A Vinyl Record and the Lost Spirit of Boston Rock

Thanksgiving weekend at my house has been about cleaning up and clearing out for as long as I can remember.

As a kid, it wasn’t long after the turkey hit our stomachs that our mother came in with a laundry list of laundry for us to do. The long weekend – though my dad usually had to work on Friday in those days – set the stage for getting rid of the junk that piled up over the year. We had to get rid of it then before the additional accumulation of Christmas clutter overwhelmed us.

Or at least that was my mother’s theory.

We would spend two long days putting away summer clothes, dragging lawn chairs in from the porch and squeezing them through the hallway and down to the cellar.

I think of my poor cousin.

After going through our clothes, inevitably my mother would call her sister on the phone.

“Got some hand-me-downs,” she would announce.

What that meant was that my cousin, who was younger than me, was going to get the old clothes that didn’t fit me anymore.

In those days, heaven forbid, that included underwear. I would always protest that move, but my mother and her sisters always had an answer.

“It’s ok. We’re a gonna put the bleach on ‘em,” my mother would say.

Bleach cured all.

God loves a frugal woman, but can you imagine we did that? In fact, almost everyone did that and it was the one curse of being the youngest boy in a Boston family. I never could look at my cousin without cringing, and he always gave me an uneasy stare, because we stood there knowing that he was wearing the underwear I had worn last year.

So it was, with that history, this past Thanksgiving weekend served as a major “clearing out” of the house for Mr. Boston.

This year I came across my old record albums.

Most of what was left was my “Boston Rock” collection.

  1. Geils, Boston, Aerosmith, New Edition and the many hard-core violence-tinged groups that played nightly at the Channel.

My favorite was the Cars though. I pulled out their 1979 self-titled album, the one with the lady laughing behind a clear steering wheel. I’ve heard those songs on the oldies radio station often, but it had been many moons since I had heard the complete ‘A side’ and the complete ‘B side’ in succession.

What memories that brought back; memories of cruising around less notable Boston streets during a time when few actually wanted to live here, playing a tape of the album on the car radio.

As I listened to ‘Moving in Stereo,’ I couldn’t get the image out of my head of driving down East Berkeley Street, which had just recently been changed from Dover Street, in an old, grey Pontiac Parisienne that my good friend had “acquired.” He said he traded his lawnmower to a guy in Quincy for the car. I didn’t ask questions. The thing ran in theory, and the way the streets were so riddled with bumps and potholes, the old steel trap felt like it had square wheels.

I recalled driving towards the Back Bay from Southie in that old car, bouncing like a trampoline at every bump, passing under the rusted, old elevated Dover Station at Washington Street – which was so noisy when a train came over it. All the while listening to that hometown rock that came from our city.

Everything back then in Boston was so dirty, so vacant and just stuck in a certain time period.

It smelled (there was always some sort of rotten banana and boiled egg combination that I clearly remember) and the sidewalks had weeds and the city mostly felt abandoned and, well, deplorable.

It was a scrappy place for rough people with very little patience and a lot of human character.

I think that’s what gave rise to the rock music that came out of Boston back then, from the screaming hard-core angst to the cleaner radio-ready guitar rock. It came from somewhere very real.

Maybe I’m not on the scene anymore, but that’s really not happening in Boston now. No ruthless rockers are rising up from the weeds and filth that once was dominant in this city to play music that the whole country admired.

Perhaps the cleaner, friendlier ‘New Boston’ has crushed that spirit of creativity, and there’s good and bad to that.

Sure, there are fabulous musicians from all over the world coming to Boston and playing excellent music. It is to be appreciated, but it’s not from Boston. It’s just played in Boston.

I can’t buy those record albums at Skippy Whites or any other old store, where one might actually meet some of the Boston rockers working part-time during the day.

Classical music is popular here, and jazz seems to be growing, but listening to those while moving about the city just doesn’t capture the same, authentic soundtrack.


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