The Underground scene and the Hooker who was “Gurl Eleven”

The Underground was a haven for the emerging punk rock scene in Boston, but it also coexisted with a nexus of seedy drug dealers, hookers, and "wise guy" club enforcers.

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The "Flyer Wall" at The Underground with a young Thalia Zedik (Live Skull, Come, Dangerous Birds) on the right.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1980 – The Underground was a nightclub in Boston started by young NYC-bred macher Jim Coffman. He had been a busboy for two brothers who owned a fair amount of the seedy bars in town and were known as being “wise.”

He convinced them to hand over a failing fern bar in a B.U. Basement called “Sweet Virginia’s” to facilitate his idea of booking “new wave” music.

Jim Coffman at Jari Georgia’s kitchen table.

The first show featured a new band he would later manage that went by the odd moniker Mission of Burma.


As related in Gurl Four, your humble narrator first met his future cohort while creating a massive wall of punk flyers that were a cunningly-curated mise en scene of act one in Boston’s punk history.

The third show at the club was headlined by Ground Zero, who followers of this series will recognize from Gurl Five.

It was the second time your humble narrator had ever done live sound engineering but with the hubris of excessive youth and amphetamines, he made an excellent case for being hired as the house sound person.

That same inexperience at doing sound was ten times more evident in the negotiation of a salary. Thirty-Five dollars a week and free beer seemed cool at the time.

It was a trial by fire and no one could tell because we were all in the same freshly-launched boat.

Except for R.O.D., the nickname that was given to Rick O’Donnell a red-headed, burly Southie Irishman who was mandated by the bent-nosed bosses to keep tabs on us crazy kids. He made sure no one stole the booze money and that nothing happened that would bring the cops into the venue.

He had a small, shotgun-style office that was entered through a door right next to the sound booth.

He would usually stay in there all night with visitors that seemed to come straight from central casting in response to a call for “low-level gangster with a violent presence” types.

When he was gone we would use his office to smoke weed and would find huge bags of Black Beauties (the old-fashioned Adderal), assorted weapons and sometimes bags of cocaine.

We would pilfer these with gleeful abandon since his intake was so prodigious he could never be sure if he took “that” much or not.

Wasted or not, he had a formidable and hair-trigger violent persona that hung over the premises as a reminder that no matter how free and paradigm-shifting we considered our mission, we were still in thrall to an organized and uncaring system.

R.O.D. had his uses. Despite the “punk” appellation, the scene at The Underground was respectful to the music, the fans and wanted nothing more than to be an oasis of misfits in a sea of late seventies decay.

He was reluctantly won over by our passion for music and disregard for usual club norms. He became a sort of protector and bulwark against the intrusion of the owners but as usual, he came with a hefty and soul-chilling price tag.

He would be regularly visited by Gurl Eleven. Her name was never really revealed. By the pinning of her eyes, her provocative attire, the slouching, feral and given to resignation stride she used, it was assumed she was a hooker.

On the night of your humble narrators 20th birthday, he was on cloud nine. The night before one of his favorite bands from England had performed.

Even better, in the next few days, an invasion of the most exciting bands from New York and England would be coming and needed a cool sound person to mix them.

Scheduling calendar for The Underground, September 1980.

It was usually the same two or three shifty drug mules that would come by and after their visits, we would be on tenderhooks waiting to see which R.O.D. would come out the door.

It was either the raging, bellowing “I will fuck you up” persona or the “Wow, I love you kids, lemme buy you guys a drink” fellow.

Gurl Eleven would always seem to show up just after drugs were delivered to the office and that birthday night was no exception.

She had entered R.O.D.’s office after a visit from not one but three of the usual suspects.

We figured something was up. It seemed like only moments after but was it more likely an hour or so later when that scary, angry voice we knew so well bellowed past the closed door.

A woman’s scream and muffled thuds followed in quick succession. Then more screams, dull thuds and piercing, pleading tones followed by a long wail of pain, anguish, and fear rose over the music.

With all the innocence of a Boy Scout and the naivete of freshman seminary student your narrator cracked open the door and warbled in a tremulous voice “Is everything OK in here?”

One look at R.O.D. looming over Gurl Eleven on her knees, with her hair entwined in his massive fist and his other fist drawn back to deliver a disfiguring blow was enough to trigger a Roy Rogers response.

“Hey! What the fuck!! Stop it.” “Close that fucking door and mind your own fucking business” was the reply. “No, what are you doing?” was shot back. With that, R.O.D. dropped what he was doing and turned his attention to her would-be soundman savior.

Despite the pummeling received that night, it began a lifelong understanding that all is not right in the world and it is better be get the crap knocked out of you than to stay silent when confronted by evil.

No body punches were sustained in the writing of this piece.

Peter Caldwell is the main character of “The Centaur” and known mostly for his lack of friends his own age and a desire to make it in the “big” city.

Punk rock music can be heard regularly on John Carlucci’s SpeedieJohn program on
Channel 21 of Little Stevens Underground Garage on Sirius XM Satellite radio.

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