Roadrunner testimony

Testimony in support of HB.2779, An Act designating “Roadrunner” as the official rock song of the Commonwealth, as prepared for delivery on October 20, 2105 at Hearing of Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, sophisticated music fans:

First, let me thank Senator Hedlund, Rep. Linsky and Rep. Garbally for sponsoring this bill. I am excited to be here to testify in support of HB.2779, An Act designating “Roadrunner” as the official rock song of the Commonwealth. I am proud to say I am the person who, in January 2013, asked Representative Walsh, now the Mayor of Boston, to introduce the first version of this bill, which failed to make it to the floor last session. We’re back, because a group of dedicated fans of the iconic song understand it symbolizes hope and optimism while professing its love of our home state. It is important, and the perfect song for this honor.

This has been an interesting journey. Over the nearly three years since the original bill was introduced, we’ve gotten a ton of press, with many stories in all the local media, plus Rolling Stone, Time, NPR, the BBC, the CBC and Gawker. A friend of mine in Tokyo said he heard me on the radio talking about Roadrunner. When an ill-conceived competing bill was introduced in 2013 to bestow the title on Aerosmith’s Dream On, there was even more national and international press. My favorite was an essay in Slate by Jack Hamilton, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Virginia, which talks about the Massachusetts paradox that made the Aerosmith episode so predictable. He said, “In a rock-snob worldview, the Modern Lovers’ failure at the moment of Aerosmith’s success is evidence of the former’s worth: Part of the reason the Modern Lovers are great is because everyone else loves Aerosmith.” Remember, in 1972, the year both Dream On and Roadrunner were recorded, Massachusetts was the only state to vote George McGovern for President. We revel in the obscure and esoteric. We punch above our weight. We root for the underdog. We wear our idiosyncrasies with pride. And sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s who we are.

Jonathan Richman, the eccentric genius who wrote the song has said that he doesn’t believe the song is good enough to be any kind of official song. This is exactly what many of us expected him to say, and it just adds to this already-great legend. But this isn’t really about the artist who created or performed the song at all. This is about a song that captures the very essence of the spirit of Massachusetts. And let’s acknowledge the first bill’s anti-climactic death. Of course it died. That we’re still spending time on this when it should have been done so long ago is testament to the fact that we sometimes can’t get out of our own way. And, no matter what happens from here, we will still have a great story.

Famed author Nick Hornby voiced his strong support of our efforts on the first bill, as did the Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey, and the Daily Show’s John Hodgman, a Brookline native who invited the soon-to-be Mayor Walsh to perform the song on stage with him in November 2013. THAT was a highlight of my life, which I am grateful to say has been pretty full of highlights.

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.

With that, I give you 17 really quick 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, 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 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.