Monday, May 18, 2009

Dirty water; or, oh boston you're my home!

Of course The Standells were all just L.A. session men. E.M.I. session men, if memory serves. In fact "it was all a frame, they only did it cuz of fame!" Super bonus trivia: Lowell George, he of Little Feat, was a stand-in Standell guitarist briefly in 1966.

Mr. Cheap Trick brought a neat host gift to a dinner party I threw last night (see above and below). We started with a cruditee assortment of marinated mushrooms, pickled jalapeños, pickled garlic cloves, and brined artichoke heart slices with marcona almonds. We also had a couple different cheese: A Camamberazola and this hard orangeish cheese whose Dutch name escapes me. Alas Bath Oliver's are no longer being imported into US, so we settled for Jacob's Cream Crackers and Carr's Rosemary Octagons. The meal was simple: A Heart of Palm salad on a bed of Romaine with Red Bell Pepper and homemade Dill Mayonnaise. Then some Garlic Shrimp Pad Thai finished with some store-bought truffles and Peppermint Earl Grey tea. Check out these leftovers:

But seriously now, back to the banks of the River Charles' and Troy's gift of an antique copy of WAAF's The Beat, an object at once familiar and yet totally alien. More on why I had barely heard of this station and didn't recognize it's call letters in just a minute. But then I left Beantown more or less for good in early August 1985 having arrived 4 years earlier on the first week of September 1981. First of all in a local scene the time between 8/85 and 2/87 is an eternity.

Obviously WAAF had way picked up the quality in two years. The Weekly Top 10 featured 4ad signees Throwing Muses, and old school favorites like Moving Targets and Nervous Eaters of "Loretta" fame Too bad Unnatural Axe, who penned the Immortal couplet "driving around in a staff car, keeping Hitler's brain in a glass jar", wasn't still kicking around.

My Boston Radio Life
So I listened primarily to two stations: WFNX and WBCN. The former had the cool cutting edge vibe, especially due to the interconnectedness with the alternative press, namely the Boston Phoenix, esp. The BAD, the original 1966 moniker of the newspaper which was shifted to title its Arts & Entertainments Listings section. In those pages I first read seriously about Pere Ubu and more relevantly Mission of Burma. More about reading and music in a sec. To this Day FNX remains the only locally-owned radio station in the market. An outlier to the last! WBCN was a little more straight-ahead rock'n'roll, except it had the classic michigass quiz in the morning with losers dancing the "Funky Chicken" and a great evening indie show, "Nocturnal Emissions" also fondly remembered by Troy when living in Providence and then Southern New Hampshire. It also hosted the justly famous WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble. 'Til Tuesday won the 1983 edition beating out such notable acts as Del Fuegos, Lizzie Borden & the Axes, Prime Movers, and Salem 66.

The Oedipal thinking behind avoiding Mother Hahvahd's WHRB as both a listener and a plausible member of staff are so psyche-deep they're best left undisturbed. I did regularly tune into selected "orgies" usually the punk one, anything brass, and anything high modernist or later music-wise. Not for me the Warhorses.

Beyond that nothing much; no interest in AM radio then except for the odd sporting broadcast. Sure there was über popular urban contemporary Kiss 108, but just as a pop culture phenomenon and for the king of area DJs and PDs, Sunny Joe White also of WILD-AM fame.

For all this talk of local radio one station is visibly missing, WAAF, which produced Troy's zine, The Beat! Why? Well it wasn't a Boston station for one thing. It came from beyond the 'burbs, beyond shudder!!! Rte 128 where they lived rural redneck blue collar chodawheads be it from Woooooster or Beverleey or Revere. It would take time for WAAF to successfully penetrate the Boston market and it happened long after I left in August 1985. And there was that stupid tagline "The Only Station That (Really) Rocks": Insecure a little????? Not sure if some simple Worcesterites can make it in Big Bad Boston? That's the funny things about musical "scenes" they involve temporal locations, local politics around geography and class, and sometimes just plain outright absurd demarcations that make no sense at all except to those who declaim them to be extremely important. For example and rapidly crossing the continent, how did one classify Club DV8 in San Francsico: Was it Under Bay Bridge? Nach Transbay Terminal? Was it really simplay another SOMA club? technically yes, but far too close to Bay Bridge to really count that is to far West! Was it a dance club, disco, techno, or did that just depend on what floor you were on and/or whom was spinning on any give evening. The true Zelig of nite clubs!

From 1974-81, WAAF was a classic AOR dinosaur station. For most of the 1980s the station played non-stop rock, sort of. In order to penetrate the Boston market they played MOR fare during the daytime to draw an upscale Yuppie demographic before returning to heavier AOR fare for the local Worcester listeners after drive time. There was one spectacularly failed attempt to become a New Wave 80s station in the spring of 1983. The emergence of FNX at the same time and the brief but dominant role of Top 40 HitRadio WHTT ended this experiment rather quickly.

So that was radio world between 1981-5. Often instead I turned to emergent media, specifically the new video form. Boston was blessed to have a rare commercial video station V-66, which appeared halfway through my senior year in college. Given MTV's market dominance at the time, they often placed exclusivity deals on videos for up to 6 months. So the little guys had to hustle to make ends meet. One approach was lo tech. Play say Purple Rain in studio since Prince was MTV-blocked. Show the record and turntable from directly above, making a point about MTV and its monopolistic practices. The second was to find new material from lesser known, often British acts. Famously, Boston saw a lot of the early black and white Smiths videos before the rest of the US! And soon there will be a video memory of the station:

Here's an on-air clip; check out the Harvard Coop advertisement at 1:23. Kate Bush, the Cure, and Del Fuegos all only $5.69 LP/Cass! Personally I bought all 3 of those LPs there and still listen to 2 of them regularly.

This all leads naturally to My Boston Non-radio musical life
Unlike Tallahassee, Boston had many more avenues and media for musical explorations than an odd live concert or a radio show. I wasn't much of a club maven during my Boston sojourn because I was 17 when I arrived and didn't turn 21 until spring of my senior year in college living a bifurcated existence (drink legally in Florida at 18 but no go in Massachusetts, this before Ronnie R. got home from Bitburg and tied Interstate Highway dollars to raised drinking ages). I did see some all ages show famously MoB at the Bradford Hotel in 1983, but more often than not caught favorite mid-level act gigs at the Orpheum Theater on Hamilton Place just off Tremont. You could always count on seeing Rick O'Casek's Adam's Apple pointing out from behind the Proscenium Arch stage left. Saw many favorite bands there 2 or even 3 times on different tours.

Instead writing on music became another window into this world. At the Coop, I would browse the general interest books in the downstairs Annex, AKA read a section of Xgau's Record Guide, the white one with blue green and red lettering.

Key find: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. I knew Miles but really only up to Kind of Blue and not in the fusion mode. Then traipsed up to the second floor to examine staff recommendations and new releases.

Similarly a least twice a week I browsed the Out of Town News for at least half a hour. In this instance that mean skimming the latest issue of NME and Melody Maker and if really desperate Sounds, unless of course they had a "cool" cover single promo, like this later one with The Pogues, The Pixies, The Sugarcubes, and The Wedding Present.

If this sounds kind of trainspotter-ish, it is. Hey I spent my Spring Break senior year in London (the dollar was then at record strength and essentially 1 to 1 with the pound). Doing what you ask? Why reading back issues of NME and MM to write a paper on punk rock at the British Library's Music Division tucked away along Exhibition Road behind The Royal Albert Hall. You'd have thought those periodicals would be at Colindale, wouldn't you?

I tried writing about it too. My first review in the Indy was a pan of Dylan's Infidels; the hackey sackers on the Radcliffe Quad cut me for over a month. Also reviewed Sam Cooke, Live at The Harlem Square Club and New Order, Low-life and taped a lengthy interview with then up-and-coming Boston singer/songwriter Robert Elliss Orrall, which appeared in a horribly truncated form. The full length original director's cut is forthcoming on Perfect Sound Forever sometime later this year.

What memories from that Club Directory Of course, collectively The Big Dig and the gentrifications around Kenmore Square and Fenway did a number on the local music scene. Scenester extraordinaire JGN, who arrived in 84/5 just as I was leaving, went away to Columbus (the one in OHIO not GA or MS), and now lives again within the friendly confines of the People's Republic of 02138, kindly reported back the following:
TT - exists
Paradise - exists
Western Front - exists

Rat - dead
Bunratty's - dead

I was after the Bradford era.
The latter is gone forever as the new owners of the property are replacing the rooftop ballroom with conference and office space alas; now That's what I call Quality, innit!


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