(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.



26 thoughts on “(non) Covers of the Week 66 & 67”

  1. Superb version of Scottish windows; Excellent job hitting those notes- on one of your best melodies ever; Bittersweet themes of loss ties in nicely to the recent political debacles.

    The video series is great- I like the door and light switches behind you. Brilliant Stuff and great writing, one of the best things on the Internet for sure.

  2. I'm also originally from Lawn Guy Land (well, Brooklyn until I was 3) and I've been in Mass since the early 80s. Nobody's ever going to mistake me for a native Bay Stater, but I definitely don't feel like a New Yorker anymore, in spite of my accent.

    Somerville may be gentrified enough that few people still call it Slummerville, but it's still a hell of a lot cheaper to live here than in Cambridge. We like to call it The 'Ville these days.

  3. .: Like others I am enjoying these raw acoustic videos of your original tunes. Thanks for this new CotW option. Scottish Windows is a song that took some time to grow on me, so I do appreciate this acoustic version. I had to "relisten" to Flushing Stars to refamiliarize myself with it, and enjoyed it as well. Love the pick drop at the end – I've done that a few times. You certainly don't SOUND like you were fighting a cold or sore throat on these videos.

    Were you recording using PhotoBooth on a MacBook?

    I enjoyed your backstory this week, can't really add much to it other than to say "I feel your pain", as it were. Funny, I grew up in a neighbourhood east of Winnipeg (St Boniface) that was probably 99% white families of Catholic and Protestant backgrounds; most were either of French-Canadian or eastern European descent. I didn't meet a Jewish or black kid until I went to university.

    I wasn't aware that Wahlberg had such a criminal record. I think I'm afraid of him now even more. 😉

    I appreciate how hard it might have been to vote for a conservative if you had never done so before. I grew up in a working-class family that vote left at all times. As I got older, I thought I might become more right wing, but it hasn't happened, and probably never will. Makes it rough when one lives in the farthest right Canadian province.

    I can relate to your cold. I've had pneumonia four times, and colds that wiped me out for weeks at a time. Have a good and healthy week, Bill.

  4. Well put. I can't think of another rock star (part-time or otherwise) who plans to take the time to read about an important (and disastrous) Supreme Court decision. OK, maybe Springsteen.

  5. Edit: I took out what I felt were misplaced, gratuitous swipes and name-calling. The blessing and curs of a blog is that you can publish immediately, but then you can also edit the stuff out later that should have been edited out earlier.

  6. Very astute observation Bill about William Weld. You can blame his asendency for what I think makes a great salon that serves all our insterests. I'm sure this is some castor oil consolation but I will be voting for Obama next time around as it appears the all too human forces of overcorrection are indeed at hand. We saw it in the markets and now we see it at the ballot box. I never ever want to see one party rule ever again in my life time. The salons simply can't handle it and Obama needs a Tip O'Neil. The great man is about to find his sea legs. He just needs to ditch Rhambo and find himself a worthy of negotiation cross asile foil. Perhaps that man is his last oppoinent.

    If you would like to discuss this with me mharvey715@hotmail.com Nothhing I enjoy more than a good sausage factory discussion. Just not at the expense of what Bill is trying to do here.

  7. Bill, you have to face facts; Scott Brown was elected because Obama is an abject failure. It is as simple as that. Go on Bill, bloviate all you want about "Massholes" etc. That is all somewhat entertaining but what you experienced up there this past week was nothing short of cataclysmic.

    Please please please continue to down play it as 'voters letting themselves be swayed by surface images and vague notions of "sending a message". Tell all you lib friends that; convince them it is no big deal and that is was a blip on the political radar screen. This type of arrogance is exactly what is driving the dems and will lead to their downfall in coming elections. Not sure if you are aware Bill but Obama went to Mass. to campaign for your candidate. The result: FAIL!

    Hey bill, what is Obama's biggest accomplishment after a year in office? Losing more jobs, growing the deficit, not closing Gitmo, not having transparency, insulting the Special Olympics? you do realize that his approval is lower than any other recent president at this point, right?

    Let's face it Bill, Scott Brown was elected because they liked his message and are fed up with Obama and co. after 1 year.

  8. Rich… not sure Brown wins if Healthcare reform didn't already pass here and the citizens didn't get hit with a boat load of new taxes after they voted to let the legislature keep income tax going forward. He said this himself. There is indeed an arrogance among the left that isn't seving them well at all right now at all. The same kind of arrogance that led Kennedy to push for the very changes that made this election even possible in the first place. Funny enough though it it isn't any different than the antagonistic arrogance that comes out of your pie hole consistently.

  9. I hadn't thought of 'massholes' as a transplant/townie thing, I'd always known it from uh the rest of New England (to the north anyway) plus Mohawk/Adirondack NY…

    I am not surprised so much by the election it seems to reflect the whole parochial/provincial whatever of MA that I haven't missed. It does kind of make me wonder how it took this long to get out in such a big way.

  10. Bill, you were in great voice Wednesday night at Cafe 939, and although you had been ill, great vocal here as well.
    A local pundit and cable access tv host in my hometown of Norton, wrote an interesting editorial in The Sun Chronicle. http://www.thesunchronicle.com/articles/2010/01/25/columns/6818362.txt
    While I found it well written, it was also the source of some dismay as you will see Mr. Brown doesn't have to do much, or think too much, to have done his "job" as the 41st vote for the Republicans.

  11. "Scottish Windows" is absolutely brilliant.

    Pound for pound, I probably spin "Smitten" more than any other BT disc. I love them all, don't get me wrong. But "Smitten"… ahhh, "Smitten"…

    Thank you for those songs, Bill & Co.

  12. Aww.. Bill's upset he got teabagged by a naked Republican.

    So how's the progress on the new Album coming?

  13. Bill-
    Great stuff as always. One request, when you do videos could you frame it a little wider? Sometimes I'm able to pick up how to play the song a little by watching the fretboard and I can jam along.

  14. Kevin –

    Great Idea with the wider frame.

    Bill, thanks for all these BT (non) covers. Any chance we'll get to hear Sparklers?

  15. Bill: Greetings from the Mystic River Valley (a/k/a Greater Meffid, MA): On the subject of the “candidate who will not be named” i.e., MC: We, as Democrats, were caught asleep at the switch. MC was working hard to win the election, perhaps not well and certainly not effectively, but she was trying. Here is my insight: After the primary, when it was Naked Scotty against MC, my wife (who works outside the home and raises 3 kids in it) volunteered for her campaign. I said “Why are you even bothering? It is going to be a rout—this guy is an idiot.” My wife ignored me, and spent 3-5 days a week volunteering. The rest of us who value liberal, traditionally Democratic principles, stayed home and let the haters build up steam. As soon as it became clear that Naked Scotty, a/k/a Our Sarah Palin, had a chance, the national money poured into his campaign, Talk Radio jumped in, and they hit the timing right. We will all suffer for this failure, but make no mistake (to quote our president), it was our failure. We can’t let this happen again.

  16. I love Scottish Windows, makes me think of snow for some reason

    Also really enjoying the non-cover movies, just one thing, can you pull the camera back just a smidge….trying hard to copy the chords to my favourite BT tracks and these videos are helping me loads


  17. Thanks all. I did pull back a little (just doing this with iSight built-in cam into iMovie). I will promise to do better next time.

    Wiretrain — what was that song I really loved? "In a Chamber of Helloes"

  18. Just now reading this on February 9th, but what an awesome post. Love your music, love your politics, love your insight.

    I'm in California now, but prior to that I lived in Boston for nearly 3 years. Absolutely loved my time there, and yet found it to be the most conservative place I've lived. (The other places I've lived, for the record, are DC, New York, Chicago and LA.) You describe the city and its suburbs so eloquently. Couldn't have put it any better myself.

    Hope that Massachusetts will come to its collective senses when the Kennedy term ends for real in 2012.

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