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…