Category Archives: Commonwealth Ave

Saturday Night Fever: The Punk vs Disco Riot in Kenmore Square

Lucifer the Kenmore Square Disco in the Blizzard of ’78.
The Rat on the opposite side of the street and the opposite side of musical world.

While we were shaving and banging our heads and stomping on the floor in our Doc Marten boots at the Rat, a completely different crew of tough guys and girls in silk shirts, tight bell bottom pants and slinky dresses with spiked heels were John Travolta-ing across Kenmore Square at Lucifer’s Disco re-enacting scenes from “Saturday Night Fever”.

One night (really very early morning) in 1979 in the no man’s land of the traffic island on Commonwealth Avenue, somebody’s Doc Marten’s stepped on somebody else’s heels and a riot broke out.  Punks poured out of the Rat and Tonys and Tinas ran from Lucifers and spent about an hour bashing heads and spilling blood.  It was a literal clash of cultures that was not, because this was Boston in the 70s, broken up by the police but simply exhausted itself once it seemed all the oxygen in the hot night air had been sucked away.  

It was probably more complicated too than musical choice and clothing styles.  It’s not much of a reach to say that the majority of the punks were middle and upper-middle class college kids or college drop-outs exercising the demons of their suburban childhoods while the majority of the disco kids were working class high school grads or first generation college students trying on the chic clothes and sophisticated dancing styles being broadcast from Studio 54 in New York.

I was there the night of riot in my punked out Sheena look with a number of other BU students.  Somebody could have been taking notes for a pretty kick-ass sociology dissertation.  Not me, of course, because as we all know, my mind was very much elsewhere at the time.


The Rat

The Rat

Located at 528 Commonwealth Avenue in Kenmore Square, Boston near BU and open from 1974 to 1997, The Rathskeller or The Rat was the cradle of the legendary Boston Rock scene and THE venue for punk and new wave in New England.  After my Stevie Nicks gypsy phase, I cut off all my hair, wore leather and t-shirts and made the scene at The Rat.  I was there the night the disco club across the street emptied out and the punks and disco dancers rumbled on Commonwealth.  Standing in the median, waiting for a chance to bolt through traffic, guys in cars yelled, “Sheena!” at me after the Ramone’s song.  I saw a lot of bands there including the Cars and Mission of Burma.  But the one that changed my life was Human Sexual Response.

Andrew Szava-Kovats has made a documentary “Let’s go to The Rat”.
 Look for it.