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Remembering Mr. Butch

Posted by Katie Johnston Chase July 16, 2007 07:27 PM


Countless stories are emerging about Mr. Butch, the funny, friendly king of Harvard Avenue in Allston who died last week in a scooter accident at the age of 56.

Doug Holder, the founder of Ibbetson Street Press and director of the Newton Free Library poetry series, sent us a moving tribute to Mr. Butch (which is running in its entirety in this week's Spare Change News). Here is an excerpt:

"It is poetic justice that Mr. Butch died on the streets of Boston in a motor scooter accident. He was a true creature of those streets for so many years.

When I first moved back to Boston in the late '70s I was living in a rooming house on Newbury Street (yes there were rooming houses there!) and working at a grocery store at the corner of Newbury and Mass. Ave. I worked the 3 to 11 shift, and I had a wonderful but unsavory cast of characters who frequented the store. One of the most memorable characters was a tall, lanky, black man with dreadlocks and an infectious laugh who always tried to cop a cup of free coffee and a snack. Sometimes he would have a bright red guitar strapped to his back. He often smelled of booze, or the sweet smell of marijuana would waft my way when he approached the counter.

One very cold winter night I let him stay in the store, forgetting to let him out when I locked up. He spent the night there, and I am sure he had a nice meal, and an undisturbed, peaceful sleep, much to the managerís chagrin. Suffice to say I wasnít long for that gig.

Over the years Mr. Butch was like a welcoming beacon to me. I used to run into him in Kenmore Square outside the now defunct punk-rock club the Rat during my pub-crawling days. He was such an enigma. He survived the streets by choice for so many years, and 56 is a ripe-old age for a street person. At times he was a living statue, standing squarely and straight, strumming his red guitar amid the maelstrom of all the Brooks Brother suits that detoured around him. He gave his long, callused finger to conventional society -- the cellphoned hordes rushing to make the almighty buck --or a killing.

In some ways it was a comfort to see him. He was a memory of my seminal days in Boston, a simpler place, more accepting of 'eccentrics,' a place where you could rent a cheap room in the Back Bay and start your life in the city. You could actually afford to live the life of an artist for a while.

Butch was known by many generations of students, rock bands, hucksters, ne'er-do-wells, and poseurs -- the whole maddening crowd that made this city so attractive to me when I cut my teeth here. I will miss passing this man on the street, how we nodded to each other in our world-weary fashion, saying: 'Hey, man, whatís happening?' He has passed and so has another phase of my life."

For more tributes to Mr. Butch, go to http://www.legacy.com/BostonGlobe/GB/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=90606442

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Katie Johnston Chase likes dive bars, old country music, and pop art that has something to say.
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