Remember the punk rock club The Rathskeller and owner Jim Harold

When the news began to filter earlier this week that Jim Harold, former owner of Kenmore punk rock club Rathskiller – better known as the Rat, died on July 31, memories flooded with memories. About Harold and the Dark, the canoe and fun club he owned from 1973 to 1997.

“I will always be grateful to Jimmy Harold for giving us this opportunity and allowing us to prove ourselves,” said Elliot Easton, guitarist for The Cars. It is one of the venues where the band honed their career, described by Easton as “decisive in the development of The Cars as a live band and as a step towards the critical recognition that led to our signing to Elektra Records. He was always a friendly and warm presence, and he would welcome us into the club whether or not we played there or not.” It was truly the club for all the bands that emerged in that era. A golden time.”

These ideas have been echoed by many this week.

The Rat, a basement club with a refreshing street-level restaurant called HooDoo BBQ, has turned into the center of Boston’s punk rock scene, the CBGB equivalent of this New York City.

Among the early Boston bands that made the Rat their club were DMZ, Third Rail, The Atlantics, Nervous Eaters, Unnatural Ax, The Neighborhood, Willie Alexander and Boom Boom Band.

There was a pipeline between the CBGB and the Rat, with New York teams like the Talking Heads, Ramones, Suicide, The Cramps and Dead Boys coming north and Boston teams heading south. When English teams hit the US for the first time – The Police, The Jam, The Damned, The Stranglers, The Fall, Gang of Four – CBGB and the Mouse became their springboard. Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz recalled, “The rat smelled of old beer and was wet with beer-soaked carpet on the floor.” “It was a basement after all, damp and stinky with low ceilings. The Rat was a dive and proud of it.”

Talking Heads Play Rat.  (Courtesy of Michael Greco)
Talking Heads Play Rat. (Courtesy of Michael Greco)

Creating a punk rock band wasn’t exactly Harold’s original intention. When he took over the space from the previous club owner, TJ’s, where he worked, the club mostly had cover teams. When I asked him, six years ago, Harold said his intent was basic: “To make money. I had some pretty good experience with it.” Over time, his on-site properties also included a Bertha Cool clothing store, Strawberries music store, and a martial arts studio.

“Jimmy took the opportunity,” said Oedipus, who conducted the country’s first punk rock radio show in 1975 at WTBS (now WMBR), and later became a coordinator and program director for the powerful rock station WBCN. “Jimmy definitely didn’t know music and it wasn’t his music genre. Our music lived on the brink, Jimmy endured everything and welcomed us all. He always had this amazing look in his eyes. He couldn’t quite fathom it, but he saw that we were having a good time and that the pub was You earn money.”

“It was our spectacle,” said Oedipus, “and Kenmore Square was rough and tumble and very exciting. It was music to which a certain number of people were drawn to; it was around him that brink of danger.”

“It was music that a certain number of people were drawn to; it was around that edge of danger.”


Among Boston’s teams, many have found a home in the Rat as well, and some — like the ’80s teams through Tuesday, O Positive and the Del Fuegos, and ’90s teams like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dropkick Murphys — go on to widespread fame and acclaim.

Were there disagreements and fights? surely. The club’s booking agent in the early days, Alan Rutberg, who said Harold had a “heart of gold,” admitted there were times when the bands were cut short or the bouncers were, as we say, overly aggressive. “A lot of that negativity that Jim never knew,” said Rothberg. He once said to me, ‘I’m in the woods and I haven’t seen through the trees.’

And yes, there were rats: Bruce McDonald, a former WFNX DJ, recalls auditioning at the club with his teenage punk band, and “when we hit our number one, a bunch of rats streamed from under the stage.” Matt Beauchi of Rain Parade added that the club “had a good name…When we got to check the sound, the staff were lighting incense all over to cover the smell of dead mice…It just made the smell worse.”

Jim Harold (right) with Oedipus.  (Courtesy of Alan Rutberg)
Jim Harold (right) with Oedipus. (Courtesy of Alan Rutberg)

However, for a club that was inferior and ramshackle in appearance—the cramped and graffitied dressing room, and the toilets which were legendary for their filthy, open doors (Oedipus: “vile, vile, disgusting”)—a loud sound system and a great sound-maker for the house. , Granny Weidman.

This was the modern and unfortunate era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Some are on stage, some are under the table or on the back stairs outside the club. There weren’t necessarily rules to be followed.

Promoter Joel Feingold remembers one night when he and his buddies were drinking about 3 a.m. at Hoodoo Grill. “Jimmy comes in and sees the little crowd getting drunk and jeopardizing his license,” Feingold said. “He picks up a wine glass with his teeth, cuts a large piece and grinds it. Then he spits it back into the glass. The leftovers of what was the white wine turn pink. Get the f— out. You’ve never seen an empty mouse faster before.”

Six years ago, I was visiting Harold, who was a forward playing football for UMass Amherst, at his home in Medford. I asked him about all the reckless misconduct in the past. He told me, “I’m laughing at all this now.” At the time, I didn’t laugh at them. There were all kinds of strange things going on. Now, I think it’s good.”

I said: Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

“Maybe,” replied Harold, not completely convinced, “but it was a crisis at the time.”

Unlike CBGB owner Hailey Crystal, Harold did not enjoy the spotlight. Match Bell said: “In late 1977, Jimmy receded and faded into the background, cleverly hiring his jazz musician friend, Mitch. [Cerullo], to work as a doorman at the top of the stairs leading to the underground showroom. Mitch became the de facto “rat face”.

“Anyone who became part of the Rat family was treated like Jim.”

Kathy Log

Off site, Harold was a great friend and family man. organized ski trips to his lodge in Lone Mountain, New Hampshire; He had Red Sox season tickets for decades and brought friends to the games; Several of the rocker’s friends took on his boat, a Grand Banks fishing vessel called the Liberty moored in East Boston, usually stocked with a load of his favorite drink, Miller Lite. Sometimes, Harold’s voyages were around Boston Harbor, other times up and down the Atlantic coast or to Bermuda.

“Anyone who became part of the rat family was treated like a family,” said Katie Logue, who booked the club during part of the ’80s. “And like any family sometimes there were screams, sometimes tears, but most of the time there was a lot of laughter.”

Lily Denison moved to Boston in November 1979, when she was 20, she said, “The Mouse was famous, the place to be.” “I came there the first day I went to Boston and got a job. Getting a job as a cocktail waitress in a rat in those days felt like I got the lead in a Broadway play.

Jim Harold in the Rathskeller Suite at the Commonwealth Hotel.  (Courtesy of Julie Farman)
Jim Harold in the Rathskeller Suite at the Commonwealth Hotel. (Courtesy of Julie Farman)

Ralph Fatello, the guitarist for Vinnie, first played the club in 1976, most notably when Harold used it to open it up to the police in 1978. “The last time I played the Rat was on May 20, 1995,” Fatello said. Harold invited his band to give a tribute show. “Finally, I looked at him and said for the first time ‘Jimmy, I love you man.’ He looked at me and without any hesitation said the same thing: ‘I love you too, Ralph.’ In the punk days, none of us would say that. But as we went on As we get older, we get a little softer.”

By early 1997, the club was losing ground. The head waiter, the late Brian Stoker, wanted to buy the club and revitalize it, but Harold refused, who told me he “had other things on his mind,” Stoker told me at the time. Kenmore Square property values ​​were skyrocketing. (The entire area is now less recognizable than it used to be.)

On November 15, 1997, the Rat fell into a near-glorious fire and self-destruction. Hardcore punk band Gang Green closed the night. Parts of the wall fell, torn to shreds, hurled hybrids. Singer Chris Doherty urged the crowd to tear up the venue, barking “I can’t tell anyone to calm the tension because no one will be banned for life!”

This “lifetime taboo” thing was a threat that Harold would often address to a misbehaving band or audience. While Doherty was screaming, Harold was upstairs, trying to get someone to pay him $30 for a fake rat, part of the club’s decor. Downstairs, Stoker ran the busy bar. We ran out of free vodka, and customers asked, “Is free gin a good fit?” (It was) someone wrote this on the men’s room wall: “Rat, RIP”

The upscale Commonwealth Hotel was due to come soon and Harold would do well with this sale of the property. The hotel created the pricey Rathskeller Suite (currently between $543 and $1130 per night) with memorabilia from the club. More than a few villains that appeared in the day rolled their eyes at it.

In the fall of 2017, the hotel held a rat party for old bands, pioneers and staff, in celebration of the release of a documentary on DVD about the club, “Live at the Rat Suite” and the re-release of “Live at the Rat” on CD.

Although Harold has had health issues in recent years, Harold’s best friend Billy Connors said, “I saw him at the Nervous Eaters show on the balcony. [club in Medford] Six weeks ago and he looked great.”

Harold’s family, which includes his 31-year-old wife, Mary Ann Harold, three children, four boys and 11 grandchildren, chose not to discuss the cause of his death.

Several people I spoke to noted Harold’s imposing presence and walrus-like appearance. “A lot of people thought Jim was an old, crunchy bastard and it was a good reputation,” Connors said. “But I was aware of Jim’s big heart. He helped a lot of idling musicians when they needed it. He was one of the most kind-hearted men I’ve ever met. The husky man was just an act. He was such a good and generous man.”

“He helped a lot of downtime musicians when they needed him. He was one of the most kind-hearted guys I’ve ever met.”

Billy Connors

Harold’s youngest daughter, Faun Harold, agreed. “I know it was intimidating some people, but he was very empathetic,” she said. “And as a grandmother, he was amazing – the smile was on his face when he looked at one of our kids! People didn’t always see that.”

Harold, who turned 79 on May 3, posted a photo to Facebook at the end of that month. It was his shot of Boston Harbor, a distant beacon. Comment on it with one word: happiness.

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