I lived in Boston for a few years during college and after. Between two and eight of my friends from school and I used to go to this rather infamous Allston dive bar on Tuesday nights called The Silhouette–anyone in Boston knows it, some less fondly than we–where we’d perch ourselves over a very cheap pitcher of beer at the wooden table closest to the bathrooms.
The bar had a pool table toward the far wall and a room for darts that I think I went in maybe twice and a wooden, fenced-off smoking section out the back door under the eaves, which featured a dilapidated, plastic sign of the bar’s name in retro cursive. The main bar-room’s particular bouquet of skunked kegs and cigarette smoke and free popcorn remains unique in my experience. If you bottled it and wore it on the train today I would still be able to tell you where it was from.
We became fairly regular there, even if we would avoid the place like the plague on Friday nights, when the bar would be at capacity and a crowd would wrap around the outside wall. I remember thinking, lovingly, “If those people knew what was in there would they still be waiting in line?” But Tuesday nights we had a semi-permanent residency at our table, and the bouncer (whose name now escapes me) would sometimes even kick people out of it if they were sitting there when we arrived.
We’d meet there around 9, after our late classes, when the only other people in the bar would be a smattering of other college-aged kids and some old-timers who could have pre-dated Lexington and Concord: the bus driver Steve, who switched to beer after his open-heart surgery; Irene the proprietor who would only pay attention to you after you’d shown up enough times; the tattooed bussers who were bubbly in a distinctly un-Boston way. It might not be like that anymore, it’s been years since I’ve been back, but it will remain forever so in my heart thanks to those formative drinking years.
The Sil, as it is affectionately known, had one of those digital jukeboxes where you could search an extensive database and play anything. We’d try to control the music all night, and when the bar was extra empty (like during the Boston winters that were so brutal that even hyperbole cannot do them justice), sometimes we did. One night that I no longer remember, we discovered that there was an app you could download that let you control the music from your phone, which came in handy on the Tuesdays when we would end up sharing the bar with this group of kids who occupied the pool table.
We called them “the metalheads” in the vein of The Nihilists from The Big Lebowski—“Donny, these men are metalheads, there’s nothing to be afraid of”—and they would put on track after track of some roaring doom that made the old guy regulars evacuate. What were we in comparison? Normies, maybe, or the squarest of the art school types. The Jets and the Sharks we weren’t, but it was territorialism lite.
When we figured out that we could control the music from my phone, we trolled them by playing a ton of Beyonce or Elton John and once a lot of Tom Jones, I think. If we paid enough money, we could get the metalheads to abandon ship and go across the street to The Model, which is open later but is more traditionally foul, as opposed to the Sil’s charming griminess. Sometimes it would seem like a competition, and they’d pay extra to make their songs skip ours in the queue.
But there was one song we stumbled upon on some foggy night that everyone could agree on—”Hey” by The Pixies. Sure, the band is from Boston and therefore useful for my purposes with this story, but it wasn’t really about that at the time or now. It’s a song that can be yelled along to and yet it’s inoffensive enough to ignore if you don’t like it (but how could you not like it?) while also being mainstream enough to not come across as a power play. Most Boston dive bar denizens know the words. We put it on once, and the metalheads sang along, huddled over the pool table. It became a kind of truce, an olive branch. We’d started making it a must-listen for every Tuesday night, not in some spoken way but as a habit. I recall they even put it on at some point.
Most things from that time have lost their shape. I don’t remember much of what I was listening to or who I was dating or what I was drinking or what we talked about or the color of the bedsheets in my Brighton apartment. I don’t visit Boston much. But that song is a warm and vivid spot. Sometimes when I hear it, I still want to yell about the devil between us. Other times I don’t want to hear it at all because it reminds me, in a way little else can, of how nothing ever stays the same.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.