BOSTON (CBS) – Taptaptaptaptap. Swoosh-DING! If you were born after me (somewhere in the mid-1980s), this sound is probably completely unfamiliar to you. I only remember it faintly from playing with an old typewriter at my grandparents’ house when I was very young. Have you ever seen one of these near-extinct creatures? (A typewriter, that is — not my grandparents.)
A few years ago, a group of Bostonians heard music in those taps, swooshes, and dings, and they decided to resurrect these clunky beasts for a decidedly louder purpose than writing. Enter the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. Clad in white collared shirts and ties and glasses straight from the 1950s, the BTO alternates between office-themed banter and rhythmic songs (yes, they’re really songs!) — some with chanting, some with singing, and some with just a whole lot of typing, banging, and smashing. It’s a good thing these typewriters have no self-awareness, because if we were in the Twilight Zone, you can bet they’d all be typing “GET OUT OF HERE FINCHLEY” again and again.
It’s easy to imagine this concept failing in a spectacular flurry of poorly timed key strikes and awkward jokes, but the BTO succeeds in a lovably nerdy way: even the occasional mistakes (and uncontrollable giggling on the part of one band member) at a recent show were charmingly kitschy rather than disastrous. The banter is half the fun. One interlude, for example, was a discussion of the last donut in the conference room: no one wants the last bite, so everyone keeps taking half of what’s left, leading towards the infinitely small half of a half of a half… and so on. At what point, the BTO wondered, does that donut transmogrify into a crumb?
While the very existence of the BTO fondly looks back to a simpler time, one of their songs – “The Revolution Will Be Typewritten” – hammers it home. “The revolution will not come to you as a torrent, a stream, or a podcast. You will not get the revolution in 140 characters,” the song asserts. And my favorite part, somewhat reminiscent of the Chuck Norris “facts” that have proliferated lately: “The revolution has no backspace key because the revolution is not a mistake.”
Love your laptop too much to give into the typewritten revolution? Never fear – you’ll still enjoy hearing the “Wipe Out” solo played on typewriter. Yes, the BTO covers “Wipe Out” with their own version, “White Out.”
The BTO puts on an infectiously fun show. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell an Underwood from a Hermes from an Olivetti. (I certainly can’t; I just found those names on Wikipedia. Speaking of Wikipedia, I bet the revolution will not come to us from there either.) Some of the office jokes get a touch risque, but it’s still a family-friendly show, although the concept of a typewriter must be even more foreign to today’s children than it is to my generation. “But how do you text your friends on that thing? How do you tweet?”
It will be a sad day if our children’s children scratch their head at the pivotal typewriter scene in The Shining, wondering, “What is that thing?” instead of being terrified by Jack’s growing insanity. With that in mind, I, for one, will welcome the revolution with open arms. Keep typing, Boston Typewriter Orchestra. The world needs you.
For info, videos and details on upcoming shows, visit the Boston Typewriter Orchestra website.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.