My late twenties were a fun time: finally settled in one place, a regular job I didn’t take too seriously and the attendant regular paycheck that made it possible for me to go to lots of movies and plays and museums, a steady relationship and a fluid group of friends. Dinner parties where the food didn’t get on the table until 9:30 by which time everyone was too drunk to eat it. Day-long hangovers and the time to indulge them. As Joan Didion put it, “I was not then guilt-ridden about spending afternoons that way, because I still had all the afternoons in the world.”
The sountrack to this time in my life was the local music scene in Boston and Cambridge. A couple of Saturdays a month we’d go see a a band at the Rat or TT the Bears or the Channel: whatever we’d heard on WMBR, the MIT radio station. Back then one catchy song was enough to get out of the house. The Internet loves lists, and so to the following in particular I say, thanks, great show, you guys rocked: the Cave Dogs, the Turbines, the Zulus, the Lyres, Christmas, Big Dipper, the Volcano Suns, Dumptruck. (The Del Fuegos and Lemonheads had already gone national by then, and Buffalo Tom, Belly, and the Gigolo Aunts would come later.)
My favorite was Scruffy the Cat. They were Americana before that genre was invented, a little bit country, a little bit rockabilly, but mostly straight-ahead guitar-driven rock and roll with funny surreal lyrics and a tendency to drop snippets of Chuck Berry or “Pipeline” into whatever song they were playing. Some of my favorite grungy-club memories are of their lead singer Charlie Chesterman leaning back at the end of a line, chewing his gum a few times really fast, then stepping back up to unleash a mile-a-minute right-hand guitar strum before growling out the song’s next line.
On any given day there are maybe five Scruffy songs I’d name as my favorite, but on this day I’ll give the slight edge to this one, their near-hit, over “Happiness To Go.” Mostly for its great opening lines, in which the singer exuberantly introduces us to what Billy Bragg, in another song, would refer to as “the new brunette”:
She’s a long cool drink of water
Badder than Bo Diddley’s electric guitar
Badder than anything this whole year…
It’s that “this whole year” part. It reminds me of a time when time seemed longer, when experiences seemed to come thicker and faster, and when “this whole year” really was a superlative because there were so fewer years to compare it with.
I hear Charlie Chesterman’s had some health issues over the last few years, which makes me very sad. I hope things have improved and extend him an especially hearty “thanks, great show, you rocked.” And on a more self-interested note, I shake my fist at whatever legal limbo keeps Scruffy’s three albums from the well-annotated CD box set they so richly deserve.