The following is a news story from The Boston Phoenix written by Eugenia Williamson Published on February 17, 2011.
How the Boston rock scene grew up, got real jobs, and became — Freemasons?
The Masons of Amicable Lodge have tattoos curling out from under their button-down shirts. They wear giant rings and waist aprons that look like oversize satin envelopes. They wear ties and medals and amulets. They carry staffs. Each month, they gather to practice secret rituals in Porter Square.
Once, they played in Boston bands like Slapshot, Crash and Burn, Sam Black Church, Victory at Sea, the Men, and Cradle to the Grave. Back then, none of them would have dreamed of joining the Masons. Masonry — a fraternal society that dates back to the 1700s — has not, heretofore, been associated with rock and roll.
But people get older and settle down. They get married. They have kids. They get jobs. They join the Masons.
In a strange way, this seems like a logical next step for veterans of the Boston rock scene. “A lot of people become involved in music because they’re looking for something higher — or to get girls, which is something higher,” says Ian Adams, Mason, film grip, occasional Phoenix illustrator, and member emeritus of 8 Ball Shifter and Rock City Crimewave. “It’s looking for that thing that’s bigger than you — the first time you hear the Ramones on the radio, it’s that spiritual thing.”
Masonry fills that need, Adams says. “The idea that you’re doing something that other people have done in the past [allows] you to step out of time,” he explains. “We’re born, get old, and die, but the rituals remain the same. It’s a time machine. It’s a connection to eternity.”
TILED BEAVERS AND MASONIC COASTERS
Along with other fraternal organizations — the Knights of Columbus, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the Elks, the Lions, the Rotarians, Kiwanis — the Masons had their heyday in the scotch-soaked early 1960s, when men brought home the bacon and women stayed home with the kids. Fred Flintstone, a man of his time, belonged to the Loyal Order of the Water Buffaloes. After a hard day at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company, Flintstone would slide down the bronto crane, don a silly hat, and drink beer with his brethren before returning home to Wilma and Pebbles.
Freemasonry, the first and largest of these secret societies, began with medieval stonemasons’ guilds who adopted esoteric rites, rituals, and degrees of initiation, collectively known as the Craft. Today, Masons are avowedly non-denominational, though membership requires belief in a Supreme Being.
Masonry came to America with the colonists. Boston is home to the nation’s oldest Masonic Grand Lodge. It sits right on the Common — that building with the tiled beavers on the side. Inside are grand, lushly appointed meeting halls. In rooms smelling vaguely of stale cigar smoke, lockers made of glass and carved wood hold funny hats and cloaks. A tiled-floored, dimly-lit chamber is populated by marble figurines in cubby holes. The Masonic conference room is wallpapered in a gold square-and-compass pattern; the conference table is dotted with Masonic coasters.
“I think a lot of people’s misconception of the fraternity is that it’s a bunch of stodgy old men,” says Master Mason J.R. Roach. Roach, 41, is a big dude with black hair and a couple of tattoos that he keeps covered up. Once he was the drummer for Boston stalwarts Sam Black Church and played with KISS, Ted Nugent, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, and Dio.
"There's a saying in the ceremony that basically says the organization will not regard any man for his wealth or appearance. So it's a very interesting mix of people. You go to Lodge and the reverend of your church could be sitting next to a guy with really long hair, and nobody cares. Everybody's considered equal."
THE HAZING GOAT
Roach is at the vanguard of the Masonic resurgence. Membership — like that of all fraternal orders — declined after the salad days of the 1960s. But something changed in the mid-2000s: young men became interested in the Masons once more. Gen-Xers settled down and needed a night away from the wife and kids, and Gen-Yers rebelled against navel-gazing, Baby Boomer parents.
Or maybe they read Dan Brown's 2003 thriller, The Da Vinci Code, or saw Nicolas Cage's star turn in the 2004 film National Treasure. Both narratives placed Masons at the heart of international conspiracies upon which hinged nothing less than the fate of the world.
Or maybe it was the exposure. Lead by Massachusetts lodges, the Masons began to open the doors of their temples of the public and offer guided tours of their facilities. Whatever the reason, the number of men who joined the Masons began to increase dramatically. And with it, the number of young creatives.
Nick Batzell, a 25-year-old sculptor's apprentice, got interested in Masonry when he saw a picture of Czech printmaker Alphonse Mucha in full Masonic regalia. "I studied Romanesque and Gothic architecture in [art] school," Batzell says. "William Hogarth was a Mason, and Paul Revere — he was the most famous silversmith, ever."
Roach spent 18 years on the road as a musician. "Record labels, promoters, club owners — sometimes you meet the sweetest people in the world and sometimes not so much," he says. "I really wish, with all the traveling I did, that I had been a Mason." Now, as a professional Mason, Roach spends his days in the headquarters of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.
Headquarters shares a Lexington campus with the National Heritage Museum. In the high-ceilinged museum lobby, a librarian keeps watch at the information desk. In the middle of the exhibition, a horrifying contraption looms on a metal tripod, covered in wool and brown with age. It has stirrups. Large glass eyes stare out from a head with giant goat horns. The placard identifies it as a Bucking Billy Goat and says that lawsuits precluded its continued use in initiation rituals.
'I SEE THEM AS MY SONS'
The hazing goat's presence in the museum shows that today's Masons don't take themselves entirely seriously. In addition to portraits by and of famous Masons, there's a glass case with Mason bobbleheads. The National Heritage Museum embraces goofiness as part of its Masonic legacy.
But for all the bobbleheads, Masons are deadly serious about their values. Several members of the lodge look to the Salvation Army's Stephen Carroll, lodge chaplain, as a mentor. "He's the most gentle, kind-hearted, hard-working person I've ever [known] in my life," says Adams.
Carroll, 66, has been a Mason for 27 years and has belonged to Amicable Lodge for 19. When younger, tattooed guys started going to his meetings, he didn't raise an eyebrow — in fact, he was thrilled when they joined.
"I see some of them as my sons," he says. "It thrills me to see them living good, clean lives, helping other people, and doing the right thing."
Through his work as a commanding officer in the Salvation Army, Carroll has encouraged a number of his fraternal brothers to help out. "He actually got me to ring the bell for the Salvation Army one year," says Adams, "which is not something I ever saw myself doing."
Carroll doesn't see much difference between himself and the new breed of Masons. "Older folks join the Masons for the same reasons. There's a nice fellowship of younger people, especially those who are in the arts," he says. "These are 2011 folks. They're not 1945 folks. They're into technology, and high-tech music, and arts, and all kinds of other things that didn't even exist when I was born, but their basic values are the same. They want to be good citizens. They want to be good to their fellow man. They want to help out rather than help themselves."
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Eugenia Williamson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.