Thursday, April 30, 2020

Musical Mysteries: The Boys Are Back In Town

Thin Lizzy: The Boys Are Back In Town

Like many of the themes that we use on Star Maker Machine, this one came to me when I was driving in my car, listening to the radio, and the song that prompted this particular theme was Thin Lizzy’s hard rock classic, “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Now, there have been many musical mysteries throughout history, and even if you limit it to the “rock era,” there are some really fascinating ones. I have to admit that “The Boys Are Back In Town” didn’t crack any of the lists that I found when I Googled “musical mysteries.” And yet, to me, it is deeply mysterious. Let’s delve right into the lyrics:

Guess who just got back today? 
Them wild-eyed boys that'd been away 
Haven't changed, had much to say 
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

OK, who got back today? Where did they come back to? Where have they been? Why did they come back? And what makes them crazy?

In doing some research about the song, which was in part inspired by the hard-drinking, working class fans of the band, it appears that singer/songwriter/bassist Phil Lynott’s mother Philomena ran the Clifton Grange Hotel (subject of an earlier Thin Lizzy song) with an after-hours bar in Manchester, England, which was frequented by the Quality Street Gang, a group of Manchester criminals and Manchester United supporters, as well as entertainers and footballers (which may have overlapped). So, it may be that some of these mysteries, but not all, have plausible answers. But not all of them. We still don’t know where they came from, and why they returned.

They were askin' if you were around 
How you was, where you could be found 
Told them you were livin' downtown 
Drivin' all the old men crazy 

Presumably, this is a about a woman (since at the time this was written, it was not likely that Lynott would have referred to a man who drove “old men crazy”). But who is the woman? And was it only old men that she drove crazy?  What effect did she have on younger men, if any?

The boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 
I said, the boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 
The boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 
The boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 

Yes, we know. The boys are back in town. But we still don’t know why. Or where they came from.

You know that chick that used to dance a lot 
Every night, she'd be on the floor, shakin' what she's got 
Man, when I tell ya she was cool, she was red hot I mean she was steamin' 

Is this about the same girl who was driving the old men crazy? Or a different one? What's she "got?" (I think we can make an educated guess.)  Is this town filled with beautiful women? Or just one (or two)?

And that time over at Johnny's place 
Well, this chick got up and she 
Slapped Johnny's face 
Man, we just fell about the place 
If that chick don't wanna know, forget her 

Where’s Johnny’s place? What did Johnny do to incite a face slap? (Although we can probably guess.) And why did everyone appear to find it so amusing? Is it sort of a slapstick thing? What is it that this woman doesn’t want to know? And is not being curious a sufficient excuse to forget her?

If you believe the Manchester story, then it is likely that “Johnny” refers to “Johnny The Fox,” a member of the Quality Street Gang, who is also the subject of the later Thin Lizzy song, “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed,” from the Johnny The Fox album. Of course, Johnny is a pretty common name, so we can’t really be sure.

The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
I said, the boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 

Yep. They’re baaaaaaaaaaack!

Spread the word around guess who's back in town 
You spread the word around

Why is it necessary to publicize the arrival of the “boys?” Is it a warning, or an enticement? Or both?

Friday night they'll be dressed to kill 
Down at Dino's bar and grill 
The drink will flow, and blood will spill 
And if the boys wanna fight you 
Better let 'em 

Where’s Dino’s? Why will blood spill? And why should we let the boys fight?

Dino’s also appears to have been a different bar in Manchester, possibly "Deno's," a Greek/Cypriot place with a reputation for debauchery. Why it seems appropriate to condone fighting and violence remains a mystery.

That jukebox in the corner 
Blasting out my favorite song 
The nights are gettin' warmer 
It won't be long 
Won't be long 'til summer comes 
Now that the boys are here again 

What’s his favorite song? And why is the return of the “boys” a harbinger of summer? Are they like migratory birds?

Another mystery about this song is that the band originally didn’t want to include it on the Jailbreak album, or release it as a single, but two DJs in Louisville, Kentucky, latched on to the song and played it so much that it became a viral hit, and probably saved the band’s career.

And yet another mystery about this song is why the Republican Party thought that it was a good song to use at their convention in 2012 when failed House Speaker and failed Vice Presidential candidate, and alleged “policy genius,” Paul Ryan took the stage. Philomena Lynott was quoted afterwards as saying that son Phil, who died in 1986, would have disagreed with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on issues including gay marriage and taxes:

As far as I am concerned, Mitt Romney’s opposition to gay marriage and to civil unions for gays makes him anti-gay – which is not something that Philip would have supported. He had some wonderful gay friends, as indeed I do, and they deserve equal treatment in every respect, whether in Ireland or the United States.

It is, of course, mysterious, that in 2016, this country elected a Republican president who makes Romney look good by comparison.

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