(non) Covers of the Week 66 & 67
Man, it’s been a bad week. Seeing Scott Brown take over the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for over 40 years was tough to watch. But it was also inevitable, I suppose.
Boston is not completely unique in this respect, I suppose, but as an outsider (I have only been here for over 27 years), I have always had a hard time squaring this politically liberal state with the small-minded parochialism on display everywhere from the archaic blue laws keeping stores closed on Sunday (now relegated to the past. But you couldn’t buy any alcohol in the state until only recently) and bars closing at 2, to the seemingly walled-off neighborhoods that constituted the city — Italians here, Irish there, African Americans seemingly nowhere…oh wait, there, they’re over there. I find that my friends from New York have this sanctimonious attitude, as if New York did not have similar boundaries. But there is no escaping the fact that the mix in Boston is simply whiter on the face of it, outside of the neighborhoods and in the downtown and Back Bay areas. Watching a game in Fenway Park is almost like going to a game in Salt Lake City, except that many of the white faces are actually dabbed with splotches of red on big boys named Fitzy and Sully.
And it is not like growing up in the suburbs of Long Island was far more progressively illuminating than the suburbs of Boston. But at least in my NY hometown we had lots of black, Jewish and other kids aside from Irish and Italian. Sure, they largely stayed within their own groups. But in the town I moved to in Massachusetts, there was maybe one black kid, a handful of Jewish kids, but mostly Anglo, Irish, and Italians. And the suburb seemed a lot more conservative than the politicians that were leading the state.
Boston-area Democrats are mostly the holdover from the days when northern big cities all elected Democrats to represent them, the urban, the working class. The voters understood they were voting in their best interest. Well, that explains municipal and even state elections. But the voters in Massachusetts have always voted Democrat nationally as well, with few exceptions. They have also been by and large amongst the most educated in country. So we had the highly educated professional class (many folks who come to the elite universities in the area historically end up staying) voting consistently with the working class.
Socially, however, these sides have not been without their clashes. Though slightly cartoonish, Good Will Hunting gets at this dynamic pretty well. The busing debacle of the 1970s is one extreme example, if I may continue my simplistic generalization. More mildly, when we first moved to the densely populated working class city of Somerville (bordering Boston and Cambridge), we were called “Barneys” (pronounced “bah-nees”) by locals in corner bars (pronounced “bahs”). The etymology of this particular insult goes something like this: When Cambridge started to get too expensive for college kids and other bohemians, they started moving out to Somerville. The locals took exception and referred to Harvard Yard as “Hahvid Bahnyahd.” Barnyard begot “Barneys.” So any outsider moving into Somerville was labeled a Barney. In turn, early pioneers affectionately referred to their new stomping ground as “Slum-erville.” And now I see things like this cool joint a block up from where I used to live. Man, there was nothing going on there when I was living there. Just some half-decent BBQ at Redbones, the Somerville Theater and some true dive bars like my landlord’s Sligo Pub. Now it’s Irish pub this, thai food that, martinis and jazz over here, and brunch there. We could never find decent brunch anywhere back then!
The term “Mass-hole” also gained prominence around this time. It was used mostly by outsiders to describe rude, or worse, violent drunken yob locals. These are the guys that yell at you in traffic as they cut you off, “what ah you, retahted, big guy? Let’s GO!”
I don’t know him personally either, but, yeah, it seems to me that Naked Scotty Brown could be one as well. There is plenty of evidence (and here). Oh, and here. You have to love an “up from the bootstraps” “family values” guy who happened to have been raised by a welfare mother — who, along with his father, were married three times each. Nothing like the zeal of a convert!
But mostly, as with New York, Chicago, and other big northern cities, the various parties (non-political, that is) coexisted and voted together. Until a charming young socially liberal outsider Harvard aristocrat named Bill Weld ran for governor against a mean old socially conservative bastard named John Silber. I, like many, all of a sudden found myself voting for a fiscally conservative Republican for the first time. I mean, Weld seemed pretty close to Bill Clinton in almost every way to me back then. I had no love lost over Clinton either.
But while this can be limited to “self interest,” one also has to consider how the greater good contributes to one’s own best interest. This is big picture liberalism 101.
But I am sure I voted against my best interest in the long view. So how can I blame people for voting for someone like Naked Scotty Brown? Weld opened the gates for Cellucci and — God, help us all — Mitt Romney.
But for the seat that the Liberal Lion held all those years? I blame Brown’s opponent (let’s not mention her name since she saw no need to promote herself) and the Democrats in general more than the voters. This whole “in your best interest” thing seems to confirm the image the alienated voters have of holier-than-thou Democrats, as the GOP successfully drives social wedge issues between the average joe and the “liberal elites.”
The bottom line, though, is I think voters let themselves be swayed by surface images and vague notions of “sending a message” from a legacy of liberalism that has contributed no small part in Massachusetts being among the top states in education, health, employment, technology, art, literature, and overall quality of life. These are the reasons I list for myself when in the middle of a cold gray January, I ask myself, “why do I live here again?” I could never live anywhere that is historically politically conservative. So that rules out most of the warm states. And yeah, roots — family and friends and a band, music scene, cultural resources, history, the Red Sox, the Cape, etc., all kept me here. I love it here. I still laugh at all the weirdo Boston quirks. I still don’t know if I am a New Yorker or a Bostonian, which must seem odd to people. But of anywhere between 8-10 regulars at my poker game, none of us are from Massachusetts originally. Few people in my neighborhood are. And, anyway, there are assholes everywhere. The proportions seem to seesaw from time to time. That might be one of the bigger lessons I learned from all those years on the road. These are the sentiments that came out in the Buffalo Tom song “Thrown” from Three Easy Pieces.
And then there was the Supreme Court decision, which I won’t get into too deeply. I think of myself as being an absolutist on First Amendment issues. But I do not see how being able to spend unlimited funds as a corporation = speech. I need to read the decision closely, but either way, I think the results will be disastrous. Every individual retains the right to free speech. But was the provision faulty enough to bar opinion pages of incorporated newspapers and filmmakers from engaging in legitimate political debate as well as deep-pocketed special interests (on both sides) and the potential threat they pose
to the democratic process? Was the baby being thrown out with the bathwater via McCain/Feingold? That is often the case with seeping regulation. But it seems like a conveniently narrow interpretation along poltical lines. Ultimately, the prospect of the results of this bum me out. And it is not made easier when I think I might be hypocritical when wanting to limit the amount of money in politics. I have no problem in regulating arms under the Second Amendment. “Well regulated militia” having the “right to bear arms,” and all that. Of course, it does not say “all arms to be developed over the century.” And speech can not physically harm someone except in extreme cases in the old “yelling fire in a crowded theater” sawhorse. And of course, that’s illegal.
On top of it all, I was mostly home sick, a cough, a sore throat. And it was a cold ugly winter week. I was able to get to a short set Buffalo Tom had this past week, but then took a turn for the worse. This morning was the first time I could speak without coughing or pain shooting to the back of my skull. So when I had the opportunity to play guitar and sing at the kitchen table, I took it. Forgive me if I go astray…
A couple of lesser-requested Buffalo Tom songs, one from Smitten, the other from our first LP. I look as spent as I feel in these. The home concert/bed head series continues. Maybe it’s time to take the act out of my own kitchen and into yours. Get out of my dreams and into my car.