When Mark met Marianne

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BOSTON

Boston
Released: August 1976
Label: Epic
Cover art: Paula Sher and Roger Huyssen

Told by Mark Bell

My father had finished our basement. My brother and I loved it because we got to move down there as kids and have some sort of distance from parents who were super-loving but, in my dad’s case, very strict. But the one thing he’d failed to do during the renovation was to properly extend the heat down there. So every winter we’d freeze. You had to go upstairs to take your shower because there was no shower downstairs, and you’d freeze running all the way back to the bed to dive under the covers, and if you were smart, you stole your mother’s hair dryer the night before and you blew warm air under the blankets while it completely covered your head. And I was smart like that.

By my freshman year in high school, I would set the alarm to wake to music. The station was WPGC out of Washington D.C. One morning when I was very, very cold, my little radio went off. I remember this very soft, low music starting off. And it struck me that the words were almost being delivered in real-time along with my morning:

“I woke up this morning and the sun was gone. Turned on some music to start my day. I lost myself in a familiar song. I closed my eyes and slipped away.” And honestly, I started to fall right back to sleep. Until the guitars kicked in.

It didn’t take me long to realize I was completely and utterly mesmerized by the harmonies in the instruments and the vocals. I was sucked in immediately. It was literally music to my ears.

I don’t know the right word. But the fact is that nobody had this sound. Nobody else used the multi-track recording equipment. Tom (Scholz) invented that equipment so he could lay down those tracks separately. The fact that it was in perfect harmony was one thing. The precision of the timing was so perfect because he’d play one of the guitar parts, lay that down, and then play the other on top of it. Same thing with Brad Delp on the vocals. He’d lay this angelic track that no one else could do, and then go back and layer the harmony on top of it. That sound existed only in Tom Scholz’s basement.

I grew up in Vienna, Virginia. I used to skateboard or ride my bike to Tyson’s Corner, probably three miles from my house. I bought that record at a store I wasn’t supposed to go into: Penguin’s Feather Records and Tapes. Because it was also a head shop.

My father was a deacon at the church; my mother was a church secretary. I went to school there. So every time the doors were open I was pretty much there. But the way I would fund my music collection was to return soda bottles. You could still get 3 or 5 cents per bottle, and I had nothing else to do, so I’d just cover the town of Vienna, which was apparently filled with litterbugs because I made a good living buying music from other people’s bad habits.

The other thing about living in your basement is you can do foolish things and nobody knows. I would turn this record up really loud, and I learned how to refine the art of air guitar. And God rest his soul: Brad Delp. One of the things I think was so contagious about this album was the multi-part harmony. Brad had a voice you just can’t explain and I’ve never heard since. He made a sound that’s incredibly special. It just goes right to my core.

I don’t know if this is odd or not, but at that point in my life, the Boston album was my soundtrack. The world was sort of going through significant change, and you could tell that a lot of people were wrestling with a lot of things. And then all of a sudden “Peace of Mind” comes out. Tom and Brad wrote music everyone could relate to. It’s what “More than a Feeling” is about: the girl who got away, Marianne. Music is transformative. When you hear a song it takes you back to the memory of a place or time. It takes you right back to the moment.

33hifi talked to Mark Bell, a trade association executive, from his Washington D.C. office in June 2017.

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