It was a moment every kid with a guitar dreams about. In 1987 Lee Harrington took the stage at Sullivan Stadium with his band The Neighborhoods, and 60,000 fans screamed their heads off. Known for their high-energy performances, the ’Hoods were opening for David Bowie, who watched from the wings and later declared them his favorite live band. As far as rock moments go, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“It was an amazing part of my life,” Harrington says from his law office in downtown Boston. Wearing a gray sports jacket and white dress shirt, the bankruptcy lawyer for Nixon Peabody credits his rock past with his success today. “I gained the confidence and the performance skills I would need to be a good lawyer,” he says.
Growing up in a creative household — his father was a graphic artist and his mother an art teacher — Harrington seemed destined for a career in the arts. He studied theater for a year at Emerson College before dropping out to play in a rock band.
In 1982, Harrington joined the ’Hoods, which already had a popular single, “The Prettiest Girl.” He played bass, sang and contributed to the songwriting. The band recorded five albums, the last, The Neighborhoods, put out by Atlantic Records. Known for its driving rhythms and explosive stage shows, the band toured with Cheap Trick, the Clash and the Ramones.
In 1990, the band was asked by Bowie to join him on a six-week tour. On a break in San Diego, they accompanied the legend for some sightseeing in Tijuana. As they walked around, they stumbled upon 3,000 Harley riders wearing Santa hats and handing out toys to needy children: It was the Tijuana Toy Run. Bowie, an acclaimed photographer, immediately pulled out his camera and asked Harrington to pose before the throngs of bikers.
“He’s very much a gentleman — soft-spoken, warm, approachable, not at all rock-star-like,” Harrington says of the Thin White Duke. “He’s sort of a regular guy.”
The band’s biggest thrill came on the last night of the tour, when Bowie asked them to back him during the encore. As they repeated the introductory chords of Lou Reed’s “I’m Waiting for the Man,” anticipating Bowie’s return to the stage, they spied a man in white face paint off to the side. It was Bowie dressed in full costume as alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The stunned ’Hoods played three songs with “Ziggy,” fulfilling a longtime childhood fantasy of Harrington’s. “He was my biggest influence as a musician. To be on stage and create music with him was unbelievable,” he says.
Two years later, the band called it quits. “We didn’t want to keep chasing the brass ring,” Harrington explains. “It’s really a young man’s game.”
In 1992, Harrington returned to college, this time at the University of Massachusetts. “I always considered [law] a possible alternate career for me outside of music,” he says. A history buff and an avid reader — he would devour Civil War books on the bus between gigs — the law appealed to the linear side of his brain. After completing his undergraduate work, he enrolled at Boston College School of Law, graduating in 1999. He clerked with Peter J. Walsh, judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, and joined Nixon Peabody in 2002.
“It’s an amazing journey from the stage to the courtroom,” says Lindsay Wilson, a colleague at Nixon Peabody, who watched the ’Hoods’ induction last year into the Boston Music Hall of Fame. “Once you know Lee, it makes sense. As a musician, he was a writer. There’s also a level of creativity involved in being a litigator.”
Harrington continues to forge ties between his musical past and his legal present. He hopes to add artist representation to his practice. And he and David Minehan, guitarist and founder of the ’Hoods, continue to occasionally perform. This year they hope to release a live CD of the ’Hoods’ last show, in 1992, at the Rathskeller. But don’t look for a tour, says Harrington, who’s a father of two small boys. His touring days are over.
Looking back, Harrington is thankful to have lived out his dreams. “We played with everyone we hoped to play with when we were just 12-year-old kids playing tennis rackets in front of a mirror pretending to be rock stars,” Harrington says. “I’m proud of our legacy.”