In the saddest of news we have to report that Spencer Gates has died after fighting cancer for some time. Spencer burst on the scene in the 80's by being one of the two outrageous personalities dubbed the Mystery Girls with a show on WMBR. Her outgoing personality would never be suppressed on the radio or on the scene. If you were talking to Spencer you had to be on the top of your game because her mind was going a mile a minute and the barbs were flying and if you didn't keep up you were toast. It was always wonderful fun to be around her.
If she was in the room then the party was around her. Indeed parties were the environment where she shined. She loved to go to them and give them.
She worked in the record industry for many years.
We are going to miss her intelligence, wit and beauty.
From Joyce Linehan
Unlike shows of the time playing only the punk rock canon, the Mystery Girls played country, blues, and even the odd show tune, as long as it was American and fit their thread. It would not have been unusual to hear Patsy Cline with Flipper, Fear or X. And if they changed their mind, it was equally likely that they'd change tracks mid-song. If someone dared to play a British band or anything else not to their liking, it wasn't unusual to hear the sound of a needle scratching across a record. They were hostile to structure of any kind. If a guest was perceived as whiny during an interview, Spencer would cut him or her off unceremoniously. It was perhaps the most memorable punk rock radio show of the era.
They recruited as their "official" phone answerer Michael Patrick MacDonald, a traumatized Southie punk-kid they'd taken under their wing, who partly recounts his time with them in his book Easter Rising. Said MacDonald, "It didn't pay but it was the first time I ever felt proud of something I had to show up for. And Spencer and Sheena were immediately my adopted big sisters, introducing me to books, films at the Brattle, and music that expanded the definition of 'punk.'² On most nights, Spencer and Sheena could be found, dressed to kill in cocktail garb, at a club like the late lamented Rat or Chet's Last Call hosting a party for a touring band who would soon be famous. The Mystery Girls loft in downtown Boston, hosted many legendary after-hours happenings of the time. According to former Lemonheads manager Joyce Linehan, The paradox of the Mystery Girls was that they were finishing school girls who brought comic civility and good manners to punk rock by being unbelievably uncivil and ill-mannered. Yet it was never mean-spirited, and even the most outcast of the outcasts were a welcome part of the fun. ³
After leaving Boston, Spencer lived in the apartment above the legendary Hoboken club Maxwell's, and also spent time in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. She moved to New York in 1988, and later took a job as a publicist at Matador Records, where she worked with Liz Phair, Pavement, Cat Power, Bettie Serveert, The Fall, Mark Eitzel, and Yo La Tengo. After leaving Matador, she was a publicist at Atlantic Records. Eventually disillusioned by an increasingly corporate and less creative music business, Spencer moved to Rhinebeck in 2000, where she worked in retail. In 2005, she moved back to Boston, to the delight of many of her friends, and took a job in Harvard University's Division of Continuing Education, where she enjoyed working with new students to introduce them to her beloved adopted hometown. When she became too sick to work full time, she took a part time volunteer position in the marketing department at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston.
According to Tom Johnston, manager of Buffalo Tom and Bettie Serveert, Spencer was one of the greatest, most dazzling people I ever had privilege to get to know. She had great taste, a wicked sense of humor, and was so extroverted that many of the friends I have today, I credit directly to her and her charm and gift of gab.
Since her breast cancer diagnosis in April of 2006 until the final week of her life, Spencer took every opportunity presented to spend time with family and friends, and to go to plays, concerts, movies and other events. In addition to being a fan of music, photography and theater, she was an environmental activist and an animal lover.
She was the daughter of the late H. Hamilton Gates. She leaves her mother Mrs. H. Hamilton Gates of Buffalo, brother Peter of Boston, David of Buffalo and P. Bradford of Ithaca and many cousins and close friends. Donation in Spencerıs memory can be made to Zumix, 202 Maverick St., E. Boston, MA 02128 or Future Chefs, c/o Third Sector New England, 89 South St., Suite 700, Boston, MA 02111-2680.