn't make it past the sugarcubes because they were so scary-- i was 13, my dad's canadian, and this was when they were promoting that single where the ugly guy repeats the phrase, "I SAY OUCH, THIS REALLY HURTS!" we literally ran from the orpheum theater for our lives.]

2. 100000 fireflies - magnetic fields
i remember the exact moment when i first heard this song-- in a dorm room at chapell hill/chancey hall summer theater program (sup, costumes and tech crew! now you know why i never wear all black). my roommate prefered the soothing sounds of elton john (even tho i swear her brother was in the lemonheads for 5 minutes, but maybe i made that up), but i had just started listening to wzbc, and i remember that when this song came on i wondered why they were playing the theme song to "muppet babies." the thing that used to make the magnetic fields so great to me, before they became the sound of smugness and an npr house band (along with wilco, they might be giants...white people are funny, huh), was that, with the exception of muppet babies, they really didn't sound like anyone else on the radio. when susan anway was the singer, all the songs sounded like demos from bizarre off-broadway musicals, and since i was knee deep in musicals at the time, this clicked with me. then again, this song clicks with many people-- say, "i have a mandolin" in front of a group of glasses-wearing, messenger bag-having, and yes, npr-listening people in their late 20s/early 30s, and they will immediately/without thinking say, "i play it all night long, it makes me want to kill myself" like the manchurian indie rocker. the boston stuff is incidental-- when she asks, "why do we still live here in this repulsive town?", she's referring to sommer "slummer" ville, mentioned above-- but one of my favorite shows i ever went to in high school was the mountain goats, john davis, john davis and john darnielle singing smiths covers, (horrible sleepyhead, but we'll ignore that) and the magnetic fields at the middle east upstairs. for some reason, they let me sit on the side of the stage. and they played this song. sure, we were in cambridge, but it didn't seem so repulsive to me.

1. roadrunner - modern lovers
like there could be any other. fucking jonathan richman, man. back when tower records was at the end of newbury street, they tried to start a "boston rock walk of fame" on the sidewalk outside. on that walk as of 1996 (the year i got out)-- aerosmith (who are actually from, no shit, nh), nkotb (that was the year they were attempting to make people forget they were actually the new kids on the block, the same way kentucky fried chicken became kfc so you'd forget the southern/bad-for-you thing), and jonathan richman. i once forced him to take his picture with me, and in it, he looks totally terrified, which makes sense, cuz his voice always sounds vaguely afraid, like there's someone offstage with a hook and a sharp stick.

when i was 17 tho, it sounded like someone who was really excited, because driving on 128 by myself was exciting, especially with the radio on, especially when it was dark outside. i preferred the star market to the stop'n'shop, but whatever (altho the best chain, now gone, was purity supreme-- there was one not far from 128, on rte 9, not far from my house, and years later i met someone who grew up right near there and used to refer to it as chastity ultimate). that whole record is the best musical document this city has to offer-- the museum of fine arts, government center...the power of massachusetts when it's late at night! damn!

godsmack, white zombie, extreme, the bosstones (who i actually saw more than once, but this was the early 90s, and if you didn't go to at least 3 bosstones shows before the age of 15 you had to pay a fine or do community service)...were they asked to be on the boston rock walk of fame, despite being more famous than the modern lovers and having more exciting outfits? no. because no matter how many records those shitty bands have sold, and no matter how strong their connection to the city is, they do not love boston-- love life!-- like jonathan richman does. you can hate curt shilling, you can hate mitt romney, you can hate letters to cleo-- in fact, please, hate all of those people!-- but no matter how much you hate boston (ie, how much i sometimes hate boston), you can't hate jonathan richman, and you can't hate this song. radio on! right, alright, bye bye!

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