I feel like people don’t believe me when I say, “I know that dude who made the Yankee Suck shirts and created the chant and it’s a really weird story”, but here it is in this embarrassing, yet totally, somehow, unembarrassed account, published in Grantland this week. The account captures the ethos of the 1990s hardcore music scene in the Boston area, much of which I was there for. It does so via the tale of the Yankees Suck franchise and the alleged Not Jocks who masterminded it, several of whom I knew. It relays anecdote after anecdote of the violence and narcissism that took place in the name of supporting and profiting from a sports team and brand. In doing so, it exposes a subculture trying so hard to be Not Jock that it spins full circle and becomes the worst possible rendition of Uber Jock to ever exist.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Uber Jockness is in the DNA of Boston Hardcore, given its original roots in militant bands like SS Decontrol who, as noted in this Rolling Stone piece on the notoriety of the scene, was led by “brawny ex-hockey player, Al Barile.” And at times, I want to believe the Grantland article is doing a crafty “show don’t tell” move, painting a picture whose nastiness is so obvious that it doesn’t need editorializing. But as I read it and read it again, I realized the article and its subjects, who smugly compare their lives to Fight Club, The Wire, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Miami Vice, are taking themselves very seriously. They seem truly not to realize the irony of how Not Jocks become Uber Jocks, and how this article is just another extension of the self-congratulatory myth-making that has always permeated Boston Hardcore.
First off, let’s get the biggest piece of mythology straightened out: the majority of these guys weren’t from Boston, or even its immediate surroundings. They were from wealthy suburbs, some over an hour away. Many of the folks highlighted in this article, including Ray LeMoine, screen-printer of kooky T-shirts and person I was friends with in high school, were from North Andover and Andover. To be clear, that’s about forty minutes north of Boston. Some went to elite high schools like Philips Academy. Many other “hardcore kids” I knew, including my high school boyfriend, were from the Lincoln-Concord area, one of the wealthiest places in the country, significantly west of Boston.
Is not being from Boston but implying you are, and potentially growing up in a McMansion, inherently bad? No. But leaving this out of the story becomes a pretty questionable move when you’re a white guy bragging about the luxury of spilling mustard on your thousand-dollar shoes, waving money around, and shouting angrily, “Listen, I’ll come back whenever I want to…this is my fucking bridge” in a place you aren’t actually from.
Not Boston Hardcore
Any boy, now a man, around during this time would also really be stretching the truth if he didn’t remember that “no pussy in the pit” and “bros before hos” were the defining phrases of Boston Hardcore’s relationship to girls and women. Or that most of the girls we all knew were molested if they ever tried to mosh. Or the permeating ethos of “funny” homophobia and the hipster-izing of words like “faggot”. Or my queer friends who didn’t want to be in the vicinity of many of these hardcore kids for fear of their mental and physical safety. Or guy friends explicitly telling me they couldn’t play music with me because I was a girl, even though I had supported their music for years.
Or me being anorexic and having one of the most popular hardcore guys in Boston tell me, “You’re the kind of girl I’d love to show off at a show in Boston”. Or my super cool hardcore boyfriend and his friend, the singer of a well-known band, staring me down in Newbury Comics and telling me factually, after much discussion, that they’d decided I was hot because I had no boobs and looked like a little boy. And how when I expressed concern over the nature of such a statement, they said, “Don’t worry, it’s a good thing” and delved into a conversation about how stupid feminists are. Or how whenever I didn’t want to sleep with my super cool hardcore boyfriend, he’d say he was deeply disappointed in me, that I was a bad person, and that he would break up with me if I didn’t do my duty. Or how one time he yelled at me while we were having sex. Of course, I can’t prove an inherent connection between rape culture and the potential rape subculture that was Boston Hardcore, but it’s pretty hard not to see one when a few minutes later he was chest-thumping in front of his mirror to In My Eyes, and a few days later he was yelling “bros before hos” and laughing about mosh-pit molestation with his friends at a youth crew show.
Not Boston Hardcore
After a while, it starts to seem like a pretty disingenuous mental gymnastics routine to act like misogyny and other nasty white-guy privileges were peripheral to the scene and not a central pillar that defined and maintained it.
One of the worst things about these kinds of subcultures is the fact that there are only a few slots for the token women, and those women often try to destroy each other as they vie for the male attention they’ve come to believe will fulfill them. In 2004, the girlfriend of an FSU gang-member sucker punched me in the head at The Model, a dive bar in Allston. FSU, or Fuck Shit Up, was a group of Boston Hardcore guys who are still classified as a gang by the FBI. Their modus operandi, as far as I could register it, was starting fights on purpose and running away. That night at The Model, the whole bar had turned into a sea of violence with tables being turned over, beers being thrown, and people on the curb being stomped. I never saw the person who attacked me; there was just a mess of blond hair and a huge bouncer picking me up by my torso and throwing me aside. The owner of the bar shushed me, took me to the back alley, and told me to get away quickly, whispering that I wouldn’t want to be there when the cops came.
It turns out FSU has instigated it all, and that one of their members, who authorities had long been looking for, was there that night. I didn’t know anything about the FSU connection at the time; I didn’t realize that the bar owner was trying to have my back so I wouldn’t have to make a report. I swore off The Model and didn’t go back for over a year. When I returned, the waitress on staff said I looked familiar. I mumbled that it was impossible she knew me from the bar because I hadn’t been there since a massive fight broke out. “The FSU fight?” she asked, and went on to relay all the details perfectly to me. “The courts were looking for you. They caught some serious wanted person from FSU that night. They wanted you to testify but nobody knew your name.”
Was being around Boston Hardcore always like this? No. For instance, I’ll always hold my friend’s band Eulcid in my heart, who at one point refused to play shows if no women were on the bill. There were off-shoots of Boston Hardcore that understood radical and progressive politics pretty well, who were reclaiming the spirit of riot grrrl, feminism, and queer awareness, and many of those folks would probably say that they liked Boston Hardcore music. And when we became college-aged, many hardcore guys matured and realized pretty quickly that they’d participated in and supported a subculture of juvenile intolerance, sexism, and, at times, violence. Like normal people should, they grew up and were appropriately ashamed of the ways they acted as teenagers.
Like most other white male cultures and subcultures, Boston Hardcore boys enjoyed some token women like the singer of Walls of Jericho, who was repeatedly pointed to as a distraction from the fact that almost all other hardcore musicians were men. How could you be sexist if you liked Walls of Jericho? And it had its token people of color, including one of the founders of Fuck Shit Up, Elgin James. How could you be racist if your movement’s BFF wasn’t white? And there was even a token queer band, Limp Wrist, who I heard straight boy after straight boy cite when they were justifying their use of the word “faggot” and the word “gay” as an insult.
Also not Boston Hardcore
But on the whole, when examining the acts of entitlement, oppression, and violence relayed in the Grantland article—and that remain in the memories of anybody who was there and is being honest with themselves—it is hard not to ask: who else could have possibly gotten away with these things besides privileged white boys and men?
What people with darker skin could have possibly have gotten away with dumping grape soda on people and throwing someone’s stuff over a bridge onto the Mass Pike in public, as the boys in the article proudly spoke of?
In a country where black men are murdered in minutes by entire groups of cops for selling a few illegal cigarettes, who other than entitled white boys from a rich town could possibly have gotten away with regularly breaking into Fenway Park through wire fencing to sell illicit T-shirts, then admitting it and bragging about it without a second thought in an article on the internet?
Or imagine, in a world where Boston instituted martial law in order to catch the Boston Marathon bombers, an Arab man or woman running illegally around the field during a World Series win?
Or what woman could, like the boys in the article, “splurge at Saks Fifth Avenue, then get mustard on their Prada shirts and never bother to wash the stains off…run up in clubs and bars with fake platinum chains and real Breitling watches, popping bottles and waving their cash around” without immediately being called a personality-disordered bitch or slut in need of medication?
And amazingly, according to the Grantland article, much of Boston Hardcore definitely didn’t like the “meathead jocks from Revere”. Of course, if you’re from Massachusetts, you know that Revere is a city about a thousand times more associated with actual Boston than somewhere like North Andover is. It is attached to actual Boston by the subway and is filled with working-class people who have actual Boston accents; the kind of people caricatured, for better or worse, in Saturday Night Live skits and Ben Affleck dramas. But what, exactly, made the hardcore Uber Jock so different than Jock Other from Revere? As far as I can tell from being there, Uber Jock and Jock Other had just about everything in common except that Uber Jock was rich, either having been born so or having become so through witty high-stakes T-shirt schemes. And Jock Other was dirty and poor. Working class Jock Other simply wasn’t relatable to the elite Uber Jocks. For them, “the money was enough to see the world. They’d hit Australia, Hong Kong, Jordan, the Philippines, Guatemala, Thailand, Haiti, Argentina, Japan — always in the baseball offseason. They went to Spain, had multicourse lunches in Bilbao, got high on Xanax on the lawn outside the Guggenheim. They’d splurge on food but sleep in cars…[more money for absinthe].” Uber Jock had class.
The Grantland article even relays the following completely tone-deaf tale of entitlement: “Once, in the heat of a melee, LeMoine didn’t realize he had squared up with an undercover police officer. Perhaps feeling good that day, the officer let LeMoine go with a warning and pat on the back…“[I heard] ‘Good fight, kid. Get on your way,’” LeMoine says. “Only in Boston can you beat up a cop and hear, ‘Nice fight.’”
And that’s just it. If you’re a privileged white man, you can beat up a cop and hear, “Nice fight.” But if you’re Arab and you beat up a cop, the whole city of Boston might go under lock-down to find and kill you. If you’re Black, you probably stay as far away from cops as possible, because one imperfect move and you’re shot in the face. If you’re a woman who seems like a threat to a cop, especially a woman of color, you’d be called a crazy bitch at best, or at worst, have your vagina forcibly searched or be abused, arrested, and die mysteriously in a holding cell. You certainly won’t be congratulated. And if you’re blue collar or homeless and don’t look classy enough to impress a cop, and you don’t have a trust fund doubling as a bail fund—perhaps if you were from, say, Revere—your life might be ruined because you couldn’t afford bail.
Repeatedly, according to the article and other popular mythology, we are supposed to believe these kids were punk, a term never defined accept through implications that they were rebels. They were on the right side of the “jocks vs. punks dichotomy”. But these rebels enacted every last cookie-cutter cliché of white male entitlement and stereotypical Jockness possible. Boston Hardcore kids, on the whole, were desperately trying to identify as the opposite of themselves, spitting out their psyche’s tortured teenage shadows for everyone else to deal with, projecting and vomiting their Jockness over anyone in their path. They never saw the resemblance between themselves and everything they supposedly hated. Of course there were individual exceptions to the rules and codes, but Boston Hardcore, at its core, was the utmost Uber Jock subculture, right down to the fact that girlfriends were called “coat racks” whose purpose was to hold their boyfriends’ stuff and cheer for them from the sidelines while they put on a big, physical show, got in fights, and called people “fags”. And right down to the fact that their favorite bands, like Ten Yard Fight and Slapshot, were sports-themed and their most infamous and proud series of antics revolved around baseball. In terms of behaviors and attitudes, there was literally nothing that differentiated them from the Jocks they so defined themselves in opposition to, beyond the fact that some of them played power chords. Just like Jocks mythologize their winning high school team, these hardcore Uber Jocks are mythologizing themselves ad infinitum. And apparently they’re not being ironic.
Red Sox Riot, 2004: Jock or Boston Hardcore Kid?
Just teenagers being teenagers and college kids partying? I wish, but now we’re well into our thirties and forties, and we’re still talking about it as if we’d definitely like to relive it, as if it were a movie as cool as Fight Club and a show as impeccably written and acted as The Wire, as if it were the legendary high school football game and we’re never going to be that completely and thoroughly good at life again. I understand the basic desire, maybe even the need, to be friends with one’s own past. But to be mythologizing such behavior without a critical frame, or at least a full frame that includes the stories of everyone who was harmed, and to be so completely unembarrassed, speaks to a much larger issue: the umbrella culture of white, straight, male entitlement, misogyny, and violence trickling down into its logical extension in subcultures.
We live in a time when the United States seems more full than ever of young, entitled white men Fucking Shit Up and being celebrated for it. We celebrate white men’s right to guns, to publications, to fame and repute, to neocolonialist pursuits, and just about everything else they can get their hands on. Indeed, it’s not an exaggeration to say that self-congratulatory and entitled white men Fucking Shit Up seem to, in one way or another, be at the root of just about every last thing that’s gone wrong in the past five hundred years of human history. I’m glad I’m an adult now with the capacity to think critically and remove myself from situations teeming with such toxicity. And I can only hope a lot of the people I knew or knew of in Boston Hardcore have grown up. And that they’ll choose to hold their pasts with a bit more honesty and self-awareness, and with a willingness to make sure their own children, nieces, and nephews can inhabit a truly interesting and rebellious world.