4 Letter Words - Band in Boston

LP Edition of 200.

As the ’80s dawned, Phil Milstein was living in Central Square in Cambridge, setting type and working on the machinations of the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society. He was also beginning to explore his musical alter-ego, Pep Lester, with the first evidence of this appearing on an L.A.F.M.S. comp tape. Phil was also a maniacal tape trader in those days, and one of the people he regularly swapped mixes with was a juvenile delinquent from Athol, Massachusetts named Dana Hatch, whom he’d met when he bought a copy of Phil’s VU fanzine What Goes On from him.

Dana and a couple of his high school pot buddies started a band called The Rags to make a bunch of noise and play the annual school concert, although they had to change their name to The 4-Letter Words to do it. As a devoted fan of extreme arcana, Milstein soon signed on as the 4LW’s manager, arranging for a gig at the grubby Boston venue, Cantone’s, opening for Jad Fair. Phil also set up a recording session to precede the gig, at Men & Volts’ rehearsal space in a former telescope factory in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, with Roger Stevenson & David Greenberger manning the levels. 

Band In Boston documents the momentous events of that day — July 15, 1981.

The studio session is amazingly crude. It reminds me of the promo sticker on a Kim Fowley project called Underground All Stars — “GENUINE ALL STAR HYPE! REALLY TEENAGE!” Playing a mix of covers and originals, the vocals are howled, the guitar is fuzzed, the beats primitive. In  short, it’s pretty much everything you need for a good time. And judging from the sound of the audience, a good time is just what everyone at Cantone’s had later that night. The Modern Lovers cover sounds particularly apt, as Cantone’s was essentially the home club for the Real Kids, whose leader, John Felice, was an original Modern Lover. But everything is done wild, loose and full of juice. And man, the audience digs it. 

Alas, the 4LW didn’t last much longer in its protean form. A few years later and weary of the limitations of the criminal lifestyle Dana moved to Boston, where he hooked up with the Shannon brothers, and Cheater Slicks was born. But that’s another and much longer story. 4 Letter Words are short and sweet. Just like the band itself. Go nuts. You deserve it.

-Byron Coley, 2022

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