Thursday, May 24, 2018
BOYS FROM NOWHERE
For a brief spell in the mid to late seventies, a handful of young bands turned Boston's dingiest night spots into howling, primal gathering places for rock fans wanting a little more energy and chaos than was being offered on the FM radio dial of the day. Loud, rude, with more rough edges than a park bench, these performers established a loyal cult following in the city, which was no mean feat considering there were only one or two clubs that would book them regularly, and their local airplay was restricted to college radio spots at 2:00 AM. Among the best of these Boston bands were The Real Kids, DMZ, Willie Loco Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, The Nervous Eaters, and The Neighborhoods. They weren't quite punk, weren't quite New Wave; loosely modeled on The Stooges and the MC5, they were just the raw and uncouth products of a failing metropolis, where the logical reaction to the racial conflicts and garbage strikes and crashing economy was to play "Search and Destroy" at top volume, slightly out of tune. In Boys From Nowhere: The Story of Boston's Garage Punk Uprising, we get a whiff of these five bands in their wiry primes, and see them now, bloated and dazed.
Early on, Billy Borgioli of The Real Kids says, "Simple things get in the way of stuff." There's genuine melancholy in his voice as he remembers the good old days at The Rathskeller in Kenmore Square. He adds, "If you weren't there, you missed it. It was a moment in time. That's what it sounded like." He looks away, gripped by some unexplained sadness. He sets the tone for the documentary, where one band member after another pops up to explain why things didn't work out, why the Boston sound of 1977 never left Boston. Yet, even as they bemoan their lost chances, they bury themselves with comments about their inability to play well, and their tendencies towards drugs and violence. "We didn't know what we were doing," says J.J. Rassler of DMZ, "and no one liked us." It's all hubris and posturing, like being proud of one's inability to read.
It's also the standard music business tale of naive young bands unable to navigate the big bad music business. Astoundingly, many of these groups found themselves signed by labels and put into studios to make albums, but were too unfamiliar with production work to create any magic. Throughout the movie the blame is placed on uncaring producers, but after viewing Boys From Nowhere, it's doubtful that even a sympathetic producer could've played Pygmalion for these provincial brutes. Now in their 60s and 70s, most of the musicians interviewed come off as meatheads. At 22 or 25 they must've been impossible. (One member of DMZ quit the band after seeing the proposed album cover.) And despite the following each band enjoyed locally, noisy garage rock wasn't going to break big in the era of disco and Peter Frampton. By the 1980s, the window of opportunity was nailed shut, and these bands were done. "We all just kind of floated away," says one fellow.
The movie isn't a knockout. It meanders. The band members are interchangeable; we learn little about them. It feels like a rough draft, as if more editing and shaping is needed. Filmmakers Chris Parcellin and Lenny Scolletta aren't likely to do any more tinkering, because the movie has taken years to finish, and by their own admissions they aren't really interested in documentaries. At a recent showing, they spewed some gibberish about "The timeless quality of great rock and roll," and seemed content to let the movie stand as it is: sloppy, maudlin, uninspired, and unfinished. The only aspect that truly works is the vintage footage from the 1970s, where we can see rock music morphing from the days of pot and long hair to the skinny ties and twitchy vibe of the New Wave era. There was exuberance, to be sure, and the bands, if nothing else, could work up a sweat. But you almost want to take these kids aside and tell them that drinking like Keith Moon doesn't make you Keith Moon. In a way, these bands got the careers they deserved, and now they have the documentary they deserve. Boys From Nowhere is currently being dragged from town to town by the filmmakers, a single showing here and there. The movie itself is like a bar band, slogging around the city looking for a gig.