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Noisy Stories About Home, Pt. I

Posted by Ben Collins, Today's Soundtrack  September 27, 2010 04:09 PM

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So you’re walking down Comm. Ave and you see a stoop. It’s covered in glitter or a smashed watermelon or feral cats or most of your neighbors' clothing. Or, hopefully, all of those things.

You’re thinking there’s probably a story here.

You might walk by these places in the city everyday. Some Bostonians can’t walk by these same places without immediately thinking of a specific song or album or musical moment. And anytime they hear that song, it instantly transports them to that place. This freaks them out to no end.

These are a few of those stories.

Noisy Stories About Home is a project for Today’s Soundtrack where we’re collecting little vignettes or unbelievable stories or scenes or love letters to parts of the Greater Boston Area that people who are good with words think are unique to living here. We’ve assembled Boston’s best and most acclaimed music bloggers to tell you some of these stories.

At best, these are hyper-aware travel pieces about Boston from those who are too emotionally attached to this place to be subjective about it.

At worst, it’s a way to tell a bunch of freshman college students all of the places they’re going to be dragged against their will over the next four years, then wind up being nostalgic about the whole situation in the end.

The very loose thread here is setting -- we inevitably tie places or events that a lot of folks around Boston might visit everyday to a very specific song or album or band. In that way, we make it our own. Contributors were told that they could take any form they wanted with that. Here are their attempts to try to stretch and max that out, while telling you about some catchy songs in the process.

Part II of three installments will be published Tuesday afternoon.

Pilgrims of Sound

Kate Flavin used to torture her high school carpool with a steady mix of classic rock and Brit Pop. In 2003, Evan Dando came and interrupted her love-affair with the Gallagher brothers, thus creating the only reason for a move to Boston where she started 'writing' about local music. Her blog Pilgrims of Sound does the impossible -- by showing you Boston’s best underground music, it kind of makes you want to live in Allston. Hopefully this does the same.

PLACE :: Comm. Ave, Allston / SONG :: The Small Faces - Afterglow

So, embarrassing, but I think I ended up with a kind of love letter.

When I found out about this project I was committed to not going sappy. I have a whole story dedicated to the column at Great Scott, for crying out loud. But when I thought more about it, I needed a story that really hinged on a song. And there’s this song, this perfect song, that I can no longer listen to because of one of my favorite moments.

It ain't fancy, that's for sure; I want to talk about the stoop of a basement apartment on Commonwealth Avenue. It’s a weird story how I ended up on this slab of concrete with two dudes and a laptop playing music. No point wasting time there, but let's just say I had an invitation to hang out with some guy I’d never met before (but thought was cute). There was a show at O’Brien’s that I was half-interested in, but I wanted to save money.

So, instead, at 10 at night, I found myself going for a walk and blowing straight past him and his friend.

It was cold out, I was wearing boots and my favorite shirt, and yeah, I walked right past them and around the block. I’m not the world’s most outgoing individual and they looked busy talking to each other. As I made my way back to the main road I was talking to myself like a loony, “It’s no big deal. They’re just people. Don't be stupid.”

I got back to the corner of Comm. and Whatever Street and paused. I could go right and return home to sit on the computer and hang with the cat, or I could try going left one more time.

This might come as a surprise but my mom doesn’t know this story. I did the scary thing and that’s how I ended up drinking a PBR from my bag with two dudes. They were cool. They made me laugh. They told me about being in punk bands from the suburbs of Boston. I’m not from Boston and had no idea what they were on about – but it was the friendships I made that night that changed my Boston experience.

I guess the main reason I’m telling you this is to share my love of Allston in the summer. Walking down Brighton Ave., you’re guaranteed to see someone you know. There’s a contagious whiff of mischief everywhere.

For me, there’s nothing quite like a sweaty basement show or sitting on someone’s stoop or porch or roof, drinking a beer, listening to music and enjoying each other’s company. Talking to strangers and petting dogs. I’m really not sure how it can get better than that.
Back to that night.

Have you ever heard “Afterglow” by The Small Faces? It’s one of my favorite songs in the world and its beginning is totally unmistakable. Suddenly, this kid -- this stranger! -- his iTunes went from some band starting with “S” to this perfect song. None of my friends know this band. I usually have to listen to them alone in my room. You bet I was in trouble.

There I was, on a dingy set of stairs surrounded by overgrown greenstuff, making small talk. And suddenly, Steve Marriott's vocals side-swiped me from out of the blue and it was Game. Set. Match.

What is this a love letter to, exactly? To the porches of Allston, to putting yourself out there, to the great bands of the sixties, and to him, a bit. Dammit, now I want to listen to that song.

Today's Soundtrack

Ben Collins writes a blog for Boston.Com. It’s not Creative Type, though. That one is really good. He realizes Newburyport stretches the term “Greater Boston Area” to new lengths, but he considers some of the southernmost parts of Canada to be part of the Greater Boston Area. He is very generous, very giving. He would like to know if you need a hand with those groceries, even.

He wrote this a few weeks ago, and he’s pretty upset that one of these songs has been co-opted to sell cell phones. He wants to remind you that it’s still Hurricane Season. Hide your kids, hide your wife.

PLACE :: Plum Island, Newburyport. / SONGS :: Matt Duke - Tidal Waves
tUnE-yArDs - FiYa

Every once in a while, during a minor storm, a porch will fall into the ocean. The local news will come and they’ll root for it to take the kitchen while the reporter affixes her lavalier. A week later, the town will hold a big meeting with uncharacteristically minimal yelling, and what will come out of it is a wonderful sentence like this from the local newspaper:

“Two large earthmoving vehicles for the project are currently in a parking lot near Plum Island Center.”

They’re going to dredge -- to move bucket-loads of sand from a river channel nearby to the beachfront -- to help beat back the waves during storms. In the press releases, they call it “nourishment” and “replenishment.”

This beach is apparently super thirsty for sand.

This beach is also, by the way, called Plum Island. It’s a little patch of sand in northern Massachusetts that is fast eroding into the Atlantic Ocean. It has a lot of houses on it that used to be worth a lot of money, but are now worth a little money.

It is famous amongst those in the town for once being the fabled home of Montel Williams’ beach house. It is potentially even more famous for this frequently repeated exchange:

Person 1: “I live on Plum Island. Montel Williams lives here sometimes.”

Person 2: “Cool! Have you ever met him?”

Person 1: “Montel Williams? No.”

Oh, and hurricanes. Its other claim to fame is the hurricanes, what with the porches falling into the ocean, and the kitchens falling behind them, and the arriving reporters with their awful hairspray that is, presumably, causing all of this to occur at an accelerated rate in the first place.

And that’s why reporters love it: This is case-in-point, proof-positive, footage-at-11 evidence that global warming is going to eat your house, whole, in the most violent way possible, and very, very soon.

This story is too good to be true -- “A residential island is dying a quick death and it’s impossible to deny! Just look at this ocean drink this house!” -- except when you live there.

Because there’s one of these house-eaters coming this weekend, Earl, and it’s going to “delay the damn dredging.”

That’s Matt’s ex-girlfriend’s dad saying this. His backyard is mostly sand.

“It was supposed to start next week, but who knows now,” says Matt’s ex-girlfriend’s dad.

We’d give him a shorter name, but we don’t know one.

Matt broke his neck and died last week. Fluky thing. He had left his keys in his parents house, so he propped up a ladder and tried to go in through a window but slipped. His fall was about ten feet. No one was home to help.

Now we’re all lugging big cases of beer past Matt’s ex-girlfriend’s dad’s backyard onto the beach behind it. It’s about 10:30 on a Thursday night and the funeral is tomorrow morning.

None of us really know why we’re here. We haven’t seen each other in about four-and-a-half years and no one really recalls being great friends with one another about four-and-a-half years ago. But most of us learned how to drive a stick shift in Matt’s 1989 Suzuki Samurai, so we opt to console and catch up.

Almost everyone is unemployed. Most are freshly out of college and pawing for meaning.

One of Matt’s better friends is a college sophomore, and he’s just starting to figure himself out. We’re next to each other in a row of people, all laying supine and staring at the stars. He’s an engineering major, one of those accidental pearls of the public school system. Matt had seen him recently, brought him chocolates.

Matt, it should be noted, was a fourth-generation chocolatier. Yes, there are such things, and he was one of them. We envied that he had such direct purpose so immediately. Then he died, and this confused us greatly.

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, exactly. I feel like there are some things in the world that need to be fixed.”

“But fixing things might be boring,” I say.


We feel the wind swirl a little and the air begin to change. The news said that this was going to happen, so a couple of girls let out a respectful “Wooh!” Earl’s going to come by and rip some houses off their pillars tomorrow. We’ve just decided to be the last people who are on this beach before it’s covered in someone’s basement for a few weeks.

“You’re just going to keep doubting yourself until you end up in a place where somebody believes in what you have to say,” I say to him, but then I realize I’m giving life advice to someone who is a handful of years younger than me, someone whose friend fell ten feet and died at 22 the other day.

I kick a bunch of sand onto my flip-flops to bury them and look at the ocean for signs of the storm. It would never end up coming.

“I don’t know, man. Did you know that Montel Williams lives here sometimes?”

In the morning, I’ll get a headache from trying not to cry.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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About the author

Ben Collins can't help but search beyond Feist for the zeitgeist of Today's Soundtrack, his pick of a song or songs capturing the mood or events of the moment. His musical tastes vary from Strawberry Fields to The Magnetic Fields, from Low to Skee-Lo. A North Shore native, Ben has worked at The Boston Globe and Spin and is an Emerson grad. Make your own nominations to him at ben.t.collins@comcast.net or on Twitter @globesoundtrack. More »

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