That was the first time a lot of people came and I didn’t know them
I kept saying look how many strangers are here!
This piece appears in my book Lockdown in Hell World.
I remember the first and last time I went to Great Scott it’s just the few hundred times in between I’m having trouble keeping track of.
The first time would have been twenty years ago this summer. It was an aggressively average frat bar then not the iconic indie rock club it would soon become and I remember it being terrible and exhilarating but maybe that’s just in the way that everything is terrible and exhilarating when you’re young. I did not particularly like it at the time it would take a while for that to change.
My friends and I lived across the street in an apartment that smelled like a marmot had pissed all over the rug because that’s exactly what had happened with the previous tenants. There would be fights outside on the corner almost every weekend this being the DMZ between Boston College and Boston University and I wasn’t particularly interested in finding out what they were about but I’d still go in sometimes anyway because it was right there across the street as I said and the apartment wasn’t very comfortable on account of the roaches all over the sink that had migrated over from the Pizzeria Uno next door and the fact that I slept on a random mattress in the living room I had rescued from the sidewalk. No one really worried about or knew what bed bugs were back then I don’t think or maybe I was just twenty one and disgusting.
The last time I went was a few months back for the release party for my Hell World book. It’s about how capitalism destroys everything and nothing good can stay. The last song I heard there was this one “Glacier” by my dear friend and sometimes bandmate Aaron Perrino who performed at the release.
It starts so pure
Yeah we dream big
Like a glacier
That slowly melts away
The hopes we have
Corrode and it starts a tidal wave
“It is with a heavy heart today that I announce that Great Scott will not re-open,” long time Great Scott manager Tim Philbin posted on Facebook yesterday via Vanyaland. “For 44 years Great Scott has provided entertainment and more than a few beverages to a loyal group of customers. From its inception in 1976 as a local bar featuring blues and folk performers to the 1980s and 1990s as a beloved college dive featuring cover bands and DJ nights, to the 2000s and its emergence as one of the best live music venues in the city, Great Scott has meant many things to many people.”
“Through it all we’ve aspired to be a good neighbor to our community and a friend to all who walk through our doors. There is a sign that still hangs in the venue from the establishment that Great Scott replaced. The name of which was Brandy’s. That sign reads ‘Where Incredible Friendships Begin’. I’m glad we never took it down because it explains Great Scott better than I ever could. Take care of yourselves and each other.”
I’ve been trying to think about some of the best and worst nights of my life many of which began or ended at Great Scott and I simply can’t narrow it down for some reason it’s like there’s too much static to cut through to find a clean signal. It’s like spending a gorgeous day in the ocean many years ago that you generally remember fondly and trying to call to mind right now one specific single wave that buoyed you and a second wave that knocked you over. After a while all the waves become impossible to differentiate from one another and it all flattens out into sensory noise.
The lease for the bar is apparently not going to be renewed by the landlord Carl Lavin my other friend and the man mostly responsible for turning Great Scott into what it is told me today. There are some ins and outs with conflicts with the other tenants over noise and how long the lease could’ve been hypothetically renewed for under normal circumstances so it’s not entirely the landlords being straight up heartless villains… I guess. The shutdown certainly didn’t help matters that’s for sure.
Either way the family who owns the building owns so many other buildings man. When you own that many buildings it’s never enough buildings I suppose. Dig Boston looked up the family’s $25 million portfolio here. I wonder if when you own so many buildings you can even remember them all at once. Some people spend their lives accumulating real estate and others spend their lives accumulating memories of experiences with friends in shitty bars and then you don’t even get to hold onto them for very long on the back end. Unlike real estate memories depreciate in value over time it’s a huge fucking rip off.
There’s a letter writing campaign asking the landlords to reconsider if you’d like to add your name into the mix and a petition here as well but I don’t think it’s going to matter if we’re being honest from what Carl tells me.
It’s hard for me to remember anything now due to we’ve outsourced most of our memories to various devices many of which are no longer even accessible to us. Lost memories on lost memory drives. Most of the memories I have of my life can only be pulled up by a sort of mnemonic toll both in the form of a photo and when the photo is no longer available to me I usually lose the memory too and I guess it just goes on like that until we stop remembering anything at all. Just yesterday we were looking through some old things and we found a black and white photo my grandmother must have taken forty or fifty years ago of the old dilapidated farmhouse I grew up in and she wrote on the back in this shaky little handwriting in faded blue ink SAVE THIS PHOTO because I guess even then you needed to document things for them to remain real for as long as possible. I saved the photo though and now I am thinking about her and now she’s real again.
In December when my brain wasn’t very good I wrote in here “I looked at my phone and I saw two toddlers embracing each other in a forest north of Miami and two thirty something women embracing each other in a bathroom mirror on an island west of Oakland and a room full of people singing every word to a song by one of my favorite bands at a show I had tickets to but couldn’t bring myself to go to and a Christmas tree and a woman eating dumplings in Chinatown and a friend sharing a photo of himself when he was young and another friend sharing a photo of himself when he was young…” and then yesterday when the news of Great Scott dying from a cocktail of Covid and capitalism came out I saw a video a friend posted from the very show I was talking about not going to which was Piebald. In the video they’re singing the song that encapsulates almost everything about this part of my life for me.
“Long nights, hard times, everything that makes you feel tired…”
I really wish I had gone to that show now. I fucked up. I fucked up a lot mind you but that is among the more recent ones.
“Where are we going after last call?”
I remember saying that a lot at Great Scott. More often than not it was someplace I didn’t need to be. In any case I’ll probably never say that specific sentence again as long as I live lol thank god but also :(
I had to ask some friends to remind me of things I should remember. “First day of spring barbecues on the porch,” one said. “Being so coked up and wanting to vomit watching other bands eat McDonald’s from across the street,” they said.
“[One old friend] getting a beat down outside.” “[Another old friend] punching out the dude from [famous band].” [Another old friend] “standing outside smoking with us and then he just…died, like eyes rolled up and passed out on the sidewalk. It was weird. A bunch of scumbags trying to figure out what to do, but also being coked up and too nervous to move.”
He didn’t end up dying to be clear.
“Getting kidnapped by FSU because they thought I was [our other friend.]”
Starting to think maybe I did too many drugs and that’s why I don’t remember anything? Hmm, no it’s the other stuff I wrote in here probably. The passage of time shit. Waves and so on like I said. Prettier stuff than brain damage.
I remember loading in to play shows at Great Scott with my various bands over the years and the light shining off the checkerboard floor in the late afternoon sun and the smell which was not as bad as most clubs! Not as bad as marmot piss anyway I can tell you that for sure. I remember the feeling that something could happen not what actually ended up happening specifically but the feeling of anticipating whatever it was it turned out to be.
Then there were of course many times when it just kind of sucked being there being out being anywhere at all it wasn’t all hedonism and magical fairy tales about the power of friendship and community or whatever.
My friend Brad Kayal just posted this photo above hope he doesn’t mind if I share it. He was in a band called The Information and they were very good and were my old band The Good North’s best friends and we played here together all the time. We were going to take over the world. We didn’t of course but we were going to. I remember playing with and watching so many other local bands here who were great and could have done something but didn’t for all the reasons that things don’t work out the way you planned them.
Actually I take that back about “could have done something” because being part of a local music scene is doing something it doesn’t need to lead to anything bigger than that it is in and of itself an accomplishment. Imagine playing a show for anyone anywhere with all your friends there and people actually care at all? What a gift.
We wrote a song back then called Not Feeling It for a record called Life Outside Our Walls and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately under quarantine because it was about being trapped inside a small room afraid to leave and expose yourself to anyone else. If I recall correctly it was actually about cocaine paranoia when I wrote it but that’s a pretty safe bet for all the songs we played back then.
That wave metaphor from earlier reminded me I was watching this video this morning “Carribean Ocean Waves at Night for Sleeping - Mix Them With Your Sleep Music” to try to fall back to sleep with my mind at peace and I read some of the comments like I often do and here’s one near the top: “Sitting here drinking wine 🍷 thinking about everything I should have done. This pandemic makes me think about how we really never have the time we assume we do. Gotta complete goals faster gotta do what you want with your life. Every moment every second.”
Michelle and I were trying to list off some of the most memorable shows we saw at Great Scott over the years last night but it’s impossible it’s like asking someone to name some bands they’ve heard of. Uh… Where do you start? It’s like… name some books you’ve read.
You could take a stab at it sure but listing off just a few feels like a failure of sorts like an inability to rise to the occasion because if you narrow it down to this or that it necessarily excludes so much else. I was trying just now to remember some of the fifty or however many it was shows I played myself there in various bands over a decade plus and I can’t do it either they’re all the same.
I remember the bile in my stomach before a show worrying no one will come and the sort of disappointment I felt when I realized people were actually going to show up because then I had to try hard.
When I close my eyes and picture Great Scott I keep waking up in the bathroom. It was a shitty bathroom to do drugs in to be honest the stall barely locked and the line was always pretty long particularly on Friday nights for The Pill the long running and greatest dance party in Boston in my lifetime and the night where I made most of my best friends in the Boston music world many of which I am still close to to this day. I don’t particularly miss those friends right now during quarantine because I can talk to them and text them or dial them up on the video conference but all the other people the people I barely cared about or did care about but not quite enough to make it an official friendship? I miss those people very much.
Sometimes when I’ve been DJing Emo Night Boston over the past few years I’ll think to myself how are these kids going crazy for the same Taking Back Sunday song or whatever every month this many years later then I’ll remember going to the Pill every single week for like ten years and losing our minds to I am the Resurrection by The Stone Roses and Girls and Boys by Blur and shit like that like it was the first time we’d ever heard it every single time.
I just told Michael Marotta who ran the Pill and helped turn Great Scott into what it became that I was having trouble singling out specific shows to performatively remember on here in front of people and he said “I have the same problem. There were so many. How do you even begin to place the memories?”
Alvvays. An early show by them is jumping out at me as I think about this. Glasvegas too for some reason. I wonder why I remember those ones more than the others. Probably because I still have pictures of them. Passion Pit. Piebald. MGMT. Nothing. Pup. Pianos Become the Teeth. Speedy Ortiz.
I asked my friend Tom just now to remind me something about those early days in that shitty apartment across from Great Scott.
“My favorite story about that place besides the marmot piss was when they were trying to show the apartment before we moved out, and I was unemployed, you worked nights and Raj was on summer break from school and they came by at like 11 am and we were all just lounging around in our own filth and their contempt for us was so palpable.”
Also he said “you burned a hole in the rug one time because you were lighting money on fire.” I don’t remember that at all. I don’t remember having any money to spend never mind light on fire but it was the 2000s I don’t know what to tell you.
Some time a few years after I moved out of the roach apartment and was living in the maggot apartment down the street with like seven other people and showering in a backed up tub full of brown water Carl Lavin told me he wanted to turn Great Scott into a rock club and I said good luck with that idiot or something like that probably nicer than that. I didn’t think it was going to work and I wonder if he ever remembered that the following three hundred or so times I stood next to him over there at the far end of the bar where he kept his laptop and checked his fantasy baseball scores or whatever it was he was doing. I’d peak around the corner to catch a minute of whoever it was who was playing. These guys are actually good I’d say to him when it was true which was more often than you might expect for a little rock club like that. These guys are actually pretty good.
“Great Scott was the epicenter of Boston music,” my Emo Night Boston partner Nick Grieco whose band Actor|Observer we played with there a while back said in this piece for WBUR. “It was the mid-sized club that everyone wanted to play, and everyone who played it had a great experience. The staff cared, the community was active, and the drinks were cheap…It was one of the last remaining safe havens that our music scene had… The Boston music community was already suffering serious losses. Small clubs across the city have been dropping like flies, and The Middle East is already blacklisted in the community. There's really not much left at all besides O'Brien's, in terms of accessible venues for fledgling artists where they can feel safe and respected.”
I imagine they’ll be putting in another bank branch or some dog shit in the Great Scott space soon because once this is over the pre-pandemic gentrifying and homogenizing forces already long conspiring to destroy anything with character in Boston and Allston in particular will have had their way. It will be right across the street from the other fancy bank branch that’s already there right now and someday no one will tell any stories whatsoever about going there for their banking needs. They won’t even have any memories to forget like I did.
I talked to Carl Lavin about what happened and what he remembered about booking the room for the past seventeen years or so.
How are you holding up?
Not bad. If it was closing because Frank Strenk [who owns Great Scott] couldn’t pay the bills, if there was something that could be done about it, I think it would be tougher. I think the part where [the building owners] just don't want live music in there, it’s like… It’s great that people are asking what they can do? It’s like...dude. If you guys raise $7,500 a month so we can offset the costs of soundproofing the place then let’s do it.
The landlords were willing to extend the lease if we would not do live music anymore. Tim was like What are you talking about? The attorney was like Why don't you be a sandwich shop? Frank was like I’m not going to start a whole new kind of business I'm not familiar with.
Did the apartments upstairs start complaining?
I think it's a combination of the apartments upstairs and -- the last thing I would want is for them to seem like villains -- but the restaurant next door. The restaurant was as accommodating as you would want them to be. If they were the only voice in the discussion, and we talked to them, they would be Alright. But they do call over sometimes when soundtracks are a little loud or start too early. The place downstairs, that used to sell like bongs and pipes, they moved out, and it took them a while to lease it out. A Korean beauty supply moved in. At one point we were told we can’t make any noise before nine. I was like we just can’t do that.
So are the landlords assholes here?
It’s hard to say. They've put up with it for a while. The upstairs apartments, there are six on the first floor, they’re cheaper than the rest of the apartments and certainly cheaper than market value for the corner of Harvard and Comm. in 2020. I think they got so many complaints from the place downstairs. If they think loud music on their ceilings starting at 7 o'clock at night is why a subterranean beauty place with no windows didn’t exactly crush it I don't know what to tell them...
They were open to extending the lease for two years. Frank was like I don’t have the money to pay to keep it open [during the shutdown]. It would be around a $100,000 loan to keep everything open. He said I just don't have the money to pay that. He’d have to borrow it to stay in business just long enough to be forced out in two years anyway and still have this loan.
When was the first show you booked?
The first show was May 22, 2003.
We were all skeptical, do you remember?
The thing was, I was just doing it as [the weekly party] The Plan on Thursday for a while there. The back, back story is me and Ken Powers [of The Pill] went shopping around for a place to do The Pill after they got booted from the Upstairs Lounge and Brian who used to do Love Night at the Common Ground suggested Great Scott. I was like, Oh my god, I used to hang out with BC kids there in the 90s. I don’t think it’s the right vibe at all. And it wasn’t. We went anyway, and we met with Tim. He had a Thursday open. I had been doing The Plan with Kevin Haly and my friend Derrick in a place near Alewife, so I said I could do a Thursday. I completely overrepresented how many people I could get. We did a couple and then he said Yeah do it through the summer. It was like 2004. I recently found the email I sent to Tim talking about what we could do to become a full time rock club.
When did it become what it became?
July of 2004 was the first time we had a show start with the idea of the calendar being filled with bands. They had other stuff going on, their Wednesday night was Ladies 80s and it crushed. But they didn’t do much else the rest of the week. During the summer and school breaks they were so dependent on BC kids. I saw the neighborhood changing. There was a law that came out that said only so many people that weren’t related could live in an apartment at the same time. That’s when everything started changing in Allston I think. If you still wanted to get $2,000 a month for your place and you can't put six BC kids in there you have to improve things. Then the people who could afford to live there weren’t the type of people who would go to shows. So turning it into a rock club was a confluence of the nature of the neighborhood changing and the timing and opportunity.
It was mostly local bands for a long time right?
I was looking back at the calendar and there were a good amount of touring bands in the first month, but significantly heavier on local bands on a month to month basis at that point. That’s just because I didn't know anybody or have any contacts. Booking agents didn't know about this room.
Was there a show where you felt like Alright. Now we’re real?
I think that happened more with The Plan. I think it was the fourth one in July of 2003 and The Cignal were headlining. They were on whatever FNX show talking about how they were going to be playing at Great Scott and then a good amount of people actually came. That was the first time a lot of people came and I didn’t know them. I kept saying Look how many strangers are here! Holy shit!
How many shows did you book there?
I don't even know how to do that math. I mean I do but… The thing too, part of what I felt like we needed to do real early was to get other promoters involved. Before we started doing stuff I went over to Blackout Bar at the Paradise. I got Ben to bring over Blackout Bar, then The Pill came over and took over Fridays. I did probably an average of six shows a week from 2004-2010 just me, then I partnered up with Josh Smith. Definitely more than a thousand.
I was trying to pick some standout shows I saw there for this piece and for some reason it’s like a mental block.
Absolutely. A dude from Channel 25 happened to be down there when I was just hanging out outside. He asked me some questions and they didn’t use them which is fine, but he said do you have any stand out memories? I hadn’t prepared myself for that. I didn’t want to just say the first thing I could think of to just say it. It’s actually all of them… Like you were saying, it’s hard when you get to meet so many people I have no right whatsoever to be hanging out with. The creative people that would come and I would get to know. That experience is what stands out more than any shows. Obviously there are stories good and bad. If there’s a highlight it’s that I can’t believe there was a world where I got to be part of something like that.
When did you and I meet? Was it at The Pill?
Probably when The Pill was at the Milky Way for a while. That’s when I first got introduced to The Information. Zack Wells hit us up and I was like holy shit check this out to Michael. I feel like they started coming around. I don’t remember how soon you guys started hanging out. I don't know if we just met all around the same time. But you guys did all the coke so you all hung out more than idid.
That sort of is a throughline in this piece. Who were some of the biggest bands that you were stoked they played there?
I always start with Echo and the Bunnymen, because they were so much bigger than that place when they played there. There were lots of bands who played there exactly when they were supposed to, then went on to other things. MGMT when they came to open for Fiery Furnaces. I remember getting their promo album like What is this holy shit? Then they came back touring with Yeasayer and Yeasayer was going to be the headliner and I was like Hey do you want to flip this around? At that point Mark Kates was managing them, so we turned it into a Fenway Session. My memory of that is about as corny as is fitting for me. My son really liked MGMT when he was four. I called Mark the day of the show and asked could they do Time to Pretend at soundcheck so Damon could come check it out. He was like that's a great idea. He said he’d have his son come down too. They were soundchecking and about to do the song and they said I think there are some underage kids that are supposed to be here? and Damon slips down there ready. They came down and high-fived him and just played a song for him. That was kind of awesome.
I mentioned above how a lot of my memories are standing over by the bar while you played fantasy football or whatever.
That was kind of the thing. For a while everything was so new and urgent all I ever did was go from the side of the stage watching the bands back to the front to keep bugging the door guys to keep seeing what the click was. Once everything settled in it was more a little more social than it was stressful.
Once you figured out what you were doing. The future of clubs in Boston is pretty bleak right?
A mid sized venue in a location central enough you can expect people to travel there? I don't see how it’s feasible anymore. I think there’s some stuff Great Scott could’ve done to better monetize the location, but I don't know how much more of a difference it would make. I don't know how it works going forward.
Are you going to be able to stay working with Bowery?
Yeah, we’re still booking The Sinclair and Royale and the new venue which is ostensibly coming online in 2021. The one on Guest St. down in Allston. That’s going to be like a 3,500 cap venue. It’s a completely different animal over there.
What do you want to say to bands and fans who’ve been through Great Scott over the years?
It takes something like this for me to have the motivation to reflect like this about it. I can’t believe I was able to experience it all because of the people and the passion and energy and creativity and humor. The talent. I can’t believe we were able to be like This is for us, you guys go over there, and this is for us. This is for weirdos who didn’t think they would ever want to play outside a basement or a VFW. We’re gonna do this. Also, just the people I was able to meet and get to know and become friends with I had absolutely no right to otherwise. It makes every single part of it worth it.
Well I agree and I'm proud of what you did.
Thank you. When I started it as seven nights a week, I remember a [old Boston music scene message board] Noise Board guest saying I’ll give it six months. So to the Noise Board guest: Go fuck yourself.
For the record you did say The Good North was the best band you ever booked right?
Absolutely. No question. We put you on The Pill compilation and you never even played it.
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