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What we know about the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ breakup

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and frontman Dicky Barrett (center).Lisa Johnson

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’s decision to put their plaid suits away shouldn’t be a shocker. After all, the band’s debut LP, “Devil’s Night Out,” was released more than three decades ago.

But why now? By all accounts, the Bosstones were in fine form last fall when they played a raucous, well-received show at Riot Fest in Chicago, and they had a couple of concerts with fellow ska legends Madness to look forward to in 2022.

“The band would like to keep it private,” wrote Bosstones manager Darren Hill in an e-mail Tuesday. “It’s a very difficult situation.”

While no one is willing or authorized to talk on the record, two people friendly with the band say the vaccination status of Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett has something, or perhaps everything, to do with the band’s abrupt demise. Barrett, for his part, isn’t talking — he hasn’t been heard from since the split was announced Thursday — and no member of the band has responded to interview requests over the past few days.

What we know is that the Bosstones called it quits — “After decades of brotherhood, touring the world and making great records together we have decided not to continue on as a band” — soon after it was revealed that Barrett produced a song used in a video promoting an anti-vaccination rally in Washington on Jan. 23. Noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose group Children’s Health Defense organized the rally, was credited as the writer of the song.

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We can’t tell you much about the tune, titled “Heart of Freedom,” because it’s been scrubbed from the Internet because of similarities to Graham Nash’s 1971 classic “Chicago,” including its indelible chorus: “We can change the world.”

In a statement posted last month on Instagram, Nash demanded that Kennedy, the 68-year-old son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, stop using the song and chastised him for his anti-vaccination views.

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“I do not support his anti-vaccination position as the history of the efficacy of the Covid19 vaccines is well documented,” Nash wrote. “I believe in science and facts, and do not support such blatant disregard for either.”

Tuesday, Nash went a step further, joining his friend and former Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young bandmate Neil Young in pulling his catalog from Spotify because the streaming platform hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience,” a podcast that has amplified the voices of anti-vaxxers.

Of course, Barrett wouldn’t be the first rocker to rage against COVID vaccines, or view the pandemic through a conspiratorial lens. Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown, and Joseph Arthur have all expressed skepticism or downright distrust of vaccines and mass immunization.

But in addition to the breakup of the band, Barrett’s vax status may have cost him his job as the announcer on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” a position he’d held since 2004. A source says Barrett was informed last fall that he would need to be vaccinated to return to work on the show. Then, three weeks ago, ABC announced, with no explanation, that Barrett had been replaced as announcer by comedian Lou Wilson, who works as a writer for Kimmel. A spokesperson for the show did not respond to two requests for comment this week.

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While Barrett and the Bosstones were never particularly political, they were often benevolent and civic-minded. For example, their biggest hit, 1997′s “The Impression That I Get,” was originally released as part of “Safe and Sound: A Benefit in Response to the Brookline Clinic Violence.” (In 1994, two women were murdered and five other people were wounded in shootings outside abortion clinics in Brookline.) And the band’s most recent record, last year’s “When God Was Great,” included a well-intentioned (if ill-conceived) tribute to George Floyd, titled “The Killing Of Georgie (Part III).”

If this is it for the Bosstones — and fans sure hope it isn’t — it’s a strange, unsatisfying end.


Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.