With the recent passing of Ric Ocasek of The Cars, there is no better time to reflect on the impact that the Boston rock scene had, and still has, on my life. Outside of my immediate family, there is probably no greater influence on the man I am today than the bands, musicians and incredible records that make up the country’s best music scene: Boston rock.
Some of my best memories, going back to 1984 and up to my gig last weekend in Somerville, are related to seeing or playing in bands in Boston. Currently, I am in two Boston bands. I play bass and write for The Winter Project. I also play drums for a power punk trio called The Chelsea Curve. These are just the latest in what I hope to be an even longer list of Boston rock bands that I can be proud to be called a member.
Let’s get back to Rick Ocasek for a moment. The one and only time I saw The Cars was in August of 1984 at the Worcester Centrum, in support of their Heartbreak City tour. I was there with my neighbor Matt Jones at whose house we used to listen to The Cars on 8 Track non-stop. This was before mobile phones. In order to pass the time, we either swam in his pool, or skateboarded in it after it was drained in the fall. Even at that young age, it was so invigorating to see the Centrum packed to the rafters for a band that Massachusetts called its own. This wasn’t the latest fad from London or Los Angeles (sorry, Van Halen). These guys were our own and they had made it.
Even more influential than The Cars show at the Centrum for me were my weekly Peter Pan bus trips to Kenmore Square on Sundays. The Rathskellar (in which The Cars played several times before outgrowing the room), was really where I fell in love with Boston rock. Iconic Boston bands such as Gang Green, Moving Targets, The Dogmatics, The Freeze, The Neighborhoods, Volcano Suns, The F.U.’s, and The Outlets blew my mind with the energy, playing chops and songwriting prowess that seemed so much more real to me than the arena rock swagger being peddled on MTV at the time. These were bands you could go up and talk to after the show, and they were appreciative that you were there. They were not mandating a bowl of green-only M+Ms backstage.
This experience prompted to me start my first band, Bob’s Diner. This was in 1984, the year Orwell all warned us about. Even at 14 years old, we wrote our own songs. After all, we had a lot to say. We were bored suburban kids in the 1980s and not fully embracing the Wall Street yuppie, Russia vs USA vibe at the time. That first band of mine only did two cover songs. One was “Clampdown” by The Clash, the other was “No Place Like Home” by The Neighborhoods. In my mind, there was no difference about how great sounding I thought these two bands were at the time. The big difference though was that I got to see The ‘Hoods on a regular basis. Meanwhile, The Clash were relegated to the cover of the NME magazine that I could skim through occasionally at Newbury Comics. The Neighborhoods were rock stars, but rock stars that I met several times and got to know by name (Dave, Mike, and Lee). The Clash were British rock stars that seemed no more real to me than Doctor Who or Luke Skywalker at the time.
This is really the essence of the Boston rock scene to me. We have great bands, we write killer songs and we play them with ferocity on stage. Sometimes to a sold-out crowd at TD Garden, or sometimes at a local bar to your girlfriend and the bartender. Either way, you give it your all because this is what Boston rock is all about.
It’s about selling a song to Carrie Underwood.
It’s about what you wear and how good your photo shoot was.
I doubt there are any rock musicians that can afford to live anywhere even close to NYC. (Imagine, for a moment, The Ramones trying to get their start today in New York City).
Here in Boston we have an ever-evolving music scene. Old timers will lament the closing of classic venues such as The Channel, The Rat, and TT the Bear’s. But what they aren’t hip to is the fact that new music venues open all the time, many of them receptive to up and coming, original rock bands. Yes, the stages may be smaller than they have been in the past, but we still have plenty of larger rooms such as The Paradise, House of Blues, and Royale to accommodate the bigger acts.
It’s impossible to have a real, live, thriving rock scene without the dedicated DJ’s that bring us all the new music by bands we don’t yet know exist. In this regard, Boston has no equal. Some of the most storied local music shows in the nation are based here. On the Town with Mikey Dee (WMFO), Pipeline! (WMBR), Mass Ave and Beyond (WZBC) and the legendary Bay State Rock (WAAF) are all shows with decades of history that have been tirelessly spinning local Boston rock, even in the years where rock and roll seemed a thing of the past. These local music shows are the lifeblood of the Boston rock scene. Take it from someone that knows. Hearing your band on the radio, even if at 1 am on a Monday morning, is a feeling that I cannot describe in words. It validates all that we do and makes us carry on. Maybe next time we’ll get played at midnight!
Last month, my band, The Winter Project, just released our 4th album entitled “Brighter Days?”. My bandmates Chris Meusel, Ken Cerreto, John Ehrlinger and Tim McDonald are the latest band of comrades joined in battle as we hit the radio stations, clubs and record stores together. As much as I love them all, I certainly hope they won’t be my last bandmates. After all, I still may get that call from Dave Minehan of The Neighborhoods to fill in on bass or drums. Until then, I hope to see you out in one of Boston’s many rock clubs, enjoying a beverage, and supporting a local band that is so happy that you are there.