Aside from the ethically bankrupt (who seem to be more and more publicly ubiquitous in recent years), I’m not sure there’s anyone I pity more than the so-called music fan who thinks there’s no good rock ’n’ roll being released today. These people have been around at least since Elvis joined the Army, and they’ve always, always been comically wrong, plugging their ears as thrilling cultural explosions go off all around them. It’s like somebody who dies of thirst 10 steps from a water cooler, except it’s worse because in this case the water needs someone to come drink it or else the water doesn’t get paid. And there these fuckers sit, parched, remembering all the legendary water they used to drink in their youth. Dumb, dumb, dumb. But it is a truly special kind of pathetic to hold this position in twenty-twenty-goddamn-three, when you can hear a thousand new bands in a day without leaving the comfort of your classic-rock-themed bedsheets, provided the phone charger reaches from bed to wall.

The real bummer, though, is not the young contemporary musician’s low streaming numbers. That don’t pay jack anyhow. No, it’s the nearly empty bar where brilliant new music echoes off the Pabst advertisements, enjoyed by single-digit numbers of lucky, lonely rock ’n’ roll fans like myself. Kayde Hazel blew me away at just such a bar in early January, and, not for the first time in the past six months, I was kicking myself for missing this until now. Believe me, a great new band is playing live in your city tonight, and you probably ain’t going. Pardon me if I ask, but why the hell not?

I live in Boston, and my personal local music renaissance began last summer with Alex Walton. Her 2020 record Shame Music is my favorite album of the decade so far. On first casual listen, I was delighted by the aesthetic but figured it was a surface-level affinity—lo-fi, Phil Spector–meets­–Richard Hell kinda stuff loaded with hooks, carefully arranged sober, played drunk. But listening more closely to the vocals is what really made my jaw drop. “Vaseline” does something to me emotionally that nothing any music blog has recommended to me this decade has come close to. Alex is a master of that most effective poetic move: juxtaposing an evocative detail (“I talk about books that I’ll never read/She talks about the Rangers”) with a barefaced existential gauntlet toss (“I always give too much too soon/To complete strangers”). I don’t know what your emotional life is like, but it’s like she’s inside my goddamn head.

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All of which spurred me to do the unthinkable: ask her via Twitter to meet me for a sandwich and a cigarette. Once the date was made, it was the easiest thing in the world. We hung out in Harvard Square, a 10-minute walk from my house. We had a lot in common. We’re two trans women with a penchant for the Velvet Underground and dropping major psychological confessions into casual conversation, couched in offhand jokes and cultural references. A good time was had by both, but could we actually become friends?

A couple months later she invited me to come see one of the bands she’s in, Harmony’s Cuddle Party, play at Charlie’s Kitchen, also near Harvard Square. Harmony is the lead singer and songwriter of this group, and she’s as brilliant and charismatic as Alex, only tougher, happier, bitchier. They played arch pop-punk with joy, abandon, and fury, trading jokes and insults; beautifully, unselfconsciously self-conscious, if you get my meaning. This was a high-spirited, low-pressure, low-pay, low-ceiling gig, the type I used to play all the time in the Boston area when I was just a young, closeted lad with a dream. The biggest difference was, the crowd was 75 percent visibly queer. I felt the familiar twinge of regret at my wasted youth hanging out with straight people. Not that a room like this really existed in 2008, as far as I know.

Music always sounds best from someone who’s feeling along the bars that socially cage them, testing for weaknesses

I’d been in a dry spell creatively, but after the show, well, I wrote the chorus of a new song on the walk home. The fact that music this good was happening within walking distance of my house made me so happy it almost hurt my feelings. What have I been doing with my nights? I texted Alex. “Can we play music together?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said, “how about Tuesday afternoon?”

Harmony hooked up a free rehearsal room someplace, and the three of us spent a few hours showing each other new songs, screaming through rock ’n’ roll covers, and talking about records. It was ideal. I started to wonder about the way I’d been doing things. Playing with my band usually involves someone getting on a plane, and therefore a lot of preliminary investigation to make sure we are getting paid for the music we’re going to play, whether it’s a live show or a recording. Whereas these girls lived just across the river and had no requirements for hanging out with me other than guitars and drums being available. I’m not saying I’m breaking up my band. They’re the best band on the planet, and all the hassle is worth it, every time. I’m just saying I asked Harmony for her phone number, too.

Then in early January Alex invited me to come see Kayde Hazel play in Kendall Square. My favorite song of hers is called “Sex Toy.” Alex and Harmony played it together for me at the practice space on two guitars. It starts out, “I’m everybody’s number two/But nobody’s number one.” Look it up, you can barely hear it, it’s great. Kayde’s trans too, as is Harmony. I swear I’m not biased against cis people. I just think despised freaks like us always write the best songs, especially at a time like this, when we (trans women) are clawing our way out of invisibility and onto the imaginary stage of mainstream consciousness. Music always sounds best from someone who’s feeling along the bars that socially cage them, testing for weaknesses.

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There are also bands in Boston not fronted by trans people. My new pals have been showing me a few. One group I can’t stop listening to is called Winkler. I heard about them when Alex invited me to sing backup vocals on the album she’s working on. I took the bus to Allston on a frigid Wednesday night and knocked on the door of an old wooden house. It was inhabited by a bunch of twentysomethings who played music, most of whom were in Winkler. It was exactly like the house where I often slept on the couch in 2009 when I was 22 and unhoused and trying to make my band work out. (Is this a midlife crisis? Fuck off, I’m having fun.) In the basement—unfinished, unheated, exposed pipes, etc.—Harmony and Alex and Kayde and members of Winkler were all playing guitars and drums aimlessly. After a while Alex organized us in front of a microphone; we put together some three-part harmonies and had a blast making low-rent rock ’n’ roll.

I hadn’t realized Harmony and Kayde were coming, but apparently the trans rockers of Boston are always together. No one had told me, but better to be late to a party than not show up at all. And anyway, that’s my point. No one can really tell you about these things. You have to leave your house, have a conversation, and find out for yourself. I don’t care where you live, there’s a musical genius right around the corner.

Thanks for reading CREEM. This article originally appeared in our Fall 2023 issue. Explore the full mag in our archive, buy a copy here, and subscribe for more.




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