It’s been more than ten years since I’ve been to Philadelphia, a decade removed from its heritage and first hand lessons in American history. Equally historical were the venues scattered on South Street and Arch Street where many of my earliest punk rock memories were formed. In the Theatre of Living Arts and the Trocadero, nights of sweat, blood and bruises became as much a part of my Philadelphia story as the times I spent learning about the Liberty Bell. These moments defined the city and all these years pass and I still breathe the packed monoxide air of those age-old venue floors. It’s been even longer since I went to Boston. So much so that I only vaguely remember the wood-clad structure of my hotel, who for architectural reasons beyond me, built their vast spaces horizontally instead of vertically. But I do remember the No-Name Restaurant, not it’s food or it’s locale, but the name, a tick for clever marketing and little else.
Boston has seen plenty since: thousands of bands have come and gone, the Boston Red Sox won three World Series, the Patriots three Super Bowls, and the Celtics hung up another championship banner. They’ve suffered immeasurable tragedy with the Boston Marathon attacks, and have banded together as a city and a region to lift each others’ spirits in the time after. All these events along with what I can assume are countless smaller, more localized strings of positivism would lead one to believe that the air of sadness and toil that appeared to envelope the city for so long has been lifted. It is not to say Boston is a sad town, in fact, I don’t remember it being so, but as a tourist and an outsider, the many elements that we encounter as being from Boston or part of it, left a melancholia that came with what were inept sports teams, terrible weather, and a gloomy disposition left in the shadow of taller, more famous cities. Boston hardcore, noted for their contribution through SS Decontrol, Gang Green, DYS and Jerry’s Kids, wasn’t exactly the plum of sunshine you’d need to get over lagging blues.
So what is my Boston? My Boston, the one I briefly knew, fueled by the angry and disenfranchised, came to fruition in a band that lasted one album, 12 songs, and a quiet influence that resonated long after their demise. The Hurt Process by Boxer, this is my Boston.
Part post-hardcore, part mid-nineties emo, Boxer still encompasses all that is the city; gritty, desolate, pained- jarring for the senses but cathartic in its connection. This is what Boston was like to someone who had never lived in Boston. Perhaps if you disagree, then it is something you need to take up with your local tourist board.
Boxer was Vagrant Records’ initial signing, the calling card for a label whose stock rose because their bands wore their hearts on their sleeves better than anyone else. We talk a lot about The Get Up Kids with Something to Write Home About and Saves the Day with Stay What You Are. These two are often considered the staple releases of the early Vagrant catalogue, but we fail to see that the very first band they ever signed, released an album just as poignant as the two, if only, not as polished.
It’s the opening line of “Blame It On The Weather” that feels perfectly Boston. It’s the stringy guitars and the pulsing bass line that accompanies it. It’s the percussions that kick in at just the right time, and it’s the voice that sounds like it has smoked a thousand cigarettes that chime in;
“Sitting in my ditch of self-loathing and of course my mind is roaming / thinking things are worse than they appear to be”
Listen: “Blame it On the Weather”
And then there were the girls, or one in particular whose name may or may not have been Georgia. Her hair smelled like a season and she sounds like a girl who liked music you’d only play on a record player. She probably liked the Velvet Underground on Sunday afternoons but wore combat boots and spiked her hair on a Friday night. She’s someone you’d fall in love with from the deepest of your soul only to break your heart. This is the little Georgia girl Boxer sings about, with a sense of sadness and anger wrapped in crunchy mid-tempo riffs and couplets of disappointment. She’s the one that kept you up at night, 2:18am. She’s the one that you’ll forget someday, just not today, the one you’re waiting for, when the sun finally comes, it’ll be when you’ll stop missing her.
It’s the romanticism of a troubled city that drives people to write great songs about it. It is the way the rain falls on a lonely streetlight that inspires, and I think Boston has more than one lonely streetlight. I think if I get to drive through Boston some time soon, my mind would automatically play these 12 songs in order. Appropriately perhaps, the album’s title understood the city’s plight on both a personal and cultural stake and its significance on a national and global scale. This was a hurting town, whether you were a fan of sporting teams, music scenes or girls named after southern states. Yet on some level, they knew that this sadness would only last for so long. That someday you could finally leave it all behind.
“We wait until the sun goes down in Boston, the stars are out / We’ll have our way; our time will shine like the twinkle that’s in your eye”
Listen: “One for Milwaukee”
There is something to be said about not overstaying your welcome. Boxer knew 12 songs were enough. It was for that moment, the perfect capsule of the streets and places no one but themselves knew and understood. I can’t for one imagine any more songs written or recorded by them. It would be strange and out of place, almost like happiness and sunshine down on Harvard Avenue. I would never claim to be from Boston, and I can’t tell you what it’s like now. I can only imagine at least, with all the things that has happened to the city over the past decade, that there has to have been an uplift of some kind. In fact, I’m sure it’s a terribly nice place to visit. But for an outsider like me, until I get to venture down a sun-soaked path leading to the friendliest bar in town, Boston will always be The Hurt Process, where it rains or snows every night.
Boxer formed in 1995 and disbanded in 1999. Vagrant Records released their one album, The Hurt Process, in 1998. Drummer Chris Pennie recently drummed for Coheed & Cambria and the Dillinger Escape Plan.