Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Pay Attention

01Sep12

payattn.jpg Where is it we’re going?
Who was it who said it?
Which stones are worth throwing?
Who will we discredit?
A pathetic aesthetic
In a world less poetic
It’s not where you come from,
It’s going, go get it.
–“Where You Come From”

The return of the “I listen to all the Bosstones albums and type shit as they go by” series, hooray!

So, Pay Attention was the Bosstones’ first studio album that was released after Let’s Face It. It was also the last album on which Nate Albert, the Bosstones’ original guitarist, played or wrote songs (he left to go back to school and take care of an ill family member). The Bosstones, casualties of corporate mergers, were moved from their longtime home at Mercury Records to Island/Def Jam after Let’s Face It was released. Pay Attention was the only record they released on Island/Def Jam before they were dropped (or left of their own accord). It was recorded in the midst of what was, for the Bosstones, a time that was even more emotionally hectic than usual (at least, I think so, from my far-distant vantage point), and I think that because of that the album doesn’t have some of the helter-skelter spontaneity of other albums. It’s close to being overproduced to me. (I’ll be up front here and admit that my line of “overproduced” basically means “I can hear Dicky harmonizing with himself and that’s disorienting because one Dicky is enough.”) But still, it’s a good album with some really good songs on it, and sort of a turning point in the Bosstones’ history. This is also the first album for which I was a far at the time of its release. Well I guess LFTME was really the first one, but this is the one that I remember going to the record store on the Tuesday it came out and getting the album and listening to it for the first time on the way home (this was the before you could mediafire whatever you wanted the day after the band took to the studio).

That whole paragraph took me four minutes to type, and in that four minutes, the first song “Let Me Be” went by. I heard “Let Met Be” live this summer in New Hampshire, and oh man, it was intense and awesome. There’s a part at the end where the song starts to break down and layer itself on top of itself, and when that happens live, it sort of makes me brain explode. Also I like the slow, deceptively muzak-y way it starts and then ka-blam, kicks back in.

“Skeleton Song” was one of my early favorites on this album. It’s about Dicky’s encounter with some of his own character flaws that came up, at least in part, as a result of the stardom and whatever that the Bosstones found with Let’s Face It (I could find the interview in which he said this but I only have 52 minutes and I’m still a song behind in the listening). Catchy horns, humble lyrics, textbook Bosstones.

“All Things Considered” is one of a bunch of songs that Dicky writes about the people he encounters. This particular one is “an older guy that comes around from time to time, we’re sure that he fought in the war, the war in Vietnam.” This is one of the things I appreciate about the Bosstones, and about Dicky–he’s interested enough in people and their stories to write a song about encountering this crazy guy in a bar, and rolling with the guy so to speak, just being okay with hearing his stories and not worrying about whether they’re accurate. Just giving him someone to talk to. “All things considered, what he’s telling us isn’t hurting anyone.” Dicky will take the time to talk to the people that people typically don’t talk to or write songs about. It’s even in Devil’s Night Out–the first verse of the song “Howwhywuz Howwhyam” goes, “I used to talk to cab drivers, but now I just don’t bother. I’d empty out my pockets if someone asked me for a quarter. There was a time that I’d give the time to the old, the weak, and the weird. I just don’t know what this is so, but I’ve never been so scared.”

“So Sad To Say.” The hit single that wasn’t. The follow-up to “The Impression That I Get,” the plaided up music video. Never really caught on. I don’t think it’s even in the favorites of the Bosstones themselves, it’s not a regular part of their set list (though also not totally unheard of like some). I relate to this song a whole lot more now than I did when it first came out. About thinking that a relationship would last a long time, only to have it fall apart. Yeah. Been there. Am there right now, as a matter of fact.

My animosity has got the best of me
It’s been feeding off the sadness deep inside me
That’ll fade I pray
And in time it will I know
So far it’s fading slow
Just one more thing, okay?
It’s so sad to say.

“Allow Them,” incidentally, has a short clip in it of Dicky (I think it’s Dicky?) talking to a skunk through the window of the studio. Apparently they were recording on a farm that had at least one skunk wandering around.

“Failure has far too many fathers. Succeed and you’re an orphan till you die.” This whole song is about the shittiness of bureaucracy. I think it was written with the music labels in mind, and the Bosstones’ experience with the big-time music industry, but you could listen to it and think of the government, big corporations, religious institutions, anyone that wields power over individuals and makes them compromise themselves, tells them lies.

“Deception is an axe they wield/there’s wands to wave with every call they field/This just is not us at all/And if it is we’ve dropped the ball.//We know who’s not a carrier/They hide behind the barrier/But they’ll destroy themselves somehow/It’s up to us if we allow/They will destroy themselves if we allow them to.”

Well, I hope so.

Pay Attention was released in 2000. The next song, “High School Dance” was written about Columbine. I grew up in Littleton, and I tell you, I didn’t listen to this song–except for that first day, on the way home in the car the day the album was released–for probably ten years. I just recently listened to it again and realized I could get through it without crying. It’s a really atypical Bosstones song, with a slow shimmery guitar, the horns sounding sad and slow in the background. I think the reason this song gets to me is because it comes the closest, out of all the songs I’ve heard about school shootings and angry young kids, to capturing what I remember my initial reaction being, which was not sadness and terror for the kids killed, but sadness and terror for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, that they got themselves so sad and messed up that they went out and did that. I hated my high school, but even as a sad, messed up, bullied teenager, some corner of my head knew that the best revenge against this culture that I didn’t fit into was to get away from it and live well. Harris and Klebold didn’t have that corner in their brains, I guess, so for them, the best revenge was just straight up revenge. “Hello world, remember me? I’m the sad little fuck that you failed to see.”

About halfway through the song, it stops being slow and eerie, and gets louder, the horns get funky and dancy. It slows down for the verse, but speeds up again for the final chorus and outro. The song doesn’t try to get to any large truths or answer any questions about school shootings. It just stops.

As someone who is constantly walking on eggshells and watching what I say, I really love “Over the Eggshells.” “I’m over the eggshells I’ve been walking on/My eggshell walking days are done/I don’t give a fuck about the applecart/And I’ll upset everyone.” Damn straight, Dicky. Wish I could be more like that. On days when I actually am like that, this song helps reassure me that I should be like this more often, not less. It helps me not talk myself out of my anger. Sometimes anger is good. Sometimes anger is healthy. Also, I love the horns in this song, the melody under the verses, the way the horns and the guitars are sort of trading places and taking turns at sounding angry.

“She Just Happened,” a sweet little song about one of Dicky’s ex’s. It’s not a love song, but it’s a fond one. The problem with listening to this song for years is that whenever anyone says anything like, “What just happened?” your brain immediately fills in with “She just happened! She just happened to cross my mind.”

This album came out in the spring, I believe. I’m trying to remember if I owned my little Nissan Sentra by that time, or if I was still driving my mom’s Dodge Intrepid (man, what a piece of shit that was, even my dad regretted buying it). I think I was in my Nissan. I remember driving home with the windows down, it was a glorious warm sunny day, and at stop lights I would glance quickly down at the lyrics to try and learn them quickly. (Though the lyrics on the booklet aren’t in the order that the songs play, so that’s annoying.)

“Finally” and “I Know More” are two songs that are fun to sing along to for the sheer wordplay and phonemic effort that Dicky put into making sure the lyrics sounded good. Dicky seemed to write “Finally” specifically in an effort to get as many words that start with F into a song. And to say “finally” a lot. “Finally” also has one of the more fun horn bridge parts (is that what it is? I don’t even know if that’s what it is) about 45 seconds from the end of the song. “I Know More” is a really good example of why it’s hard to translate Bosstones songs into American Sign Language:
I know, more I know
Now than I knew then
I know, I know
Now, now, I know
More than I knew
Less than I thought so.

I mean, what?

For this release I was actually on the Bosstones’ street team and got mailed a ton of posters and drove around town leaving them at record stores and such. I’m sure a ton of the posters that I dropped off places (and I even tried to make displays which I’m sure looked totally shitty) got dumped in the trash the minute I left the shop. And yes, I had my Nissan at this time, I remember now. Also, I bought this record at local Denver record shop Twist and Shout the day it came out, and I got a free Pay Attention tshirt. Which I now no longer wear because I don’t wear XL shirts anymore (funny how I don’t remember being self-conscious about my body and growing tits, but I must have been because I wore enormous fucking tshirts all through middle and high school, and only started wearing shirts that fit me in the latter part of college).

“Riot on Broad Street” is the song that got my dad, begrudgingly, respecting the Bosstones. I don’t think he thought much of them until he saw the lyrics for this one. I made him a mix of Bosstones songs at his request, and this is one he mentioned liking. It’s a song, based on a true story, about a riot between a funeral procession and a fire engine about who had the right of way on Broad Street. I don’t think they’ve ever played this live, at least, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. I should check with the Tall Kid about that though.

“One Million Reasons” and “Bad News and Bad Breaks,” for some reason, always make me think of Nate and his departure. I’m pretty sure “One Million Reasons” really is about Nate, but “Bad News and Bad Breaks” might just be my own mental association. Nate leaving was rough on the band. It came close to breaking them up. He’d been with them since the beginning, had been an essential part of crafting their sound, and he was going. When they wrote/recorded this song, I don’t know if they’d found Lawrence as Nate’s replacement yet. (And oh man, did Lawrence have a hard time getting Bosstones’ fans acceptance as Nate’s replacement. There’s still people out there who think that the band suffered an irreparable blow when Nate left, and that things have just never been the same.)

Man. There’s just a ton of sad songs on this record. It’s really introspective, and doesn’t have the political songs to balance stuff out like most of the other albums. It also, I think, has longer horn lines than a lot of previous albums. It lets the horns spin out a little bit more, take up a little more space.

“Temporary Trip” is the second song on this album about a down-and-out guy that most people wouldn’t pay attention to (maybe that’s part of where the album title comes from. Pay Attention to these guys and people generally. People deserve compassion.) They do play this song semi-regularly. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s a good, solid song.

“Where You Come From” is one of my favorite songs on the album, but then, I’m susceptible to life-lesson sort of songs. The rhyming and wordplay in this song is also just fun. When you learn to sing along to this song, you feel accomplished.

It’s not where you come from, it’s more where you’re going
And knowing the going might get strange.
The world’s greatest writers are all drunks and fighters,
Get going, that isn’t going to change.

Stop procrastinating. Get going. Do something. The world’s greatest writers are all drunks and fighters. This song also contains one of my all-time favorite Bosstones lines: “A pathetic aesthetic in a world less poetic.” Who rhymes pathetic and aesthetic? I mean, seriously?

“The Day He Didn’t Die” is the last song on the album, and one of its most heartfelt. They will sometimes play this song at Throwdown, and Dicky often has trouble getting through it. It’s about his uncle, who died the day after Christmas. It’s a tribute to him and the life he lived. I don’t think I need to say much else, it speaks for itself I think. Though I will say: one day I was driving west on County Line Road in Littleton, climbing the hill that comes right before Broadway, and the sun was setting over the mountains and it had just stopped raining. The sunbeams were shining through the clouds in a way that was just perfect for this song. I didn’t take this picture that day, but this is the closest thing I have to what the skies were doing (this was taken in NYC on my way to a Slackers show):
sunclouds.jpg

And that’s the end of the album. Not sure what I’ll review next.

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