Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers, left, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

Credit: Richman: Tekcran, vis Wikimedia Commons. Tyler: AP photo.

'Roadrunner' Vs. 'Dream On': Does Mass. Need More State Symbols?

January 6, 2014

There’s been a battle of the bands on Beacon Hill. Debate over the official state rock song continues, amid bigger issues: casino upheaval, the governor's race and calls for a serious review of the Department of Children and Families. Does Massachusetts really needs any more state symbols?

Do you know this song?

It’s the state folk song, simply called “Massachusetts.” But what about this one?

It’s the state ode, "Ode to Massachusetts." But maybe you can name this tune.

Here’s the state polka. Massachusetts even has a state glee club song and a state march — not to be confused with the state patriotic song. And now, we should soon have a state rock song.

[CUT OF SONG(s) “Dream On” by Aerosmith, “Roadrunner,” by the Modern Lovers]

Two bills have been filed, referred to committee and given hearings, to determine what should become the state rock song: “Dream On,” by Aerosmith, or “Roadrunner,” by the Modern Lovers. It’s a battle that dates back to February.

“It’s at the point now where maybe it’s getting a little bit tedious,” said Republican state Sen. Bob Hedlund, a co-sponsor of the "Roadrunner" bill, along with Democratic state Rep. and Boston mayor-elect Marty Walsh.

Hedlund is quick to point out that this is the first state emblem bill he’s sponsored in his 18 years in office. He acknowledges that Massachusetts already has dozens of other official songs and symbols. There’s the state doughnut, for example, Boston cream. There’s the state feline, the tabby cat. And the state beverage, cranberry juice.

“That’s partly due to our full-time legislature," he said. "It could be in some cases publicity-seeking pols. And it could be legitimate civic exercise for schools. A lot of these have been originated by school kids as a class project filing the bill.”

In 1996, a civics class from Norton High School elected the Boston cream pie to be the official state dessert. It was met with other bills toting the Toll House cookie and Indian pudding.

“We go through a process to make sure the bills get a hearing and that there’s a finding on the bill by the end of the session and that’s required by our committee,” said Matthew Hartman, legal council to the chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. He says his office saw about 20 state emblem and song bills this year. “There’s three song bills. That would be the county song and the two state songs.”

But why the need for more songs to shape the state’s identity? Rhode Island has a total of 17 state symbols. New Hampshire has 23. Massachusetts already has 56.

“I don’t think that this is the sort of thing that raises respect for the legislature,” said David Tuerck executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, the research arm of the Economics Department at Suffolk University. “The problem with this sort of thing is that it makes the voters wonder why they are paying the legislators rather generously to pursue silly pursuits like this, and I would advise against it.”

Silly or not, state emblem bills make the news, and take up a fair amount of legislative time and energy. The debate over the state rock song will likely soon be settled, and Massachusetts lawmakers will have to decide whether seven state songs are enough.


WGBH News is supported by:
Back to top