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Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Killing Of Georgie Part III” Misses the Mark in Astounding Ways
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Legendary third-wave ska band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have returned with their 11th studio album When God Was Great, which contains the single “The Killing Of Georgie Part III,” which references the murder of George Floyd, which is relevant, well-intentioned, and a towering achievement in the field of no.
Its video features Ben Carr, the band’s main dancer—or “Bosstone player”—bopping joyfully (which, no) around the streets of Boston while the song’s lyrics appear on walls, so that as you are hearing them and thinking “no,” you can actually read them, confirm that you have heard them correctly, and say, out loud, “No.” “We were so close to something that we all could get behind,” lead screamer Dickie Barrett screams (raising the question “were we?” which, looking back over the last few years, no), “and we could have made a difference, but the stars were not aligned.” A real Mercury in retrograde situation, this whole police brutality thing, right? (No.)
In the song, George Floyd—whose death we are invited to think of not as “murder” so much as “a bad day for a Scorpio”—is referred to here as “Georgie,” which makes you wonder whether he had some kind of pre-existing relationship with the Bosstones, which, as far as I know, no. Instead, the “Part III” in the title seems to call back to Rod Stewart’s 1976 single “The Killing of Georgie Parts I & II,” a song about a gay friend of Stewart’s who was murdered by a gang on the streets of New York. (“Hey, Dave,” you may ask, “you’re a middle-aged gay man whose job description includes ‘having heard of things.’ Have you heard of this song?” No.) The situations are not analogous, but the names are the same, and murder is bad, and sometimes you need a gimmick for a subject like this, and that’s if you’re going to take it on at all, which you should only do if you have asked yourself “should I,” which they didn’t, because the answer is no.
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When you reach the bridge of this song, you will have noticed that the lyrics have not referenced Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and you will wonder whether you have dodged a bullet. The answer is no: “I still have a dream rooted in the American dream,” Barrett rasps, “that one day the nation will rise and live up to its creed.” Which, sure, many of us do! But getting there will require real examination of real problems, rather than framing them in a voice so passive it makes “officer-involved shooting” sound inflammatory.
This song would have voted for Obama a third time if it could. This song is the sound inside your head just before your uncle finishes the sentence that begins “I’m the least racist person on Earth.” This song is no.
Now, listen, am I here to bash the Bosstones? No. Will I deny having worn a variety of plaid sportcoats and trousers to any number of Bosstones shows throughout my college years and beyond? Also no, for I cannot. They are a great American band with a list of bangers as long as my arm, and they were in Clueless, and now I’m wondering whether Fox News is going to book Stacey Dash to talk about this song, and I hope the answer is no. Third-wave ska in general is an unfairly maligned genre, and the Bosstones are not only trailblazers within it, they’re pretty much the last band left standing. This is a point Aaron Carnes makes in his new book, In Defense of Ska, which is an excellent read, and which features a truly heartbreaking moment with the Bosstones’ guitarist Nate Albert. “Every commercial that’s supposed to be funny, the soundtrack is ska-core. I’m watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and it’s like the whole soundtrack is ska-core, and I’m thinking Is this what we gave to the world?”
How the Mighty have fallen.
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It must be frustrating when your life’s work is an easy punchline for some and the sound of Grandma falling into the birthday cake for others. It must make you think you should take a bigger swing and tackle a larger issue. But if you don’t have anything to add to the conversation, you don’t have to pipe up! You don’t have to write lyrics that read like six needlepoint pillows you bought off Etsy and then make a video that looks like a CBS Six Flags Guy origin story. You can just say no!
I bet the rest of the album is good. The Bosstones are a great band. But even great bands can benefit from quieting down for a minute and just listening. Everybody can.
This video did make our video editor Dom Nero wonder whether it would play well with the Six Flags Guy music, so he got busy on that, and we are pleased to reveal that the answer is yes.
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Dave Holmes is Esquire’s L.A.-based editor-at-large.
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