There has been much debate — public, behind closed doors, and on message boards — as to whether Boston punk does in fact rule. (For those of you under 24: a message board is like Facebook, only really slow.) And should you choose to assert that Boston punk isn't the tits within earshot of any of the proud several who've invested a chunk of themselves in this enduring circuit, he may — even if he agrees — request that you go get fucked with a vacuum cleaner, you revolting hipster douche.
UP FROM UNDER Far from Finished are one of 23 bands playing the Boston Rules fest at Harpers.
It's like beating up your little brother. You do it all the time, but mostly out of love, and anyone who tries to do the same is begging for a wallopin' . . . or at least an earful. So don't try to convince Ben Bornstein that the Rathskeller, a deceased punk mecca better known as the Rat, wasn't as cool as he remembers it from the '90s. Furthermore, quit giving him shit for booking a handful of non-Bostonians onto his Boston Rules, OK? Fest.
"I've heard a lot of drama about that. The way I look at it, the bands from out of town, like the Casualties, Blanks 77, and the Wretched Ones, had such a big say in our scene back then, they should be a part of this just as much as the others."
An homage to the Rat's Boston Punk Rock Olympics of yore, itself an homage to the original Punk Rock Olympics at CBGB (Bornstein would've called this the Boston Punk Rock Olympics had it not been for a potential copyright infringement), Boston Rules, OK? packs 23 bands into a weekend with two noontime all-ages endeavors and a pair of boozy 21+ nights at Harpers. We have bellwether locals like Far from Finished, Mouth Sewn Shut, and Mark Lind & the Unloved, resurrected legends the Pinkerton Thugs, patchworks of scene vets like Blood Stained Brindle, and a plethora of others.
Formerly a chronic regional punk promoter and bassist for Lost Cause (also playing Boston Rules), Bornstein returned to his native North Reading seven months ago, after several years in California, to start his own special-effects/make-up company. Having booked more than 250 New England shows during his run (the night he lost his booking virginity in North Reading, he paid Mike McColgan $50 after the Dropkicks played), he may have felt he needed to throw a moonstruck shit show of punk to feel truly at home. "Two months after I got back, I was like, 'I'm going to book a huge punk show!' I tried to do an all-star line-up from back when I was a kid going to shows. This was the closest thing to that I could."
Many familiar faces from around the Rat era's campfire remain, and a bunch of them are playing Boston Rules. "When I started hanging out around Harvard Square, there were all kinds of punks running around all over the place," recalls Brian Riley, long-time Bostonian and guitarist for newly revived proto-punkers Side Effects. "Everybody was looking for the next 40-ounce and a place to drink it. I'll never forget spending entire weekends at the Rat, waking up Monday, and not remembering any of it."
"At the time, you knew everybody who was going to shows, or you'd recognize them and might have a nickname for them," says Tommy of punk statesmen Tommy and the Terrors. "With some people, I wouldn't say their nickname to their face. That's one thing that's lacking nowadays. The scene's kind of fragmented. It's cool to have something reminiscent of the Punk Rock Olympics that brings together people who wouldn't normally cross paths."
"Boston's one of the first cities to have an amazing hardcore scene, and it's still going strong." says Razors in the Night singer, owner of Horror Business, and Miami transplant Troy Schoeller. "Boston's in the middle of all these major cities, so it's easy to get to if you're a touring band, and it's brutal in the winter, so it makes us all harder. People have a lot of anger to get out, in a positive way."
All these interviewees are delighted with Boston punk's existing condition. And if some of what they say sounds a little nostalgic . . . well, perhaps it is. Then again, one person's nostalgia can be a younger person's cultural reawakening. As Bornstein points out, "When I was handing flyers to kids outside the Dropkicks shows, it didn't seem like some of them had ever been to an underground show before. This could be their first local, truly underground punk show."
And, of course, if in 10 years a smattering of those kids are here bitching about how much better the punk scene was back in their day, all will be right with the world.
BOSTON RULES, OK? FESTIVAL | Harpers Ferry, 158 Brighton Ave, Allston | April 4-5: noon + 8 pm | $40 for a four-show pass; $13 per individual show | 617.254.9743 or harpersferryboston.com