It’s always great to watch someone’s dream come true. That thought flashed through my mind last month while gazing out from the stage at the multitude mobbing Boston’s famed TD Garden.
It’s a long way from Quincy to headlining the Garden but the Dropkick Murphys had dared dream of such a thing when they first began rehearsing in the basement of a friend’s barbershop.
Even though I had my hands full whipping up the overflow crowd with Black 47, I couldn’t help but reflect on the magnitude of what this Southside band of brothers had accomplished.
From the outside all triumphs seems inevitable, almost pre-ordained; but when you’re in the thick of the music business yourself you soon learn just how improbable any success is.
Giving a mere 100% is useless; anyone can do that. What’s called for is 150% and on a 24/7 basis. I recognized the same elements backstage on that pre-St. Patrick’s night gig at the Garden that I’d seen while on tour with Cyndi Lauper almost thirty years ago – a fierce attention to detail and a blinding desire to be the best.
It goes without saying that there has to be talent involved but even more importantly you must introduce a new dynamic to the mix. Cyndi combined the effervescence of 80’s pop with Ethel Merman; the Dropkicks melded hardcore punk with a streetwise Irish-American sensibility.
Punk music originated in CBGB’s as a reaction to the complexity of progressive rock music. It was thrilling to watch its birth as a generation of unschooled bands crossed the unruly three chord roots of rock & roll with that eternal youthful desire to be true to oneself.
The aggressive and simplistic lyrics of Punk and its younger brother Hardcore were often a problem; though usually serviceable in the heat of a pulsing performance, they could sound strident and one-dimensional the next morning.
However, when the Dropkicks grafted on the mythology of Irish-America to the ferocity of Hardcore a different beast was created, and a new tattooed generation was given its own individual portal into Gaelic culture.
All politics is local, said Boston’s Tip O’Neill. He might have added that the best music is usually site specific too – Springsteen’s Jersey Shore, The Saw Doctors’ rural Galway, Bob Marley’s Jamaica. The Dropkicks not only speak for Boston, they are the personification of the hardscrabble greater south side of that town. Their best songs reek of working class Irish blood, sweat, tears, and angst, shot through with an overwhelming need to keep it real.
Onstage it’s one for all and all for one as they attack the audience like the Bruins on a 5-3 power play; but the driving force and main songwriter is bassist, Ken Casey. Born in Milton, MA, the most Irish town in the US, Casey has been with the band since the beginning.
The Bruins analogy is hardly out of place, for Ken is as happy on the ice as onstage. Teamwork and cohesion are all important to him and before every gig the band huddles as their theme music plays, receiving last minute encouragement from Casey.
From the outside it’s all a beautiful noisy epiphany when a powerful band hits the stage and tears down the fourth wall between performers and audience. But so many vital elements go unnoticed – the tour manager, the front of house soundman, the monitor mixer, the guitar and drum techs, but perhaps most important of all nowadays, the merchandise sellers who drum up the profits that keeps the organization ticking over when the band is off the road.
But none of that would have counted more than a beer-soaked scally cap if Ken Casey hadn’t wondered – what would happen if I mix Hardcore with Boston wit and grit, how wicked cool if I cross The Pistols with Finnegan’s Wake or The Clash with The Wild Rover?
Such ideas are made in heaven; and this particular one erupted fully formed within shouting distance of God’s back garden - on the streets of Quincy and Milton. Let’s go Murphys!