Rock Commentary: Is Aerosmith a Boston Band? Not Really
Local news outlets have already begun to frame Aerosmith’s impromptu concert as a homecoming of sorts for the “Bad Boys of Boston.” But is this epithet deserved?
By Kyle Clauss
Aerosmith announced Friday that it will play a free concert in front of their old apartment building at 1325 Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Allston this Monday. The event will promote the release of their first new album since 2004’s Honkin’ on Bobo. Local news outlets have already begun to frame the impromptu concert as a homecoming of sorts for the “Bad Boys of Boston.” But is this epithet deserved?
Steven Tyler was born and raised in Yonkers, New York and formed a band called Chain Reaction while living in New Hampshire. Drummer and fellow Yonkersonian Joey Kramer attended Berklee School of Music in Boston but dropped out to join Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton’s group Jam Band in September 1964. Chain Reaction and Jam Band played the same gig one fateful night in 1970, and the two bands promptly combined thereafter.
Aerosmith played their first gig at Nipmuc Regional High School—now Miscoe Hill Middle School—in Mendon, Massachusetts. They rented a third-floor flat at 1325 Commonwealth Avenue, where they recorded many of the band’s early hits, including “Dream On” and “Mama Kin.”
The band’s time at 1325 Comm Ave was marked by gratuitous drug use, police busts, and subsequent eviction notices, which suggests that Allston has not changed substantially in the last 40 years. As described in Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, the boys “would know it was time to go to bed when they heard the first trolley of the new day roar down the tracks toward the sleeping city, just at the break of dawn.”
However, Aerosmith’s time in Allston was short, and the end of Perry and Hamilton’s two-year lease on the $160 a month apartment coincided with the signing of the band’s first major record deal. Off they went, and after selling more than 150 million albums worldwide and nabbing four Grammys, all while holding the record for the most gold and multi-platinum albums by an American group, they are back in town.
Should this be treated as a homecoming? Is Aerosmith truly a Boston band if it spent two brief years in Allston with a Berklee dropout for a drummer and a frontman from Yonkers? More importantly, what makes a Boston band?
Consider the Dropkick Murphys. All of its founding members grew up in Milton, and the band played extensively at Allston’s Great Scott rock club. Its 2005 hit single “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” inspired by an unfinished Woody Guthrie song, has become both the city and its sports teams’ anthem. Its reworking of the Royal Rooters’ tune “Tessie” was the official song of the 2004 World Series Champion Red Sox.
A piece by Steve Annear for BostInno titled “You Will Never Be from South Boston” chronicles the various reports of the gentrification of South Boston, symbolically represented by the advent its first Starbucks. As expected, the yuppie incursion has been met with resentment and ridicule from the neighborhood’s natives. In the article’s climax, a Whole Foods shopper cries out in despair and frustration:
“Why do they hate yuppies? I’m not a yuppie, but is it the teen pregnancy rates or heroine use that original Southie residents are looking to preserve and that’s why they want to keep yuppies out? Do us ‘newbies’ not say the N-word enough? What is it?”
If South Boston is the essence of the city in its purest, most unadulterated form, then must Boston bands exhibit this essence? Must all Boston acts sip Harpoon ale on their porches in their jean shorts, still bitter about the bussing crisis, wistfully recounting the days of Yaz and Pudge into the twilight of their years, in order to be deemed “quintessential?” Not necessarily.
I have spent most of my life in New Jersey—for better or worse—and the criteria for being considered a quintessential New Jersey musician is much simpler. Are you Bruce Springsteen? Are you Bon Jovi? No? Sorry, kid.
Bruce Springsteen grew up in the depressed shore town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, and its sights and sounds, as well as the restlessness Springsteen suffered from there, permeate through his earliest work and, to a lesser extent, the rest of his catalog.
So analogously, a Boston band must be comprised of musicians from the Greater Boston metropolitan area. They must also be formed in this area. And finally, they must have at least one song dedicated to this great city.
The Dropkick Murphys, unsurprisingly, meet all three criteria. The Pixies meet two. Aerosmith however, only meets one and is undeserving of the “Bad Boys of Boston” mantle. At any rate, the denizens of Allston are in for a treat Monday afternoon, or at the very least, a spectacle