August 7: Boston
Boston is one of America’s most perplexing cities. You go in with visions of the Pixies and Throwing Muses and Steven Wright and you always wind up finding Aerosmith and, like, Boston. It’s easy to feel, as you walk the austere, history-paved streets, that every single man, woman, and child is just as likely to punch you in the throat as look at you. I went to a grocery store near the hotel and asked the clerk for a paper bag instead of a plastic one, and he looked at me like I had called his grandmother a lesbian ditchdigger.
And yet, for all its tough guy exterior, Boston has always been a bastion of success for Harvey Danger, issuing, like nearly all our success, from the fact that its radio stations were insanely supportive of our lone hit song 11 years ago. A devoted sub-sect of the millions of people who were (over)exposed to the song so long ago have remained interested in the band as years have sagged on, following our less-publicized work and developing that curiously ferocious brand of private loyalty that comes from being in on a secret. That’s my theory anyway. And it’s why we decided to play the first date on this mini-tour here.
(Speaking of which, you may be wondering: Who is this person writing about himself on this blog? Why should I care about his stupid band? Are they even still together? Who will replace Paula Abdul? All good questions. Just a brief factual aside: Harvey Danger formed in Seattle in1994, had a hit record with a hit song called “Flagpole Sitta” in 1998, and made two more albums, in 2000 and 2005, on major and indie labels, and are now doing a small run of farewell shows in August before disbanding.)
Sean’s tour diary continues after the jump…
Which is not to say our shows here have always been reliably delightful. In 2000, we played at the Hatch Shell, a massive outdoor venue built on the banks of the Charles River for the Boston Philharmonic (led by Arthur Fiedler, the man with the best name in history to say with a thick Boston accent.) We didn’t play terribly well, and “the kids,” who two years prior had been all right with our brand of fuzzy, bouncy, catchy sarcasm/sincerity index pop had shifted their gaze to the humorless likes of Limp Bizkit and Sugar Ray — two bands that have recently reformed, as it happens, which is merely one obvious sign it is time for us to break up. By the time bands like this were in charge of the radio, the terms of fan affection had shifted. Now, instead of clapping, listeners were likely to throw water bottles full of urine and give you the finger. Ah, youth. Thanks to some artful barricades, the stage was miles away from the audience (no wonder they were upset), so the debris they were throwing could barely reach us. Feeling nonetheless antagonized by such displays, I said the one thing you are simply not allowed to say in Boston: “Nice throw! I’ve seen better arms on Yankee relief pitchers!” Before I even got to the syllable “pitch-” every water bottle that had ever been manufactured in the commonwealth of Massachusetts had been launched at us like rage javelins, along with a heroic torrent of obscenities about the relative worth of the New York Yankees as compared to the Boston Red Sox, and less-than-positive assessments of my skill as a baseball analyst.
The show tonight, almost exactly nine years later, would obviously be a different story. The club, Harper’s Ferry, was full of people who were as likely to have been turned off by our alternative rock radio cultural associations as we always were. There have never been many truly devout fans of our band, though we’ve been a lot luckier than most. The ones who care, however, care a lot. More than you would imagine. More than you might even think is healthy. We’d wondered how many of them would show up. It seems like they all did. There were intense emotional moments throughout the night, as well as fun, lively ones. People seemed to genuinely appreciate the chance to hear these songs—even that one song—one last time. But about three-quarters of the way through the set, I noticed that the back half of the long, narrow room was facing the wall. Then I looked at the wall and noticed the two big flat screen TVs. Then I recognized that both TVs were showing a Red Sox-Yankees game that was, as it turns out, in scoreless extra innings. It was hard not to antagonize these people who were watching goddamn TV during this emotional rock show, but then I remembered: People have different ways of dealing with grief. (Speaking of which, the day had begun with an in-honor-of-the-late-John-Hughes breakfast at a diner near the hotel called The Breakfast Club, that was filled with ‘80s movie posters. The Breakfast Club, obviously. Uh, and Batman.)
After the show I sat and shook hands and signed CDs and books and tickets and other ephemera for over an hour with people who literally stood in a line to tell me how much our band had meant to them over the years. I suppose it’s possible not to be humbled by an interaction like that. In fact, the rockstar playbook dictates that the more you hear such things, the more you come to expect, and even demand them. For me, this is the actual reward for having been through the weird cycle of sudden notoriety and ultimate obsurity; the awkwardness of unlikely, guaranteed-to-be-temporary fame; the indignity of one-hit-wonderdom. Removed from the music industry (and its long, slow suicide), what remains is the music, and the connection between us and the people who finish our songs by listening and responding to them. They tend to be normal, intelligent people who are likely to feel disenfranchised by both the mainstream and superindie poles of pop culture. Some are nerds like us. Some are deep, deep, power nerds who make us look like homecoming kings and jocks. Some are not remotely nerdlike. All are welcome. I hate when rock bands talk about doing it for the fans. Because they don’t. Rock bands do it for themselves. Duh. Still, when people take time out of their lives to tell you they appreciate what you have done, that it has affected their lives in ways both ordinary and profound, when they in fact drive three hours from Maine to stand in line to tell you that, it’s a powerful feeling. The obvious ego gratification is met by a strong sense of interconnectedness with strangers that demands humility. And gratitude. The world collapses. The world expands. People who have listened since second grade. People who just heard you last year. People who started playing music because of something you sang. People who started listening to music because of something you said. It’s a best case farewell tour scenario.
Plus, no one punched me in the throat. But the Yankees won. Pissah.
Photo Credit: George Pimentel/WireImage.com; Sean Nelson