Friday, March 9, 2007

Michael Dukakis and Me

Pictured above is Michael Dukakis, who was Governor of Massachusetts on two occasions and the losing candidate in the 1988 presidential election.

He seems like a nice man, and his riding of the Boston subway to work is no urban legend. I lived in his town, Brookline, the year before his presidential run and saw him on the train many times.

1988 was the first presidential election I was eligible to vote in. I was a lot more left-leaning then than I am now, probably due to a lingering adolescent rebellion against my Republican grandfather and my immersion in punk and hardcore music. In spite of this I could not bring myself to vote for my affable, train-riding neighbor when November came around.

Dukakis, as a Governor, represented the least admirable impulses of liberalism; the points I always had to concede when my grandfather and I would have our spirited debates.

One of his first acts in office was commuting the sentences of 21 first degree murderers. He remained a friend of the criminal throughout his career, supporting a prison furlough program that was used against him by both Al Gore in the Democratic primary and George H.W. Bush in the general election. One of the beneficiaries of this affront to common sense was Willie Horton, who commited rape and assault in Maryland when on furlough. Gore was the first to point out this inconvenient truth but it was Bush's people who effectively made Horton Dukakis' running mate.

Dukakis' cowardly response was to sign on to the "war on drugs" and sponsor draconian legislation indicating mandatory three year sentences for coke dealers in Massachusetts. This was meant to shore-up his reputation of being "tough on crime". Luckily he was able to do this without betraying his beloved violent offenders.

I often wonder how I would have reacted if the Democrats had shown some backbone and opposed the drug witch hunt of the 80s the same way they opposed the red witch hunt of the 50s. I wonder also how much more support I'd have for them if the left hadn't embraced the censorship it once stood against.

But in a way I came of age politically in 1988. Michael Dukakis was a man who was unfit to be President and George H.W. Bush was a continuation of the Reagan legacy.

I voted for Ron Paul.

Irish Pubs Part 7

Pete's Pub closed earlier this year.

Luckily I found time to bid farewell to the venerable Haymarket tavern, which had been a "dead bar serving" for quite some time. We knew for about a year that an Irish makeover was on the horizon.

Pete's opened bright and early at 8:00am each morning, welcoming a largely Italian American clientele from the nearby North and West Ends. Sammy from the Penalty Box was a regular.

Aside from the Italians there were other locals, dockworkers, the occasional punk rocker, people who worked at fancier bars in the area sneaking a drink and even a guy from the halal market next door who flouted Islamic law with a Tom Collins or two.

It was a friendly, welcoming establishment where you wouldn't feel out of place hiding from God* at 10:30 in the morning over a few boilermakers. The morning sun refracted nicely through the glassware and ancient bottles of schnapps.

But Pete's is gone now, and in it's place will be yet another Somers Irish Pub called "Durty Nellie's".

An oak bar is being shipped in all the way from Dublin and contracts have been signed with Sysco. The quaint story of how Somers' grandmother came to be known as "Durty Nellie" will no doubt find its way to the back page of the menu at Boston's latest Stepford Bar.

*Thanks to Tommy Somerville for the use of this phrase.

There are now fewer than ten dive bars remaining in Boston proper. This spring I will be leading a pub crawl devoted to appreciating them while we stil can.

The Perils of Hyperactive Government

Some day I hope to own a guitar just like Woody Guthrie's only mine will be emblazoned with the slogan "This Machine Kills Public Health Workers". Nervous nelly anxieties over public health and safety issues have in the past few years have harmed "The American Way" beyond the wildest dreams of Tailgunner Joe's communist spies or our current President's cave-dwelling boogeymen.

Personal friends of mine have been plunged into poverty by the Boston and Massachusetts smoking bans, which emptied the drinking establishments they worked at in the name of "protecting the workers from second hand smoke". The sad irony of this is that they were all smokers themselves, and beyond that adults who accepted the occupational hazards of working in a bar.

You'd think the NYC public health community would have been content with their own smoking ban but with the support of Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg they opened up a bold new front:an assault on trans fats. Restauranteurs and chefs are no longer allowed to cook with trans fats in the five boroughs of New York City.

The food police of Chicago have a radical, animal rights activist informed motivation for their city-wide ban on Foie Gras. It's just ducky as far as they are concerned.

Over in California there is less sympathy for animals as a breed ban on pitbull terriers is being considered. That's right, adults who own property and pay hefty taxes may soon have to choose between their pets and living in California.

The legislation being proposed is a knee-jerk reaction to some admittedly gruesome pit bull attacks. The problem of course isn't the dogs themselves, but the lowlifes who are drawn to the breed as a sort of inner-city status symbol. They tend to abuse the animals to 'toughen them up' and even stage dogfights in makeshift basement arenas.

This is a common problem with liberalism; a tendency to favor taking tools, such as dogs or guns, away from criminals by taking them away from the general public. I'm more interested in removing violent offenders from society and allowing honest citizens to make their own decisions about firearms or which breed of dog they wish to own.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Irish Pubs Part 6

In the last years of the 1990's I spent a lot of time in South Boston. Most of my band, The Delusions, lived there and my roommate Aldo had a rehearsal space on Second Street.

Aldo had become fond of his local Irish immigrant pub, right off of Dorchester Street and called "The Abbey".

Not to be confused with the Somerville, MA rock club the South Boston "Abbey" was yet another off the boat Irish concern that had displaced a fading dive bar. The new regime had spruced up the place, even to the point of restoring the fireplace. This was a huge selling point for Aldo, a Calabrese Italian who never quite took to New England winters.

South Boston, unlike the communities discussed earlier, was hard territory in the 1990s. The working class and poor Irish Americans who comprised the majority of its residents were not so quick to embrace their cousins from across the Atlantic. By the same token the huddled masses from Northern Ireland who seemed to gravitate towards the neighborhood's west side didn't trust or respect the natives. The Abbey, I would soon learn, often served as a forum for these differences.

The bar's owner sang with a cover band called "The Altar Boys", which specialized in covers of songs by Elton John, Van Morrison and the like. He was a curt, muscular man of about 30 with a shaved head and he spoke in a deep brogue.

My friend Mike's sound company provided P.A. for him and his band, who hosted Fleadhs every Sunday afternoon.

I wound up working these pretty regularly. After the first couple the bar changed their name to "Nancy Whiskey's". We would load in at 10:30am so we could be ready to go by noon, which was and is the earliest time a bar can serve liquor in Massachusetts on Sundays.

There was heavy tension between Americans and Irish as mentioned, but that didn't take away from the various non-ethnic disputes over booze, broads and blow. The donnybrooks were predictable, almost to the point of being on schedule. Much like an office worker uses coffee breaks and lunch hour to break up the day I would "watch the clock" by keeping track of the early afternoon fight, the mid afternoon fight and the dusk fight.

Often times the donnybrooks would be juxtaposed against the owner/Altar Boys' singer performing Elton John hits like "Rocket Man" and "Candle in The Wind"as the fists and bottles started flying.

The authorities tired of the place, which was out of hand even by Southie standards, soon enough and it did not survive the decade.

On Tough Guy Hardcore and My Generation's "Positively 4th Street"

At The Causeway nightclub, where I worked as a soundman and which I sometimes managed from 1993-1996, one of the up and coming sub genres
of rock music we featured would come to be known as "Tough Guy Hardcore".

The moniker should be self explanitory, but in any case one of the leading lights of the movement was a young Charlestown native named Rob Lind who had a band called Blood for Blood.

They played some of their first shows at The Causeway, and their drummer Mike Mahoney was an occasional (and very effective) door and security staffer at the club.

I was 26 when I went to work at The Causeway, and was no longer someone who really "followed" hardcore. I could appreciate the bouncers' Life of Agony and Madball albums, which were a refreshing alternative to the house selection of fey indie rock CDs, but honestly I listened mostly to jazz and country on my own time. I was pretty overloaded with rock from working 50+ hours of shows a week.

But I liked Blood for Blood, as people and as a band. Sure, they had a post adolescent attitude about them, and maybe even a chip on their shoulder, but they were good kids. Whereas underground music at the time was overrun with rich brats Rob had an even thicker Boston accent than either Martin (The Causeway's proprietor) or myself.

Their energy and songs stood out, and I wasn't the only one who thought so. Kenny Chambers from the legendary 1980s punk band Moving Targets was quick to sign on and produce their first (unreleased) demo.

They went on to do pretty well internationally, and towards the end of their run Rob Lind wrote what I believe to be my generation's "Positively 4th Street", a scathing kiss off to an unscrupulous woman called "So Common, So Cheap". I first heard this splendid song in 2003, about a year after its release. It hit home, for I had an ex fiancee much like the woman he was addressing in that number. The spoken word intro certainly got my attention.

Fucking your pussy was like fucking the wound from a shotgun blast... With gang green!

Then the band kicked in, with a caveat.

Sorry ladies but this song goes out to all the guys out there
that have been fucked over by that lie known as love
Bottoms up.

Soon spoken word gave way to song.

Looking back at all the times we had, I wish I could tell ya' that they weren't all so bad.
But in the end we were just wasting our time,
Yeah I knew what you were but I was out of my mind.
(Lost my mind)

I knew you were common when we started this thing
So very common with you're everyday dreams.
But I was desperate for a heart of gold,
So I took a chance and I came in from the cold.
(Life's so cold)

Just as I began to ask myself if Lind had dated the same woman I had the vocals chimed in, switching back to the third person and offering some practical advice.

Let me let you in on a secret fellas
if she sucks great cock she's a pro
and if she spreads on the first date she's a ho

The song returned to the second person.

I oughta' have my fucking head examined for screwing with a skank like you.
But it wasn't like I really felt for you, I was just cold and empty through and through...

I thought you were something but you proved me wrong.
Money is your only god, what a tired boring old song.
Just another coward out to sell your soul but it just goes to show that
Nothing in this world is forever
And people are all the same
And there's no such thing as love
It left me choking like a candle in the cold hard rain

But there's just one thing I never told ya
You numb fucking broad

You were so common, you were so cheap
Another coke snortin' slut from the barroom scene
But brother, I was so empty, I was so blind
I turned my back on the truth before my very eyes

'cause sister, you could have been anybody.
You could have been anyone
All I needed was anybody
All I needed was anyone

And, back to spoken word in the thickest of Boston accents, the extra point on the touchdown.

Check this out: I was cold and empty and your body was warm
You could have been one of those fucking blow up dolls for all I fucking cared
Thanks for the memories you fucking sow!

A studio audience then cheers, concluding the song, and I'd like to cheer as well. All in all I feel our culture as it is today offers skanks too many words of approbation and too few words of opprobrium. Kudos to Rob Lind and Blood for Blood for bucking this trend.

* "So Common So Cheap" is from Blood for Blood's 2002 album Outlaw Anthems, available on Victory Records

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Boston on $60.00 a Day

In the bright, distant early and mid 90s me and most of my friends were able to make a comfortable living by earning as little as 30 and as much as 100 bucks a night under the table at night clubs. There were also many fringe benefits.

In those days part of the package when you signed on with most venues was free drinks whenever they were open, whether or not you were working. Needless to say for most of us this was a mixed blessing.

"Club Courtesy", which technically meant free admission to shows at clubs other than one's own, was often extended to beverages by fellow travellers behind their bars.

Drug dealers always appreciated helpful information from club staffers on who the plainclothesmen and rats were, and when the owners were around. They showed their appreciation in a variety of ways.

So we didn't have it so bad in those days before the "rise of the creative class" . You could go out drinking every night and still have enough money left over to stock the fridge and keep your slutty girlfriend in thigh highs.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Of Mice and (anti) Masonry

"Consider the disease that is Masonry and its unthinkable influence in the whitehouse and the Iraqquis civilians dying far from home in the name of the lodges right here in our backyard as satanisc rituals happen right under our noses Donald Rumsfeild a master in masonry still calls shots in the comission that oversees the world and yet you alow lodges to florish in boston there is one on Tremont street probably that funded Israel attacking lebanon masons love zionist propoganda and believe in Israels fascist state they mock Islam for this reason wit htheir hats and symbols Wolfowitz is still in power too and a lodge in Englalnd is where they oversee world events with secret rituals and believe it they are only getting more powerful you must open your eyes!!"
-from an anonymous email sent to my personal account on 12/29/06, verbatim and in its entirety

It's hard to believe that I once listened to deranged conspiracy theorists on my roomate's ham radio for amusement, or considered their more religious cousins
an even better source of cheap laughs when listening to car/van radio down south.

Now, in the age of near universal internet access in the US, the novelty has long worn off. You can't check your e-mail or your band's myspace account without encountering some anonymous candidate for schizophrenia medicine who wants to "open your eyes" to the "truth".

While many of these sage revelations emenate from the far left there are also plenty of insights from white supremacists, Salvi-esque "Save the Catholics" millitants and even a few stray John Birch throwbacks. I'm not really keeping score as I have little interest in the politics of the insane.

I thought that the various 9/11 theories would have satiated them for a good, long time but I was way off. They always seem to come back to the classics, and fretting about Freemasonry is like their "Whiter Shade of Pale".

I knew little about the order itself growing up. As far as I was concerned the Masons were just another fraternal group for old guys like the Elks, K of C or the Rotary Club. When I was a teenager I went to a few all ages shows at Masonic lodges. I knew some kids whose fathers were Masons and who were in the Masonic DeMolay youth group themselves. That was pretty much my only exposure to Freemasonry.

When I was 26 I found myself living with, and eventually engaged to, a woman from the suburbs of Augusta, ME. Fraternal organizations as a whole are a lot more popular and less graying in Augusta than in Boston, and the reasons are pretty obvious.

Her mother had been involved, via The Order of The Eastern Star, with Masonry and everyone in her ex-husband's family was either a Mason or an Eastern Star. She was still on good terms with most of them. She also had an older, platonic male friend (also from Maine) who was actively involved in his lodge and she would sometimes accompany him to events there.

The whiskey and other intoxicants flowed pretty freely when we would spend time with the Masons of Maine. I'm a curious sort, and I can hold my liquor better than most, so let's just say I learned a lot about Masonic rituals associated with degrees and the allegories they represented. Some of them were even humorous and practical joke-like by design. My conclusion was that the big, dark secret about the order was that there was no big, dark secret about the order.

A couple of weeks ago this once exclusive club was seeking new, younger members by advertising on the Sunday football games. It brought to mind an old Groucho Marx quote about not wanting to join a club that would have him as a member.

In the end though I can't help but admire an aging and harmless group that does charitable work and manages to simultaneously enrage Evangelical Christians and the people who won't stop putting "Loose Change" up on YouTube.