Rock and roll is the savior of many souls. It’s received credit for this many times over, and we’ve all heard Don McLean’s thoughts on the matter. But it also helps explain why I love Boston.
Boston College, where I went to school, is a tough place from which to love Boston. The city is near and yet mysterious. The B-Line trolley’s angry horn, blasting at an ill-advised pedestrian or turning car, is audible across much of campus. Students often discuss volunteering at Rosie’s Place or Haley House, but are at a loss to describe what neighborhood they’re in. Freshmen glimpse the towers of the Back Bay as they descend from Upper Campus for morning classes. Yet the city often remains the stuff of glimpses and hearsay– it’s much easier to stay on campus, within a defined social core, than try to create one beyond the Green Line.
I turned to music: one rock and roll song initiated me to Boston culture and let me start a connection to the city that has lasted beyond college.
When I played at the late, great Jake Ivory’s, we hosted a wide range of patrons. It was a large place that fit many students, tourists, convention attendees, and fans of whichever team was visiting the Sox. Yet it seemed the most consistent customers were locals. The performance was very interactive and the number of local references in song requests, toasts, and general banter was staggering. Knocking out songs indiscriminately fell flat; a successful performance in that room meant a legitimate connection with the audience. Between my hometown of Buffalo and attending BC, I felt I had nothing more than references to Flutie Flakes. Instead, I posed.
The song “Home Girl (You’re Wicked Awesome)” served as the gateway for my cultural literacy. The song’s authorship is complex and before my time: when I learned it, the song seemed to be the stuff of folklore. Robert Johnson could have written it, if he were prone to a bouncy melody and North Shore lyrical innuendo.
I had no business making knowing winks at audience members on certain cues, much less sharing the stage with those that did. I didn’t have a car and still don’t, but I sang with conviction, “You know you’re lucky you’re still alive/The way you haul ass down Storrow Drive.” The line always got a big response. I was puzzled, as I had biked on the Esplanade and paid little attention to the car traffic. My cabs always took local streets. I observed the tolerated vandalism on the “Reverse Curve” sign, but didn’t process its implications for drivers.
Similarly, having only heard of Wonderland through the Blue Line’s garbled intercom, I continued crooning, “You say my fridge is wicked smelly: don’t worry baby, I’ll take you to Kelly’s.” Big laugh, every time. A year later, on the way to a music lesson off Revere Beach Parkway, I passed the famous roast beef stand. I stopped and ordered from the walk-up window. Sitting in the beach pavilion across the street, my sandwich’s horseradish cleared more than my sinuses. I may not have come here after my high school prom, but I connected and, without expecting the destination, I found a new sense of community belonging. I thought back to teenaged meals at Anderson’s in Buffalo and empathized. And a catchy tune immediately started playing in my head.
*For the record, I have not yet been to Roller World in Saugus. Goes to show I’m still earning my stripes as a Bay Stater.