WiS: Autumn in Massachusetts

Yay, we’re on vacation!  We’re spending a week in Massachusetts, half in my hometown to visit family and friends in the Pioneer Valley, and half in Boston to see the sights and visit our friends in the metro area.  We of course are heading out at the point in the year so we can hopefully see some foliage as well, and remember what stupidly cold days feel like.

Our last visit to the area was in April of last year, so it’s been a good year and a half.  I know things have changed in the ol’ hometown (new storefronts, a high-end renovation/expansion of the town library), so it’ll be interesting to see.

I have also packed my fancy camera so I can take many pictures.  Many of these will most likely be source and reference material for Walk in Silence.  I’m also bringing a few notebooks to scribble notes, thoughts and memories as they come.  This will definitely help me kickstart the WiS project into its final stretch.  And if I can get a good photo for a cover, all the better!

So yes, if you don’t see me here for a week, I’ll just say I’m doing research.  Heh.

Gonna drive past the Stop n’ Shop with the radio on

I usually don’t offer news links here at Walk in Silence, and I never post a link when there might be a slight political dig involved.  This is not what WiS is about at all.

That being said, one of my online friends offered the following story link:

http://www.myfoxboston.com/video?clipId=8418846&autostart=true

I’ll skip the obvious “Fox News” jokes here, thank you.

The short version is that there’s an recent push by State House Representative Marty Walsh to have The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” be the official state rock song of Massachusetts, and Senator Elizabeth Warren is fully behind it.  Hey, why not?  It’s a great song–simple and a little odd, but then again, so is the state I grew up in.  And besides…Oklahoma has The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” as their official state rock song, so it’s not as if we’re creating a precedent for weirdness here.  And anyone who grew up in the Bay State in the 70s and 80s knows this song well, and knows exactly what Jonathan Richman is singing about when he talks about driving up 128 past the suburban trees and the Stop and Shop.  The state also has a deep and rich history in radio (read Donna Halper’s “Boston Radio 1920-2010” for an interesting and quick history lesson there), so it’s also a love song to all the great radio stations past and present.

That said, it’s kind of jarring when you watch that Fox25 News fluff piece and hear the voice of the flat-topped announcer saying “This song SUCKS!” less than a minute in (and right after the announcer willingly admits he doesn’t know the song and doesn’t think it has much to do with the state at all).  Then they let Flat-Top riff on what he thinks is a better song, to which he suggests Boston’s “Smokin'” from their eponymous ’76 debut. A generic party song (and definitely a “Bro” song at that) that has little to do at all with the state, other than the band’s name. The rest of the report is pretty much filler as the others suggest songs very stereotypical of their on-air personas (the token dweeb picks Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”, the token female chooses some mellow “come to Boston” song, the main announcer/token straight man suggests a different Boston song that at least mentions Hyannis).

See a theme here?  All Boston-themed.

You know that famous New Yorker strip, right?  The drawing with Manhattan in the foreground and all these random unimportant locations off in the distance, placed randomly in otherwise blank space.  Boston media has frequently done the same, to be honest…there’s a long-running joke that most Bay Area politicians don’t know what’s beyond the 128 or 495 highway belt other than trees and maybe Worcester or Springfield…and most Bostonians are unaware that their drinking water comes from the Quabbin Reservoir, a manmade watershed way out in the middle of the state that took place of four small towns.  When it comes to music, most people think all Massachusetts bands (or at least the famous ones, anyway) come from Boston or one of its close suburbs.  And pretty much every show that I’ve ever seen at Comcast Center (aka Great Woods, back in my day) in Mansfield–which is much closer to Rhode Island than it is to Beantown–every band revs up the crowd with “Good evening Boston!!!”  Mind you, I’m not complaining, as the rest of the state has pretty much grown accustomed to it.

This story made me think of a few things, really…

On one level, I was forcibly hurled back to 1987, when I was a sophomore in high school and discovering all kinds of great new music on this crazy thing called college radio.  My biggest obsession of the time was the Cure, who’d just put out their double album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me earlier that year.  I’d gone to see them live at the Worcester Centrum and bought a great tee-shirt that I wore until it was threadbare.  Hearing Flat-Top bark out “this song sucks!” in this piece brought me right back to those days when the popular kids in my class mocked me for listening to unpopular crap.  Mind you, that hardly bothers me now, but the context of the piece just rubbed me the wrong way.  These announcers had written off the song right off the bat, most likely due to Jonathan Richman’s warbly singing and the one-chord playing, but more than likely due to it not being a world-famous song.  Irreverence has been the normal frame of mind for media’s “Morning Teams” both on radio and TV for quite some time, so I’m sure the plan had been “let’s make fun of the weird song” from the beginning.  Still…it was jarring to hear something like that after all this time.  I haven’t had a jock diss my favorite music for at least two decades!

On another level, I also started thinking, what other songs out there would be indicative of Massachusetts?  There are place-centric songs out there of course: The Standells’ “Dirty Water”, Pixies’ “U-Mass”, about half the songs from Boston’s debut, The Get Up Kids’ “Mass Pike”, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “I Want My City Back”, and so on.  But I think that’s where the TV people had it wrong–they were focusing not just on Boston-centric songs, but also songs that mention a specific area.  What they needed to do, if they wanted to do their homework and perhaps extend this fluff piece into something more substantial (haha! yes, I know that’ll never happen), is to find songs by bands from the state that would say “this is what Massachusetts is about.”  It doesn’t have to say anything lyrically, it just has to represent the state somehow.  Oklahoma picked the Flaming Lips song not because of the lyrics, but because they are one of the most famous bands from that state.

And that is why I think “Roadrunner” is actually the perfect song suggestion: it’s a love song to the state.  It’s not about rocking out or getting by or trying to get the girl or anything…it’s simply about driving up 128 just outside the metro limits at some ungodly hour of the morning, rocking out to the radio.  It’s not about the commute or the drive, either…it’s about just being there, being in the state, and loving the fact that you’re there.