After putting in a couple of years at UMass Boston, Lil Bro transferred to the Amherst campus because they had a far more robust earth sciences program than their coastal cousin offered. It was the first time we’d been separated since his birth (if you don’t count the month he spent living with my aunt after our mom died), an inevitable thing but one that took a while to get used to. No matter what happened, we’d always been there — as in “within shouting distance” — for each other, and suddenly we weren’t.
The distance turned out to be beneficial for our relationship. As the younger sibling of the pair, Lil Bro had grown up under my shadow. He was his own person with his own (much more outgoing) personality and interests, but was still subject to the gravitational forces I radiated. It caused numerous flare-ups between us over the years, which turned especially nasty when he hit that teener phase where self-actualization becomes a brute force affair. Being apart meant he could develop into his own person while I learned to view him as more than just the motormouthed tag-along whom I felt an obligation to shepherd (whether he wanted/needed me to or not).
His visits to Woburn became welcome events, especially after my grandmother sold him her 1990 Olds Cutlass (which he fitted with a Sony CD player which was probably worth more than the car itself). He’d roll in on a Friday afternoon, we’d get each other caught up on recent events and geek purchases, then either play videogames in my room or head out to one of our old haunts. On one of these occasions, we decided to pay a visit to the Outer Limits in Waltham. The place was a frequent stop during the Great Back Issue Buying Spree of a few years prior. Even though I’d scaled back on that front, the shop’s prices and staggering selection always made it worth revisiting.
We waited for the rush hour traffic on Route 128 to settle down before embarking. It was late spring, so the sun was just starting to set when we hit the highway. We listened to Lil Bro’s collection of classic rock CDs (one of the things he’d picked up while outside my orbit) as we zipped southwestward on the same stretch of asphalt that had inspired “Roadrunner.”
As we hit the edge of Waltham, he tossed in a copy of Boston’s 1976 debut album a friend had given him. “I’ve been really into them lately,” he said. We rounded the sloping bend by the radio towers just as “More Than a Feeling” hit the first chorus, revealing a panoramic sunset in stunning shades of rose, peach, and gold.
And I thought to myself “this is goddamn perfect.”
I was referring to the moment in its entirety, but Boston is a goddamn perfect album. The problem it that said perfection has given it a ubiquity which tends to render it into the stuff of sonic wallpaper. That’s especially true in the region that birthed the band and provided its name, where every track on the LP has been used in an on air promo and not a WZLX drive time hour passes where at least one song fails to make an appearance. The stuff is akin to a birthright for white dudes of a certain age around these parts — and like most birthrights shared by that set, tends to be taken for granted.
Haughtier assessments of the band tend to focus on how Tom Scholz essentially reverse-engineered a band from a slickly produced studio project, thus epitomizing the market-tested sterility of “corporate rock.” Those critics can go fuck themselves. The album is the hard rock equivalent of Pet Sounds, technical wizardry harnessed in pursuit of a vision. Boston’s music might be pure cheese at its core, but it’s artisanal cheese — the stuff which inspires endless fist-pumps, spontaneous outbursts of air guitar, and bleary-eyed moments of adolescent sentimentality.
“More Than a Feeling” is about a song inspiring a nostalgic reverie which has itself become a song which inspires a nostalgic reverie. You can’t get more transcendent than that.
The LP was at the top of my original list of essential albums to seek out on vinyl, but I was stymied for months by the asking prices for a copy in acceptable condition. I know it’s the nature of the supply and demand beast, but there was a part of me that refused to drop ten bucks on something used record stores couldn’t give away back in 1991. (You could’ve completely covered an airplane hanger in the album’s sleeves for less of the cost of a cup of coffee in those days.) It sold seventeen million copies, for fuck’s sake, even factoring for normal attrition and bongwater accidents, that would still leave at least a couple copies per turntable still in use.
My whining about the situation is what led to pal Daniel to offer to keep an eye out for any copies that filtered through his workplace. He eventually did come across one, about a week after I gave in and dropped a tenner on eBay for an original 1976 pressing. (Ain’t that how these things always go?)
I hung around with Lil Bro for a few hours last Saturday. He came down to Woburn so we could sort out some paperwork regarding our grandmother’s finances, but afterwards hit up the comic book store in the mall and grabbed a bite to eat at the roast beef joint down the block from me. We talked about D&D and videogames and superheroes and it felt like old times. (Except when I asked why he was staring at my hair and he said “I didn’t realize how gray you’ve gotten.”)
The first thing I did when he dropped me off at the House on the Hillside (besides taking a piss and yelling at the dogs for raiding the rubbish bin) was throw Boston on my turntable, after which I proceeded to melt into the sofa until it came time to flip the record and repeat the process.