Courtney Love slept here: Boston’s most famous rock and roll crash pad is up for sale

This past Sunday afternoon, there was an open house for a 2200-square-foot place at 10 Burt Street in the Ashmont Hill section of Dorchester, which is ably described in its real-estate listing as a four-bed, two-bath “oversized, cottage-style home” with an eat-in kitchen and a screened porch overlooking the garden, just seconds from an MBTA station. The description, however, omits the fact that Eddie Vedder and Courtney Love both hung out there – and that the house has been perhaps the most famous and best-loved crash pad in Boston rock and roll history. It is listed for $369,000.

Since 1992, the house has belonged to Joyce Linehan, a Boston publicist (for non-profit clients including First Night, the Boston Book Festival, and the Boston Conservatory), band manager (of the Pernice Brothers), and author (of a tome compiling her tweets with Pernice Brothers’ curmudgeonly leader, Joe Pernice). Linehan also has an illustrious past: she once managed bands such as the Smithereens and the Lemonheads, and for a number of years in the 1990s, when Linehan worked in promotions and A&R, her Burt Street house doubled as East Coast HQ for Sub Pop Records. It is not in dispute that Hole’s Courtney Love wrote “Doll Parts” while staying at Joyce’s place – Love even worked Joyce’s dog into the song – but rock historians debate whether that happened at Burt Street or at Joyce’s old apartment, about a mile away on Minot Street.

Among the dozens of musicians who stayed at the house over the years were Bikini Kill, the Flaming Lips, Smashing Pumpkins, Elliott Smith, Ted Leo, Superchunk, the Jesus Lizard, Earth, Sunny Day Real Estate, the Young Fresh Fellows, Unrest, Tsunami, the Supersuckers, the Fastbacks, Vic Chesnutt, Stereolab, Cobra Verde, and the Detroit Cobras. Vedder came with his wife’s band Hovercraft; he didn’t stay overnight, but Linehan recalls him hanging out and watching TV. The guestbook at 10 Burt Street has also been signed by the comedian Fred Armisen, the author Michael Patrick MacDonald, and by Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren. Someone signed Mitt Romney’s name into the book as a joke. Such was the degree of favorable hospitality provided to passing rock bands that even bad houseguests were reluctant to screw it up for everyone else. “The Dwarves never visited,” Linehan said the other day. “[Singer Blag Dahlia] said that just the fact that I was willing to let them stay would be rewarded by them not coming over.”

“I first started thinking about buying the house because my landlady, who lived on the first floor at Minot Street, was really pissed off one morning after [the Jesus Lizard’s frontman] David Yow had spent most of the previous night climbing up the stairs, which were over her bedroom, and falling back down again,” Linehan recalls. “It was a funny time. Dorchester was a little conservative artistically back then. It wasn’t gay and getting all Park Slope-y like it is now. We were freaks. Having grown up [in Dorchester], I had an appreciation for the irony in the fact that some of the country’s best punk rock bands were crashing in Neponset! I have no recollection of Nirvana having stayed here, but I don’t know why they wouldn’t have. We definitely promoted their shows. Maybe someone else knows.”

In addition to the overnight guests, there were longer-term residents as well. At various times the staff at Sub Pop East included future Brattle Theater director Ned Hinkle, Dee-Linquents frontwoman Jen D’Angora, and Dean Blackwood, then a Harvard Law student, who went on to found Revenant Records (and win a Grammy) with the guitarist John Fahey. In 1994, The Wonder Years producer Mark Levin and his wife Jennifer Flackett stayed at the house to do research for an ABC pilot, Roadie, that eventually aired in 1996 but was never picked up.

But the house will best be remembered as a way station for weary musicians passing through the night. “Joyce's house was a real oasis in the desert of low-level indie rock touring,” remembers Jim Spellman, who once was the drummer in the great Sub Pop group Velocity Girl and is now a producer for CNN. There were, Spellman says, “no weirdo group-house dynamics to deal with. No smelly cat box, and no one would steal your prized guitar while you slept. We would often have a day or two off in Boston to catch our breath and those days were some of the best on tour. I first heard the Louvin Brothers in Joyce's kitchen one fine morning over coffee while nursing a hangover. Satan Was Real and the coffee was real good.”

Linehan’s house was part of a network of such situations – a kind of secret international bed-and-breakfast circuit that included Janet Billig’s apartment in New York and Randy Kaye and Marcy Blaustein’s place in Los Angeles. “There was one in London and Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis,” Linehan says. “It was quite a thing. People cooked and we had big celebratory meals. It got to the point where people planned days off in Boston. Calexico booked a tour where everything was within striking distance so they could sleep here every night. The Grifters told me that before they met me, they heard about a girl in Boston who had a place for bands to stay, but she took Polaroids of everyone as they slept. Christ, I wish I’d actually done that.”

In the ensuing decades, it was not unheard of for bands to cross paths at Burt Street. During a freakish blizzard on April Fool’s Day of 1997, three bands ended up stranded at the house for several days. “I remember it was Red Red Meat, Zumpano, and I can’t remember the third one,” Linehan says. “I mean, the house is big, but not that big. Plus, both of the vans being used by Zumpano and Red Red Meat were stuck in the middle of Burt Street for 24 hours. The street was completely blocked.”

In return for a place to lay their heads, some musicians also helped with the upkeep: Six Finger Satellite, a Sub Pop band from Providence, painted the Burt Street house when Linehan first moved in. Later, Matt O’Brien from the bands Big Chief and Detroit Cobras painted one hallway the same shade as his* Motown great James Jamerson’s salmon-colored Fender Precision bass guitar. “People often left the place better than they found it,” Linehan says. “Fred from Hazel spent a whole day repairing a stair that many repair people had tried, but failed to fix. Scott Plouffe from the Spinanes sent me an aluminum Christmas tree because I said I wouldn’t put up a tree here until I had one of those.”

Joey Burns was one of the first musicians to stay at the house when his band Calexico rolled through – and, 20 years later, he still makes a habit of coming back. “Joyce is the most gracious host on the planet and has excellent tastes and the best humor. She’s family,” he says in an email from Madrid, where Calexico are in the middle of a European tour. “Staying at [the house] was kind of a dream for a lot of us in bands who were traveling through and needed some basics like laundry, safe parking, fresh bagels and strong coffee.”

Burns was also the first – but not the last – to contend that the house is haunted. “When Joyce first moved to 10 Burt Street, she was excited to tell us about the old lady who had previously lived there and died there,” says Burns. “Her nickname was ‘The Marble Lady’ because she had some crafty ceiling-light fixtures featuring old colored marbles.” On one of their first nights staying over, Burns and Calexico’s John Convertino were alone in the house when they encountered an odor they couldn’t place. “It smelled like death and it started feeling like we were perhaps coming across the ghost of the Marble Lady. So we started talking with her and letting her know that everything was OK, that we were friends with the new owner of her home and that there was no need for concern.”

Linehan is a Dorchester girl and doesn’t believe in ghosts. But that didn’t deter her houseguests from keeping the tale alive. “The next morning at the breakfast table,” Burns recalls, “we kind of warmed up to the idea that perhaps the cute old Marble Lady would be a good friend and help watch over all of the weary travelers passing through. Maybe she wanted to join a band or head out on the road. I can imagine the Marble Lady becoming a patron saint for weary late night travelers and musicians on tour.”

For about the past ten years, Burt Street has also played host to Linehan’s “First Soup” gatherings on New Year’s Day or thereabouts -- a kind of local extension of the DIY ecosystem that grew up around the house and others like it. Ostensibly a venue from which to recover from First Night, First Soup attracts what Linehan describes as “a mix of people from all my worlds: music, arts, politics, community. I actually stole the idea from Penny Lane from Charlestown – she’s the mother of Michael ‘The Millionaire’ Cudahy [from the Sub Pop lounge band Combustible Edison]. She didn’t call hers First Soup, but it was the same menu and same eclectic mix of people.”

Not that First Soup, or the rock and roll hospitality, will be disappearing with the house. The host is moving to a place nearby – “still in Ward 17, so I don’t have to give up my Democratic Ward Committee Chair!” she notes – with the added benefit of more room. “It’s big enough for house concerts and readings, and the recording studio will be much larger,” she says. “Also, it abuts the cemetery, so I don’t have to worry about waking the neighbors.”

Still, there are certain quirks that you just can’t translate outside of Burt Street. Like the sleep-in closet, which will be warmly remembered by CNN’s Jim Spellman. “There were various rooms full of mattresses, bunkhouse style, but this one small walk-in closet had a twin mattress on the floor and it was a little slice of heaven,” he recalls. “No sunlight. No noise. I would always have to compete with the others for the prized closet bed but it was worth it. I don't think I have ever slept as good as I did in that closet.” Linehan says this was not an uncommon sentiment. “It really is a large closet – no windows,” she says. “If I remember correctly, Eric’s Trip pulled a second mattress in and all four of them slept there.”

There were several bites, but no final sale, by the end of the day Sunday: meaning, all of this could still be yours. And who knows: buy this house, and you might someday get a knock at the door from some touring rock band that hasn’t gotten the news. Speaking of which: “If you’re reading this,” says Linehan, “and you still have keys to the house, can you send them back now?”

[*Correction: Matt O'Brien painted the hallway to match his own salmon-colored bass, not Jamerson's. For more in-depth bass geekery, go here to read Elvis Costello bassist Bruce Thomas try to figure out whether Fender ever made a salmon-pink bass, or whether it was just a faded Fiesta Red.]

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