Thalia Zedek's oral history of Boston bands

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From Mission of Burma to being welcomed into gay punk life by Lou Miami.

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Thalia Zedek | February 20, 2014

Thalia Zedek

Photo by Lana Caplan

My assignment was to pick some Boston bands/artists that have influenced me or made an impression on me either in the past and/ or recently. Here’s what I came up with, not necessarily in order of importance.

Mission of Burma

When I moved to Boston in the 80's these guys were king! Now they are again. I can't over emphasize how huge an influence their music was on me. Particularly Roger Miller's guitar playing and Matin Swope's tape manipulations, which were the first tape loops that I ever heard. At the time I was in a band called Dangerous Birds with Martin Swope's girlfriend Lori Green and we played together a lot, including their legendary three-night farewell show at the Bradford in March of 1983.

Just a few months ago they played at my former Come band- mate Chris Brokaw's wedding and I realized just how much I had (unsuccessfully) tried to rip off Roger's guitar riffs over the course of many years. Sorry Roger!

Steve Stain

Steve had a loft on Thayer street in the South End of Boston in a neighborhood that is now all high end galleries but that's still just blocks away from the Pine Street Inn, the legendary homeless shelter which features heavily in Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.

Steve was an impeccable curator. Steve also had a great band and was an amazing performer. He would drag around a heavy chain and smash it on the floor for a rhythm track while singing his heart out and he always had sexy masked women in his band beating the floor with various objects. He was a super sweet guy and we remained friends for years even after he left the music scene and moved to the West Coast and joined the Communist Party and devoted his life to helping migrant workers. He turned me on to a lot of cool music and ideas and his idealism was inspirational. Thanks Steve.

Purchase Steve Stain's The Brain Feels No Pain at discogs.

V;

Where to even start with these guys? We were on the same record label/collective Propeller Records back in the 80’s when I was 19 or 20 and I idolized them. Their lead singer Susan Anway sang on the first Magnetic Fields records and I covered their brilliant song “1926″ (written by guitar player Gary Gogel) which I loved for many, many years on my first solo record Been Here and Gone in 2001.

Raw, arty, crazy, poised. They put out 2 EP’s on Propeller before breaking up. Besides “1926″ my favorite song of theirs was probably “Schized” which ended with the chant of “steal art of waste”. So cool!

Lou Miami and the Kozmetix

I probably saw this Boston band more than any other when I was super young. My very first band (that actually played out that is) was a band called White Women and the leader of the band Dolores Paradise was married to Lou. Lou Miami was the first queen I ever knew and Dolores and her bandmate/lover Judy Jetson were the first lesbians I ever knew and they were absolutely my introduction into gay punk life and camp. They would dress me and turn me onto great music like Lou Christie and the Ventures and to this day I’m still friends with some of the people that I met through them.

Lou and his band did mostly hilarious covers of songs from the 60’s like “To Sir with Love” though they also wrote their own songs which were great like “Blonde in a White Car” and “Dancing with Death”. Since we played so much together (and he played constantly!) I would say that Lou was really kind of a Rock and Roll mentor to me, and even after I left White Women I still used to hang out in his apartment and he would spin me records and tell me about his favorite movies. RIP Lou, I miss you and thanks for taking me in as a kid!

Tie: Animal Hospital and Jumbo (disclaimer: I have performed in both bands.)

Between the two of them their membership covers just about everyone I’ve ever played in a band with, shared a bill with, had equipment repaired by, sound mixed by and/or recorded with in the last 20 years. The newest of the two, Animal Hospital, is composer Kevin Emil Micka’s brainchild. Though he often performs and records solo, a few times a year he enlists 30 plus local musicians and performs huge compositions in the round. What may sound like dreamy drone- y improvisation is actually painstakingly scripted. It’s kind of like a gamelan band for electric guitars.

Jumbo , arguably Boston’s “biggest band” (but sadly no more) was a ramshackle circus band consisting of rock musicians playing their high school band instruments (I played clarinet) or instruments that they made. Legendary for their rendition of the “Nutcracker Suite” and led by conductor/mailman Hyde, they were precursors and highly influential to todays “Honkfest” marching bands. Playing in the courtyard of Mass Mental was probably one of my favorite gigs of all time!

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