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The Boston Globe

Metro

Thomas Farragher

An enduring affection for classic rock’s America

I love America. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Sure, my devotion, nurtured across the decades, has been tested at times. My kids, I can tell, think the boundless depth of my affection is kind of daft.

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And, truth be told, I have been openly mocked for it.

A fierce newspaper competitor, a foe really, once approached me on a long and lonely marble corridor at the California Capitol, his face twisted in a sneer as he got closer.

Then he began to snap his fingers, and I heard him softly sing, “You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name.’’

I was sure I heard him whisper as he walked past, “Farragher, you pathetic loser.’’

Yes, I was on my way to see America, the band, that day, and I returned to them Thursday night at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. Dewey Bunnell, the man who wrote “A Horse With No Name,’’ the hit that propelled the 1970s-era band to stardom, and his lifelong friend and band mate, Gerry Beckley, met me back stage. They encouraged me to stay strong.

“Hey, we have songs that are, as Gerry puts it, very polarizing little numbers,’’ Bunnell told me. “Like ‘Muskrat Love’ comes to mind. That song has made the worst-song list. A friend once said, ‘Hey, there’s a book out with the 100 worst songs, and you guys are, like, number three.’ And he goes, ‘You were robbed!’ ”

Talented. Friendly. Self-deprecating. How can you not love that?

And the band members can afford to let these foolish jabs roll off their backs. They are Grammy winners. Their albums have been produced by Beatles’ mentor George Martin. As teenagers, they opened for Elton John and Pink Floyd.

And for every “Muskrat Love,’’ there is a string of hit singles that any rocker would kill to have on their set list. “Ventura Highway,’’ “Sister Golden Hair,’’ “Only in Your Heart,’’ and “Sandman,’’ a soulful ballad about Vietnam veterans and the horrors of war.

When I hear those numbers, I am instantly transported back to 1974. I’m in the back of my brother Jimmy’s green Ford van, somebody is handing me a cold can of Falstaff, and the road ahead stretches into a bright horizon.

The Globe once called them the high priests of soft rock, and it wasn’t meant entirely as praise. The band considers the label not quite apt. With four decades under their belt, they prefer classic rock, a term that pays homage to their incredible longevity. It’s more about memories than dreams now.

America plays nearly 100 gigs a year. They’re in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., tonight. Next week, they’ll be in Paris. They love the road and, well, can use the money. But Beckley said the angst and rebellion that propelled their songwriting 40 years ago is behind them.

“One of my favorite lines was from Brian Wilson,’’ he said. “I think the line was, ‘I’m bugged at my old man.’ Well, you can’t be writing that when you’re 40 or 50. It doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to be very creative. But your sources are probably going to be — or should be — different.’’

Dewey is a grandfather, twice over, now. Gerry’s boys are 35 and 22, so he could soon follow suit.

They are comfortable enough in their own skins to laugh at an old New York Times headline that wondered whether they would be one-hit wonders. The answer is obvious.

“We were given this license to continue by the audience who responded,’’ Bunnell said. “It was our audience.’’

That would be me.

A bit of inoculation here. I know a little about rock ’n’ roll. My son is the lead singer in a band that rocks so hard it could peel the paper off your walls. He has introduced me to groups like the Drive-by Truckers and Rx Bandits.

So sneer all you like. But let me tell you something. My new friends Dewey and Gerry rocked the house on Thursday night.

I love America. If you don’t, good for you. Just don’t tread on me.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist.
He can be reached at thomas.farragher@
globe.com
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