Friday, November 8, 2013

"This is THE WORST place"

The door to 1120 Bolyston Street is locked. Wait long enough, however, and someone inevitably approaches with a key to enter. (The amount of constant entering and exiting is what initially urged my accomplice—who works nearby, but has never set foot inside 1120 Bolyston—to assume that the door was always unlocked or didn't sport a lock at all.) We sneak in behind a key-toting gentleman, step slowly down a long flight of stairs. At the bottom is a snaking, dimly-lit hallway haphazardly painted in shades of burgundy and cream. There are numerous doors off the hallway; each one is numbered and shut tightly. These are the rehearsal spaces Doug Ferriman mentioned in his email, spots where Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory students come to refine their skills. As we walk down the hallway, the din emanating from behind the doors is overwhelming. A drummer works on heavy fills, a guitarist brashly repeats a few chords, a saxophonist plays shrieking runs. It sounds like each student is practicing alone.

We walk down another flight of stairs and enter a hallway identical to the one above us. There are more closed and numbered doors, more ear-rending rehearsing. My accomplice mentions that there's been complaints from individuals in her office regarding the unbearable noise emanating from 1120 Bolyston. (This is from an online review I unearthed regarding the address. It seems to indicate that aside from serving as practice space, permanent residency is permitted as well: "Living here for few months was one of the worst decisions I've ever made in Boston! ... In the building, this is where the Berklee students live so you can constantly hear someone playing their guitar/contra-base/saxophone. If you're looking to live in a peaceful and quiet neighborhood, this is THE WORST place.")

We pass a grimy, communal bathroom. Mouse shit is piled in corners; down one dead-end hallway we find an expired rat stiffening in a trap. The hallways are gloomy—not enough to make walking precarious, but enough to generate an atmosphere of slight unease. The air smells of dirt and decay and sour sweat. Our steps stir papers stuck to walls—flyers with tear-off tabs advertising the services of amp repairmen and experienced upright bassists. People occasionally pass us in the halls, but for the most part, the only sign of human life is the instruments playing. A location so maze-like prompts me to joke about the need for a breadcrumb trail to find our way out. I mention my visit to the catacombs underneath Paris and how worthy parallels could be drawn between there and 1120 Bolyston.

Back on the street, we blink our eyes as they adjust to the afternoon light, breathe in the autumn air. My accomplice and I speculate on what live shows in such a squalid setting were like. Today's area venues are pristine, sterilized. The journey into Boston's old Catacombs club leaves me fully admiring Van Morrison's strength of vision. Astral Weeks' gestation took place in a shadowy cavity hollowed out of the dank earth beneath urban streets. Yet such murky origins never altered Morrison's belief that these songs were spirited, vibrant, sweeping reflections of his gold-rimmed adolescence. Hell never touched his heaven.

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