Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Don’t Know How to Party (orig. published May 22, 2011)
–MMB, “Our Only Weapon”
Don’t Know How to Party is the Bosstones’ major label full-length debut. I’m not sure where in the line it falls on when I got it (understand: I started listening to the Bosstones in the summer of 1997 and owned everything they had ever done by Christmas of that year). I think that this album has some of the weirdest Bosstones’ tracks, some of the ones that I found most compelling as a teenager. It was released in 1993, for whatever that’s worth, in retrospect, it’s a sort of weird album no matter what context you try to put it in (other than “Bosstones context”). In 1993, the style of music the Bosstones were playing was still very unique to them.
This has nothing to do with DKH2P, but I keep thinking about the Bosstones community lately. My boyfriend and his brother have listened to the Bosstones for about as long as I have. All three of us were at the Hometown Throwdown in 2000, and in 2007, but we didn’t know each other and I don’t remember them being there (which is a little weird, because they’re 6’5” and 6’8” and sort of stand out in the crowd). We didn’t really meet until 2009.This is how the Bosstones community is. You meet somebody, and it turns out that they’ve been standing next to you at the rail for years, and you just hadn’t noticed them.
The song “Don’t Know How to Party” (playing now on my iTunes, yay) is also somewhat notorious in certain Bosstones circles. See, there’s this Bosstones fan named Billy. He’s from Everett, MA. He’s listened to the Bosstones since…I don’t even know. I met him at the Throwdown in 2000, because we both got to the Axis (the venue) early every day, and were in line next to each other. He has the dubious distinction of being the first person ever to get me drunk. “DKH2P” is Billy’s favorite Bosstones song. He requests it at every show (and as he’s always on the rail, the band always hears him). Dicky has been actively refusing to sing the song forever. But BIlly is nothing if not persistent, and in 2008 or 2009, Billy finally got his wish. The Bosstones played it live. And I think they dedicated it to Bill if I recall right.
The Bosstones will do this, if you hang around long enough. I mean, they play shows because it’s fun for them. I don’t think they’d do it if they weren’t having fun. But they also want it to be fun for us fans, and they read the online forum, and every now and then they’ll do something that I can tell is sort of a special thing that they’re doing because we asked.
“Someday I Suppose”, song #4 (which just came on)….one of my all-time favorite Bosstones songs. And Bosstones videos. It’s just so goddamn catchy and awesome. “Plans are made with promises so certainly uncertain”…yep.
The first time I saw the Bosstones live was in October of 1997, at the Mammoth Theatre (which is now the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, CO). I went with Anna (the one who introduced me to the Bosstones to begin with), her brother Sean, Sean’s friend Whit…I think our friend Kim was there too. Anna’s parents drove us there in their minivan, and then waited outside the theater for us to get out. The theater was in what was considered, by middle class suburban standards, to be the “bad” part of town (when I turned 21 I moved to that “bad” part of town and lived there happily and safely for five years). Dicky signed me my LFI booklet at that show, I got a t-shirt, I learned how to skank by watching a rude boy near me. I learned what a rude boy was. I was so star struck at meeting Dicky (this was before I realized that just about anybody can meet Dicky, or really, most any punk rock musician). I also saw the Dropkick Murphys on one of their earliest US tours, Bim Skala Bim, and the Amazing Royal Crowns (who had not yet been sued by Royal Crown Revue). That night was just…god, for a 15-yr-old girl, that night was epic.
“A Man Without” is a song about being homeless, a song about begging, a song about invisibility. “I’m screaming can you help me, oh lord, but no one hears a man like me, it’s easier if they don’t see. So let’s just pretend to feel, and make believe I’m not real…” I don’t think Dicky spent any time actually homeless (though I think he’s come close), but does a really compelling job of putting himself in the shoes of the homeless guy in this song.
And then we blast right into “Holy Smoke,” which has got some of the fastest guitar work I’ve heard this side of Catch-22. One of the critiques I’ve heard of the Bosstones is that they often sound like they’ve taken several songs and smushed them together. I think that’s a fair observation, especially on their earlier stuff. Often the transition from intro to first first is completely abrupt and different. Holy Smoke has some of that, though not a huge amount; I think it’s just tempo changes that throw me off. This song just has a lot going on, layers of horns and piano and multiple guitar tracks and Dicky singing awesome lyrics.
“Illegal Left”…for some reason (maybe because when I first got the album I didn’t have a driver’s license, and because Illegal Left turns are something of a rarity in suburban Denver) I didn’t get this song for a long time. I thought it was about Dicky being pulled over, not about Dicky arguing with a cop who had pulled over somebody else.
I think I probably got this album for Christmas 1997, now that I think about it. That doesn’t really matter, but there it is.
I used to spend a lot of time just reading Bosstones lyrics. Not just listening to the albums over and over (though yes, I did that), but reading the lyrics, even when the music wasn’t playing. Dicky’s one of the greatest lyricists ever. I’ll put him up against any other rock lyricist. He cares about saying things that matter, but he also pays attention to the phonetics of sound, to finding unique (and plentiful) rhymes and different ways of saying things.
“Tin Soldiers” is a cover of a song by the Stiff Little Fingers. I’ve mentioned how I would go out and buy albums by artists if Dicky mentioned them in an interview. SLF is probably the first time I went and bought a band’s album because the Bosstones covered one of their songs (though I would eventually buy Minor Threat for the same reason). And SLF is a really good band, a little naive and idealistic, but then, so am I. Bosstones still play “Tin Soldiers” (usually with a major break in the middle for Dicky to introduce the rest of the band). I also used the title “Tin Soldiers” on a story that I wrote; the first story that I ever got published. So, yeah….little threads, running through my life, popping up in weird places.
It’s funny, as I listen to more and more Bosstones albums, it’s somehow harder and harder to keep coming up with things to talk about. Playing right now is “Almost Anything Goes,” a song about New York City, which Dicky would like to get out of so he can go back to Boston. It’s funny, Dicky (in this song at least, I don’t know about in real life) is sort of ambivalent about NYC, he would rather get back to Boston. Since I was 14, I’ve wanted to live in NYC, and I think when I first started listening to this song, I didn’t pick up on a lot of that ambivalence. Who wouldn’t want to live in NYC? I don’t understand people who don’t want to live here, this city that never sleeps, with all these people bumping into each other 24/7. With the miles and miles and miles of underground tunnels and secrets, crazy buildings, Central Park, St. Mark’s Place, Harper Lee, the NY Times, the Brill Building….so much of the United States’ history was crafted here. Not more than any other place in the country, I know, but still…there’s just so many stories, piled up on top of each other here.
“Issachar” is definitely one of the Bosstones’ weirdest songs. Supposedly it’s about their former road manager, Jack Flanagan, and it’s sort of clearly full of inside jokes and weirdness that I don’t understand and am not meant to. (“Where’s the wizzler? Where’s the corn? Get jacuzzi on the horn.” ….wtf?) I had a friend once try to translate this song into plain English, it came out pretty funny. I still don’t know who’s toasting. I always assumed it was Kevin Lenear, but uhh…that might be a racist assumption. I’m pretty sure it’s not Dennis Brockenborough (the only other black member), and they don’t say that they brought in outside talent, but who the hell knows. It’s such a disjointed song, but also strangely compelling, if you like it enough to listen to it 30 or 40 times and let it start making sense.
“What Was Was Over” is (I think) about Dicky and the Bosstones breaking off business relations with Taang! Records, and signing to a major. But it pops into my brain at other weird times, like when I was trying to learn sign language (which doesn’t use “to be” verbs, and so this song is hard to translate), and in my junior year of English when my teacher forbade us from using “be” verbs, to try and get us out of using the passive voice, and I took a strange sort of happiness in listening to this song. “And after all that we’ve been through, Is is gonna have to do.”
“737/Shoe Glue”….another of those songs that gets me all excited, because of its associations in my brain with the Throwdown and, of course, the 737. Every year at the Throwdown we do the “737 Walk,” in which we trace DIcky’s route to the 737 mailbox, with our trusty tour guide, the Tall Kid. We also tend to go insane when the Bosstones play it (they opened the 2010 Throwdown with it) because we think they’re playing it all for us. “Shoe glue” is also probably one of the Bosstones songs most quoted out of context. I’ve always sort of wondered how these two songs got shoved together, they don’t really have anything to do with each other. At 4:32, it’s a long song by Bosstones standards, but not overly large. I guess they were two songs that weren’t quite enough to make it on their own, but together, they work out. They’re each sort of 75% of a song. Together you have 150% of a song.
Let’s rock! It’s fucking my walk and soaking my sock Who knew? It’s not stopping my step or stepping my stop We’ve got it up and we won’t let it drop Beer here, don’t want to see clear I see no point in wrecking the joint. We’re here to quench our thirst a bit But we won’t get the worst of it. Turn it up! More than a notch Like a punch to the face or a kick to the crotch An all-night neverender Benefitting from a bender. If nothing’s worrying you, that’s key ‘Cause nothing’s worrying me.
And nothing’s worrying me.
Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Don’t Know How to Party. Mercury Records, 1993. Status: out of print.
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