Fading in Rock Phantasmagoria: A Personal Autopsy of the Boston Sound

THE BOSTON SOUND IS NOT UNLIKE A SARDINE SANDWICH -- 1

NOT LONG AGO I took a Rorshach Ink-Blot Psychological Index Test. The psychologist, a kind man in his own field, showed me a blot and asked. "What does this remind you of?"

I ruminated. "Um. I see two rock spirits trying to escape from a mountain."

He smiled at me fearfully. A sort of get-the-straightjacket-Marvin sidelong glance kind of smile. "A what?" He tapped his fingers together.

"Two. Two rock spirits trying to escape. The rock they're in, it's like a fading phantasmagorical mountain. And they're trying to escape, to get to the top of the mountain that they're trapped in." The psychologist didn't understand.

Earlier that year, there we all were, sitting in the back of a GTO with California plates, head-out on the highway for New York City. Our manager was driving, obsessively sucking and running his forefinger through his lips. We were practicing harmony in the back seat, Tina, our fashionable black chick singer, John, our Brooks Brothers law school lead guitarist, and me. I was the lead singer of the Bead Game, and we were on our way to our first gig. Our very first gig, and it was a biggie. Somehow it had been arranged htat we, the Street Choir, and the Central Park Zoo were to go to Vogue Magazine and be photographed before an audience of managers, promoters, photographers, recording executives and various underground seedies. Not a bad job for our first public appearance.

When we got there, up in this loftlike arrangement with great photographers' background screens and a tiny stage, I was greeted effusively by one of those New York fashion ladies with a lovely face and the tan of a Galopagos Islands tortoise. Leathern Petite. "Well, you must be the leader of the Bead Game," she said. She had a way of making it sound as though I was really Genghis Khan and that it was very important that I was wearing an eye-burning Nehru jacket and tan wool bellbottoms. I basked in her admiring glance for a few moments, leaning provocatively up against a table laden with sardine sandwiches. Before I could think of something hip to say someone more immediately important than myself strode into the room. It was some famous model, with the lengthy graceful moves of a giraffe in slow-motion. "So good to see you!" screeched Leathern Petite and left me stranded. Thus began my adventure in the Wonderful World of the Boston Sound.

I have been in several bands, and their names reflect the changing times in pop music. The Dukes, a Fantasy-Aristocrat Blue Tuxedo Ooh-Wah-Wah Teenage Rhythm and Blues Band; the Boss Dudes, a spiffy Tuff-guy Band; the Hard Times, an L.A. Nice Long Hair Band; the End, a Top-40 Blare-Rock Band; the Church Bizarre, a Funky Blues-Rock Bad-Ass Band; and the Bead Game, a Beautiful People Dope All You Need Is Love Stoned Hippier Than Thou Band. I have been addicted to rock longer than I care to remember.

Last year was the year, among other things, of the Boston Sound, known to hipsters and Ralph Gleason alike as the B.S. Whatever its merits or demerits, the phrase transfigured the tawdry Boston rock scene from Saugus Sockhop Rock into a very nearly successful commercial venture, spawning dozens of bands and hundreds of musicians, some excellent, some execrable. It gave hope to a great variety of dropouts and freaks that their City, Boss-Town, would be their next stopping-off point on their never-ending journey to That Better World Through Love, Dope, And Rock 'n' Roll Music. Hotcha.

"Hello." This tiny guy who looked like Little Lord Fountleroy with long, long string blond hair smiled at me as I sat on the tacky Formica table in the loft at Vogue Magazine. The guy turned out to be Richard Goldstein, erstwhile reviewer of the Village Voice, the guy who thought Sergeant Pepper sucked. He was, it turned out, one of the three or four sane people at that particular gathering. We were talking about the Street Choir, who were playing for a ridiculously heterogeneous audience of musicians, reviewers, recording executives in sharkskin suits with greasy skins, and Albert Grossman, the Sullen Santa Claus of the Pop World, the man with the golden touch. His long iron-grey haired presence thoroughly dominated the whole scene. He stood in the back of the room averting his eyes.

"Do you like them?" I asked Goldstein. He shrugged in his I-Don't-Want-To-Hurt-Anyone's-Feelings-and-Anyway-I'm-Only - Doing-This-For-Vogue-For-Money way, very endearing, really. I felt sick. I watched a few executives in the audience yawn and felt like a thirteen year old who has gotten pregnant by sitting on a Tijuana toilet seat. If these guys were bored by the Street Choir, they'd be stupefied by the Bead Game. Goldstein went looking for an aperitif, and the hopes for the Boston Sound were personified by the queasy expression on his face when he found one.

"Sardines?" he asked with disgust.

"Sardines," I said ruefully.

WHY PEOPLE PLAY ROCK -- II

WE SURVIVED the performance. Goldstein came up to Cambridge to interview us later on.