REVERE — Brian Coleman, considered by many to be America’s top hip-hop historian/journalist, has a new book out. But instead of zeroing in on classic rap albums this time, the Revere resident sets his sights on classic advertisements from local newspapers and magazines.
Coleman calls himself the curator of “Buy Me, Boston,” a self-published visual history book that features some 400 vintage flyers, posters and ads from the 1960s to ’80s, many of them with a North Shore flavor. What a wondrous trip in a time machine this is!
An ad for Shear Creations, a long-gone Saugus-based hair salon for rock ‘n’ rollers, features a fab photo of four heavily Aqua-Netted gents. An ad promoting Peabody’s Golden Banana from 1975, the year it opened, references a strong lineup of show bands; there is no mention of strippers or live, nude girls. When rock band The Who played the Commonwealth Armory in 1969, top tickets were advertised for $4; yesterday news came that the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers will be performing at Fenway Park Sept. 13 and you can bet that amount will barely buy you a Coke.
Thursday night, from 6-8, Coleman will host a “Buy Me, Boston” book talk and multimedia presentation in Rabb Hall at the Boston Public Library. There will be a slideshow of vintage Boston advertisements, selected video clips, and a panel discussion about Boston in the late 20th century featuring Prince Charles Alexander, Boston-born Grammy-winning engineer, Berklee College of Music professor and R&B musician; and renowned archivist David Bieber of the David Bieber Archives, formerly with WBCN, WFNX and the Boston Phoenix. Admission is free; to RSVP or buy the book, go to www.good-road.net.
“Almost every ad in this book was placed in an independent media outlet, such as the Boston Phoenix, Real Paper, Bay State Banner, Boston Rock,” said Coleman, hovering over his dining room table, which was covered with stacks of yellowed newspapers. “As you can see, there are many more to choose from, so a ‘Volume Two’ is practically a certainty. Look, here’s an ad for Rockit Records in Saugus. Remember that place?”
Most of the ads in the book were scanned from the originals, which were gleaned from numerous visits to Bieber’s private archives warehouse in Norwood, from the Kay Bourne Archives at Emerson College, and other sources. “I am so grateful I was given the rare opportunity to have access to this stuff,” said Coleman, a former Boston jazz publicist whose “Check the Technique” books are cherished by hip-hop junkies.
“‘Buy Me, Boston’ is one little strand of the story of Boston. I thought, ‘What if I take the stuff everyone thinks is garbage — the ads — and pay special attention to them.’ For those who grew up here or spent a lot of time in the city, like I did, this will bring back a lot of memories,” added Coleman, who grew up in Acton in the ’70s and moved back here for good in 1988. “As gentrification and progress happens, it’s nice to look back and see the places you visited that are gone, like the Hilltop (Steak House) down the road.”
Coleman’s wife, Margot, must be the most understanding woman in the world. “I’m always telling her, ‘Sorry about the piles of newspapers and magazines. I’ll clean them up soon, I promise,'” he said, then smiled. It’s a good thing they found this big house in Revere. Coleman also has a second-floor office that’s chock-full of miscellanea and a large finished basement that houses all sorts of vinyl records, particularly LPs by local acts and titans of hip-hop.
He cues up an album by I.T.M.B., the Incredible Two Man Band, a Revere-based outfit that toured New England for the better part of the ’70s-’90s. “These guys are great. They never got a break, I guess. Some of their songs sound a lot like 1970s Elton John.
“I am a lifelong music fanatic, so the book is unavoidably skewed toward that side of Boston history. I make no apologies for that. I never went to the Boston Tea Party. I was too young. But I like reading about these ancient rooms and I can talk to people who did and ask them questions. That’s the journalistic angle; it’s what I do.
“Every time I check out the archives it’s compelling and I get energized going through the stuff. I hope readers have as much fun as I did uncovering this stuff.”