My Roadrunner testimony

Below is the text of the testimony I gave at this morning's hearing on Roadrunner.

December 19, 2013

Joyce Linehan

Testimony in support of HB.3573, An Act designating “Roadrunner” as the official rock song of the Commonwealth

Hearing of Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight


Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:

I am excited to be here to testify in support of HB.3573, An Act designating “Roadrunner” as the official rock song of the Commonwealth. I am proud to say I am the person who asked Representative Walsh, now Boston Mayor-elect, back in January, to introduce this bill. As you have undoubtedly heard, he has had an interesting year, and in a funny way, this Roadrunner campaign became a cornerstone of a forward thinking arts and culture policy that I would argue helped in some small way to propel him to victory. As his campaign Policy Director, and currently his Transition co-chair, I can say the subject comes up frequently, because to a group of dedicated fans of the iconic song who understand it symbolizes hope and optimism while professing its love of our home state, it is important. At the very least, it was a good luck charm, and it would be fitting, as he leaves the House, for the loop to be closed and this bill to be passed.

This has been an interesting journey. Over the year since the bill was introduced, we’ve gotten a ton of press, with stories in all the local media, plus Rolling Stone, Time, Slate, NPR, the BBC, the CBC and Gawker. A friend of mine in Tokyo said he heard me on the radio talking about Roadrunner. Famed author Nick Hornby voiced his strong support, as did the Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey, and the Daily Show’s John Hodgman, a Brookline native who invited the Mayor-elect to perform the song on stage with him recently. It has been a blast. This story – indeed this song – captures imaginations around the world and communicates the very character of our Modern Massachusetts and her people.

This was never meant to be a competition. If we’re going to recognize the most popular song, the song that has sold the most copies and generated the most revenue, then let’s just withdraw the Roadrunner bill now and be done with it. Truthfully, as much as I loved the publicity that resulted when a competing bill was introduced, (because very few things give me greater joy than extolling the virtues of “Roadrunner”) I was crestfallen. It’s a false equivalent, and if those who support the other bill can’t see that, then I can’t argue with them. They are both SONGS, but that’s where it ends. The other song is a great song by a great band who have been great citizens of our great Commonwealth. They’ve been generous to charity and ambassadors of our state around the world. But this isn’t about that. This isn’t really about the artist who created or performed the song at all. This is about a song that I believe captures the very essence of the spirit Massachusetts.

With that, I give you 17 reasons why “Roadrunner” should be the official rock song of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

  1. Jonathan Richman, who wrote the song, is a Massachusetts native, born in Natick.
  2. The Modern Lovers, his band, started out in the Boston area.
  3. Many of Richman’s songs reference growing up in Massachusetts.
  4. “Roadrunner” is an upbeat, youthful ode to the greatness of being alive, and the simple beauty of the Commonwealth.
  5. “Roadrunner” is a tribute to the urban landscape, with nods to Massachusetts landmarks both civic and industrial, including the Mass Pike, Howard Johnson’s, the North Shore, the South Shore, Routes 3, 9, 90, 495 and of course 128, the Prudential, Quincy, Cohasset, Deer Island, Boston Harbor, Amherst, Needham, Ashland, Mattapan, Roslindale  and Stop & Shop.
  6. “Roadrunner” celebrates Route 128, which opened in 1951, the year Richman was born, and came to be known as “America’s Technology Highway.” To this day, it still represents Massachusetts’ vibrant Innovation Economy.
  7. The many versions of “Roadrunner” contain lyrical variations and musical deviations that have inspired many passionate late-night conversations among rock music fans about which is the best version.
  8. “Roadrunner” has been consistently popular and relevant since its creation in 1970.
  9. “Roadrunner” has been described as the first punk song.
  10. “Roadrunner” communicates its unbridled, unapologetic exuberance about youth, freedom and Massachusetts essentially and economically using just two chords.
  11. “Roadrunner” contains one of the most brilliant lyrics ever written: “going faster miles an hour.”
  12. “Roadrunner” also has the greatest count off in rock history: “1-2-3-4-5-6!”
  13.  Rolling Stone ranked “Roadrunner” #269 on its “500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time.”
  14.  A recent article in the Guardian UK convincingly made the case that the “Roadrunner” rock ‘n roll pilgrimage is just as important as those to Chuck Berry’s Route 66, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and others.
  15.  Legendary rock critic Greil Marcus called “Roadrunner” “the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest,” which just proves that HE’S never driven Route 128 at night. Of course, he is not wrong.
  16.  “Roadrunner” is a song that describes the mystery of the modern Massachusetts landscape. It has taken the specifics of that mystery and captured the imaginations of people around the world who have internalized it as their own, creating awareness of and interest in our state.
  17.  It is an unabashed valentine to our beloved Commonwealth. It says “I’m in love with Massachusetts” right in the song!

There’s no question that “Roadrunner” deserves the designation this bill seeks to bestow, and I urge you to look favorably on its advancement, with the Radio On!

Thank you.