Boston is the Best Place for Becoming What You Are


I grew up in Massachusetts and I used to live in Boston, from when I graduated college (in 1999) to when I moved to Los Angeles (in 2003). When you're little Boston is for field trips to the Aquarium and Quincy Market and the Children's Museum and the Museum of Science, where there's a glass case displaying a piece of petrified lightning and a gigantic tank with a simulated ocean wave. And then when you get to be a teenager the best thing is getting your parents to take you and your best friend to Boston/Cambridge for the day so they can drop you off in Harvard Square and you can buy CDs at Newbury Comics and shop the Urban Outfitters bargain basement for quirky ringer tees and clever polyester skirts for hours and hours, and then just walk around and check out all the weird kids who are a zillion times cooler than you or anyone in your hometown. I really miss that about being a teenager in a town kind of near Boston - how there's this place you can visit every few months or something and everyone there is better and wilder but it's exciting and it inspires you and gives you all these new ideas of who you might be as you become what you are, or however you want to put it.
           So I made this Spotify playlist thing of songs from Boston that I love. It's purposely non-completist; I wanted it to be songs that sound like walking around Boston and Cambridge when I was lots younger and being romantic about what the city might turn me into. Of everyone I included, these are the bands/people whose songs mean the most to me:

MARY TIMONY/HELIUMMary Timony and I lived in Boston at the same time so I used to go see her every day, or at least about once a month. Once I saw Bjork at the Wang Center and then Mary Timony at the Middle East Upstairs, both in the same night, and seeing Mary after seeing Bjork was so good and restorative. I mean of course Bjork's a big genius, but Mary Timony is so much more my breed of weird, with her tiger tapestry draped over her keyboard and her cat mask pushed up over her forehead and her Pete Townsend guitar windmill thing that's totally not a joke because Mary Timony is no joker. Bjork wore the swan dress, or something kind of like it, and that essentially means zero to me. Who cares about a swan dress when Mary Timony is playing some long crazy version of "Poison Moon" that SEGUES INTO A COVER OF "ISOLATION" BY JOY DIVISION and I don't even like Joy Division very much but in Mary Timony's hands it's transcendent and perfect and everything.
           That show happened right around when The Golden Dove came out. Once on nogoodforme.com Laura Jane wrote the sentence "If I could describe The Golden Dove by Mary Timony in one made-up adjective, it would be "Elizabeth Barker-esque," which was a cool moment in my life.

JULIANA HATFIELD. Laura Fisher thinks it's fun of me that Only Everything is my favorite Juliana Hatfield record. And I was going to make some point about how I'm inordinately influenced by cover art when it comes to processing the sound of an album, and how Only Everything sounds exactly like it's cover art, like some heavy majestic animal painted in bright hot colors. Which is all true but the greater truth is that Only Everything is my favorite Juliana Hatfield album because it's the one that sounds most like me, all snarly and sludgy and sweet and shiny. My favorite song on Only Everything is "OK OK," and my favorite "OK OK" lyric is the one that goes "I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you."

MARY LOU LORD. I saw Mary Lou busking in the Park Street subway station my first year living on Boston - she was setting up when I was transferring from the green line to the red line and I hung around a bit, the only one watching her. After a bunch of covers she asked if I had any requests and I asked her to play "Some Jingle Jangle Morning" and she went "Oh!"; I guess she was surprised that I actually knew her songs. And then she played "Jingle Jangle" for me and only me and it was gorgeous and awesome, and probably uncomfortably intimate for both of us. Later on my friend Laura (everyone I know is named Laura) and I came back and Mary Lou played a cover of "Beeswing" by Richard Thompson and I had it in my head for the rest of the night, in a way where I probably could've cried at any second if I wanted to, because that song is one of the saddest songs, and Mary Lou's version is so lovely and the loveliest kind of hurt.

BUFFALO TOM. Obviously My So-Called Life is totally wonderful but how about let's let Buffalo Tom be something more than an adorable My So-Called Life reference from now on, okay? Big Red Letter Day is an underappreciated and kind of perfect album - it's so, like, restrained in its melancholy, but never in a cold way: it's warm like whiskey but not too much whiskey; there's a certain clearheadedness inherent to the whole Buffalo Tom experience. "I'm Allowed" was my favorite of their songs when I was 16 and it still is now, and every time I hear it it's sadder than the last time. "How sad 'I'm Allowed' is going to sound to me by the time I'm 36 or 39 or 40" is a troubling but strangely comforting thing to think about.

THE LEMONHEADS. The Lemonheads are the only band that I love more now than I did when I was a kid, even though I loved them very much back then. There's something about their songs that keeps on unfolding and revealing something new to me - possibly because the scrappy/graceful dynamic feels more and more in line with my overall steez as I get older, but also because they're great songs and great songs never die. My favorite Lemonheads song when I made my Boston mix thing was "Mallo Cup," but right now it's their cover of "Skulls" by the Misfits, or "Break Me" or "Ride with Me," or maybe "Rudderless." "Rudderless" is always one of my favorite songs in general: it always will be, it always has been. It's sweet of 14-year-old me to have found myself in the sadness of that song, and it's sweet that I still can, in a way that makes the sadness seem brighter and all right.

TANYA DONELLY. Belly is a Rhode Island band but I'm pretty sure Tanya Donelly lived in Boston when did her solo stuff? WHO CARES, IT DOESN'T MATTER. I already lived in L.A. by the time "New England" came out and it's the ideal song for being homesick for the shitty joke that is calendar-delineated springtime in Boston. Actual spring in Boston is like a week long, but it's the most beautiful week that happens anywhere in the world. I actually haven't been all that many places in the world, but I know this to be an indisputable truth.

And oh I love everyone else I put on that playlist, so much: "Common at Noon" by the Real Kids is my favorite Boston song; once when I was a teenager I put it on a mixtape for a boy so he could listen to it over and over and want to die from missing me too much, which was so generous. That hazy/dreamy/Pump Up The Volume version of "Wave of Mutilation" means more to me than every other Pixes song put together, and "Snowstorm" by Galaxie 500 is so fucking depressing it goes all the way past depressing and onto life-savingly glorious. And I feel bad that there's no Morphine but Morphine means something else to me, like the Fourth of July when Mark Sandman died and it was the kind of hot that makes your hair hurt and makes your head crazy and my best friend and I went out and drank way too much tequila and walked around by the water and by the Common and I kept falling off my shoes. We were dumb little babies and it was so much fun, and I absolutely took for granted how protected I felt by that city, the way you always take things for granted when you're a lucky kid. I'm really just so lucky to have been a kid in Boston.

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