Monday, September 19

The Bostonians #6 : Bob Colby

Bob "the boob" Colby has been a witness of the Boston musical scene since the seventies. He has kept his enthusiasm to discover new and interesting sounds until now. Like Jonathan and many of us, the Velvet Underground triggered his taste in music. Notoriety caught him when his friend John Felice composed and dedicated him a song, a favourite of the Real Kids repertoire, called "do the boob !". Bob has been kind enough to answer my questions at length, so this interview will be published in several parts. He is the first person I know who actually saw the Modern Lovers live, the original ones ..

Pic courtesy of Linda G.

- How was the music scene in Boston in the seventies ?

When I first came to Boston in 1970 (at age 18), there
was very little of the much-hyped "Bosstown Sound"
left. I think I saw one of the last shows the Beacon
Street Union played (and sometime later saw the
onetime leader of Ultimate Spinach playing in an awful
blues band called Crossroads). For the most part, it
was a wasteland for original rock music.

One little exception was a show I saw sometime in the
winter of '70/'71, at the YMCA in Cambridge. I had
gone because of the reputation of Peter Green, former
lead guitarist of Fleetwood Mac (before their
pop-success days), who was headlining. Even though my
tastes were still pretty hippieish (with the exception
of all the VU, MC5 and Stooges I'd gotten into shortly
before leaving home), I was not too impressed by the
hour-long guitar solo that constituted his entire set.

Much more interesting was the opening act, The Highway
Dance Band, featuring this guy who was like nothing
else I'd seen. His plainly-told tales of teenage
relationships were a marked contrast to everything
else around. And as a Velvet Underground fan, I
couldn't help but notice the influence, and appreciate

Of course, my hippie friends had exactly the opposite
reaction - they loved the hour-long guitar solo, and
hated the non-hippie with the compact, funny songs. It
was an early clue that I was beginning to go a
different way than the rest of my generation.

I was too shy to go up and talk to that man, and since
I didn't know his name, or that of any of his
bandmates, or any of their songs, I filed it away in
the back of my mind and almost forgot all about it.

- That was the earliest line-up of the Modern Lovers, did you see them again ?

Local music continued to not be all that exciting,
although I tried to like what I heard because there
wasn't much of an alternative. Until one day in '72 (I
think), when I was attending an antiwar rally on
Boston Common. I had had about all I could take of
laid-back folk-blues for one day, so I turned my back
on the stage and was heading home when behind me a
blast of astonishing sound erupted from the speakers.
It was everything I'd been missing in rock, all
wrapped up in one package. I immediately rushed back
to the stage, and there was that guy from the YMCA!
But now his band was called The Modern Lovers.

I don't know exactly what songs they did that day
(except that they ended with "Don't Let Our Youth Go
To Waste"), and I'm not sure if John Felice was
onstage - I was too busy being completely taken over
and awestruck. Finally, there was something in town
worth following.

And I did. Just about all of the gigs I saw in that
period were at the Stone Phoenix coffeehouse (I think
that was somewhere near Berklee), although I'm pretty
sure I saw at least one Cambridge Common set. There
were usually about 25-30 people there, and I felt I
had stumbled upon this incredible secret. How could
people not know this was the most exciting band in the
world? (Somewhere in this period, WBCN began playing
"Roadrunner", but I never noticed a big effect on
crowd size.)

the Howard J. FENWAY near route 128

But if you looked around, you knew that there was a
buzz growing that was reaching far beyond this town. I
always got there early enough to grab a front-row
table, and ended up sharing that table with some
fairly significant out-of-towners. One night there was
David Geffen from Arista (now a billionaire, but
looking more like a homeless person on that particular
night), and another night Kim Fowley (sporting a huge

- How do you recall that period of time now, considering how Jonathan changed in his way of singing ?

That was a true Golden Age for me, even if it was only
one band - I didn't need much more. As everything
does, it ended. By the time the Cale-produced album
came out, Jonathan had decided that the volume in his
music might hurt young childrens' ears, and the
electrifying intensity of those gigs was replaced with
a much more gentle approach. I came to appreciate that
approach over time, but it when it happened it was
disconcerting. I've seen him a number of times over
the years (although not in recent years), and I like
what he does, but *for me* it can never have the same
impact as that day on the Boston Common, and the days
that followed.

- some of us had been dreaming of a Modern Lovers reunion , even the Velvets did it, do you think it could happen ? (I asked directly Jonathan once some years ago, he did not answer, just smiled..)

I know some people would like to see the "classic"
Lovers lineup reformed (even if just for one night),
but Jonathan is in a very different place now, and I
don't know if he could give it all his heart. And if
not, why bother?
(to be continued ..)

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