I’m the new guy at Spirit of Cecilia. In my first post, I wrote about my conflicted relationship with Prog. If I’m not a Prog guy, I should explain what I am. I’m a Vulgar Boatmen guy. Brad’s post on 1990 reminded me that I discovered The Boatmen in 1990 also. Here’s how it happened.
My friend Marc’s freshman dorm room was a half a flight of stairs from the front door. If he was around, his door would be open and there would be music playing. You couldn’t come or go from our dorm without hearing what he was listening to.
During the first week of school, he was playing Robbie Robertson’s first solo album, so I stopped in, introduced myself, and we became friends for life. The other musically obsessed guys in the dorm did the same. We congregated in Marc’s room to listen to music because it was it was centrally located, and he had the best stereo system – a Denon receiver with Polk speakers. You could really hear if the snare was recorded properly.
It was there that I heard for the first time, The Blake Babies, The Connells, Dump Truck, The Pixies, The Waterboys, John Hiatt, pre-Money for Nothing Dire Straits, Husker Du, Johnny Clegg, Camper Van Beethoven, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. To name a few, and that was just the first semester.
I loved The Band and used the guest list at The Last Waltz as my music education syllabus. When my family went to the mall, they’d let me hang out in the book store where I’d look through the books and take notes. This was before the internet. Luckily in the late 1980s, albums were starting to be reissued on CD, so I was able to buy the albums that I was reading about.
The rest of our music obsessed group, Drew, Joe, and Tim, had a similar self-directed musical educations. We would listen and talk for hours about what was good and what didn’t make the grade. At the end of the first semester, we knew what was good.
Early in our second semester in 1990, the first New Route sampler came out. The first song was “I’m Over You” by The Silos. The second was “Nothing Compares to U” by Sinead O’Connor. We flipped out over both. O’Connor broke quickly and we were soon hearing her played over the intercom in the cafeteria…a very, very, bad sign. The Silos from the first snare hit of “I’m Over You” fulfilled all that we were longing for. And then Drew borrowed a copy of their album Cuba from our college’s radio station and it was even better! There was an early thaw in the Scranton winter and all was good.
Over spring break, Marc’s brother Bill gave him a tape of the album You and Your Sister by The Vulgar Boatmen. I remember he gathered us together with some urgency to hear this new band – another band that Walter Salas-Humara from The Silos was involved with. I was either late to the session or the first song “Mary Jane” didn’t grab me, but when I heard the second, “You and Your Sister,” that was it. I had to get a guitar, I had to learn to play it, and I had to form a band. It was not an option. I had listened to music my whole life to prepare me for that moment.
I remember the term we used to describe the sound was “basic.” Not a crowning vocabulary moment for a bunch of liberal arts students. I think what we recognized in our hours and hours and hours of listening is that The Boatmen had stripped away all the non-essentials, the posturing, the over production, the politics, everything that stood between the listener and the song. It was simply beautiful. Thirty years later, it still sounds beautiful.
Mark Sullivan is the guitarist in The Deep Roots.