Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Over

I've worked on this for a couple days 'cuz I'm positively bereft. Yet another dagger is thrust into the heart of my youth.

I'm a reasonably rational person. I realize as I grow older beacons of my formative years will inevitably dim or die out altogether. But I was not prepared to bid adieu to Out of Town News.

It may be a National Landmark but to call Out of Town News such is to tag the Pyramids a pile of rocks. (Similarly, I believed OOTN to be there for eternity -- Wrong-em Boyo.) Few "landmarks" impact our daily lives. I lived on the NYC waterfront for 13 years. I can tell you with certainty nobody gives a rat's ass about Grant's Tomb.

To quote the great sage Homer [Simpson], "But I digest." **burp**

Out of Town News was an icon. It was a cultural institution. It was a genuine meeting place.+ It defined Harvard Square. Hell, it was the heartbeat of The Square. So much so that OOTN is featured prominently Harvard Square's Wikipedia page, get it now kiddies?

As the Page Fucking 1(!) Boston Globe story tells it:

John Kenneth Galbraith bought a copy of Le Monde there every day. Julia Child searched for obscure Italian and German cooking magazines, and Robert Frost once stopped by - it actually was a snowy evening - to get directions to a reading. Over the years, pretty much anyone looking for news from far and near, be they eminent professors or the masses rushing to work on the Red Line, found it at Out of Town News.
Yes, Out of Town News was that important. Seattle Weekly pinpoints it as the newsstand where Microsoft founder Paul Allen picked up Popular Electronics, had his eureka moment and ran to find Bill Gates. (I hear they both did pretty well after that). Name me any other kiosk to reach this millennium that boasts such a diverse and occasionally historic constituency? Stop now because you can't.

Hub Arts' Joel Brown, whose father used to work there, nails it:
Out Of Town News was second only to Harvard in securing the Square's reputation as an international crossroads of learning and weirdness. You could get anything there, and it was a great relief to many that the newsstand survived the various "improvements" to the Square over the years. It maintained an eclectic clientele even as most of the Square's once-eccentric businesses gave way to the toxic blandness of chain retailing. Now it will probably turn into a f*ing Starbucks. This is heinous news. At least Charlie's Kitchen still serves a cheap martini.
True dat. Even though (and later because) I lived at the very opposite end of the Red Line, I frequented Harvard Square. My mother brought me there early on to experience that "international crossroads of learning and weirdness." Still in elementary school, my first unchaperoned trip on The T was to Harvard Square. (I think we got banned from The Coop -- maybe that was later on). Regardless, it was impossible to go to Harvard Square without a glimpse of OOTN.

Now I'm certainly not a John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Allen or Robert Frost (I swing more Julia Child-like w/o the dress. Natch.), but Out of Town News played an important role in the ongoing development of my musical sensibilities. When I ventured from the 'burbs to "The Square" to taste its "weirdness",++ I could pick Melody Maker and NME without the ball-breaking double-back to the original Newbury Comics. OOTN was also a Ticketron outlet.

This was key. Back in the day, tickets weren't electronically printed at a terminal as you bought them. Concert tickets were much smaller. Unlike today's generic tickets replete with bar codes, old school tix had a color and maybe a font distinctive to each show. Tickets for every seat at every concert were printed ahead of time. Just before on-sale tickets were physically distributed to various individual ticket outlets. Very quaint, I know.

Most music fans preferred the closer, Boston proper ticket outlets. They hit Out of Town as a last resort once the good seats were gone in town. Armed with this knowledge (gleaned from extensive trial & error), I'd split school for a short ride on the old Mattapan trolleys to Dorchester's Ashmont Station. From there it was a long trip to the end of the Red Line, Harvard. I'd pop out of the station, grab some of the best seats available in all of Boston (maybe a Brit music mag or two) and hop a train to the bus back to my safe suburban home. It was ritual.

I rarely wasted time with The Orpheum+++ box office. It was Out of Town where I bought my tix to see The Clash London Calling Tour (3/9/80), Devo Freedom of Choice Tour (7/17/80 - a veritable sauna & 17th row floor!!), Pretenders (5/81 - original line-up & The Jim Carroll Band too!), U2 October Tour (11/14/81 - 3rd row balcony++++), The Jam The Gift Tour (5/20/82 - 1st row balcony!)...I could go on and on.


I'm not alone in my despair.

Out of Town News tributes pour in here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


+Countless hordes of people have said to one another, "Meet me at Out of Town News."
++In this context probably means smoking pot -- Shocking I know.
+++For Boston-area high school kids (underage by definition), The Orpheum was the prime place to see our heroes. Boston's best club, The Paradise was impossible to sneak into tho' we did get for an early R.E.M. show.
++++The first rows of The Orpheum balcony were fave seats -- unobstructed view and still surprisingly close to the band.