Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Boston rock & roll summed up between two covers. Brett Milano, a man who’s been on the scene for decades, writes with you-are-there fanboy urgency about many of the Boston bands that passed through The Rat, The Channel, Cantone’s, The Middle East, TT the Bear’s Place, and other Boston clubs and bars. He covers various touchstone rock eras: r & b 50s, groovy 60s, laid back 70s, snotty, anything goes late 70s, new wave early 80s, hardcore mid-80s, major label feeding frenzy early 90s. Through it all he presents every band as just wanting to play in a wicked decent band and have people see them play live.
Rock has been vital to Boston and its neighboring burgs since the G-Cleffs harmonized on Roxbury street corners. The book is a good primer in early local legends and also-rans like Gene Maltais, the Remains, and the Lost, while covering the obvious success stories of Boston, J. Geils, The Cars, and Aerosmith. The book doles out nuggets of context (social, political, gender) so readers who weren’t around to see it first-hand can understand why homegrown bands ached to play either sock hops or the most scuzzy, beer-soaked Boston stages. Milano obviously loves these bands. All of them. He even writes with a fond humor and bewilderment about probably the most loathed, obscene, and dangerous of all punk performers, GG Allin.
I guess I wanted to pick up this book because I was never part of any music scene. I went to school in Worcester for a couple years, but I spent much of college and post-college years in Connecticut and on Cape Cod. So it was essential reading to discover how punk music influenced the Boston bands of the late 70s. How post-punk, hardcore, new wave, and alternative/college bands fought their way onto Boston college radio, into underground record stores and clubs like The Rat, and finally onto mainstream radio behemoth WBCN.
I came of musical age in the 80s, so this book covers vital history, including how Mission of Burma and The Pixies came to make some of the most influential rock music ever. There are plenty of anecdotes about bands that signed with major labels with varying degrees of success. Or burned out in a couple of years but were no less influential or singular. Regional heroes like The Lyres, Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, Dinosaur Jr., Dumptruck, Big Dipper, Classic Ruins, and on and on.
Maybe you saw some of these bands live. I wish I could say I did, at the time. I made up for lost time in the early ‘90s when I moved back to the area. I caught The Lyres at TT’s and Sebadoh at Avalon. Saw Morphine play Central Square’s World Fair in ’97, was shocked to find Peter Wolf standing behind me at some random TT’s show, caught Juliana Hatfield and John Doe sitting at TT’s bar, and I’m pretty sure that was Rivers Cuomo talking to some guys at my table back when TT’s had booths and Mr. Cuomo was attending Harvard. I’m happy to say I caught Mission of Burma opening for The Pixies in late 2004. Not in Boston, but down the street here in Lowell, at the Tsongas Arena.
If you’ll pardon me, I have to get back to some essential listening: my vinyl copy of Let’s Breed! Part two of the Throbbing Lobster saga, featuring Boston legends Dumptruck, The Outlets, Christmas, Blackjacks, Scruffy the Cat, and so much more...