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    From Betamax to the big screen, a trove of Boston video artifacts

    Brian Coleman hosts the “Buy Me, Boston” Video Loft.
    Brian Coleman hosts the “Buy Me, Boston” Video Loft.

    In the Internet age, we’ve all been down the rabbit hole. You search for something online, stumble on something else that piques your curiosity, and pretty soon you’ve killed an hour watching vintage cartoons or reading old blog posts about needlepoint.

    Brian Coleman has tumbled down a rabbit hole, and he might never return. A few years ago, while working on the second volume of “Check the Technique,” his series of books about classic hip-hop albums, he started amassing old concert fliers, promotional materials, and other ephemera from the local scene, and he had an idea: What if he could tell an alternative story about Boston’s cultural past through the long-forgotten, pre-digital pages of old newspapers and calendars?

    The result is “Buy Me, Boston,” an independently produced book that offers a time-capsule glimpse into the streetwise Athens of America of the 1960s through the 1980s. In just a few months, Coleman has sold nearly 1,000 copies, and the project has spawned an offshoot: the “Buy Me, Boston” Video Loft, a curated selection of rarely seen music videos, local-access cable television programming, and other archival footage. Coleman presented the first Video Loft to a crowded house at the Brattle Theatre in November, and he’ll unspool an all-new batch of unearthed gems April 11 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.


    Coleman’s rapidly growing archive started with deep dives into two collections in particular: the enormous Norwood warehouse that now houses David Bieber’s endless bounty of all things counterculture, and the dozens of boxes of stuff Kay Bourne recently donated to Emerson College from her time as an arts reporter for the Bay State Banner. The more he compiles, the more Coleman uncovers. He’s already planning volumes two and three of the book, and he’d like to make the Video Loft a regular occurrence.

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    “I can keep going,” he says. “I hope this goes on for 10 years.”

    On a recent Saturday afternoon, Coleman sits on a plush couch in his Cape-style house in Revere, shades drawn. With his laptop plugged into a big-screen TV, he clicks through dozens of the video clips — a tiny fraction, really — that he’s uploaded since he conceived of the Video Loft.

    “Look at this — the Boston skyline!” he exclaims while reviewing an almost unbearably kitschy music video by a local saxophone player, filmed in the 1980s.

    His enthusiasm is infectious, and that comes through loud and clear in his books and the video programs. Coleman went to high school in New Jersey, came here to attend Boston College, and never left.


    “I consider myself a stepson of this wacky and beautiful town,” he writes in an introductory note in “Buy Me, Boston.”

    Among other oddities, the second edition of the Video Loft will feature bizarro clips from vintage Boston acts ranging from the New Wave-y Sex Execs to the space-age vocal group Planet Patrol; an episode of a locally produced daytime “Donahue”-style show that tried to explain punk rock to homemakers; footage from a “Rock Against Racism” dance party with special guests Charles Laquidara, Sunny Joe White, and Jose Masso; and rare segments from the local TV personality known to kids of a certain era as Major Mudd.

    Long before we all had little cameras in our pockets, many of these performers and presenters were just figuring out how to use video equipment, Coleman notes, and making up their own images on the fly. “A lot of the stuff I’m personally drawn to is rough around the edges,” he says.

    And he can relate. “Everything I do, I’m always kind of figuring it out as I go along. I don’t allow my ignorances to stop me, for better or worse. If there’s a choice, I’m always going to go for the raw, do-it-yourself stuff.”

    By now, he knows where most of the weird Boston memorabilia is buried, from Bieber’s vast trove amassed during his days with the Boston Phoenix, WBCN, and other local institutions to UMass-Boston’s pop culture archive.


    “We’re walking down parallel trails,” says Jim Botticelli, who compiled the photos in the quirky gift book “Dirty Old Boston.” When Coleman started, he told Botticelli he was inspired by “Dirty Old Boston.”

    “He gave me my props, and that’s great,” says Botticelli. “I don’t own the history of Boston.” In fact, he now sells Coleman’s book on the “DOB” website.

    Though Coleman readily admits he’s “a collector and a low-level hoarder,” he doesn’t feel the need to possess every artifact he uncovers. He just wants to scan it, dub it, or burn a copy onto his laptop.

    You know what they say about one man’s trash. To Coleman, it’s all treasure.

    “Basically, I’m making a house out of scrap wood,” he says.

    THE Buy Me, Boston Video Loft

    At Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, April 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets $11.25-$13.25,

    James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.