If only Anne Marie Foley’s neighbors had known what was going on upstairs. For several years in the 1980s, the sprawling second- and third-floor apartment she shared with a few roommates on Chilton Street in Cambridge was a landing pad for rock musicians from near and far. They came for a home-cooked meal, a mattress to crash on, and hospitality that made the grind of touring more tolerable. Foley wasn’t a groupie; just a music fanatic with extra space and a killer recipe for hamburger casserole. “You never knew who was going to need somewhere to stay,” Foley says. “It wasn’t about fame — they weren’t all famous when I met them. I loved being around the people who made the music I loved. . . . When you get to know male musicians in a [nonsexual] way, it’s more genuine.”
Foley’s role as a Boston music scene housemother can be traced to the Blizzard of ’78. She was watching the Romantics play at the Rat in Kenmore Square as the massive storm descended on the city. The Detroit new wave band’s members were stranded for a week, “and we all ended up at my place a few times,” Foley recalls. Before long, she was hosting and nurturing musicians on a regular basis at an apartment in Brighton and later at the “Chilton Hilton,” as it became known. “It was a reprieve for them not to have to go to a hotel,” she says. Among many other bands, Foley opened her doors to U2, Cheap Trick, Romeo Void, and Public Image Ltd (PiL).
“For young kids from the UK, which is all we were, it was really important to have a safe place to go,” says Martin Atkins, who played drums for PiL, the influential art-punk ensemble John Lydon formed with Keith Levene. While Lydon had shed his Johnny Rotten persona from his Sex Pistols days, he remained a polarizing figure prone to being accosted by strangers. “We would make shepherd’s pie and write things in the mashed potatoes with a fork,” says Atkins. “The house wasn’t about black lights and bongs. Especially with John, you can’t imagine what an oasis it was.”
Veteran Boston DJ Carter Alan says: “Anne Marie had all the right motivations and no ulterior motives. She put people at ease.”
Today, Foley works in New York for TAG — The Awareness Group, an entertainment marketing and public relations agency, and is a publicist for the Cult and Boston legend Peter Wolf. When she lets her thoughts travel to those ’80s apartment days, the memories come back at the speed of a Buzzcocks single. She served lasagna and brownies to Lydon (“He loved it”). U2’s Adam Clayton once slept on her couch, and The Edge said her apple pie “was the best he ever had.” The house drink — a white Russian — was more like straight vodka with a splash of cream and Kahlua. Foley managed this on the modest salary she earned at a Strawberries record store by whipping up family-style dishes that went a long way.
To this day, she gets the VIP treatment whenever U2 tours the States. Their history together started in 1980, backstage at the Paradise Club on Commonwealth Avenue. Foley’s first words that evening, by her own admission, were slightly embarrassing. “I said, ‘Hey, do you guys want to go to a party?’ ” They did. “That line, it kind of formed our relationship.”Mark Pothier is a senior assistant editor at the Globe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.