A trip through The Boston Globe’s archives is always an insightful one, but it’s particularly fun when you stumble upon a feature that profiles the Allston music scene of yore. “Allston’s underground culture makes this gritty Boston neighborhood a haven for aspiring rock musicians BASEMENT BEAT” published in a Dec 18, 1994 issue of Globe Magazine by Paul Hemp, interviews some of the characters that made up the buzzing and spirited musicians hotbed that was mid-’90s Allston, grabbing a healthy dose of Gen-X ideologies and post-grad party animals. To start, let’s look at a few excerpts from the piece.
Beth Stadnicki is serving as self-appointed tour guide of Allston’s rock ‘n’ roll community. “Like, everyone lives in Allston. It’s crazy,” says the 21-year-old publicist for CherryDisc Records, an independent label in Newton. “Here’s 32 Linden Street, where Ambulance Driver and Milk Money live, on the third floor where the Superman curtains are. And here’s 17 Mansfield, where Mike from 454 Big Block lives, and Daryll from Supahead, which used to be Headcleaner, and Mike who plays guitar in Slapshot. And here’s 22 Mansfield, where I used to live, and where Incinerator lives, and also Binky, who was in Love Pollution.” Wait, there’s Sean from Milk Money. “Pull over,” Stadnicki says. “Hey, Sean! How’s it going?”
One mandatory stop on the tour is 53 Gardner Street, dubbed a “rock palace” by Ted Condo, one of its residents. The six housemates are in four different bands, including Condo’s own 6L6. Condo is on the porch, decked out in white mother-of-pearl sunglasses, red hightop sneakers, and a black jacket with an “Allston — Rock City” patch sewn on the arm.
Okay, so right off the bat, we notice that Paul Hemp, bless his heart, is a bit out of his league. His semi-condescending tone lasts throughout the whole feature, taking a bit of a curmudgeonly perspective, but letting the “kids” have their say. Another thing that should be noticed is the band names (definitely the band names), but also the specific addresses given out. This is interesting for a few reasons. First, because no musician living in an Allston house today would likely be willing to put his or her address in print, for various reasons. Secondly, because one of the houses mentioned is on Linden Street, the same street in which a house was examined in the recent Globe Spotlight series on Allston housing. This article, in a more lighthearted sense, expresses concerns about Allston student housing as well. This was almost 20 years ago. Clearly, not much has changed.
Across the street is the plant where Herrell’s ice cream is made, a place staffed almost entirely by rock musicians….
Many mourned the loss of Herrell’s in 2009, as it was, until the very end, a spot where musicians typically were hired. Today, Refuge Cafe has taken over, and also employs many younger artists. If you’re looking to find some familiar band faces in the Allston food service industry, however, your best bet is Bagel Rising.
The dream: to rise from an Allston basement to stardom — perhaps with a stop along the way at rented rehearsal space in some South End warehouse, where at least the neighbors won’t complain about the noise.
Two parts of this statement don’t really apply anymore. The first being that musicians don’t typically look to the South End as a rehearsal space haven. Secondly, the dream of rising to stardom from an Allston basement seems to have faded. That, of course, all depends on what one considers as “stardom.”
Among the 50 or 60 people at the word-of-mouth event are a grunge contingent in filthy, tattered clothes; another group in baggy pants and baseball caps worn backward; and one old-fashioned punk rocker, with green mohawk, spiked leather jacket, and wraparound sunglasses.
Dozens of musicians have lived and practiced at 20 Ashford Street. One resident was Kristin Pfaff, who later achieved notoriety playing in Courtney Love’s Seattle band, Hole, before dying of an apparent drug overdose earlier this year.
Kind of a cool fact, although very sad. Pfaff briefly attended Boston College before moving out to Minnesota and forming the band Janitor Joe.
There’s not much in Lower Allston, except for Clemens Market, which sells Vietnamese beer and frog legs from Bangladesh. But in Upper Allston, there are musicians’ hangouts like Steve’s Kitchen, the Avenue Deli, the Model Cafe, and the Grecian Yearning — or the Greasy Yearning, as it is known. Yes, there’s also Riley’s, “but no one really goes there,” Stadnicki says. And, a few doors down, there’s Gerlando’s, “where definitely no one goes, except for scary college students.”Across Brighton Avenue is the Allston Mall, above some secondhand shops and a Chinese restaurant. It was here that the Allston Beat clothing chain got its start. The Allston Mall has also been home to a women’s cooperative art gallery, an underground newspaper, and Primal Plunge, an alternative bookstore that changed its name to the Bibliodrome before going out of business. Today, the only operating concerns seem to be B.C. Amps (“vintage guitar amplifier repair and modifications”) and a body-piercing studio called Rites of Passage. There, one can get an ebony labret, an ornament worn in a hole pierced through the lower lip. Also available is a U-shaped metal loop that is inserted in the nose, and can be swung up out of sight into the nostrils when the situation doesn’t call for such adornments.
Body piercing confusions aside, Allston of the mid-’90s sounds like it ruled. Literally, the only things left from the establishments mentioned above are Steve’s Kitchen and the Model Cafe, both of which will hopefully stick around for years to come. But a women’s cooperative art gallery? Allston Beat clothing chain? Allston Mall? PRIMAL PLUNGE!?!? Old school Allston must have kicked ass.
To get a better perspective of the talent that cropped out of such a bustling scene, we took a deeper look into some over the 20+ bands mentioned throughout the feature. Some have been lost in time, not even a trace of them on the Internet, and others had a history that lasted long after 1994. See videos and links below (most bands are linked in their title).
|Moose and the Mudbugs|
|454 Big Block|