Mixed emotion. Better yet, bittersweet emotion. Maybe even a little sweet emotion.
That’s what I felt as I made my way through The Decibel Diaries, Carter Alan’s accounting of 50 concerts, starting in 1970. As a former DJ for Boston radio station WBCN, at one time a giant in the industry, Alan has documented the highlights of the many, many shows he attended, a few of which I also went to — or wished I had.
As a barely 18 year old at Boston University who led her life in a semi protective bubble until moving to college, my exposure to music was limited until my arrival on campus. Within days, my eyes and eyes were opened and I was well on my way to a whole new world. In 1980, concert tickets were crazy affordable and I spent a good deal of time at the various clubs around the area (thanks to my fake ID!) soaking it all in. I was no stranger to The Rat, The Paradise, The Channel, The Orpheum, and everyone’s favorite “punk” club, Spit. It’s possible, in fact probable, that Alan and I were at the same venues at the same time. Facebook Friend request anyone?
Alan’s accounting of the many performances he witnessed is an interesting look at musical history and the changes in popular genres through the years, from good ole hippie music to Jack White, who surely knows where he came from. At times, the chapters got a little bogged down in minutiae, but for the most part, the personal touches made for a good read. Who else can say they were at a CSNY concert the day after Nixon resigned or watched Steven Tyler puke and pass out on stage while still in the throes of being a Toxic Twin? Probably not too many of us common folk.
Back to the emotion: Many of the artists featured have gone on to the Great Band in The Sky, including our most recent passing, Tom Petty. We’ve lost some real talent in the last two years, from Bowie to Glenn Frey, Gregg Allman, and Prince. It was a little tough to think of them as being dearly departed, but alas they are.
Which brings me to my Prince story. Freshman year of college, the Purple One, still not really known nationally, played Boston. Alan documents that concert in this book. I was dying to go and asked some African-American friends if they’d go with me. After they stop laughing and realized I looked even paler than normal, they explained to me that I had moved to a city not known for its great race relations and that I would be better off going with someone a little, uh, paler. Let’s just say the only thing I know about that performance I read in Alan’s book.
If you’re of a certain age, and particularly if you lived in Boston during what I consider the heyday of concert going, pick up The Decibel Diaries. Brought back a lot of good memories for me, even nights at the appropriately named Rat.