“Antoine Walker! Antoine Walker! Antoine Walker! Welcome hoooooome”
Sings Miracle Johan over a gutsy self-produced medley of sound effects, and one passionately laid down drum track. And such was the start to a four year, one-of-a-kind creative streak that began in 2005 when Antoine Walker was traded back to the Celtics after stints in Dallas and Atlanta. So just as Danny Ainge, the boss of the team, had vowed to rebuild the C’s and get a 17th banner hanging in the rafters of the Garden, so did Miracle Johan eventually make a vow: to record a song for every player on the roster of our beloved basketball team until they got that Championship. Weird, yeah, but we’re talking Miracle Johan.
He was easing himself back into 4-track recording after having played bass in the western Mass. band Bears. In his words, he recorded a “weird instrumental using crash cymbals as hi hats and was going to put vocals down when I realized I had no idea what I was going to sing about. Antoine’s first game back after the initial trade was happening that night, so I just sang about that (assuming I’d someday return to do something more serious over it).” So what did he do? He showed some friends his creation and mustered up the courage to post the song to Celticsblog.com in a very 2005 “Hey-look-what-i-found-on-the-internet” way.
His friends made him a Myspace and a second song “I Swear to God I’m Funky” was in the works. This one was about seven foot, gum-chewing center Mark Blount. Miracle Johan raps from the perspective of Blount. Brilliant. What I love about these songs: they are raw, imperfect recreations of moments in time. I was a teenager writing about the Boston Celtics on my Boston-sports themed website when I first encountered Miracle Johan. He would join my staff and write some amazing articles, but at the same time he was leading a charge of what some may call Outsider Music; Miracle was amassing from scratch a four volume musical of his thoughts on the Boston Celtics in real time. And, these were real heady tunes, something collectively closer to underground punk rock/hip hop than anything seeking approval via formula or precedent.
One example of the spaciest of space jams: Dan Dickau, the not oft-remembered reserve guard, sings on Volume 2: “sitting in the hospital bed. Used to play basketball, now I’m learning how to play the guitar. It’s a good, good thing that I don’t don’t need my ACL to jam out on the guitar.” Miracle Johan’s Dickau is either a brilliant Jandek or a talentless hack, but more likely messed up on meds as he sings of “A Zillion Ponies.” Miracle’s songs displayed, in his own words, “musical evolution,” and the variety over the years certainly displays this.
So there’s “Scabs,” the redhead current Boston Celtics analyst/broadcaster Brian Scalabrine who needs very little introduction. White Mamba is a legend among basketball fans around the world. Not the most gifted player (career average 3 points per game and only 61 total starts over 10 years), his personality and hustle is/was A+. Miracle Johan paid fun tributes to him with the tough-guy jam “Hard Rock Life” (featuring a more than on-point guitar solo and overall virtuoso playing) and the french horn elementary throwback “Awesome O’Clock”. Scal, if you haven’t heard these, check these out now! Right now!
The one constant each year was a song for future Hall of Famer and hometown hero Paul Pierce. First was the “Return of the Truth,” which has Pierce rapping: “This city’s more than irish pubs and bars, you want proof? I’ll show you about a dozen scars, I’m the truth.” Pierce sounds optimistic about raising another banner to the roof, but patience is a virtue they say. The next year freaking Paul Pierce informs us in “No Media Love” that he knows he’s one of the best players in the league. Any other chatter about him is irrelevant. Well, until he got injured during the 2006-2007 season. Pierce was hampered with foot and elbow injuries and the Celtics ended up losing eighteen straight games, a franchise record. Something had to be done. Over a spacey synth sequence, Pierce wonders, after the awful season has ended, in “Nowhere to Go But Up”:
“Am I really the captain of a team with the second worst record in the entire NBA? The most celebrated franchise in the entire history of the NBA. And now it has nationally been criticized and accused of tanking to get a high lottery pick? Are you serious? This is the Boston Celtics.”
We all know what happens next. Danny Ainge ‘wisened up” and made some deals to “be at an elite level”. Banner 18 level. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett. The Big 3 they were called. An unstoppable force with a 66-16 record. “A Whole New Pierce” speaks of the new team dynamic that got everybody excited. Things were much easier with proven all-stars playing next to and bringing the best out in Pierce. At the end of it, there’s a snippet of Naismith Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, who did some commentary alongside beloved announcer-duo Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn. With the Celtics off to a 7-0 start to the season, Cooz asks “Why does it seem like a lot more fun so far this year? Why are we smiling a lot more?” We all know the ending: they won it all. And ten years later (earlier this year), Pierce’s #34 got raised to the rafters at the Garden.
The up-and-down and all around events year-in and year-out gave Miracle plenty of material, but there was usually a little scrambling as Miracle found himself in the quagmire of devoting free time to the endeavor, not to mention recording VHS copies of every game (to use for sampling the commentary of Mike and Tommy). Miracle’s lyrics could almost be analyzed as separate from the music, as listeners are presented with engaging captions of the season and all of these player personalities. Different and more exciting than reading a blog or watching a post-game show on TV. A solid supplement or stand-alone endeavor!
So you’re wondering: how popular was Miracle Johan at the height of his game? Other than real life friends and in Celtics message board enclaves, Miracle got around a bit. One day he noticed a gigantic spike in his daily PureVolume listenership: 3,000+ listens. What’s the story with that, he wondered. It turns out his page had been linked to on a Bill Simmons’ ESPN daily links posting. Not bad. A couple other noteworthy media mentions turned up: his friends in The Mobius Band name dropped him in a Pitchfork interview and more locally, the Boston Phoenix hunted Miracle Johan down, invited him to a game, took his picture, and next thing you know: a feature story was published. (The Boston Phoenix shut down in 2013 and with it came down the article, which had also been posted online.)
As for the actual Celtics – were they bumping Miracle Johan in the locker room? Rumor has it, yes. Maybe. Perhaps Justin Reed (rest in peace) passed along the legend of Miracle Johan after they had a chance meeting in the bowling alley adjacent to MJ’s high school reunion. The Celtics second round draft choice Reed just so happened to be at Kings Bowling Alley. Miracle mustered up a bit of old fashion bravery, approached the big dude with the goatee and eventually slipped the baller a link to his PureVolume. Wild!
The legacy of Miracle Johan is that damn, some guy actually did this. And he did it so good. He inspired me in my own home-recording adventure, reminding us, much like Kevin Garnett did after the Celtics won: ANYTHING IS POSSSSSSSSSIBLEEEEEEEE. Heck, he might have also inspired a Paul Pierce commercial on ESPN. A passion and a sense of humour wins you championships. Scalabrine knew that. Miracle Johan did, too.
To commemorate the Boston Celtics championship run in 2008, to celebrate all of the music that Miracle Johan created since he began the project in 2005, and to optimistically anticipate Banner 18, KLYAM Records is proudly releasing eighteen, four tape box sets of Miracle Johan’s music. Each individual volume/year will be available as well! All of Miracle Johan’s Green 17 and other recordings dating back to the late ‘90s (special shout out to the Hawaii Demos) are streaming on Bandcamp!