Sideband #6: The Boston Syndrome

In the Green Lantern post I mentioned “The Rocky Syndrome.”  That’s what I call the common American trope where a single hero prevails after having the living crap beat out of him (or her) and being at the edge of defeat.  (I’m going to assume you’re all familiar enough with the Rocky films to know what I’m talking about.)

A more modern example is one of the first (and greatest) action films of its kind: Die Hard. (Obviously, I’m talking about the first one. The others are… okay, but that first one is a classic. One of those films you can watch many times and still enjoy.)

In fact, that’s such a great film that one of these days I’ll have to write a post about it, but for now I want to talk about what I call, “The Boston Syndrome.”

I’m not talking about the city (or the clam chowder); I’m talking about the band, Boston (who came from Boston and no doubt ate plenty of clam chowder there). Another name for this syndrome might be “The Heavy Metal Syndrome,” which might lead you to think this is about music, but I mean another kind of Heavy Metal entirely.

Those of you who were around in the 70s and 80s, and who listened to rock music, will remember Boston. Their first album is one of the great classic albums. The band had a distinctive sound; you recognized a Boston tune immediately. Part of that came from the band’s musical arrangements, but a part of it was from technical innovations by Tom Scholz, guitarist and songwriter. (If I recall an article I read long ago, Scholz over-drove the output amplifiers and used bigass resistors to dampen the output. This is in contrast to over-driving the pre-amps.)

Anyway, here’s the point. The first album (Boston, 1976) was a rock and roll classic. Their second album (Don’t Look Back, 1978) was… more of the same. It did about half as well as the first. Granted, some of the problem was strife within the band, but a bigger problem is that it was… more of the same.  The band capitalized on their unique sound, but that works only once. After than, the novelty is gone.

It would be 1986 before the band released another album, Third Stage. Two more albums followed, Walk On (1994) and Corporate America (2002). And while their first album went platinum 17 times, the second went platinum only seven, their third only four, their fourth only once, and their fifth has zero.

Which brings us to “The Boston Syndrome,” or more properly, “doing a Boston.” The idea is of monster success followed by never living up to that first time ever again. And let me be clear: it’s not that their other albums are bad in any way. It’s just that they were so much less than the initial outing.

Another example of this–albeit a much more prolonged decay–was the magazine Heavy Metal (which was based on the French SciFi/Horror magazine, Métal Hurlant). When Heavy Metal first came out in 1977, it was awesome; it was another classic among all that followed.

As with Boston (the album), it was in part based on being the first and being unique. But as the magazine aged, it became less and less interesting.  The problem was that when they started they had a vast pool of current and past work upon which to draw.  Once they exhausted the cream, they had to rely on the small amount of new cream and a lot of old milk. The quality of the stories began to slip, and by 1986 they went from monthly to quarterly.

It did spawn some movies, and–like Boston (the band)–it’s still around, but it’s no longer the cultural landmark it once was. In both cases, part of the reason is that they created many followers, and that dilutes the primacy of the creator.

I’ll leave you with one more example of “doing a Boston.” Here’s another classic among peers that has never been matched since: the movie, The Sixth Sense.

M. Night Shyamalan created a movie that everyone was talking about. It was a phenomenon. (It’s one of my favorite movies; it easily makes my top 25 favorites of all time.) He’s never matched the sheer impact, surprise or quality of that movie since. He second, Unbreakable, wasn’t bad–most people rank it near the first, but it didn’t have the impact of his first. Just about everyone agrees his films went sharply downhill from there (hitting a serious low point with The Last Airbender).

I think his most recent film, Devil, wasn’t bad. He continues his trick of having a twist ending that he telegraphs early, but it’s toned down and rather loudly telegraphed (one would barely call it a twist ending). Actually, there’s two twists. One involves who the Devil is, and I guessed that one. It’s the unexpected twist that’s his signature move, and it’s fairly subtle here. One thing that is increasingly clear is that he’s a horror film director.  That’s his element.

But I have once again digressed off the main topic, so it’s time to quit. But now you know what I mean when I say, “They did a Boston.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

5 responses to “Sideband #6: The Boston Syndrome

  • Sideband #39: “Star Trekking It” « Logos con carne

    […] while back I mentioned another metaphor: “doing a Boston.” This is like that. It’s a specific reference applied to a general situation. In this case, […]

  • Lady from Manila

    Music has always been one of my main pleasures so yes, I’ve known of the band Boston and their likable song “Amanda” which hit #1 on the Billboard charts way back. That’s all I remember about them. It’s only from you that I’ve learned about their unique sound. Now the Boston syndrome somehow reminds me of my childhood favorite song “My Sharona” from The Knack.

    “The Sixth Sense” is one of my all-time faves, too. I could hardly sleep for three nights after watching the film. Really. It scared me that much (the dead people hanging and Haley Joel Osment hiding – under the bed covers – from a young ghost. Spooky. :-)). But what has been unforgettable for me was the movie’s ending. I started to guess what really did happen five minutes before the shocking twist was revealed. It had been unexpected, nonetheless.

    A lot of movie/music makers did a Boston. Too many to mention, in fact.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It’s become apparent watching his other movies that Shyamalan is, at heart, a horror director. There are parts of The Sixth Sense that are quite creepy indeed! The thing I love about that movie is how Shyamalan is rubbing your face in the secret throughout the movie. Time after time there are scenes that make you wonder what’s going on, and time after time he distracts you from thinking about it.

      My canonical example: scene starts with Bruce Willis and Toni Collete sitting in the living room, but they’re sitting silently, not talking. Kid walks in, mom speaks to him, scene moves on and you forget about the weirdness. You even find out later that the mom hates shrinks, so you think to yourself, “Ah, ha! That’s why they weren’t talking! Mom resents his even being here.”

      Nope. That wasn’t why! 😀

      For me it all fell into place moments before the final reveal. It’s when his sleeping wife drops his wedding ring and it rolls across the floor towards him. I don’t know why, but at that moment I realized it was his ring, and then it all hit me at once.

      It’s a brilliantly done film. If you ever watch it again, watch for the color red. Shyamalan used red to signal “ghostly” stuff. For example, the doorknob to the blocked-off basement door is red.

      • Lady from Manila

        You bet I’ll be watching “The Sixth Sense” again as soon as I find the time. The color red escaped my notice so I’m taking note of that – together with the particular scene of Bruce and Toni you just mentioned. When I got home after watching the movie, it got me thinking about the locked door leading to the basement Bruce Willis was trying to open and I wondered if he was able to shake it (did he?) as a ghost. You’re right. There were several other frightening scenes in the movie – including the nerve-racking confrontation between Donnie Wahlberg and Bruce Willis.

        Oh I forgot to mention “Die Hard” as another huge favorite of mine, too. Although I had decided then that Die Hard 2 was more to my liking because its action and physical battle scenes were fiercer. Besides, it was a pleasure watching the group of attractive, young, brawny, tough men Bruce unfortunately defeated one by one :-). In Die Hard 1, Alan Rickman was the ultimate bad guy. One of my all-time favorite villains. But surprisingly, he was such a darling romantic hero in “Sense and Sensibility.” Loved that fella.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There are so many things to note in The Sixth Sense; the color red and the scene I mentioned are just two! The Anniversary dinner is another good example of Shyamalan throwing things in your face. It appears she ignores him because Shyamalan has set you up to believe Willis and his wife are having problems. The anti-depression pills he sees when she’s showering, the apparent disconnection between them, how they never talk… and yet the real explanation is right there. There’s the weirdness with the kid always wearing a jacket when Willis is around. I think you even see fogged breath at one point. Anyone with a sense of narrative has to wonder why Willis never speaks to anyone at that funeral gathering (for the poisoned girl).

        The Sixth Sense is one of those rare movies that’s actually two different movies. There’s the one you see the first time, and there’s the one you see every time after. Movies such as these must be seen at least twice, or you’re missing a whole movie (in a way). Next time watch it with an eye for all the hand-waving and pointing that Shyamalan does!

        Love Die Hard! That first one is a genuine modern classic. It’s one of the first of its kind, and it spawned a genre of imitators. I can see you have good reasons for liking #2! I just picked up the DVD for #5.

        Rickman is an amazing actor. He’s done such varied roles that there’s no typecast sense about him at all. He’s in one of my favorite movies ever, Galaxy Quest. Heck of a range, that guy!

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