Saying Goodbye to the BossTones…

My life was uprooted and forever altered in 1992. I grew up in Pennsylvania. I made friends there, was on track to be a star athlete, and felt I had the school thing all figured out. Then, similarly to a movie script, everything changed. My Dad decided to move his family to Rhode Island to start his new company. The theory was, his parents were there, and thus they could provide support while he engaged in this new enterprise. So, one day we left Pennsylvania and moved to Rhode Island. I was a sophomore in High School.

Rhode Island was very different then Pennsylvania. Being on the normal academic track in Pennsylvania, I found that this made me excelerated in the Rhode Island track. Picture being the new guy as a Sophomore, and sitting in a Junior / Senior chemistry class. Not a lot of fun. Gym class in PA was serious. Test, quizzes, performance grades…in RI, just show up and participate. When I arrived on my first day in RI school, the principle brought me into his office. He showed me his basketball championship ring from 1990 (I guess the team that year was very good, made a run, and finished on top). He told me it was my job to bring him another one. Lastly, the gym teacher demanded I try out for volleyball. I told him I was just a basketball guy. He told me he’d fail me in gym (which you need to pass to graduate) if I didn’t try out. Guess who played volleyball?

As you can expect, trying to fit in at a new school was difficult. In my opinion, I never quite figured it out. I always felt the outsider. Those were some lonely days, where I’d often trudge to a basketball court with my ball and just shoot the rock over and over. A once favorite activity, now salted with a deep desire to fit in and a yearning to be invited to something. Tough times to say the least. There was more to the mental whacks I was taking day in and day out, but needless to say all of it scarred my college career…all four years of it.

1992 was arguably the hardest part. There were times in that year where I wasn’t sure I was going to get to the other side of this. Then, comfort, though slight, came to me. I was standing in the lunch line, quiet, waiting for the nice lunch ladies to do their thing, when this guy Travis waved me over. Travis was a person I’d met on the volleyball team. 6’3, great jumper, and quite a funny person. More than that, Travis was pretty cool in a counter culture sort of way. He was a punk music guy in an athletic world. Due to his humor and counter dress, everyone liked him. He had figured out the way to be universally admired and he spent that capital pretty liberally in school.

Travis handed me a tape. He said, “This is the Bosstones, and I think you’ll be all about it.” On the tape, one side read Devil’s Night Out, while the other side read More Noise and other Disturbances. To this day, I don’t believe I’ve listened to two albums as much as I listened to those two. I played that cassette he gave me till it broke. I played it when things were going well. I played it when I was sad, frustrated, and angry. Before a game, before a tough day at school, and even before I graduated, I played that tape. I was a BossTones fan.

The BossTones were unlike any music I’d heard prior. Ska, was the genre, but I think what mostly fascinated me was that there was heavy rock, with guitars, drums, but also a horn section that was very good. All of this was used for a tight sound that was moving and generating emotion. The cherry on top was the coolest dude in the world, Dicky Barrett. Barrett had this voice that was almost the antithesis of the sound that his band made. This tight and upbeat sound lead on with this monstrous growl from Barrett…nothing like it. Add that a lot of the tunes were challenging the status quo and it’s no surprise a lonely, uprooted, high schooler was all in.

Oh, they also had a dude called the BossTone. Ben Carr is his real name. Guy was a part of the BossTones and didn’t sing or play an instrument. His job was to dance. This guy would dance non-stop for every concert. I remember seeing a quick documentary on the BossTones and there was this bit where Carr talked about how it was fun to do his job in the beginning. Then as he got older, he had to train like a professional athlete as his knees, shoulders, and ankles were beginning to fail him. He’d have all of this gear on under his suit…knee braces, shoulder harness, ankle braces, etc…just to get him through the show which would then have him in an ice bath for the beginning of his recovery.

I followed the BossTones through it all. I’ve seen them numerous times. Was able to get on stage and dance with the band and the BossTone! I even got to do an item on my bucket list which was attending a Hometown Throwdown concert. Hometown Throwdown was a yearly set of three to five day concerts in Boston specifically for the BossTone fans during the Christmas season. It was tremendous. Albums kept coming out and I kept listening, even as I went from a high schooler, to a young man in my twenties, to an early middle aged man in my thirties, to now. I can sing to you, by heart, probably 70% of their catalog. The BossTones endured.

So, the news that they were done a couple of weeks ago felt crushing. Nothing lasts forever, and those cats must be 8 to 10 years older than me, however I had absolutely loved their last album. When God was Great (WGWG), the last album, reminded me a lot of their earlier work, especially similar to A Jackknife to a Swan, which was another great one filled with emotion. WGWG was released in March of 2021 and had plenty of music themed on the lockdown, Covid, and the desire for a return to real life. The album was emotional and I found myself nearly screaming the lyrics for I Don’t Believe in Anything in the car on my way to work where I’d have to wear a mask or be reprimanded. Worse, rumors of the band’s demise were intertwined with Barrett’s political stance on the vaccines and joining forces with conservative political figures. It’s not hard to envision a band from liberal Boston revolting against their lead singer who took the red pill. This Covid thing has murdered so many things I loved…

The last song on WGWG is entitled the The Final Parade. The lyrics talk of a man who won’t show his face at the final parade because he chooses not to believe that this is the end. Then, the song moves to this sort of group singing nostalgia featuring bands like Rancid, Stiff Little Fingers, Fishbone, the Aquabats, and more. It feels like a salute to the ska scene and all the people who made it go…the true believers. Listen to it more then once, and you realize it’s the BossTones saying goodbye. So, from the lonely kid who moved to the smallest state in the union and just wanted to fit in…Thank you BossTones. You started my journey to finding out who I was, gave me the courage to rebel when it was necessary, and dance in the middle of the road when the Red Sox won the world series in 2004.

Hope to see a reunion as the country heals…

The Retirement of the Best QB to Play

When I heard the news the first time…when it was leaked that Tom Brady was going to retire, I immediately messaged my friend and told him I didn’t believe it. Brady had just finished his 22nd season and was, again, a top player in a vicious, physical, league. At 44 years old, father time was still being held at bay with this guy. It was wonderful to see. When the rumor proved incorrect (for a brief moment) I was stoked. Like most, I loved watching Tom play. I hoped for more time.

Some days went by…and Tom Brady then officially retired from football. Heartbroken! The man who was more myth than man finally walking away…it wasn’t time yet. He still had more records to set, another Super Bowl to chase and win (maybe two), and another opportunity to show that the greats the media liked weren’t him…would never be him. Rothlisberger, Luck, Rodgers, Manning 1, Manning 2, Mahomes, Prescott, Brees, Warner, McNabb, Rivers, and whomever you’d like to throw out there, have all taken an “L” to the king. Even the guys that nipped him, Eli Manning and Nick Foles, have taken loses to the myth and pale in comparison to the statistics and accomplishments. They’re more aberrations than anything else. Mistakes in the matrix.

With stats, wins, and championships all unparalleled, Brady leaves the best to ever do it. Those that pick Montana are just being contrarians and assholes. “We all can’t write, or say that he’s the best to play, then no one will click MY headline.” One of the many problems with today…can’t say what’s true because no one wants to read that vanilla headline. Chris Simms has made his entire career on this concept. Say wild stuff and people will click. Brady never let the media control the narrative, as they want to do. The man focused relentlessly on football and nothing else while saying all the right things. Damn, there should be another year or two.

With Brady exiting, he takes with him what I long for most, and that is hope. The best thing about a Tom Brady game is that no matter what happened, the man would have the ball in the fourth quarter and would do something cool. Even this final year, with Antonio Brown losing his mind and quitting, and his options at receiver dwindling due to injury, when the game was on the line and the Bucs were down big…it was Tom to bring them back. He has the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Even if you didn’t like the Patriots, or the Buccaneers, you knew if Tom had the ball, the win wasn’t just possible, but probable. Probable!

So, with that news, it feels like there is another moment showing that father time is catching up with me too. As when another celebrity dies, or something you used to excel at is now a memory, Brady retiring leave me with a sense that the Reaper is around the corner. It’s not rational, just a melancholy vibe that all that is great in this world eventually turns to gray. I needed Tom to outlast Covid. I needed Tom to outlast masking my kids. I needed Tom to outlast this awful administration. I also know it’s not fair to him. Couldn’t imagine what his life is like and all the pounding his body has taken in the wars of the NFL. It’s not fair for anyone to judge or complain about his decision. I just know hope is hard to find these days and Tom Brady was skill, dedication, heart, AND hope personified. I know how I felt when he had the ball with all the chips pushed in on the table.

He’s going to do thisbecause he’s a myth…my myth, as earlier man had Hercules or Joe Louis. Do it, Tom! Show them all that it isn’t about talent or birthright. It’s about hard work, preparation, desire, sacrifice, confidence, poise, and heart. He wins because he put the work in combined with his talent…what this country is supposed to be about.

I’ll be looking for that “I’m back” newspaper headline for years to come…

(80) Francis and Musk say Start Your Engines…p.s. We kind of knew it wasn’t actually 17 Days…

The Empty Room Podcast – Episode 80

Saying goodbye to 2021, Scott and Erik get back on the microphones to discuss the current events up until the new year. The Pope is now the oldest Pope to serve. Elon Musk highlights a very serious problem in the country…maybe even the world! We lose Beatty White, John Maddon, and Astronaut Collins…don’t know who Collins is, well, you will.

Happy New Year and let’s get ready to dance with 2022.


Thoughts on the passing of John Madden

Scott here.

I absolutely loved John Madden. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Madden was an interval part of the growing NFL brand to youngsters like myself. I can remember watching these football games that my father loved, but for me, I was waiting to see what John Madden would say and what he would diagram with the telestrator. Madden gave every game life through his work in the broadcast booth. He had the type of personality that you just wanted to hang out with. He was an inspiration, an American gem, and he inspired me as well much later on.

We were Giants fans back then. That’s the New York football Giants my Dad would always remark. Phil Simms was the quarterback and Lawrence Taylor was the otherworldly defensive menace terrorizing other teams. I can remember sitting watching them play the Dallas Cowboys and Madden just taking over the show. Pat Summerall would try to keep the big guy in bounds, but there was very little he could do. You’d hear a “Boom” there and then the telestrator would start going, and before you knew it, you were smiling or laughing…or in other words enjoying the game.

I wonder if Madden would survive in today’s NFL world… Today, the NFL is pretty woke, with social justice slogans on helmets and messages written out in the end zone. We’ve also seen that the NFL is unbelievably bad handling controversy and scandal. Madden loved football and he had no problem criticising a player that went over the line. I can remember hearing him say something to the like of, “What the heck is that guy doing? You can’t hit that guy that far after the whistle. That’s a penalty every time. What a bonehead!” Would that fly today? I suspect not.

The world is different now and those old days are just that. When hearing that the old coach passed, I saw some video footage of his team playing in the Super Bowl. Almost every clip showed a play that would have been flagged for unnecessary roughness today. All of those guys would have been tossed. There aren’t many like Madden anymore. Perhaps the only coach close would be Belichick in New England.

About seven years ago (maybe more…), I was working at the University and they were looking for someone to sit in and be the color commentator for a men’s basketball game. I played in college, so my name got brought up. When the offer was thrown my way, I panicked. I can’t do this. Talking about a game with my family and friends is one thing. Talking about a game for strangers to enjoy…that’s a whole different ball game. I took a day to truly think about it. John Madden and Bill Walton were my two inspirations to say, yeah, I’ll give this a try.

Madden and Walton brought a joy to the games that I think is sorely missed now. Sports unite us, give us an escape, and show that through hard work, steady improvement, passion, dedication, and teamwork…so many cool things are possible. Madden recognized that and made sure that the viewers and listeners at home knew that this was all enjoyment of the culture of the nation. We work hard, we work together, and we have fun doing it. You can find all of John Madden’s achievements with a simple search, but I loved the guy for the personality he was.

Rest in peace John Madden.