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Friday, August 19, 2011

An oral history of Boston Hardcore


I AM IRON MAN: Boredom and Beatdowns in the Burbs
Published August, 2011 

BY ANTHONY PAPPALARDO
FROM http://www.viceland.com/


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brian Ryder, Andy Jenkins, Michael Galinsky, Michael Galinsky, Chris Kelly, Casey Chaos, Brett Barto

Anthony Pappalardo helped write Radio Silence, one of the few retrospectives of 80s American hardcore that nobody hates. He also played in Ten Yard Fight, the band pretty much singlehandedly responsible for the jockification of straightedge in the mid 90s.

Live… Suburbia!, a new book Anthony put together with author Max G. Morton, will be released in October by powerHouse Books. It’s like a personal, pictorial history book of everything Boston punk kids have been doing for the last 30 years. So you have the early, figuring-it-out years, then the youth crew stuff, then some diversions into skinhead, then posicore, and so on, all featuring the same group of people, just getting older and figuring new shit out. It’s kind of like a BHC version of the Up movies and will probably be on the coffee table or cistern of every person you know come Christmas. Below is an excerpt from the BMX years.

Also, if you haven’t figured out by now, we are not talking about Anthony Pappalardo the skateboarder.


James Regan was a boy by age but not by stature. He stood well over six feet with broad shoulders and cold blue eyes. When he gripped his ruddy fingers together they looked like brick wrecking balls that could easily smash through walls or at least flatten the noses of young boys with one swing. The neighborhood was terrified of James Regan. From age 13, he rode his yellow dirt bike around town without a helmet, license, or care. He was above the law.

No matter what the thermometers said, he wore a sherpa-lined denim coat that housed a weapons armory: Butterfly knives, Chinese stars, butane lighters, prerolled joints, and a switchblade comb were always by his side. Normally, young burnouts decorated their jackets with patches and pins of their favorite metal bands, but James’s jacket was bare. He didn’t have time to be a seamstress—he was focused on mayhem and destruction. I learned quickly that the more patches, the less threatening a kid was. This theory was proved later in my life when I saw crusty punks lying in their own filth with pregnant dogs begging for change in Harvard Square. There was nothing scary about junkies resembling shit-stained rag dolls asking for beer money.

James was a loner who didn’t need backup. He was a one-man army… or at least capable of keeping a gang of preteens in check. None of the kids on my block had older brothers willing to challenge him to a fight, so when he roared through, we were pretty much at his mercy.

Normally, it was easy to avoid James, as he was always busy fixing something, building something, smoking something, or fucking something, but things changed when we found an abandoned ski slope near our neighborhood that was full of paths perfect for racing BMX bikes. There wasn’t a black diamond trail, just amateur inclines descending the “mountain” that only needed a little grooming before they became our private raceway. We heard that a homeless guy lived in the woods there and hung himself, but that only added to the danger and excitement. We spent the winter sledding there, one friend even snapped a wing, but we persuaded him to tell his parents he did it playing football to make sure we wouldn’t be banned from the mountain. Our plan was simple: After the winter thaw, we’d grab shovels and build jumps along the trails and we’d have the only true racing track and stunt zone in a 30-mile radius.

Spring came and we swapped our winter work boots for sneakers and set off to the mountain to begin construction.

No sooner had ground been broken than did we hear the menacing roar of James’s dirt bike. We were fucked. James had a method to his torture: He’d single out one boy and then force the others to make decisions. For example, you might be asked to punch your friend or absorb a blow from James himself. He’d make you jump off things, eat things, and one time he even buried poor Joey Belisle in a mock funeral only to piss on his grave. James wasn’t nice.

He power-slid into our construction site and covered us in dirt and rocks before dismounting his yellow steed. “Gaying off in the woods, faggots?” he asked rhetorically. Despite his golden shower, Joey hadn’t learned anything and actually responded. “No, man, we’re building some jumps...” he stopped and gulped emphatically, realizing his mistake and trying to save himself. “We… we figured you’d wanna use the jumps so we’re gonna build them really high!”

“Why the fuck would I wanna jump off a mound of dirt while you homos watch me? Do you think I’m a fag too?” James responded. This wasn’t going well. The mountain was sandwiched between two growing housing developments, and a construction site directly bordered the first trail where we were now standing. Building had slowed down and the site was merely a sea of discarded cinder blocks, lumber, nails, and mortar. James kicked around the piles of raw materials briefly before picking up a piece of plywood about three feet square.

“OK, Joey, go stand over there and hide behind this piece of wood,” James ordered. Joey grabbed the wood and walked off about 20 feet into a grass clearing. “The rest of you, come over here now!” he demanded in between drags of a Marlboro Red.

James directed us to a pile of rocks and chipped bricks. “OK, Joey is gonna hide behind his piece of wood for the next ten minutes while you guys throw shit at him. Don’t fucking stop or you have to join him, and there ain’t much room back there. OK, start NOW!” James said as his soulless eyes pierced all of us. It was a minor relief to not be behind the wooden shield, but this seemed too simple. There was no way it was this easy.

We pelted Joey for what felt like an hour; he’d occasionally have to readjust the wood and James would chuck a rock right at his fingers. This was the only time he joined in. On James’s command, Joey emerged from his foxhole, ears ringing and fingers swollen.

“Hey, I’m hungry,” James said. “Who lives the closest to here?” Apparently, watching the stoning piqued his appetite. Once again, Joey was the victim as his house was a five-minute walk through the woods. We followed James single file like an adolescent chain gang before arriving at Joey’s house. He was instructed to go inside and fetch some chips and soda in five minutes or less, or else he’d be back behind the wooden shield or maybe thrown off his tree house. As soon as his door opened, we heard a familiar sound: Buddy Mailloux’s dinner bell. Each night when it was time for supper, Buddy’s mother rang a bell, which was his cue to scamper home like a puppy before eating something overcooked and fattening. “Buddy… Buddy, dinner time!” sang his mother with her brittle bleached hair.

Buddy thought he was off the hook, but as he took a step toward his home, he was quickly stopped by James. In one motion, he was body-slammed to the ground and pinned. James’s voice was suddenly two octaves higher as he screamed, “Fuck you, Mom! I’m not going to eat your meat loaf anymore. GO FUCK YOURSELF, BITCH!” Buddy was tearing up as James’s mammoth hand covered his mouth. His mother kept calling and James kept responding with more curses until things went silent for a moment and we heard a door slam. With a spin and a kick, James’s cycle was roaring and he was gone. Buddy’s mom ran over and saw him spitting dirt as the dust settled from James’s escape. She knew Buddy hadn’t cursed her out and silently escorted him home to dinner.


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Nick Zinner, Kim Baskinger, Ryan Murphy, Eva Talmadge, Kevin Hodapp, Angela Boatwright, Nathalie Shein

The rest of us headed off to our fort, which was really just a plywood shanty that overlooked our neighborhood. Two pieces of plywood were configured around some rocks, creating a shelter from the elements and a perfect place to read stolen porno mags and light small, contained fires. No parents or cops could get close to the fort without us having ample time to scatter and flee back to the woods.

The second-oldest kid in our neighborhood, Kenny LeFevere, was there smoking Winston cigarettes stolen from his dad and drinking something he stole out of a flask. Despite being older than us, Kenny was relatively cool. He might turn on you if someone cooler and closer to his age was around, but he generally didn’t give a fuck. He’d offer us cigs and swigs and occasionally would give us old bike parts and metal magazines that he had read cover to cover. We told him about the wooden-shield game and the meat-loaf beat down and he laughed.

“If you guys are sick of James fucking with you, why don’t you all just fight him? He’s beating the shit out of you every day. You’ll probably lose, but there’s five of you. Maybe you can take him, and if not, he’ll probably just find someone else to fuck with,” Kenny reasoned. We stared at him blankly. I think we all wanted to just ask him to fight James for us, but we knew that would never happen. Five-on-one started to make sense to me. We asked Kenny a few combat-related questions before he pedaled off. James didn’t have any friends who would torment us in school as retribution if we did beat him up, and he couldn’t really do much worse than beat us up more. At the worst, we’d be confined to the safety of our yards for a while and avoid the usual secluded fishing spots, and at best we’d have the hairy, beastly monkey of James Regan off our backs. Suddenly we realized we were playing with house money.

My potluck crew sat in our clubhouse planning our attack. “We should form an official gang,” I said. I think I was just excited about writing a gang name on walls or maybe even putting mailbox decals on my bike’s number plate proclaiming the newfound gang. Everyone agreed, and it was time to vote on a name. The Lions, Demons, Black Snakes, and Titans were quickly shot down. We went through a few more suggestions, including the Salem Swords and Salem Samurais, but alliteration didn’t sound tough enough.

“Scorpions have those big stingers,” said Rick Hannigan. “They’re small, but they can really fuck you up. What about the Scorpions?” Balding German rock bands and women in cages were not on our minds—we completely forgot about the band the Scorpions as no one fucking liked them. The Scorpions was now our gang and we started training that second, without Buddy—he was a total pussy anyway. First order of business was to gather up our collective weapons. We had nunchakus made of sawed-down broomsticks and clothesline rope, sheet-metal shanks carved in shop class, and Rick even had a pair of brass knuckles he had stolen from his uncle. Well… they weren’t actually brass, they were some kind of silver alloy, but they looked cool.

Our arsenal was set, we headed off to Rick’s basement to sharpen our hand-to-hand battle skills before having to go home for dinner. There was a wrestling mat lining his basement floor that served as our battle arena. In a few minutes we were confident that the Scorpions could take James or any bully—fuck, we could probably fare better against the damn Russians than the fags in Red Dawn. Years of recreating the WWF, NWA, and AWA wrestling moves in Rick’s basement boosted our confidence more. I was daydreaming of my finishing move—a variation on the Iron Sheik’s Camel Clutch—when Rick was called to dinner. We needed a good meal and some rest. Tomorrow wasn’t just Wednesday, it marked the beginning of a war.

We hashed out our strategy on the bus ride to school. The trick was to play dumb, head off to the woods with our shovels (which could come in handy in case we needed to bury James’s corpse) and our weapons, and wait. At the least, we’d make progress on our dirt jumps and build some muscle. The day crawled by but eventually the bell rang at 3 PM and we were free to fight. My Walkman was blasting “Shout at the Devil,” and James was fucked.

I was the first one to the clubhouse, armed with my weapons and a bulldog mentality. One by one, the Scorpions arrived, each bringing his own expertise to the table. This was one of those Dirty Dozen movie moments when the team is assembled. Rick was the calm, good-looking one; I had the most weapons; Joey and Buddy had taken the most licks and were hungry for revenge; and our wildcard was Greg Derosa, or Rosie, as we called him. Unlike the rest of us, Rosie had actually stuck with his karate classes. He even had a satin jacket with a dragon on the back, his name on the sleeve, and the dojo’s name in gold thread. He had recently learned how to chop through thin pieces of wood and was flexible enough to kick higher than his head. Rosie’s skills were our secret weapon: If things got sketchy, he could always deliver a Spot-Bilt sneaker to the jaw and give us time to regroup. We believed in the sting of the Scorpion.

Off we were to dig and wait. We marched on like the random excavation crew that Indiana Jones employed to find the Lost Ark. We set up camp and anticipated the roaring grind of James’s dirt bike. We were ready.

Burning gasoline and the familiar growl of James’s bike manifested about 30 minutes into our dig; he was so fucking predictable. The Scorpions exchanged stone-faced nods, each of our heads playing a victory soundtrack. Our minds were fixated on punching Drago, blowing up the Death Star, and throwing that weird spiky thing from Krull at our enemy. Again, James slid his bike at us, creating a dust cloud as he pushed his kickstand down. As his loose tan work boot slid off during the motion, our window had arrived. Someone yelled “SCORPIONSSSSSSSSSS!” as we surrounded him and unsheathed our weapons. James sat on his bike unfazed and laughed loudly, tilting his head back like Goliath, looking toward the sky. “I’m gonna fucking wreck you guys!” he yelled. A bolt of lightning struck him and he grew to 30 feet tall, his bike now a Clydesdale breathing fire. I was frozen, afraid to flinch, but the rest of the Scorpions were already half a football field away. James jumped to his feet, his eyes fixed on me the entire time. My nunchakus lay limp in my hand, they were just parts of a broomstick and would probably just shatter on his thick skull if I even had a chance to swing them. I was screwed. I spotted a small piece of two-by-four lying to my left, threw my homemade weapon far into the woods, and picked up the lumber.

“What are you gonna do with that, Jim Duggan?” James shouted. Not only was he going to fucking kill me, but he was also witty for the first time in his life. I reared back and emulated Roger Clemens’s windup and flung the wood at him, hoping it would hit his face and blind him, or perhaps knock the wind out of him. The small piece of pine spiraled at James and fell well short of his face or sternum, it actually just hit his bare foot. Before I could even feel a touch of disappointment James screamed like a stuck pig, gripping his foot. “I’m gonna fucking kill youuuuuuuuuu!” he exclaimed. It didn’t matter now—I had plenty of time to get the fuck out of there. My feet didn’t touch the ground on my way home. It took me half a second to flee to my bedroom, blast Diamond Dave, and air-guitar to “Unchained.” As the adrenaline wore off, I debated penning my will on loose-leaf paper and asking my parents if they had thought about moving to another town, preferably tomorrow. My mom knocked on the door and told me I had a phone call. It was probably Rick checking to see if I was still alive. I told her I’d call him back, and she asked if she was my secretary before agreeing. I lied about a book report I had to finish and shut my door. I’d be safe at school the next day, but expected to see James waiting for me when I got home. Both of my parents worked until 5 PM, giving him a two-hour window to beat me to a pulp.



CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Michael Galinsky, Casey Chaos, uncredited, Davo Scheich, Casey Chaos, uncredited

I finished dinner quickly and asked to be excused. There was nothing on television so I fished around in my closet and found a handheld electronic football game that I hadn’t played in years. I swapped out the batteries from my Walkman, and suddenly the flickering red lights on the screen had me distracted. I was the New England Patriots squaring off against the Chicago Bears for a rematch, and I wasn’t going to lose this time. Rick had taped a bunch of his brother’s records and lent me the cassette so I could copy it. I was today’s Tom Sawyer and briefly forgot that I’d be dead in less than 24 hours.

There was a knock on my door, I sprung up and answered it. My dad was standing there looking a little annoyed and confused. “One of your friends is here, Anthony,” he said. “Why don’t you guys hang out here while your mother and I talk to Mrs. Regan.”

My whole body went numb. Why the fuck had my dad sold me out? There was now one flight of stairs between me and death… I couldn’t even fucking move. A large silhouette lurched up the stairs with a noticeable limp. The familiar scent of “stinky kid” permeated the air. It certainly was James, but he wasn’t rushing to kill me. Perhaps he was building suspense. When he reached the top of the stairs, I noticed that his foot was mummified in white bandages and he was gripping his stomach.

He entered my room and immediately sat on my bed and stared at me, only this time there was no venom in his gaze. “I had to get a fucking tetanus shot and a bunch of stitches, asshole,” he said. “I didn’t give a shit, but my mom fucking freaked out because I tracked blood into the house, then she made me go to the hospital.”

Apparently, the piece of wood I chose to bludgeon James’s foot with had a rusty nail protruding from it that pierced his thin-socked foot. No one had ever seen James’s parents: We assumed he just lived on his own like one of the Outsiders, but he did actually have a mother, albeit one who smelled like boxed wine and cigarettes, according to my dad. Before I could even think of how to respond, James was mimicking the garbled beginning of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” playing on my stereo. “I am Iron Man!” he gurgled with his eyes closed, while Tony Iommi bent guitar notes that bounced around my skull as I envisioned my own funeral procession. I glanced up and saw my parents standing next to a rail-thin woman with a maroon leather jacket and poodle perm.

“Yous guys is friends now, right?” she asked in a thick New England accent. It was obvious she had been crying and her face was so wrinkled and pursed that it looked like she was permanently taking a drag of a Virginia Slim. Three… two… one… The waterworks began and my parents looked completely shocked. My mother actually curled her lips in and held back a smirk.

“I know James is wicked big and can be rough, but he ain’t a bad boy and he likes yous guys,” she said between sobs. “He won’t push yous around anymore, OK. But my baby really got hurt today. He got stitches and everythin’,” she said, leaving the “-g” off everything as most in suburban Massachusetts did. James shot her a glare, presumably for the baby comment and letting everyone know that he was mortal. My dad realized this was his time to be the alpha male and resolve this so he could get back to watching VHS tapes of Sherlock Holmes and the Three Stooges.

“OK, boys, so let’s see you shake hands, and Anthony, you apologize for hitting James. Only fairies use weapons in a fight, you know that,” he said while giving me a slight wink. His tone and gestures confirmed that he wasn’t mad at me, and fuck, James was taller than him, so I think he knew exactly why I had to throw shit at him. I almost died!

We shook hands for about five seconds, and I thought the cycle was over. “Hey, can I borrow this tape? I’ll copy it tonight and bring it by tomorrow,” James asked.

“Oh, this tape? You can just have it,” I replied, quickly lying through my teeth: “I have all the records anyway, so I can just tape them again.” There was no way in hell I wanted to see James again. There was a chance that he’d be off his dirt bike for a while and we could finish our jump, but I wasn’t really interested in going to the mountain again.

From Live... Suburbia! by Anthony Pappalardo and Max G. Morton, published by powerHouse Books.


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