Chris Parcellin’s rambunctious documentary Boys from Nowhere: The Story of Boston’s Garage Punk Uprising introduces some of the unsung heroes in this compelling history of the Boston punk scene and follows up with the survivors to see where they are now.
“We don’t like what you stand for, what you look like, we’re gonna punch your f*****g lights out.”
Boston in the mid ‘70s was grim with blight as businesses closed and the economy tanked. The energy crisis was still top of mind and pop radio hadn’t caught up with the mood of pissed-off young urban adults whose future seemed bleak. Bands were started in garages. The noise flowed out into the streets and caught fire.
The punks weren’t popular. By definition. David Minehan of The Neighborhoods describes a typical reaction to punk rockers on the street: “We don’t like what you stand for, what you look like, we’re gonna punch your f*****g lights out.”
Various luminaries of the scene, famous and not, take you through the decade or so of raucous music including Denis Leary and Jim Harold, owner of the infamous club The Rat (formally known as The Rathskeller).
Every band in the scene played The Rat and it became home from home for the burgeoning movement. Later on countless big name acts played there. It’s worth a look at the wiki page list of bands that have graced the stage.
The film profiles DMZ, Nervous Eaters, The Neighborhoods, The Real Kids, and Willie “Loco” Alexander with namechecks of many other acts over the years.
Willie Alexander floated around as a solo act and with several bands along the way, including his own Boom Boom Band. He was one of the best known players in the Boston garage punk scene. Parcellin caught up with him in his homemade museum of clippings and art from the glory days. Willie has mellowed and has a great sense of humor about his life and his days in the scene. He celebrated his 70th birthday onstage playing music, still bringing energy and grace.
“Drink all the booze. Shoot all the heroin. F**k all the groupies. It’s good for ya.” – Willie ‘Loco’ Alexander
There are some sad stories of failure to launch due to poor management and timing. DMZ got a record deal, but the producer chosen for them by Sire records didn’t have any idea what punk was about and wound up branding them same as pop acts of the time. This was a horrible mistake. The album cover was a travesty and the record was aggressively ignored. This seems laughable now but at the time punk was emergent. The mainstream music industry didn’t get it, and they weren’t supposed to. We’ve had 40 years to soak it in.
“The album cover was a travesty and the record was aggressively ignored.”
The most frustrating story among the non-starters is The Neighborhoods. Ultimately relegated to obscurity, unknown to anyone outside the Boston scene, but with songs and performances the equal of any band that made it to fame and fortune. Fame eluded them despite a cult following and an intense touring schedule. They played to enthusiastic crowds who loved them. The doc includes scorching performances by David Minehan and the band with incredible musicianship, tight songs, and that ineffable “it” factor that should have propelled them onto the national stage, but did not.
Life after the heady punk days brought fame to some of the Boston scene players. Jonathan Richman played with The Modern Lovers, which also featured Jerry Harrison who went on to play with Talking Heads. Willie Alexander played with a post Lou Reed version of The Velvet Underground. DMZ’s drummer David Robinson joined The Cars.
Parcellin’s film pulses to the punk aesthetic, rapid blasts of snapshots over the frenzied soundtrack, random mixing of color with the black and white images, messy edits, and best of all the miraculous performance footage inside the clubs. It’s a masterful work to enjoy, an archival document to pore over, but above all else will make the old rage rise up to meet the new rage so you haul out your vintage vinyl and turn that s**t up. Maybe break something.
Boys from Nowhere: The Story of Boston’s Garage Punk Uprising (2017) Directed By Chris Parcellin. Starring: David Minehan, Willie Alexander, Steve Cataldo, Jeff Conolly.
9 out of 10