Monday, July 22, 2013

2013 is not Boston's year.

I'm a big fan of the city of Boston.

I grew up around here. I’ve lived in the city proper for 12 years. I’ve voted in every election, been in the clubs, seen a lot of the bands, and watched all the teams. There have been few moments where I haven’t been proud to be from here, and I have a knee-jerk civic pride that borders on supporting forming our own New English nation-state and declaring Boston the capital.

With that in mind, it’s hard to say we’ve been having a very good year.

There’s the obvious thing – the bombing. The bombing was terrible, but produced a really interesting and positive reaction within the community. Boston Strong, before it was co-opted to be a synonym for “Yankees Suck” or “Fuck the Canucks,” was a really positive rallying point that definitely made me feel closer to my neighbors. But then Boston Strong became some weird money-making scheme. T-shirts with no connection to One Fund Boston have popped up everywhere, and the benefit concert went unaired due to rumored promoter opposition in hopes that they could sell a DVD, despite airing the concert live being a much more beneficial way to raise money and serving as one big advertisement for the DVD besides. So now I guess they’ll release it on a medium most people don’t use anymore long after the majority of people even care about the cause (not trying to be nasty on that last part – people have short memories and other bad things happen). The lineup also left something to be desired. While the Sandy benefit had predictably big names because of its NYC connection, Oklahoma’s Tornado fundraiser had the (granted terrible) national names like Tobey Keith and Garth Brooks. Sure, we had Aerosmith, but really, the Boston concert wasn’t exactly dripping with relevance. Names like Dropkick Murphys and NKOTB certainly have national appeal too, but they’re really local names at heart. At least Dane Cook was there. He just doesn’t ever want anyone else to see it.

Speaking of concerts, there was Outside the Box Festival on Boston Common all last week. While a noble effort for sure, the lack of serious modern acts (The Bosstones headlined? Have they put out a record since 1999?) was notable. Additionally, it was the second music festival this year on Boston civic property to be negatively effected by terrible weather. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of Outside the Box. I like it in theory, enjoyed what I saw of it, and there were acts I like that performed at it. It just disappointed me that Boston couldn’t attract more star power. (Disclaimer: I understand bands like Boys Like Girls, Buffalo Tom, and the Lemonheads have star power, but this was a highly touted weeklong event and the majority of the acts were only known by Google).

Back to the bombing, you’re surely aware by now that the surviving Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is on this month’s cover of Rolling Stone, and that Greater Boston is having a conniption about it. After going through a very bad week following the Boston Marathon and seeing my neighbors and statesmen behave in generally admirable ways that made me think very highly of them, I was really disappointed at the reaction to this cover. Was it done to sell magazines? Sure. But the whole point here (I’m not sure because nobody’s selling the goddamn magazine around here) seems to be that a seemingly normal American kid became a terrorist. It’s not like they did a photoshoot with the kid. That’s what he looks like. Terrorists have been on the cover of loads of magazines. The Rolling Stone cover calls Tsarnaev a “monster.” Time Magazine called Hitler “man of the year.” And more importantly, when was the last time any of these people actually bought an issue of Rolling Stone anyway? It doesn’t seem particularly “Boston Strong,” or very American, to advocate outright boycotts of sales of a magazine that does something unpopular. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but don’t demonize stores for selling it. It makes this city look a weird combination of uptight and petulant.

Then there’s the Mayor’s race. Mayor Menino, who has been mayor since the James K. Polk administration, announced he wasn’t running and Boston suddenly realized that while we hadn’t needed a new mayor in a generation, we apparently have no idea who should be the next one. The coming primary, a brawl between seemingly every city council except the ones you’d expect, with a sprinkling of other unrecognizable state politicians, union guys, and agency heads, smacks of disappointment. Gone are the days of former congressmen and Boston’s leading businessfolk wading in. Where was Stephen Lynch on this? Or even Sonia Chang-Diaz? Dukakis for a twilight run? I  don’t know… Couldn’t we have even shaken up a Kennedy? Maybe Chuck Turner could run? Oh right. He’s in jail. Chicago got a former White House staffer. NYC has a (disgraced) former congressman in the race. We’re voting for last call at Doyle’s. I mean seriously, who are these people?

Meanwhile, Boston’s Fourth of July celebration, due to a combination of heat, fear of terrorism and inconvenience due to new rules because of terrorism, had a reportedly very low turnout. Apparently bag searches and cooler limits are not conducive to big crowds of people sitting outside all day waiting for a show in July. Not that anybody saw the bad turnout, given that for the first time in decades, the show wasn’t aired on national television. Because what better way to honor a city in the middle of a non-violent patriotic frenzy as it reels from terrorism and had just missed out on a major fundraising opportunity due to shoddy planning by the benefit organizer than to pull it from television? Thanks, CBS. I hope CSI or Two & a Half Men or whatever you chose to air instead really killed it that night.

But don’t worry, all will be redeemed come New Year’s, when Boston – the place that invented First Night – will party like it’s 2014. Except maybe we won’t. If you missed it, First Night Boston was wildly mismanaged and shut down operations! Yeah, you read that right. The non-profit responsible for an idea that inspired a national celebration couldn’t pay for its PO Box anymore. The city is supposed to be picking up the slack, but this looks pretty bad. I hope we can afford the ice sculptures.  

I guess all isn’t lost. There was clearly some good out of the response to the bombing, and events like Boston Calling are certainly promising. But in a city the mayor likes to call “world-class,” we’ve been blown up, disappeared from the national airwaves, had both our major holiday events demoted very publicly. The Bruins lost the Cup, the Celtics lost Truth and KG, the Patriots had a murderer in their midst. It’s been a weird year. But hey, there’s progress being made at the big hole in Downtown Crossing, the Red Sox are doing well, and maybe this next mayor will surprise us just like Menino did our great-great grandparents. One Fund raised $61 million. Folks like Future Boston are proposing some promising ideas for the future, and John Connolly at least seems open to them.

And most of the above things I’m complaining about were at least partially good things. My concern though is that this is the best we do. My whole life, I’ve been hearing about how Boston is “world-class” despite its closing at 4:30 in the afternoon and having only about three good pizza places, and I’ve always wanted to believe it. I still want to, but I’m not sure I do.

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