Boston raises its musical fist
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Anti-corporate message at core of new album 1970s arena rockers at Molson Amphitheatre

By Vit Wagner
Toronto Star

"Don't get me wrong," says the voice at the other end of the line.

"I don't have anything against multi-billionaire CEOs, other than that they make hundreds of millions at our expense, pay no taxes, make us the target of Islamic terrorism, elect whoever they want to pass whatever laws they like, kill us with toxic pollution, destroy what's left of the environment and basically dictate everything we do at work, and when and where we can do it — including, by the way, what songs get played on the radio."

The speaker? Renegade roots rocker and avowed Marxist Steve Earle?

Nope.

Anti-globalization activist and former Dead Kennedys screamer Jello Biafra?

Actually, it's Tom Scholz, founder of the 1970s arena-rock juggernaut, Boston.

The reconstituted band, which plays the Molson Amphitheatre Sunday, is back on the road promoting a new album, Corporate America, the title track of which features the lyric, "you can take your bottom line and shove it."

Against the wishes of Boston's current label, Artemis, the song first popped up last summer when Scholz slipped it to MP3.com under the band pseudonym Downer's Revenge. In six days, it became the site's top download, a position it held for another two weeks.

"That told me I had something," Scholz says. "But when Artemis tried to get this song played on radio, they said it doesn't matter what we do or who we talk to (radio conglomerate) ClearChannel is not going to play this song.

"We didn't have this problem in the '70s. In the '70s, there were 700 or 800 independent radio stations in this country.

"Today big business owns all the major media. And they own all major news media. They own it. And they decide what is okay and not okay to say and to cover.

"We still have freedom of speech, but should you be stupid enough to exercise that freedom on the air and somebody doesn't like it, you're gone. And you don't work anyplace else because we're not talking about a lot of companies that own the media. We're talking about three or four."

Certainly, there was a time when hearing a Boston song on the radio wasn't a problem.

The band's eponymous debut, recorded in Scholz's basement studio, has sold more than 16 million copies since its release in 1976, a lot of that on the back of the anthemic and formerly ubiquitous single, "More Than A Feeling."

Altogether, the group has sold more than 30 million albums.

This has led some to view Scholz's anti-corporate conversion with an understandable degree of skepticism. Never mind the fact that Scholz, a multi-instrumental perfectionist, spent seven years in court fighting Boston's original label, Epic, which wanted the band to step up its output.

"I refused to put out records to fit their marketing production line," Scholz says.

"And that was the difference between being incredibly wealthy and famous and doing what you think is true to yourself. I was never that interested in the money to start with. But I was interested in not being connected with something I didn't like."

Despite Scholz's apparent reluctance to feed the industry maw, Boston became the focal point of a backlash against corporate-manufactured arena rock.

"The reason that corporate music had the style that Boston had, and so many bands sounded like that style, was because Boston was the biggest damn thing that happened in the '70s," Scholz says. "And it happened out of the blue — some band in a basement making these songs that were patterned after classical music. It was so successful everybody had to get on that bandwagon.

"We went from having a gushing review in Rolling Stone to everybody hating the record and wondering how it sold so many copies. I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea.

"I can only say that it was music I liked. I still make music I like. And I still do it in the basement."

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