MUSIC WITH MEMPHIS (My cat, that is, hanging out in my desk drawer while I extol the virtues of some band you’ve never heard of — but will!). Pre-RPM HQ, Jamaica Plain, circa 1998.
Hey, thanks for stopping by. Although I’m a bit wistful at the prospect, I’m thrilled to report that RPM: Life In Analog and its tractor-trailer full of LPs and CDs is moving its headquarters to Philadelphia this summer. So, in the coming weeks, as an unofficial tribute to Boston — an area I’ve called home for more than two decades — I’ll be taking a look back at some of my favorite pieces written during my 21 years living in and around this city.
I hit upon these very “analog” hand-written reporter’s notebooks representing my last two or three years’ worth of notes for interviews and live reviews written primarily for The Boston Globe (this is only a sample from the top of the pile). Back then, the only way I could keep track of what was in the stacks was to write the name of the band, artist, or story subject on each cover. From the looks of the soup-to-nuts music I covered — some artists I loved (The Black Keys/Mark Kozelek/Neko Case), some I loathed (Blink-182/Fall Out Boy/Selena Gomez), some I never thought I’d be writing about in the late 2000s (Peter Frampton, The Stooges, New York Dolls, KISS, Public Image LTD.) — the years 2009 through 2011 represented a pretty good pocket of tuneage amid my 17-year run writing for about a dozen publications, many simultaneously (hence the chronic insomnia and high blood pressure pills).
The shows, as they happened, unfolded on pages that ranged from detailed notes in the margins to frantic scribbles across the lines, from one Nick to another (Cave to Lowe), the Pogues to the Pops, kd Lang to Chris Cornell, Amos (as in Tori) to The Allmans, Dinosaur Jr. to Social Distortion, Jeff Beck to Joe Perry; and a ton of terrific local bands in the mix too. I still grin at the final few shows I got to review for the Globe (My Morning Jacket; Roger Daltrey of The Who; Dylan; Wilco; Steely Dan) before stepping away from the late nights and constant deadlines to embark on a bold new adventure of first-time dadhood (and my “RPM: Life In Analog” blog, of course) …. And I thought having a measly 20 minutes to crank out a Stones concert review in a freezing Gillette Stadium press box with zero electricity (the Stones had a big fireworks finale planned and didn’t want any lights to distract from the display — hey, thanks for that, Mick!) and dial-up outlets that ceased to work was challenging.
Most of the pieces will focus on the fantastic plethora of Boston-based bands and artists of almost every sonic and stylistic stripe I had the great pleasure and privilege to hear, review, interview, and write about between 1997 and 2011 (and a few later on, at this page). But given the volume of the music that surrounded me, and the sheer bulk of words I wrote in the vortex of that exhilarating universe, even posting ten or twenty pieces a day for a solid month would constitute only a tiny sample of the soundtrack of my life these past 15 or 20 years.
Analog array of Maxell and TDK tapes I used for interviews (never went digital on that and preferred to keep the tape rolling rather than risk a dreaded digi-glitch). Perhaps the most significant, and sadly memorable of the bunch is the telephone interview I had scheduled with Beulah’s Miles Kurosky for noon on September 11, 2001.
During a slew of deadline-crunched and copy-stuffed years (insomnia can be your friend!), I simultaneously juggled writing three weekly and semi-weekly music columns for the venerable Boston Phoenix (“Cellars By Starlight”), Stuff@Night magazine (“Soundcheck”), and a succession for The Boston Globe (“Rock Scene”; “Rock Notes” [which I inherited from senior Globe music critic, mentor, hardcore night owl and nice guy Steve Morse]; and finally, “Scene & Heard”). Almost without exception, I chose all the bands and subjects I wanted to write about and (hopefully) help break to a bigger audience via the public platforms I had.
As a young reader who devoured record reviews, scene reports, and artist profiles in newspapers, fanzines, underground arts weeklies, and magazines (a few I would eventually get to write for), what I loved best was that electrifying sense of discovery of something or someone new: A band, a singer-songwriter, a sound. Discovery is what continually gave — and gives — the music its sense of immediacy and urgency; its here-and-now relevance as something that needed to be in my life. Right here, right now.
We got media access up the wazoo!
Kinda regretted not checking out the ‘after-show’ instead of sweating out the bumper-to-bumper traffic logjam of the alwys lovely Gillette Stadium parking lot. I suspect Billy Joe and the boys would have provided me with better options. (They absolutely killed it, btw!)
So it makes sense that as a writer whose main mission it was to champion new bands and movements in sound around town, that’s precisely the kind of effect I wanted to have on readers like myself. I imagined them out there — teenagers, college kids, twenty and thirty-somethings, older rockers who hadn’t been moved in years by anything they’d heard on corporate radio, and had all but given up. Bringing a cool local band or independent artist out from the shadows of obscurity and into the light, and having readers trust my taste and take a chance, fueled my own desire to discover more.
In my lifetime, I’ve worked picking cucumbers and peas, chopping wood, stacking grocery shelves (and hiding from the ‘hands-on’ boss in the cling peaches aisle), milling flour and grinding coffee beans (and then giving my custom roasts fancy names like ‘Sienna Sunset’ and ‘Riviera Dawn’), slicing imported deli meat (just a liiiittttle thinner young man?), shoveling ice cream sundaes into greedy, ungrateful little mouths — and then washing their family’s disgusting dishes. But this is the only time I’ve ever been professionally referred to as a ‘contractor.’ Glad I wore my best long green leather coat for the mug shot. Made me feel like a ‘contractor.’
Some of the many artists I wrote about across the years became famous (or semi-famous), some remained at the margins of art and commerce, others broke up, took new directions, or morphed into new configurations. But it speaks volumes — maybe decibels is a better word — about the consistent musical vitality of this city that I simply could not keep up with all of the adventurous, surprising, inspiring, and thrilling music that reached my ears over the years. But man, I tried.
Besides my high school track team going an undefeated 11-0, my considerably-older-than-high school slow-pitch softball team finally exulting in a championship season, winning a Rolling Stones memorabilia contest recently (oh how I’ve matured), and being anointed ‘Best Dad’ by my marvelously discerning daughter, I’ve won exactly two awards: a New Jersey Press Association first place award for Arts Criticism, and this — my most unique, and possibly favorite, honor: an actual vintage bowling pin salvaged from a defunct landmark bowling alley in town. This banged-up beauty was bestowed upon me by The Noise, a long-running Boston fanzine I didn’t even write for (hence, to me, the humbling honor seemed all the more genuine). Thanks T Max.
I haven’t done an official count of my story files, but I estimate I covered somewhere around 2,000 bands and 1,500 shows during my 15 years of haunting clubs, concert halls, art spaces, arenas, VFW banquet rooms, dive bars, pretty much everywhere and anywhere music happened — from bedrooms to stadiums. It was, all told, a spectacularly noisy, immensely gratifying experience to get to have so much music live and breathe in the immediate foreground of my life from the top of the morning to deep into the night, every day.
Remember that time when Joey from Aerosmith lit himself on fire and almost blew himself up while filling his Porscherati Jaguar with gas … in close proximity to his lit butt (cigarette, I mean)? Well, the Bad Boys of Boston, being the bad boys of Boston, classily commemorated this historic event by cheekily naming their New Year’s Eve concert after the combustible shenanigans and laminating (a presumably photoshopped) Joey on fire onto the official Press Pass lest we forget the near-tragedy. It ain’t the Spinal Tap drummer self-combusting into a globule on the drum seat. But it’s close!
I would have done it anyway, of course, even if it was just me alone in a room (okay, so there was some of that too). But I’m immeasurably grateful it wasn’t. And I thank you all — editors who hired me, colleagues who encouraged me, bands here and gone, clubs, publicists, record labels, readers — for welcoming me to Boston and inviting me to stay and listen.
My room’s not really this red because, well, that lighting choice would make me Buffalo Bill in his lair. Candid photo of the back of her dad’s head by Asha.