It starts in Kenmore Square, which the song says is deserted, but you’ve never been here when the college kids are here, so you don’t really know what that’s like (or not like). When you get off the T and exit the station, you always have stop and do a full 360 spin and make sure you’re pointed the right direction, because Boston has a way of spinning your inner compass.
In one acutely-angled corner, where Comm Ave, Brookline, Beacon, and Deerfield all come together, there is a two-toned, roughly triangular building. This is your hotel. The floors in the lobby are stone, murderously slippery when wet. There’s a restaurant/sushi bar/karaoke bar just off the lobby. The elevators are small, and old, and take forever. The stairwells (one on each side of the building) wrap around the elevator shafts, and it’s often faster to use them—but they’re also slippery, also murderous when wet.
The hotel was built in 1897, and god knows when it was last renovated. The windows don’t have screens, so if you open one to get some extra air, you have to mind how close you sit to the edge. From one side of the hotel, you can see the Citgo sign. From the other, you can see the backside of Fenway Park. If you can’t see either of these, well, there’s always the roof, which a careless employee has left unlocked. Just climb the rickety-ass iron steps and push on the door that says AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. There’s never any stars to speak of—it’s Boston, it’s December, it’s generally overcast; even if it’s not overcast the city lights drown out the sky—but you can see all of Kenmore Square from up there, watch people crossing the street below you to get to 7-11 or Dunkins.
The carpet is maroon with little pale spots on it, and it’s the same carpet regardless of what floor you’re on, or whether you’re in a room or a hallway. In spite of the hotel’s general triangular shape, the inside is a warren, with dead ends and side hallways. No matter which direction you turn when you come out of the elevator, it is the wrong direction. Some of the rooms are freezing, some roasting.
It was one of the first hotels built in Boston, and when it was built, it was one of the largest buildings in the city. One has to think that there was splendor here, once. The lobby tries to call back to it, with its fancy ceiling and the aforementioned stone floors. The wooden staircase railings that swoop down black and gold metal balusters (are they supposed to be wrought iron? Cast iron? Colonial something-or-other?). But that was awhile ago, and Kenmore Square is no longer upper class (if it ever was), no longer the “it place” in town. It has shops and offices and restaurants, it’s like 3 blocks away from Fenway Park, and it has the Citgo sign. That’s it.
According to Wikipedia, the hotel was used to house Italian prisoners of war in World War II. It’s where the fixers of the 1919 World Series met to iron out their conspiracy. There used to be a radio station in the basement (man, now I wish I’d found my way to the basement, I bet there’s still equipment down there). There used to be a nightclub in the space that later became a pizza restaurant, with performers like Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong.
So that’s the actual history. The history that matters to the rest of the world.
The important thing is, there’s no cops at this hotel, no noise complaints, and the rooms are big enough to cram in a truly criminal number of people. She is old and shabby (like me, like so many of us), but so many things happened here, the kind of history that only matters to a few people, here and there, who passed through her hallways.
Here’s the punx room, stinking of beer and sweat and sweaty beer after three days, floor covered in sleeping bags and duffels and lanky, hungry humans who either didn’t want to or couldn’t pay for their own hotel room.
Here’s where we—grown-ass adults with steady jobs and retirement savings accounts—almost got in a fight with teenage girls who wanted to party for a weekend and mouth off.
Here’s where that guy kissed you, that one time.
Here’s the room where somebody—not saying who—hid action figures in the ceiling, to see if they’d stay up there until the next year, or if someone would find them and take them.
Here’s people making sure everyone they know has tickets to the show, has food, has beer. You know, all the important stuff.
Here’s where W built a whole-ass bar out of plywood and ingenuity, and that one actually did cause a noise complaint, because he was using power tools, but when the security guy came to see what the fuck was happening, W was so charming and competent that the guy just made him promise to take it down at the end of the week (he did).
Here’s Bill, outside smoking, Bill who got you drunk when you were 17 and has never asked you to be anyone other than your own sweet self. Bill, who’s seen enough fucked up shit in his life, that when he tells you, “That was fucked up, what happened to you,” you know to believe him.
Here’s someone in a tiger suit, opening beer bottles with her teeth.
Here’s Skippy, carrying a shrub through the lobby. As you do.
Here’s a guy bringing a dozen people out into the city on a Pizza Tour of Boston.
Here’s another, showing everyone the route over the bridge, past the college campus, down to the Harvard Square post office.
Here’s half a dozen people sitting on the floor in the hallway, beers next to their ankles, wrists hooked over their knees. There’s like 40 people in the hotel room and no room for more.
Here we are, every December. Slightly different cast, maybe, but same general, hospitable, welcoming insanity.
The hotel is closed now, killed by the pandemic (and maybe other factors? I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been unprofitable for awhile). The lobby is dark, the elevators still. Did the owners sell the hotel furniture, try to even out their losses? Are the tourist pamphlets about the duck boats and Freedom Trail still in the empty lobby? Did a homeless guy jimmy his way into the basement? Did they remember to lock the door to the roof before they left, or is it swinging open?
I’ve been listening to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones since I was 14 years old. I went to my first Throwdown (and met Bill) when I was 18. That whole time, I felt lucky: To like this band, who didn’t force me to wrestle with the idea of problematic faves. To find these friends. To explore this city. To find new bands that I loved because the Bosstones took them on tour or talked them up in interviews. To love a band that played this many shows for this many years.
The Bosstones broke up in January, and my streak of having non-problematic faves is officially broken (thanks, Dicky, and fuck you). As I wrestle with my anger, I realize that this is what I will miss: all these people, all these friends. I hope I see you all again. I hope you’re all doing okay, keeping safe, all that.
I had plenty of time with the Bosstones. With their songs, with their shows, with them as people. I didn’t have enough time with my friends.
After the music is over
When what needs to be’s been said
After the tears have all been shed
When it’s over, what is after that?
….After the music’s over, we will hear the music again.