Thursday, July 18, 2024

Pandemic conditions make for a bad moment to reopen the ManRay nightclub in Central Square but an ideal time to read “We Are But Your Children: An Oral History of the Nightclub ManRay,” which was released last week. It is for sale at two shrewdly chosen bricks-and-mortar locations: the square’s Cheapo Records and the Hubba-Hubba adult boutique.

“We Are But Your Children” pre-sold about 180 of 400 copies then quickly sold out online, demanding a second print run, said Shawn Driscoll, lead editor of the book capturing memories of the club’s 1985-2005 run on Brookline Street.

Some 120 people were interviewed, starting with DJ Chris Ewen and bartender Terri Niedzwiecki – who gave Driscoll their blessing for the project in the summer of 2019 – as well as Bruce Jope, the manager at Campus, ManRay’s predecessor, who became the club’s artistic director. “And dancers, bartenders, attendees and musicians – I ran the gamut,” Driscoll said Saturday.


“For most people, nightclubs are a transient thing where you go a couple times a year, maybe once every six months. And clubs are exciting, but also dark and foreboding places, and for women they can be a bit of a meat market where you always have to be on your toes. Yet almost everyone, to the person, described ManRay as ’home,’” Driscoll said, recalling its welcoming attitude toward the LBGTQ, goths, new wavers, fetish aficionados and other lifestyles. “There were vampire chicks in ManRay, but it was actually a very comforting place that people went every single week and felt safe. It was community.”

One of the most delightful anecdotes related to Driscoll – a regular at the club from the early 1990s to when it was torn down to become condos – came from an Oct. 23, 1992, show by the German industrial band KMFDM.

“It was humungous. There was lots of people, everyone was dancing – and the floor broke. Literally. The floor broke,” Driscoll said. “They had to stop the show, move everyone to either side of the club and people went downstairs to prop it back up with poles.

“And then continued the show,” he said.

Driscoll, a co-author of “The Grip: The 1918 Pandemic and a City Under Siege” from 2020, said he is in talks with stores in Boston and Brookline, as well as with Porter Square Books, to sell copies of “We Are But Your Children.” And he is looking at holding a “proper book release party” in spring or early summer that would help raise money for Cambridge artists suffering from the economic effects of the coronavirus. “Several people have said, ’Wait until ManRay reopens, you could have it at ManRay,” he said.

Though ManRay owner Don Holland communicated that he was happy to hear “We Are But Your Children” was underway, Driscoll said, he also politely declined several times to be part of it. He and was similarly unreachable Saturday to talk about the book and what’s happening at his space at 40 Prospect St., where construction was proceeding during a visit in October. Driscoll had no insight to offer about ManRay’s resurrection.

“Don’s tried to do his best to reopen it, and there’s been a lot of starts and stops and starts. I feel like this is the closest we’ve ever come,” he said. “That feels good, but there’s obviously a lot that goes into it. So as usual I’ll be very hopeful and optimistic.”

  • “We Are But Your Children: An Oral History of the Nightclub ManRay” ($27) can be ordered online here or bought at Cheapo Records, 538 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, or Hubba Hubba, 2 Ellery St., Mid-Cambridge. People interested in knowing more about the book can email to [email protected].