As Morning Edition has reported on nightlife on Boston, many people say that "hey, nightlife here isn't that bad, or it didn't used to be bad." Henry Santoro, GBH midday host and local music legend, joined co-hosts Jeremy Siegel and Paris Alston to talk about a time when nightlife "didn't suck." This transcript has been lightly edited.
Henry Santoro: First of all, Jeremy, thank you very much for having me on. I have been following the nightlife series and screaming at my radio because there was a time when Boston nightlife absolutely ruled. And when I was at WFNX, which was, you know, really the number one alternative radio station in the country
[WFNX archive radio spot plays]
Henry Santoro: We had a birthday party back in 1991. It was our eighth birthday party and we had four bands on the bill, and one of them was Cliffs of Dooneen — a very popular local band.
[clip of the band performing]
The show was at Axis on Lansdowne Street, where House of Blues is now. Axis was one of those medium sized rock clubs that people flocked to. And the second band on the bill was this little unknown band called Smashing Pumpkins.
[clip of Smashing Pumpkins performing]
And, you know, we gave them all of a half hour to prove themselves on stage. And then the third band was a local band that we thought was going to be really big named Bullet LaVolta. But the key to this whole thing was the headliners: and the headliner was Nirvana.
[clip of Nirvana]
And when I tell you that hanging out with Kurt Cobain was unlike anything that you could ever imagine in Boston nightlife. He used to come to Boston, and if he had downtime, he would just come and hang out with us at the radio station. Nirvana went on stage, I think at midnight. And they would have played till 12:45, it was a 45 minute set.
[Clip of Nirvana’s Love Buzz]
And I think our show, that show that I'm mentioning at Axis with those four bands — I mean, maybe eight bucks to get in?
Siegel: Oh my god. It's absolutely wild to imagine that. I mean, wild to imagine the price, but also a Boston where this was happening.
Santoro: Well, Kenmore Square used to be this gritty, seedy, nightlife ridden [place] — long after the clubs closed, you could walk through Kenmore Square and it would be bustling with people, just rock and rollers. And there were small clubs on every corner. And I always did morning radio — long before you showed up.
My schedule was this: I would wake up at 6:00 P.M. and I would make some breakfast or make something to eat, then I would go out at about eight or nine and I would go to maybe four or five or six clubs and see any number of bands.
I remember seeing The Cure at a little club called The Underground in Boston. And then when the clubs closed at two, I would drive to Chinatown and I would get a to-go package of food and I would drive to Lynn, which is where our old radio station was, and I would eat my Chinese food, trying to sober up. And then from 6 to 10 I would do the morning show and then I would go home and I would sleep until 6:00 P.M. that night and get up and do it all over again.
[background music playing]
It was a completely different time than the time that you have been reporting on.
Siegel: Hearing about your schedule is almost giving me ideas, but I don't think I have the stamina that you did.
Santoro: Well, you can't because you're married. I was single.
Siegel: Well there’s that. There's also the fact that it wouldn't even really be possible now.
Siegel: I mean, there's not those shows to go to. At this point, hearing you talk, I'm almost living vicariously through you. So is there one moment or memory from back then that will always live with you?
Santoro: Oh, I first of all, Billy Idol, before anybody knew who Billy Idol was.
[music plays in background]
He played at not Axis, but the very same venue. Before that it was called Spit. And Billy played at Spit and I was a bartender at Spit. I was one of the first bartenders hired there. And he would come in and he would do sound checks. And he said to me one night — and I can talk about this now because weed is legal — he said to me, “where can I go and get high?” And I said, “What do you mean, get high? He said, “I just want to smoke a joint.” I said, “well, come with me.” And we went out back, we went to the tracks and we got to know each other.
[Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” plays]
And so that was a magical memory of nightlife. But, you know, seeing The Police at The Rat for $2 — every Wednesday night was pasta night at The Rat. You could eat spaghetti and meatballs upstairs, and the barbecue. And then you go down for $2.50 and see The Cars. Yeah. I mean, it was crazy.
[The Cars “Just What I Needed” plays]
Santoro: It was crazy. It was just — it was a time that we will never, ever get back. And for those of us who've lived to experience the memories saved, it was magical.
Siegel: Well, Henry Santoro, it has been so much fun taking a trip down memory lane with you. Thank you so much.
Santoro: That is when nightlife didn’t suck.
Siegel: That was GBH’s Henry Santoro, who is being inducted into the New England Rock Music Hall of Fame this Saturday at the Regent Theatre in Arlington.
Paris Alston: That conversation was just what we needed.