Majestic treasures: Great Lakes USA release “Live Fast, Die Whenever”


Allston punk trio GREAT LAKES USA new album is all “tight buttholes,” awesome riffs and anger. The band has come a long way since its early days of playing Hot Water Music covers in between beers with their first full length album, Live Fast, Die Whenever, released on November 6, sans emo repeats.

“We went to our buddy Jay Maas at Getaway Studios’ temporary location and after a week of ‘tight butt-hole’ this and ‘hard T’ that, we had 10 pretty solid songs,” says bassist Pete Hoffman of the process in the band’s bio. By temporary location, Hoffman means a mansion in Dover that Maas, of the Boston band Defeater, was squatting in.

It’s unclear how buttholes influenced the music, but whatever it was, it worked. The album is thrashy and loud, with a perfect hint of Allston angst. It’s chock-full of self doubt, masked by a driving tempo and a lot of bass. The punks stay true to their roots, calling out lyrics that every Allstonite can relate to. “Staying sober is a chore, and I’m known at the liquor store… I don’t’ wanna wake up, think I didn’t do enough,” and finally declaring “No, this is our home.” And indeed the band does call Allston home. Hoffman bartends at Lonestar Taco Bar and the singer, Alex Heinz occasionally fills in for Defeater.

Beyond the local hook, Great Lakes USA pump out music that any teen to 20-something can get into. It’s harsh and wild, while maintaining tight hooks and breakdowns. The album’s single, “Rambling Dudes Forever,” starts off fast-paced, like most of the other songs, but changes time at the 1:50 mark, slowing the pace and practically forcing your head to bob to the beat.

Exit 384 Media, the band’s PR firm, got it right when they said “For a three-piece group, Great Lakes USA sure as hell know how to make a ton of noise.” The band produces a full bodied sound with no holes. Although many bands favor countless instruments and a crowded stage, Great Lakes prove that a loud amp and a lot of talent can produce a sound just as good. The simplicity of the instrument make-up compliments the band’s musical tone: sad, young and drunk.

The gravity of the lyrics does not reflect the attitude of the band outside its songs. “I will let you down, yeah I will let you down,” screams Heinz just before the song outros into the sound of a bong rip with the Goo Goo Dolls playing in the background. The last words are “That’s what’s up Johnny Rzeznik, that’s what’s up.” Heinz’s worries channel through the lyrics, the forceful guitar and the pounding percussion, giving the listener an outlet for their own feelings. These guys know the purpose of music, but don’t take themselves too seriously.

Live Fast, Die Whenever is a definite step-up from the band’s debut EP, Life’s Rough. The vocals are more mature and the sound of better quality and talent. Gone are juvenile lyrics about fairness and high school-esque screaming fits mid song. They traded out useless shredding for purposeful riffs that add to the body of their songs, and upgraded from emo influences to true punk roots. Although hints of their Hot Water Music cover-act days are still obvious in the new album, it comes off as endearing and nostalgic, rather than immature. The new album shows great improvement in the band’s cohesiveness and overall ability.

Stream or download the new album at



I’m just going to go ahead and say it: TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” might actually be awesome

While everyone else is busy pretending they hated the season premiere of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and denouncing the future of America, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I love Honey Boo Boo and everything she stands for. She and her Mountain Dew guzzling, cheese ball scarfing redneck family just happen to also be progressive, lovely people who teach their children that tummies are beautiful and it doesn’t matter how many chins you have as long as you’re happy.

Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson was first seen in all her belly-shaking glory on Toddlers and Tiaras. She strutted the stage in her midriff bearing cowgirl outfit with the toddler equivalent of a beer gut, practically screaming a big “fuck you” to all the tight-lipped, perfectly groomed pageant mothers and their creepy china doll daughters. (For the record, we’re still of the camp that believes all child pageants are, by nature, creepy and rather deplorable. Tummies aside). While the television audience watched in horror, Alana’s mother, June, “vajiggle-jaggled”  her double chins and made a face we all wish we hadn’t seen, encouraging her “Smoochie” to work it. From that moment, it was clear that this was not your typical pageant family in that they don’t give a single fuck what you think.

In the first episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” a show dedicated entirely to documenting the ridiculousness of the Thompson family, they proved their flippancy when they proudly weighed themselves on national television. One of the four daughters decides she wanted to lose weight (subsequently, her nickname is “Chubbs”) and asked her very large mother if she would join. The mother’s response was music to my ears. It was perfect. Like a choir of angels. She said, “I’m pretty happy with myself, but for support for you, I’ll do it.” And fatties everywhere rejoiced because finally someone on tv acknowledged that you can, in fact, be fat and happy.

This is why Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is way more than a trashy reality show about a pack of crazy rednecks. It’s rare that we see fat people on television, much less fat people who are happy with themseleves. Fat is a four letter word in our society and so often an insult used to describe something one would never want to be, or to decry a lesser version of humanity. In reality, fat is a descriptor. It describes overweight people, and nothing more. It does not mean “disgusting” or “bad.” It just means fat, and Honey Boo Boo’s family understands that.

Daughter Lauryn said, “My mama, from her feet to her head, is enormous. What? I mean there’s no other way to describe her.” It’s true. June is fat and happy and that’s cool. Alana exclaimed, “My mama weighs the most in our family because she’s fat.” Also true! And they all moved on and had fun with their fat mother because, as it turns out, fat people are human beings that love and have fun and have interests too. Just like skinny people.

It is truly refreshing to see fat people portrayed as real people on television. In a world of The Biggest Loser, More to Love, Dance Your Ass Off and Mike and Molly, which all focus on fatness as a personal shortcoming or a joke, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is (pardon the pun) like a thick milkshake on a hot day.

Granted there have only been two episodes, and there is still much room for error, but this season looks promising. Not only has the family proved to be incredibly body positive, but they’re progressive in other ways too. After losing a few pageants, Alana’s dad, Sugar Bear, brings her a glammed-up teacup pig to comfort her. Naturally. Alana decides that her new (male) pig is gay and will therefore dress in drag while accompanying her to pageants. When her sister cries that a pig can’t be gay, Alana so eloquently replies “It can if it want to. You can’t tell that pig what to do.” Preach it, girl. Granted, Alana’s definition of gay is slightly problematic (if a boy dresses as a girl he is gay– and vice versa), she is, after all, only 6. And this six-year-old is both aware — in  a vague sense– of homosexuality…and is totally chill about it.

Going forward, one of the largest problems I actually foresee is a probable swine flu outbreak in the family. Between Alana sleeping in her pet pig’s crib and her sister bobbing for raw pig feet at the redneck games, they seem to be at high risk. A porcine epidemic notwithstanding, it looks like there’s a lot of belly jiggling in our television future. I am so down with that. Get it, Honey Boo Boo Child!


Bobby Cards: Revisited

Robert Bacigalupo was a fixture under the gaudy gold chandeliers and oak encrusted ceilings of Las Vegas casinos back when the town was run by the mob in the 1970s.  He sat alone amongst strangers, holding his cards close and blowing money at a rapid pace, until he retreated to a cheap and sleazy motel for the night. He knew the town well from frequent vacations, jetting over whenever he felt like it.  He liked to be hidden in the crowd.

“They don’t know you from a hole in the wall,” Cards said.  “They just know your hand and that you’re spending money. ”

Returning home to Boston, however, always brought Bacigalupo a new identity. He became the town funnyman, going to great lengths to make people laugh. The only part of his Vegas identity that followed him east lay in his nickname: Bobby Cards.

Now, Cards is in his sixties, and his main haunt is Skip Scaro’s barbershop on Dorchester Street in South Boston. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in September, Cards crept down the side streets near the barbershop in his old, red Toyota Camry for the second time that day. The first visit was devoted to a haircut and some tomfoolery. Cards spends time performing card and magic tricks for the clientele in the hundred year old shop.

On the second trip, Cards burst through the rickety screen door of the barbershop and Scaro greeted him excitedly. Cards’ cream-colored corduroy blazer fell smoothly atop his gray and white button-down shirt, open to the third button. He’d shined his wingtips without a scuff.  His sharp dress contrasted with the dingy wood paneling of the shop, covered with dust and hair clippings.  The sun shone through the window, illuminating a thin dusting of talcum powder over the shelf next to Scaro’s chair. Yellowing pictures of celebrities who visited the shop line the walls in the closet sized shop, and Cards seems at home amongst them.  He has become somewhat famous in the neighborhood for his tricks.

The folding chairs on the right side of the shop remain empty, but Scaro is snipping gray hairs from the side of Eddie Flynn’s head at the first of his few barber chairs on the left side of the shop. Cards immediately sidled up to the left side of the occupied chair and whipped out his deck of cards.  Flynn’s eyes averted from the mirror ahead,  down to the deck of cards, looking somewhat skeptical.  Cards flipped and hid and folded and threw the cards, only fooling his audience some of the time.

“There are always characters walking through here,” Flynn, son of Boston’s former Mayor Flynn, said from the barber’s chair, his hair uneven. The barber had abandoned the scissors in favor of winding up Cards for a Donald Duck impression. “You’re interviewing a real good guy.”

Flynn’s distinction became important when Cards revealed the reason for his second visit.

“I gotta pick up the paper because my friend just got put in jail for extortion,” Cards said.
Cards met the recently indicted Joseph “JoJo” Burhoe at the barbershop years ago and approached him about some stolen property.  Burhoe offered to “take care of” the problem for Cards.

“I’m not a violent person, I’m just a fun loving guy,” Cards said, smiling and showing his chipped front tooth. “I didn’t want to get involved.”

Cards’ desire of anonymity seems flimsy given his love of entertainment.  Perhaps his need for obscurity is only in regard to the law.

“It’s very easy for me to get into trouble. I’m around a lot of street people,” Cards explained, parked in the lot at Sullivan’s on Castle Island, precisely the place where the FBI photographed mobster Whitey Bulger during many clandestine meetings.  “I went to the college of hard knocks. I made a lot, a lot, a lot of money. Fast cars and fast women.”

Now, Cards’ anonymity lies in his celebrity; if he is the funny guy, people won’t assume he is a the criminal. He tries to stay away from trouble, his card tricks keeping him busy.  Aside from entertaining at the shop, Cards books odd entertainment jobs, like clowning at kids’ parties and performing card tricks on Boston Harbor cruises.

Antiquing bamboo or tropical-looking items is one of Cards’ favorite hobbies.  After a morning coffee, light with two sugars that he drinks from a straw, Cards heads to antique shops, surveying what came in since his last visit.  Cards, in the midst of a stroll on Castle Island after a hot dog from Sullivan’s,  stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, pulling out his old T Mobile flip phone to display photos of his latest prizes.  He boasted a bamboo kitchen table, chairs, a mirror and is building a bamboo headboard.

Odd hobbies help keep Cards in a favorable public way and out of view of the law, but Cards’ personal life is very private. He was married once, but left after six months.

“I didn’t like being confined,” he said of his quick marriage. “I didn’t like the idea of anyone trying to control me.”

Cards’ cousin is his only living relative, making his familial obligations nil.   He had two sisters and parents whom he lived with growing up on East Third Street in Southie.

After graduating from high school, Cards went into the restaurant business.  He worked in pizzerias in the North End and at Triple O’s, a bar owned by Bulger’s affiliate Kevin O’Neil where members of the Winter Hill Gang met frequently.  Buying and selling property was one of his final ventures, and the most lucrative. With this money, he went on long, lavish vacations to places where no body knew him, sometimes without packing a suitcase; he bought new clothes at his destination.  He gambled away much of the money that was left.

“Casinos, gambling was an addiction,” Cards said of his habits. “I don’t do it now because I don’t have the money.”

He says he would go back to gambling if he had the funds.

Gambling truly offered Cards anonymity.  He was outside the law in a town run by criminals.  It allowed him to be Robert Bacigalupo, a self-proclaimed nobody doing what he liked to do. He’s lived in Boston too long to be invisible here, though, so Cards hides in plain view when he’s back home, winning laughs instead of poker chips.   Now, Cards’ next undertaking may be acting.  He is taking head shots with the help of a friend and sending them to New York City agencies.   Perhaps this publicity will be the ultimate form of anonymity for Bobby Cards, but what if he plays a crook?  In his struggle to stay out of the eyes of the law, Cards may end up in police officers’ homes, on their televisions.

-September 2012

How do you like them apples? On the rocks, thanks.

Move over Halloween! Everyone’s favorite October holiday is already upon us: National Applejack Month. That’s right, 31 days of boozy, cider-filled glory. Now that’s a Phoenix-approved holiday.

Historically, applejack was made by freezing fermented apple juice to force the water to the top, then removing the excess water to make the alcohol content higher.  It was then thawed, and voila, a concentrated and high-in-alcohol cider remains. Now, it comes in a handy bottle and the only process is giving the cashier at the liquor store a few bucks. Our puritanical predecessors were big fans of applejack, and what better way to celebrate the fall harvest?  Get drunk like a pilgrim this month and try these apple concoctions on for size. We scoured the Internetz to find them, just for you!

Jack Briar at Temple Bar, $9: Laird’s Applejack, Chai-spiced Grenadine, Lemon, Down east Cider Float.

Apple Crisp: 4 oz. Applejack, 4 oz. fresh lemon juice, 1 oz. Cointreau or triple sec. Garnish with a halved crab apple

Apple Pie: Half Woodstock Autumn Ale or Harpoon Winter Warmer, Half cider (Ok, it’s not made with Applejack but so good!)

Applejack Old Fashioned: 2 oz. Applejack, 2 dashes Fee Brother’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Aromatic Bitters, 1 tsp. real maple syrup

Applejack Collins: 2 oz. Applejack, 1 oz. Lemon Juice, 4 dashes Orange Bitters, ½ tsp. Superfine Sugar, Sparkling Water

Jack Rose: 2 oz. Applejack, ¾ oz. lime juice, ¼ oz. grenadine

Puerto Apple: 1 1/2 oz. Applejack, 3/4 oz. Lime Juice, 1 oz. Orgeat Syrup, 1 tbsp.White Rum

Wild Thanksgiving: 1 oz. Applejack, Cranberry Juice, 1 splash Rose’s Lime Juice, 1 oz. Wild Turkey 80 Proof Bourbon


Dr. Westchesterson Story in the Boston Phoenix

Contrary to popular belief, Massachusetts does extend beyond Worcester. Furthermore, people actually live out there. Due to its reputation as the forgotten land, Western Massachusetts is a mecca for those on the fringes of society: everything weird, crazy and outlandish culminates in the Happy Valley. This section of the state is also a sort  of Bermuda Triangle for the locals; no one leaves, and they often fall out of touch with outside society. I lived in the  413 for 18 years, but I managed to escape, and I live to tell the tale.

I have some suspicions as to why Western Massachusetts is called the “Happy Valley” and doctor/rapper/stoner Dr. Westchesterson confirms them. Recently, Westchesterson, returned home to Western Mass after some time in Oregeon and a pesky little felony over a mere 20 pounds of marijuana in his car.  The doctor fled the law and took sanctuary in the hills of the Happy Valley. But he’s not exactly laying low: Westchesterson has recently gained some local fame after he entered the rap game, spitting rhymes about the hard hills of his home town, Agawam, and the local landmarks.

Hailing from Western Mass, particularly a town like Agawam, does not generally a hip-hop superstar make. But neither does a degree in (ahem) horticulture and biochemistry from Amherst College. Or a medical degree from Oregon Health and Science University.  Not like that’s stopping Westchesterson.

The doc’s most famous video, “413”, is a celebration of the majestic monuments of Western Mass, such as Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts and the Yankee Candle flagship store. It went viral almost immediately after its release on April 20 (yeah), with locals writing comments about the long-overdue praise of the area, and how the video boosted their hometown pride. Fans and local news outlets seem to think that Westchesterson is the perfect Happy Valley spokesman, but perhaps they missed the irony of an academic wearing a brown and orange suit with a gold chain while pursuing a satirical rap career — not the most effective representative for a place that complains of not being taken seriously.

Sullivan’s Review in the Boston Phoenix

Sullivan’s is the kind of place your grandfather might have taken your grandmother when they were dating — a place for cheap eats, a romantic stroll, and necking in the parking lot. Open since 1951, the Southie mainstay — offering hamburgers for less than $2 and some of the only crinkle-cut fries in Boston — is nestled in the corner of Castle Island, an old fortress turned mob haunt turned family park.

Sullivan’s is charming in that peculiar Boston way that is somehow really unwelcoming while still making you feel right at home. On a nice day, the infamous line wraps all the way around the parking lot; tight-lipped townie cashiers brusquely take your order. Intimidating, maybe, but this no-frills system is efficient — you’ll get your food in 10 minutes. During my visit, I was lucky enough to nab a picnic table (there’s no inside seating).

Since their patties are pretty thin, Sullivan’s only cooks them well-done, but my burger — with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and ketchup — still packed plenty of flavor. It’s not gourmet, but for $1.90, I wasn’t looking for anything fancy. A large side of French fries ($1.95/small; $3.25/large) is pricier than anything else on the lunch menu, but totally worth it. Hot and delicious, these fries serve as a reminder of a better time, when crinkle-cut fries weren’t so rare. The large is just enough to split between two people — or sate the cravings of a crinkle-cut junkie.

Sullivan’s also has one of the best-priced lobster rolls around — for $9.95, you get a toasted hot-dog bun overflowing with quality lobster meat, lightly dressed in mayonnaise. Sullivan’s doesn’t screw around with celery or lettuce or distracting spices; they skip straight to the good stuff, letting the natural seafood flavor shine through.

After your meal, take a stroll around the island, play soccer in the grass, or lie on the beach — the greenery of the park against the harbor view proves that city-dwellers don’t have to roam far for a quick escape from urban bustle. But anyone planning to make the trek on a rainy day, take heed: Sullivan’s will close “if there are more seagulls than cars in the parking lot.”

Sullivan’s, located at 2080 Day Boulevard in South Boston, is open from the last weekend in February to the last weekend in November, seven days a week, 8:30 am–sunset, unless the weather is bad. Call 617.268.5685 or visit

-July 2012

Jonah Hill chats with Blast about his new movie, “Moneyball”

Funny guy Jonah Hill strayed from the comedic norm with his most recent film, “Moneyball,” a drama about the relationship between business and baseball.

The movie, also starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, is based on a book by Michael Lewis about baseball-player-turned-manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who struggles as the general manager of the Oakland A’s. Beane hires a nerdy Yale grad with a degree in economics, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), to employ his innovative idea about player statistics and success. Surprisingly, the new method takes them far, but not too far.

“The movie is about underdogs to me and people who are undervalued,” said Hill.

Although Hill’s character is definitely the underdog, Billy Beane always seems to be the ultimate second best.

Beane just can’t win, despite some valiant efforts. Jonah Hill unknowingly touched on this subject in a 2007 interview when he said “It’s funny to see people struggle and you don’t buy that Brad Pitt is struggling. You know that guy could be the most skill-less guy in the world, but if you look like that you will be fine for the rest of your life.” So could it be believable that Pitt is a loser on the big screen?

When asked about this quote, Hill gave a sheepish smile and said, “I eat my idiotic words from when I was 20 and 21-years-old.”

“I just meant…it’s more identifiable to be someone going through shit. It’s a perfect example of why I was wrong,” Hill backtracked. “Brad, in this movie, plays a guy who’s just going through it, and his attractiveness has nothing to do with his character. He’s really just playing a guy you can identify with going through some shit. And it’s a really beautiful performance and its funny and raw. It’s cool.”

And Pitt’s performance is spectacular. Hill matches Pitt’s acting prowess, however, because he was able to make his debut role in a drama a huge success.

“There are funny moments in the movie…but it comes from a different type of character than I’ve ever done,” Hill explained. “I am no longer an underdog in the comedy world…with this film, I’m an underdog again.”

Hill said he did a lot of studying for the movie, which included reading the book it was based off of. He also drew inspiration for the character through his own life. He compared Peter Brand’s analysis of baseball players, which is largely centered on how much money and wins they will bring a team in the long run, to his own analysis of fellow actors.

“We look at a receipt and see how much you’re worth…this is how my friends and I analyze other actors…it’s all dollars.”

In spite of his recent success and major league collaborations, Hill remains humble and enthusiastic.

“I just want to make cool stuff, I want to make cool movies,” Hill said.