Can't you practice someplace else?

Notes on the plight of the tenant-musician
By PAUL RAEBURN  |  May 16, 2008

This article originally appeared in the May 16, 1978 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

So you think you’ve got problems trying to find an apartment? No doubt about it, finding a decent place to hang your hat in Boston, the most expensive city in the continental US, isn’t easy. Of course, it’s not that you’re being unreasonable. All you want is a place like that $750-a-month pad you spied down on the Waterfront, except that you want to pay only $125. Okay, so it doesn’t have to be on the Waterfront; something a short walk from Harvard Square would be just fine. Well, if you’ve been looking in vain for weeks and are about to move back to Cleveland, here’s one bit of consolation. There is somebody who’s worse off than you.

That somebody is the poor soul who, through an accident of birth, happens to be a musician. Yes, folks, we musicians are sorely discriminated against when it comes to finding apartments. Nonsense, you say, musicians are rich and famous, and they’ve all got houses on Martha’s Vineyard. I’ll admit some make a decent wage, but there are more than a few of us out here who aren’t quite able to move next door to James Taylor. If you, dear reader, are a musician who hasn’t yet made the big time, or even if your musical endeavors merely consist of squeezing a few notes out of the old horn you played in the high school band, take heart —We Are Not Alone.

I’ve hauled my equipment—an electric piano, an amplifier, and assorted paraphernalia—in and out of seven apartments in Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge during the last five years. I’ve survived the pitfalls and dangers, including being robbed three times and hearing an older woman in the apartment below mine shout up the stairs that my practicing sounds like a herd of elephants walking on her living room ceiling. Not exactly the critical adulation I’d hoped for.

One of the first places I lived in Boston was a room in a house full of vegetarians and other aficionados of the organic. The preferred means of musical expression were guitars and recorders. Pure, natural-sounding instruments. The noisy, electrified sounds that sometimes came from my piano didn’t mix very well with the peaceful contemplations of my housemates. And it didn’t help that I regularly retreated to the local hamburger emporium for consolation. Our musical/philosophical disagreements were threatening to ruin my life, so I quietly moved out.

That was far from the end of my problems with roommates, however. The problems have persisted, whether I’ve been living with good friends or new acquaintances. One roommate, a close friend, robbed me of a month of practice time as he worked day and night in our apartment writing his thesis. It wasn’t his fault, poor fellow (he had troubles of his own); nevertheless, I wasn’t able to play the piano. Another roommate, an acquaintance rather than a friend, was happy to let me practice whenever I chose. He responded by cranking his stereo up above 100 dB. Which was fine, except that the dulcet tones of Ravel, played haltingly at the keyboard, were slightly less enjoyable when heard against the booming of late-‘60s rock coming from the next room.

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