Music
    Next Score View the next score

    Boston in the late ’70s: when rock was grimy

    The Rat was the site of shows by guitarist David Minehan and the Neighborhoods.
    robert post
    The Rat was the site of shows by guitarist David Minehan and the Neighborhoods.

    The guy called himself Adam Bomb. Apparently not much of a performer, but it’s a good rock ‘n’ roll name, yeah?

    It was 1976, and Mr. Bomb was trying to hold his own in a rowdy new Boston band called DMZ. He’d bring old records to rehearsal to suggest covers they should try. As it happened, all the good ideas were actually coming from another guy who lived down the hall in Adam’s B.U. dormitory.

    The source, Jeff Conolly, soon became the magnetic, outrageous frontman DMZ was looking for. Known to fans by his nickname, “Mono Man” — so called for his preference for the pre-stereo, single-channel recording format — would go on to become a Boston punk fixture, both with the short-lived DMZ and his later band the Lyres.

    Advertisement

    Mono Man is one of the indestructible lifelong rockers featured in “Boys From Nowhere,” a new, long-gestating documentary on the bands that came this close to stardom in the late 1970s, sharing stages at the Rat, Cantone’s, and a few other local holes in the wall. The feature-length documentary, which also showcases Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, Willie “Loco” Alexander, and the Neighborhoods, screens Saturday at the Cabot in Beverly, with special live performances by some of the bands.

    Get The Weekender in your inbox:
    The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    Filmmaker Chris Parcellin, 52, a Web designer and trash-culture enthusiast who grew up in Malden, just missed seeing most of these bands in their late-1970s heyday. He first found out about them through his older brother Paul, who is now 62 and living in Los Angeles.

    “He was a big fan of the Real Kids,” Parcellin recalls. “He had that first Willie ‘Loco’ album.”

    Beginning in the early 1980s, Parcellin went to lots of shows with other diehards from the North Shore. One of them, Lenny Scolletta, operated a record store in Malden called Instant Replay. Years later Scolletta, who does video work for the City of Somerville filming civic meetings and high school events, suggested making a film about the history of Boston’s illustrious music scene.

    Sensing they might be biting off more than they could chew, Parcellin countered with another idea: What if they focused specifically on the great underground bands of the late 1970s? They were due some recognition, having never quite reached the same heights, as, say, the J. Geils Band or the Cars.

    Advertisement

    “At a certain point, you can only cram so many bands into a movie,” Parcellin says. “Otherwise, you might as well just scroll the names down the screen. You have to focus on something for the movie to have any kind of depth.”

    Robert Post
    Jeff “Mono Man” Connolly of DMZ at the Rat.

    So they zeroed in on the bands that made the Rat Boston’s answer to New York City’s CBGB, the home of grimy rock ‘n’ roll.

    None of the bands were particularly excited to be lumped in with the movement defined by the UK’s Sex Pistols and New York’s Ramones, recalls DMZ guitarist JJ Rassler.

    “I think a lot of people despised the label ‘punk’ when it was hoisted in our direction,” says Rassler, who worked for years as a promotions man for Rounder Records and still sells albums at Stereo Jack’s. “But we knew, the bands of that scene, that we were vastly different from the normal bands. We knew we were playing in a [dumpy] little dive, but we also knew we were lucky to have a [dumpy] little dive. We wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

    Each of the bands flirted with conventional success. DMZ cut a debut album for Sire Records, the home of Talking Heads and, later, Madonna. Drummer David Robinson soon joined the Cars; guitarist Peter Greenberg, who met Rassler when both were working at WBCN, went on to co-found Barrence Whitfield and the Savages.

    Advertisement

    The Nervous Eaters parlayed their local smash “Loretta” and a demo tape produced by the Cars’ Ric Ocasek into an ill-fated deal with Elektra Records and got some national exposure, including a tour billing with the Pretenders. The Real Kids’ John Felice, meanwhile, spent some time as a member of the Modern Lovers; frontman Jonathan Richman was his next-door neighbor growing up in Natick.

    ‘We knew we were playing in a [dumpy] little dive, but we also knew we were lucky to have a [dumpy] little dive. We wouldn’t have traded it for anything.’

    “They all should have gotten famous. They all had big local hits and pockets of followings,” says Scolletta, who co-produced and co-directed with Parcellin. (After a falling-out between the filmmakers that involved legal proceedings, Parcellin and editor Chris Gunderman completed the post-production process.)

    The making of the film, which was originally expected to be finished about five years ago, dragged on long enough that a couple of its featured subjects have since passed on. There’s a poignant moment in which Real Kids guitarist Billy Borgioli, who once traveled with the Ramones as a roadie, assesses his own band’s legacy. The interview took place not long before his death in 2015.

    Robert Post
    Willie “Loco” Alexander at the Paradise.

    “If you weren’t alive, or we weren’t alive, you missed it,” he says, noting that the band’s recorded music will outlast its members: “There it is — that’s what it sounded like.”

    Though the filmmakers had their disagreements, they don’t dispute one thing, says Scolletta.

    “We had a really special scene,” he says, “and a special bunch of bands who meant a lot to a lot of people. And still do.”

    “Boys From Nowhere” screens at 7:30 p.m. at the Cabot, 286 Cabot St. Beverly, followed by live performances by the Nervous Eaters, the Real Kids and Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band. $20. thecabot.org.

    E-mail James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.https://kennedy.house.gov/media