Thursday, April 22, 2010

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Last March, U2 strafed through here, playing four songs at the Somerville Theater to a bunch of industry insiders, ticket winners, and local politicos, on which occasion Mayor Joe Curtatone presented the band a certificate declaring March 11 "U2 Day" in Somerville. At the time, he asserted in print somewhere (the Somerville Journal?) that the event had put the city "on the map." This year, March 11 passed quietly, and while it's possible the mayor received a celebratory bouquet or box of candy from the band, I certainly never heard anything about it. No parades, no half-holiday for city employees; just a quiet little March 11, like pretty much any other. U2 Day hasn't seemed to make Somerville particularly more important culturally than it was before, and the federal government didn't seem to take it into account when deciding to cut the arts budget for Massachusetts this year.

On the other hand, an event of decidedly lower profile and profoundly greater cultural and community significance took place last night when The Church brought its 30th anniversary tour to the Center for Arts at the Armory. There were no crowds outside the venue, straining for a glimpse of the band; there were no parking problems caused in the neighborhood; there was nary a sign of Mayor Joe, and there was no holiday declared. Instead, one of the longest-lived, hardest-working, and most talented bands playing rock and roll took the audience on a tour backwards through the songs on its (to date) 23 albums. Instead of being a mere PR stop accessible primarily to non-residents, tickets to this show were available to all at an affordable $30. The ticket price also included a copy of the band's latest EP.

Why is it culturally significant to Somerville that this sleeper of an event occurred here? It shows me that we have a space that can intimately embrace those bands that are beyond superstars, whose success isn't measured in record company profits, but rather in terms of raw artistic accomplishment. Not that The Church hasn't earned its labels more than a little cash over time, but this is a band that hasn't had a hit in 20 years. The show was a little gift, a gem glowing softly in a velvet cushion. Seeing a band I've loved for 30 years a few blocks from my home was an experience I'm unbelievably grateful to have had.

If Somerville needs an additional push to find a place on Mayor Joe's proverbial map, beyond its 200 years of history, its own dynamic community, its arts, and its local businesses, I think it will come from more events of this type, rather than the hype of last year's forgotten U2 visit. Mayor Joe would do well to take note, and rather than hand out gratuitous honors to those who bring nothing to his city, celebrate the substantial contributions of those who bring their music to share with its citizens.

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