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The Power of Story

The Power of Story

There’s something you should really know before getting in a car with me: if classic rock is playing, you’d best prepare yourself for an unsolicited history lesson at some point on the ride.

My wife Karen has long since learned to tolerate this obsessive-compulsive need to share musical trivia of all kinds, having been paired with an amateur musicologist since the year Michael Stipe met Peter Buck in the aisles of Wuxtry Records. The other day the trigger was an appearance by the otherwise innocuous tune “Rock And Roll Band” by the group Boston.

“Rock And Roll Band” describes in direct, naturalistic terms the travails of a young band struggling to make its way up the ladder of Boston’s club scene, “Playin’ all the bars, sleepin’ in our cars,” before finally landing a record contract. The storyline has the familiar trajectory of the underdog overcoming a series of obstacles before achieving ultimate success.

Here’s the thing: the lyric is total fiction, a sham history that never happened.

Boston, the band, was invented in guitarist/composer Tom Scholz’s basement studio, where he wrote most of the songs and recorded most of the instrumental tracks for the group’s debut album with singer Brad Delp. As for struggling their way up through the bar scene, in reality Boston never played a single live show prior to being signed by Epic Records. A technologist and inventor, Scholz wasn’t even sure at the time that it would be possible to replicate on stage the innovative sound he had achieved in the studio.

The lyric to “Rock And Roll Band” was in fact based on stories Scholz had been told by a friend, drummer Jim Masdea, who helped him create the demos that got Scholz and Delp signed—whereupon Epic asked the pair to assemble the band that appeared on the album jacket and first began playing the songs live after its release.

The truth didn’t matter, though—“Rock And Roll Band” resonated with fans and became the group’s signature opening number in concert. Why? Because fans reacted viscerally to the story of the underdog band beating the odds and making it to the promised land of a recording contract. It was a narrative arc that any aspiring musician could relate to, and one that allowed fans to feel an emotional stake in not just the song, but the artist singing it.

Last time out we talked about the relationship between different forms of art. But here’s what they all have in common; whether you’re painting or dancing or making photographs or writing poetry, on some level you are telling a story. You are inventing a reality for your audience to inhabit, and populating it with color and form and emotion that is designed to foster connection among art, artist, and audience.

It’s why composers compose, and sculptors sculpt, and writers write—and why a band would make the effort to invent its own legend. Because stories have power; they convince us to care.

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