C. J. Walsh
The Sound Of Our Town - History Of Boston Rock & Roll By Brett Milano
The Sound Of Our Town - By Brett Milano – A History of Boston Rock and Roll
254 pp. Commonwealth Editions
Seemingly a daunting task, TSOOT does an admirable job of delving into the City’s musical heritage. Combining a sense of humor with an anthropologist’s eye for detail and managing the tricky feat of giving an overview of nearly fifty years of music. Memphis? Detroit? New York? Here we have the story of a city that’s fostered its own vast array of talent, from The Atlantics to The Zulus, the Neats to New Kids On The Block, from Doo Wop to industrial noise.
If there’s a warm place in your heart for a Boston band from your youth, chances are good they’re in here and Milano probably interviewed whoever’s still breathing. The book is filled with the travails of musicians who didn’t have a pot to piss in but were thrilled with the notion of making a record that might get played on WBCN.
More than a few should-have-beens get their due, the often touching stories are told with a gallows sense of humor. Like the blink-and-you-miss-it lineup that made the first Modern Lovers LP, helmed by former Velvet Underground acolyte, Jonathan Richman. A native of Natick, Richman’s voice more closely resembled that of a surfer from 3,000 miles to the west. Or The Remains Barry Tashian, gazing sadly over the San Francisco Bay, convinced his band was a spent force, despite being handpicked by Paul McCartney to open for what would be The Beatles last concert at Candlestick Park in 1966 (a year so beloved by Jeff Connolly of The Lyres that he’s kept his sound and style rooted there for three decades).
Running through much of TSOOT is the shape-shifting story of Willie Alexander who, astoundingly, released his first LP with The Lost in 1968. He’s gone from playing with the Ronettes through the Bosstown Sound – briefly with the Velvets, on to Punk with the Boom Boom Band, even spoken word. And Willie’s still hard at it.
The formative years of favorite sons – Aerosmith, are highlighted in exhilarating fashion. There’s plenty of sex and drugs, but only the good kind (when the scene requires it, as they say). And you know you’ve got a winner on your hands when the author can pique your interest in groups whose careers don’t bring back the best of memories. Herein we have J Geils, The Cars, and well, Boston. Milano describes Peter Wolf and Co. paying their dues for nearly ten years before hitting pay dirt with Freeze Frame. Guitarist Elliot Easton admits that Yummy Yummy Yummy provided the inspiration for Just What I Needed, though it’s hard to imagine The Cars genesis as an acoustic folk duo. But I wasn’t too surprised by stories of Tom Scholz’ rampant perfectionism, a Boston album every six years or so. That’s more than enough as far as I’m concerned.
Not surprisingly, the City’s clubs are often at the heart of the story. “Get off before you get in” was the catch phrase at ‘60s shrine, The Boston Tea Party, which served all-ages but no alcohol. The list of performers at this venue astonishes – from Zappa to Zeppelin, Sly Stone to BB King. Milano is particularly good on the players and scenesters from the Post-Punk explosion of the ‘80s. You’ll be transported back to the delightful squalor of the Rat, where on any given night you and ten friends might come across the greatest band in the world. Where the elderly yet menacing, Mitch Cerullo worked the door in a series of classic leisure suits. A place often played by The Del Fuegos, a song from their second album gave the book its title.
If Kenmore Square is virtually unrecognizable in its present gentrified state, this book managed to drag me back to a louder, more unruly time, and without the hangover.