Liner Note #3

Cecilia here with today’s Liner Notes.

So, once upon a time there was a 2-3 block section of Washington Street in downtown Boston that was known as the “Combat Zone.” There were a couple of XXX theaters, a peep show, and some “adult bookstores” (i.e. video stores that also sold a smattering of overpriced sex toys and such). They’re all gone now and that whole section of Boston is very cleaned up and gentrified. Emerson College (where I got my masters in writing) bought some of the buildings in that neighborhood, and Chinatown ate up the rest. There is one tame sort of strip club near there now, Centerfolds, but it was built more recently and hardly counts.

Chinatown itself is really cleaned up, too, with very little now in the way of streetwalkers and drug dealers compared to 20 years ago. What I hear is that it’s like this most places–no one stands on a street corner to sell illegal wares anymore, whether its sex or drugs, because now we have the Internet. The city trumpets its “cleanup” efforts, but the plain truth is that porn businesses long ago figured out that they sold more when they opened shops in the suburbs, where the actual customers are, and with the ease of the Internet, both for purchasing DVDs and getting streaming video, no one really wants to go to a porn theater anymore.

What I don’t know is if “the block”–where the gay hustlers would stand–is still in use. The jewelry store (Shreve, Crump, & Lowe) that was the landmark one used to find it, which had been there for a hundred years or something, has also moved a few blocks away, to occupy the former FAO Schwarz building, so the spot itself is pretty much anonymous now. I’ve asked around some gay male friends but the answer was inconclusive as to whether it’s still there.

According to the late, infamous gay writer John Preston, it was no coincidence that “the block” was located so close to the Park Plaza Hotel–which in its days as the Statler Hilton had been THE “businessman’s hotel.” It was a warren of single rooms for traveling salesmen. The straight ones could find what they needed in one direction, the closeted gay ones in the other. To think that the nation’s commerce used to depend on a constant army of salespeople, nearly all men, who went door to door and place to place. Their ranks have been in decline since the 1950s.

I had two lovers who both worked “the block” from time to time around 1990-1992. One of them was very cute and thought I didn’t know he was a hustler; he thought I was too innocent and naive to know what he did. I just figured he was being coy by not talking about it and kind of hinting around it without coming out and saying it. One day I said something about it and he was like “how did you know?” (Honey, it wasn’t hard to figure out.) After that, I got to hear plenty of stories about being a rentboy from him, and he ended up giving advice to the other one when he started doing it.

The Pool Bar was a real place and Jeremy was a real person. I managed a band called Sexploitation back in the day and they played a showcase there during the College Music Journal (CMJ) festival one year (it must have been 1991?). That was the same CMJ where they also played a showcase at Limelight, and swapped time slots with another up and coming band who were not yet signed: Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids. No, I am not making this up. Manson & co. were managed at the time by two obnoxious, middle-aged guys from Florida, and the band members were–get this–completely decked out in neon colors, including one who had on a lime green babydoll dress with a giant magenta and orange daisy on it. He looked VERY unhappy about wearing it, but I was under the impression the manager-types had decided that raver psychedelia was the “in” thing and they had convinced the band to go along with it. They did not get a record contract as a result of that gig. (If I have the story right, Brian/Marilyn jettisoned the fat managers a year or so later and sought out Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails himself, landing a deal in 1993.)

I’ll write more about Sexploitation in a future liner note, possibly more than one. There’s a lot to say about them which will become relevant at various points.



  • Jude McLaughlin says:

    What a nifty glimpse of Boston history.

    I find it kind of funny that apparently the nigh-universal name for the gay hustler’s hangout was “the block.” That’s what we called it in Richmond in the same time period, a short strand alongside (IIRC) the Richmond Public Law Library on 1st St.

  • BriAnne says:

    A fellow Emerson alum! I did my undergrad there (1999-2003) in theater studies. Even when I was there, that area was still called The Combat Zone, or The Former Combat Zone, and there were still prostitutes outside the 7-11 behind the Little Building at night, I’m told. I lived at 6 Arlington, so I went to the 7-11 on Charles for all of my late night snacking needs.

    One of my favorite things to do when taking people to Boston is to give them the tour of Emerson that goes like this: “This used to be my dorm. They sold it. This used to be the student union. They sold that too.” I spent several days recently trying to figure out where the entrance to the new theater building is. Finally found it.

    • ctan says:

      LOL! Yeah, when I went there they had only just bought 180 Tremont St and I had a few classes there, but the Little Building wasn’t theirs yet, and even the Majestic Theater hadn’t been renovated yet. I had classes at 100 Beacon Street, even, and after I was done I still went and used the library all the time on Beacon Street because they never checked IDs.

      I’m glad Rikibeth pointed you over here! Have fun!

  • encian says:

    Sexploitation is so good! love this.

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