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The real pro-lifers

Boston's rock stars come out for Safe & Sound

by Amy Finch

["Safe From the bleak insanity of the murders of Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols on December 30, 1994, comes a bit of hope. Safe and Sound: A Benefit in Response to the Brookline Clinic Violence (Big Rig/Mercury) features 16 songs by Boston bands, continuing a project that started in February '95 with a slew of fundraising shows. Safe and Sound comes out this Tuesday; it will benefit the National Clinic Access Project and six battered-women's shelters in the local area.

The impetus is a laudable one. And if Safe and Sound were a bad album, who would have the heart to say as much? Fortunately, the disc is a vivid mosaic that runs from spare folk (Mary Lou Lord) to head-rattling hardcore (Mung), directly responding to the murders only once (Bill Janovitz's "Coming Down with Something"), and offering no outright duds. The biggest disappointment is probably Deluxx Folk Implosion's "U Can't Win," which emphasizes the more fractured, meandering tendencies of Lou Barlow. Still, it's less painful than unremarkable.

Not only has the Safe and Sound project generated tremendous good will, but the Safe and Sound disc presents the Boston rock music scene as a real community. Letters to Cleo with Charlie Chesterman do a cover of his old band Scruffy the Cat's "You Dirty Rat" that's even more exuberant than the original. Mary Lou Lord offers an affecting take on "Polaroids," a song by her buddy/mentor (and Passim regular) Shawn Colvin. Gigolo Aunts do a straight-ahead version of Big Dipper's "Mr. Woods." And if anyone out there still bears a grudge against Aimee Mann for that slick, inescapable hit of 10 years ago, the melodious "Driving with One Hand on the Wheel" is yet another fine piece of redemption from her pointed pen. Scarce make their recent break-up all the sadder with an aching acoustic version of "Freakshadow" that outdoes the one on Deadsexy. Here they call it "Naked Freakshadow," and Chick Graning's voice cracks with a wrenching urgency.

Also in the line-up: Juliana Hatfield's thin-but-pretty "Waves," Tracy Bonham's silly-but-fun "Navy Bean" (live), the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' new "The Impression That I Get," and Jennifer Trynin's new "Don't Take It Out on Me," on which she sounds nothing at all like Liz Phair. Belly's cover of Harry Nilsson's "Think About Your Troubles" (originally from the film The Point) is lilting and sweet, and it speaks of regeneration and faith that are endless and immune to insanity or bullets. Safe and Sound's moods and styles may not form any sort of thematic whole, but "Think About Your Troubles" could be the spiritual core of the entire project.

Here's what some of the participants had to say about the project.

Dickie Barrett, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
"The Impression That I Get"

I think women's health care is a women's issue, but safety anywhere is everyone's issue. That's why we're involved -- not to say we're socially aware or anything. The cause is a lot bigger than the bands involved. If the record only raises awareness, so be it; if it raises money for Safe and Sound, then that's icing. But what a woman does with her body is not for me to say. I think a woman should have the right to do whatever she wants. The tactics the so-called pro-lifers are using -- guerrilla tactics, or Mafia-style stuff -- `We don't like this perfectly legal business existing, so we're gonna stand around and fuck it up,' -- if you did that at somebody's restaurant, it would be absurd, totally unacceptable."

["Mary Mary Lou Lord

You say, well, what can I do to help, to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again? Not that it won't, but to contribute to a cause. To me the cause is financial support and protection for women who are seeking the best health care they can find.

I think "Polaroids" is a beautiful song. It's a Shawn Colvin song, and I've always loved it. I saw Shawn the other day and she said, `Oh, yeah I heard it and it was really great.' And I'm like, `Oh shut up.' Because I know that she's just entirely the real deal, the best. She wrote it. But a song can only have life while it's being listened to, so the more people playing a song, the more life that song has."

Kay Hanley, Letters to Cleo
"You Dirty Rat"

"You Dirty Rat" appeared on the British B-side to "Here and Now." When Jules [Verdone] and I started talking about doing a Safe and Sound compilation, she was like, "Oh, we should use `You Dirty Rat.' " I think we never made a conscious effort to have a record that was a collective response to the shootings. People needed to be able to put this on in their living rooms and listen to it and enjoy it. It would've been a little depressing if every song had been written in response to the tragedy. So as usual we supplied the lighter side of things, which is the job of Letters to Cleo.

The real story is that I just wanted a way to meet Charlie Chesterman. [She laughs.] The easiest way to do that is to record one of his songs, and ask him to sing on it.

Bill Janovitz
"Coming Down with Something"

I don't think I've ever, prior to this, written a song with a subject in mind. I write from more of a stream-of-consciousness situation. How I felt after the violence that day, it was sort of like how a lot of people felt. Which was really saddened and frustrated.

"Coming Down with Something" is solo because we had just gotten off the road when they asked me -- or the band -- to do the first show. It would be really easy for me to do it, so I did it. That's why the band is not on it. Another thing is my disclaimer about the recording of the song. It was my first project that I did at home, on home recording stuff, so it's all just me playing all that stuff.

["Belly"] Tanya Donelly, Belly
"Think About Your Troubles"

We just picked a beautiful song. Because that's what we're better at than making too much of a pointed statement.

It's such a tough issue because nobody is pro the death of any child. But that's not the point. It seems to me that there's no other choice but to be involved in something like this because that situation was so insane and he [convicted murderer John Salvi] was so obviously insane. And the frightening thing about it is that he had so much support. And that's what surprised me. The tragedy itself didn't surprise me because in some ways it's been leading up to this. And everybody's gotta be involved now because it's not going to get better.

This is the central political issue, as far as I'm concerned, of the '90s so far. And it's not going to go away, it's going to escalate and people have to be involved. Being an armchair choice advocate is not going to work anymore. It's almost part of the problem.

It's really hard to combat an act of violence with music because so much anger arises and it ends up turning into a spiral of violence. When I first heard about it, my initial reaction was adrenaline and anger, and the killer instinct. Right back at him. And that just ends up becoming too human.

Hilken Mancini, Fuzzy

I actually go to that clinic. It's a place where a lot of my girlfriends go because when you don't have insurance and you don't have a real job, it's a good place to go. It could've so easily have been me or one of my friends going over there on our lunch breaks and picking up a couple of packages of pills or whatever. That makes it hit home all the harder. You read about things in the paper, and you're sort of like, it's horrible but I'm not going to be walking around Dorchester at three in the morning and get shot.

Every time I go to buy my pills or to go and get a check-up I have to think about women who were killed in this place where I'm sitting in the middle of my day reading a magazine in the lobby. There was a brutal murder right there. I think about that every time I go there and it's really upsetting and it's scary and it makes me really angry that that's just one more thing along with all the other problems that we have, that we have to worry about being shot."

Paul Delano, Mung
"Red Light"

I read a review of this compilation that said something about how there's a lot of heartfelt songs on there, then it gets to the Mung song. [He laughs.] "Red Light" is not the typical sappy love song. It's about a person with very self-destructive behavior, and resorting to suicide. But it was written from the heart. I wrote it about a friend who I had grown up with who is very self-destructive. He would try to commit suicide left and right and get put away.

"And then [speaking about violence against women] I saw a bumper sticker the other day that made me laugh: `If you are against abortion, don't have one.' "