Loyal friends and readers have commented more than once on my choices of musical quotations peppering my writing. Dropkick Murphys, The Chieftains, The Pogues—these are the bands to whom I have been listening with the greatest frequency and enjoyment in the past year. Some of their music has undoubtedly crept its way into my writing.
Tuesday night, Whirl, Liz, and I attended the Dropkick Murphys’ concert at the Vic Theatre. I have always enjoyed going to the Vic, and Tuesday was no different in that regard. The Vic is an intimate and intriguing space, full of history and character—and not particularly big: it has room for about 1500 people. Wherever you sit or stand in the Vic, you will see and enjoy the show. Dropkick Murphys are essentially a punk rock band. They formed in 1996 in the Irish Catholic working class neighborhoods of South Boston. They blend punk, Irish folk, rock, and hardcore into their own unique sound. One apt description voiced it as a combination of the Pogues and the Ramones. They share their experiences and beliefs in working class solidarity, friendship, loyalty and self-improvement in hopes of bettering society. They play fast, aggressive rock ‘n’ roll infused with Irish folk influences. Bagpipes are nearly as prominent as guitars. In the true spirit of punk rock we view the band and the audience as one in the same; in other words our stage and our microphone are yours.
The set at the Vic was incredible.
Dropkick Murphys have become more popular in the last couple years, although I have yet to hear them played on the radio. They were mentioned at least a couple times in Faithful—the fascinating journal written by two Boston Red Sox about being Boston Red Sox fans, Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan. King and O’Nan picked an incredible season: 2004. They were not alone. Dropkick Murphys released the EP, Tessie, in 2004. The album features the Murphys’ version of the official Boston Red Sox anthem, “Tessie” . The original “Tessie” was a Broadway tune. Boston fans adopted “Tessie” during the 1903 World Series. Fans sung it regularly until 1916.
King and O’Nan picked a grueling method to write their book: almost daily letters, emails and journal entries spanning the nine months from spring training to the World Series. Parts of the book form a dialog back and forth between the two authors—almost an epistolary novel. Parts can be read as a detailed description and technical analysis of the box scores you might find in the Boston Globe. And other parts, the most fascinating parts, form a series of confessions, descriptions and arguments by two fans that approach baseball as a religion. Stephen King writes this as he prepares to go to Game 4 of the playoff series against the New York Yankees:
“Yet still we are faithful. … Tonight, we’ll once again fill the old green church of baseball on Lansdowne Street, in some part because it’s the only church of baseball we have; in large part because—even on mornings like this, when the clean-shaven Yankee Corporate Creed seems to rule the baseball universe—it’s still the only church of baseball we really love. No baseball team has ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit to win a postseason series … and we tell ourselves it has to happen sooner or later for a baseball team, it just has to.”
I said I was going to talk about music, and here I am, once more talking about baseball.
One of the catalysts for my wanting to write something about music comes from this book, Faithful. If you have read many of Stephen King’s books you know that he is a consummate fan of rock and roll. With many thanks to my wife, Whirl, I have had the pleasure of reading a great number of King’s books. King places songs into his stories; these songs become compelling characters in their own right. His use of music in his writing is skillful. The incorporation of music is not forced—not hackneyed.
The tradition of playing the Standells’ “Dirty Water” after each home victory at Fenway Park began in the 1960s. King references this act several times over the course of the 2004 season. He delivers his observations with that same casual-but-essential air he uses in his fiction. I can only hope to employ the same skill were I to write a book about 2005; I would choose to reference AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” at Comiskey Park.
Music has an uncanny way of placing us at a particular time and place. “If I Should Fall From Grace with God” takes me April of this year—staring at a problem I cannot seem to solve. Anxious Lad makes compilations of the songs he is listening to at any given time. He labels them simply with the date. Once a month or so he makes a new CD of twenty or thirty songs from that period of time. He has been doing this for years. I prefer to leave the songs in my head—to let the memory wash over me when I rediscover the song sometime later. U2’s “Hawkmoon 269” transports me to my first independent steps at college. I now associate “The Old Main Drag” with my recent trip to Europe. Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” serves as the tribute to Whirl—a song I always associate with first meeting her.
These lyrics serve me as subtle clues—triggers—for memories somewhere in my scattered thoughts.