Reach out to Someone and the Somebodies

February 21, 2009

U2’s Bono loves to talk to his audience during instrumental breaks. He usually goes on about politics or saving the planet, but every now and then he engages in Joycean free association (it must be a Dublin thing). If you’re a die-hard U2 fan, you have heard Bono say “… reach out to Someone and the Somebodies …” at the 2:34 mark in “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” a live performance that first appeared as a B side on the “Fire” double single released in July 1981.

What the hell was Bono on about? There are a few clues scattered throughout the rest of the show from which that live track was selected. That performance, from the Paradise club in Boston on March 6, 1981, is available from iTunes as Live from Boston 1981 – with the venue misidentified as “Paradise Theatre.” During the audience chatter at the end of “Things to Make and Do,” he name-checks Mission of Burma and La Peste, two of the leading Boston bands at the time, both of whom opened for U2 that month. I can state with absolute confidence that Someone and the Somebodies was the third Boston band to open for U2 – before La Peste – and that they did so on the night the recording was made.

How can I be so sure? Because I was there.

I was the music reviewer for The Tech, MIT’s main student newspaper. I had been contacted by the college PR rep for A&M Records, who were the US distributors for Island, U2’s record label. The band had played in Boston once before, late in 1980, but the show had been sparsely attended. (U2 was the opening act for Barooga Bandit, a band that would have died in obscurity decades ago if Bono didn’t continue to mention them every time U2 played here.) The rep was determined to pack the club this time around, especially since “I Will Follow” had become a hit.

And so, I spent a Friday night crushed against the stage, as far away from Bono as I am from my monitor, having my mind blown by a bunch of 19-year-old kids. I took photos, I wrote a review, I even laid out the page in the March 13, 1981 issue of The Tech in which the review appears. The miracle of document scanning and cheap online storage makes it possible for you to enjoy the amateurish critical, photographic, and layout awfulness of my enthusiastic review.

But what about Someone and the Somebodies? That story begins almost four years earlier, in August of 1977, and once again, I was there.

I had arrived at MIT for Freshman Residence and Orientation Week. All incoming freshmen were assigned a temporary dorm room,  then encouraged to spend the week checking out any dorm or fraternity in which they might be interested. Since a dorm room was a guaranteed default, the fraternities mounted a solid week of parties and events to convince people to pledge, a bait-and-switch tradition that continues to this day. A few of the guys I had befriended wanted to check out a frat party across the river. Although I had no interest in frats, I had nothing better to do, so I tagged along.

I remember nothing else about that evening except the band that was playing. The lead singer, a hulking biker type in a leather jacket, played a bassoon fed through a wah-wah pedal. The guitarist ran his instrument through a ARP 2600 synthesizer, creating a wash of un-guitarlike noise. The bassist was the anchor, taking on the more melodic vocal duties. The small bespectacled keyboard player was pounding the crap out of the cheap organ that had obviously failed him at a critical moment. The drummer pounded the crap out if his kit, not from anger, but an inability to play at any level other than full-out assault. I didn’t like the music – it was too noisy for my pomp-rock informed taste – but I didn’t hate it.

Skip forward three and a half years to January 1981. I had returned to MIT for winter break, after having taken the fall 1980 term off. My friend and fellow music critic, Claudia Perry, decided to give me a crash course in the Boston local music scene, which began at the legendary venue The Underground. The band performing that night in the tiny space that perpetually reeked of cheap Indonesian clove cigarettes was Someone and the Somebodies.

I was gobsmacked, not because of the music – which was a good set – but because I had seen this band, or one very much like it, years before. The guitarist played through an ARP 2600. The bassist sang lead vocals. The little guy with the glasses was there, but now he was the drummer. There was a new addition – a second guitarist who played rhythm on a  12-string Rickenbacker. So when Claudia introduced me to the band after their set, the first thing I said was “Where’s the bassoon player?”

I think the band was as shocked as I was. They wanted to know where I had seen them before; I responded with the frat party story. I finally learned the name of that band: The Molls, who recorded one single before breaking up and reforming as Someone and the Somebodies. (The name was a response to the unending parade of new wave bands whose names were all variations on “____ and the ____s”.) Here’s the A side of the single, “White Stains”:

http://www.belm.com/belmblog/audio/white_stains.mp3

The Somebodies were considered one of the hottest band in the city. They signed a record deal with Modern Method, the house label for the Newbury Comics empire. They won the 1981 WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble, a local battle of the bands. They even had a minor hit with their cover of “Workin’ in a Coal Mine”:

http://www.belm.com/belmblog/audio/workin_in_a_coal_mine.m4a

They opened for Talking Heads, who were touring in support of Speaking in Tongues. This, along with some opening spots for U2, was probably the high water mark for the band. “Workin’ in a Coal Mine” became a hit – for Devo, who nicked it for use in the soundtrack to the Heavy Metal movie. The Somebodies released another single, and then an album-length cassette of songs, 16. (A quick net search will turn up sources where the 16 tracks can be downloaded.) After that, it seemed the “Rumble curse” – nobody that wins the Rumble becoes famous – took hold. The Somebodies broke up into side projects. Bassist Tristram Lozaw formed World at Play with the rhythm section from the Young Snakes (whose bassist, Aimee Mann, went on to fame with ‘Til Tuesday and her solo career), drummer Jon Coe and guitarist Rob Davis formed Dervish, an electronic trance/new age ensemble.

I still run into Tris at local shows; he’s one of the music reviewers for The Boston Globe. As for the Molls’ original drummer, he achieved some notoriety with his band Volcano Suns, but you might know him better as Peter Prescott, the drummer for another Boston band of some repute: Mission of Burma.

But that’s a topic for another post.

Update (2/23)

I heard from Tris Lozaw today, who provided some additional information:

The Somebodies went on to play 47 dates with U2 on 3 tours.
After World at Play, I’ve played in (among others) Death in Venice, Serum, and Auto 66, the latter a “hillbilly Kraurock” trio with Doug Vargas and Jon Coe. Auto 66 instrumentals have appeared in several independent movies. We probably have enough material recorded to release 10 boxed sets, so beware.

I’m also working in audio, and a CD I recently mastered — A Tribute to Blind Alfred Reed, one of the first country stars — got a 5-star review in MOJO and made it to the third round of Grammy balloting.

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