New push to make ‘Roadrunner’ official state rock song
After languishing when the last legislative session ended in January, a bill to make “Roadrunner” the official rock song of Massachusetts has revved up again.
A public hearing at the State House on Tuesday afternoon included a handful of testimonials in support of the song, which was recorded by the Modern Lovers, the Boston-bred band led by Natick native Jonathan Richman, in the early 1970s.
State Senator Robert Hedlund of Weymouth and state Representative David Linsky of Natick are co-sponsoring the new bill, and they’re hopeful the second time’s a charm.
“I thought we had a lot of momentum the last time, so we’ll see how it goes this time around,” Hedlund said. “The song really is a love letter to Massachusetts, about driving around the state late at night with the radio on. It’s just perfect.”
Hedlund said the bill must be voted favorably out of committee, which could happen within the next few weeks. From there it’ll go to the House for a vote and, if passed, eventually on to the Senate and the governor.
The hearing was the latest chapter in a drawn-out saga to grant “Roadrunner” an official designation. In early 2013, Hedlund and then-state Representative Martin J. Walsh co-sponsored a bill that would have given the Commonwealth its first-ever official rock song.
Even though it had bipartisan support, the bill never received a floor vote. Joyce Linehan was a key backer of the original proposal and enlisted Walsh to take up the cause. She and the mayor weren’t involved with the refile, but Linehan said they’re both rooting for its success.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that it wouldn’t be voted favorably out of committee like it was the first time,” said Linehan, who has since become Walsh’s chief of policy. “I’m feeling pretty confident, but then, I was pretty confident the last time, too.”
The “Roadrunner” bill began as a feel-good gesture but quickly hit road blocks, igniting spirited debate about what song best represented the Bay State. Representatives Josh Cutler and James Cantwell filed a rival bill to name Aerosmith’s “Dream On” the state rock song. No competition has emerged this time.
“Representative Cantwell and I didn’t refile our bill this year,” Cutler said. “Our position was that we’re going to support the ‘Roadrunner’ bill. All along this was about the song, but it was also about the larger issue of bringing people in to learn about how the government committee process works.”
Cutler, who also attended the hearing and informed the committee of his decision, noted he would still like to give Aerosmith some sort of legislative distinction.
“We’re hopeful that down the road we can make Aerosmith the official rock band of Massachusetts,” he said. “We don’t have one, and you can make a good argument that Aerosmith’s career lends itself more to the rock band designation rather than song.”
Although not nearly as well-known as any Aerosmith hit, “Roadrunner” is a beloved rock classic and has its share of high-profile admirers, including comedian (and Brookline native) John Hodgman and numerous musicians who have covered it, including the Sex Pistols and Joan Jett.
First recorded in 1972 and released on the Modern Lovers’ 1976 eponymous debut, the song describes a rambling trip down Route 128 and how Richman, who wrote it, finds beauty in the most unexpected places. It name-checks all sorts of mundane local attractions, including a Stop & Shop.
Tuesday’s 95-minute hearing before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight addressed a number of issues, but five fans of “Roadrunner” spoke of its merits.
Linehan rattled off a list of 17 reasons why “Roadrunner” deserves the honor. (No. 11: “ ‘Roadrunner’ contains one of the most brilliant lyrics ever written: ‘going faster miles an hour.’ ”) Representative Peter V. Kocot, the committee’s co-chair, had just one question for Linehan: “Could you quantify ‘going faster miles an hour’?” he asked, prompting a laugh from the room.
Linsky explained he has a personal connection to the bill he’s cosponsoring. He represents Natick and said he grew up “200 yards” from where Richman did. Linsky sang the musician’s praises and said he has made his hometown proud.
Richman, however, hasn’t exactly been a cheerleader for the bill, telling the Globe in a statement in 2013: “Thank you so much, it’s very flattering . . . but I don’t think the song is good enough to be a Massachusetts song of any kind.”
Jimmy Guterman of Brookline was compelled to spend his lunch hour at the hearing.
“There may have been better songs written and recorded in Massachusetts,” Guterman said in his testimonial. “But there’s no other song that so simply captures the complex delights of living in this beautiful, strange Commonwealth. It comes out and shouts what no other song in the history of rock ’n’ roll ever has: I’m in love with Massachusetts.”
Listen to the song here: