At age seven in his hometown of Newton, Massachusetts, Arthur Freedman (b. 1957) sat on the basement steps of the band that practiced around the corner from his house. Inspired by the music he heard, Arthur attended concerts on the Common, the Esplanade and venues like the Music Hall (now the Wang Center), the Modern Theater and the Orpheum. When Arthur reached 18, he began to explore nightclubs like Cantone’s, the Club, the Rathskeller, Jonathan Swift’s, Jack’s and many others. That band in his neighborhood, the Rockin’ Ramrods, would eventually back up the Rolling Stones on the Canadian leg of their first North American tour, and Freedman would eventually go on to not only attentively listen to many more bands but record a whole era of local culture.
Watching the bands in the early days of the local punk rock movement, he realized that each show was unique: he witnessed set, song and personnel changes, different arrangements for some songs and, tragically, untimely deaths of band members. Many of these independent, unsigned bands would never make it into the recording studio, and those who did may not record the songs he liked or sequence the tracks on the record like a live set. Believing that the energy and exuberance of a live performance could never be reproduced within the controlled perfection based recording studio, Arthur quickly realized the critical need of chronicling the edgy and incredibly creative era of punk music within the scene he loved.
In the late 1970s, he bought a cassette deck with microphone inputs and two microphones and started to record all of the shows he attended. In 1984, Freedman bought a video camera. He was one of the only people recording or filming in the nightclubs of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville - as well as the occasional out-of-town venue. Often sighted in front of the stage, video camera in hand, he documented countless rock acts for posterity, including many bands and venues that no longer exist. Either with tape decks and microphones, video cameras or video cameras attached to video recorders, Freedman would often go from club to club recording multiple bands in one evening. He became a familiar figure in the local Boston area rock scene for nearly four decades.
Dedicated to the music and his craft, Freedman wanted the tapes to be always available to the bands he recorded. However, magnetic media is subject to degradation over time. He alerted the public to the massive nature of this preservation proposal through multiple articles in newspapers; thus, Harvard University became aware of a once in a lifetime opportunity to collaborate on an exclusive project and approached Freedman with a feasible way to preserve and make available the life’s work of a creative visionary.
Freedman had maintained his archive of thousands of videotapes at his home until he donated his collection to Harvard in 2012. His audio recordings of local rock, dating back to the late 1970s, now reside at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library. The collection at the Harvard Film Archive consists of over two thousand hours of recorded rock performances, recorded on VHS, Hi8, 8mm video, and Mini DV. There are associated materials including fliers and set lists for some of the tapes.
Both Arthur Freedman and Harvard University welcome the help of legitimate band members to provide set lists, personnel listings, associated artworks, posters, records, tapes, cds, websites, Facebook pages and as much information about the bands contained in this collection as possible. By doing so, they will be able to access this collection while enriching its depth.
A finding aid for the Arthur Freedman Collection can be found here.