The First Bomb Drops

So the world (well, the virtual world, at least) has finally had a chance to see Steve Tozzi’s 6-minute teaser/trailer for our little film here. It premiered at Kickstarter (if you haven’t seen or been to Kickstarter, just click here) on Wednesday July 6 as part of a funding launch to raise money for Riot on the Dance Floor’s production. And, at the risk of tripping over this huge swell of pride I feel, let me first insert a humble disclaimer for the heapings of praise I am about to mete out. When it comes to the trailer, man, it’s all Tozzi. I can’t take an ounce of credit on this one, and, for me, I don’t even feel like it’s anything I “produced.” Every time I’ve watched it (and I’m way too embarrassed to admit just how many times that is), I’ve watched it as many of you have: as a pure fan. I see it with the widened eyes of a timid 13-year old freshly wandering into a world that, for once, felt like home. So as I go on to gush embarrassingly about how amazing the trailer is, please know that it is the vision and execution of Steve Tozzi’s eye and ear that I am extolling, and not my own, self-serving ego.

Having said that… (yeah, I fucking love Larry David).

The greatest lesson I have learned thus far is to always surround one’s self with genius. It just makes you look better and forces you step up your game. I’ve done this forever. My friends are brilliant and I happily ride the coattails of their achievements. So it is with an admittedly biased skew I say that this trailer has done exactly what we had hoped it would: make viable and corporeal these deep, strong feelings we all hold for a place and a time that really defined us. We got your fucking heartstrings, but we also rocked the shit out of you and the response has been nothing short of AMAZING. We blew away our targeted goal of $20,000 IN LESS THAN 4 DAYS. Did you hear that correctly? 20 freaking grand in less than 4 days. It’s pretty damn stunning on many levels. The crew and I: Randy, Tozzi, Amy, Pete and Ken spent the bulk of the week and weekend bombarding one another with flurries of emails, calls and texts as we sat and watched the funding grow like a friggin’ Jerry Lewis telethon (although, I will say, unlike the Jerry Lewis telethon, we did it without parading a pathetic line of sick, diseased and deformed children in front of you while you were trying to enjoy your holiday…). Even my mom was texting and emailing me like crazy, as if I weren’t glued to my phone or my computer for every breathless second of that march to $20,000. I know for myself (and I expect the same holds true for everyone else) I felt just a momentary sense of relief at bursting through that monetary threshold; but, more viscerally, I felt a joy that actually made me jump up and do a Homer-esque “WOO-HOO!” I’ve never scored a touchdown and I can only imagine this is what it must feel like…

The social phenomenon aspect of it is what gets me. Ah, those crazy innernets, where would we be without them? 10, maybe even 5 years ago we never would have been able to accomplish and achieve the exposure we can get now with a few quick tweets and some witty exhorting on the book of the face. This both thrills me and scares the living shit out of me! But, as far as getting shit done; reaching the people you want to reach, these tools (loathsome as some aspects of socializing are) are mighty powerful. Just the fact that a site like Kickstarter exists is amazing in itself, and even a curmudgeonly, semi-Luddite like me has to admit that these necessary evils aren’t really that bad. In a lot of ways it is simply a digital continuation of the word-of-mouth networks that so many of us contributed to “back in the day.” This time, instead of putting rubber cement over stamps and rigging pay phones for free long-distance usage, we can simply click little buttons on phones and we are live on the world stage. We have seen contributions from people in places like Australia, Sweden, Europe… some of whom never set foot in City Gardens or the U.S., for that matter. Yet they somehow felt the same pull, the same sense of camaraderie and pride and whatever else you want to call it that those of us lucky enough to have gone to CG’s still feel. And those feelings are very, very potent, as evidenced by all the response we’ve seen in under a week.  You all have been vociferous in your understanding that this is something that needs to be preserved; that this place, music and time (and our own personal contexts contained within) is crucial for us and we are willing to pledge that most precious of commodities towards it: money.

One of the most satisfying aspects of working on this, for me, is the co-op-like accordance we’ve established. See, now YOU own this movie. This is your story as much as anyone else’s; these were your times. Your elation; your empowerment now has some significant presence in the history of what was probably the most important time of our lives. As disgustingly hippie-ish as it is, it really is a beautiful concept. As corny as a love letter: this is my thanks to all of you.

I am so proud of what we’ve done and what we are about to do. Sharing it, telling it, writing about it… I don’t care how sick of me you get between now and the time this movie is done, I’ll keep on fucking singing…

Dinner and a Trailer…

So, the other night the crew and family convened for a celebratory dinner in the quaint little burg of Bordentown, New Jersey. Being the only Philly guy involved in this (well, Amy’s a sort-of Philly chick, but she’s up in Bucks County. Still reps Philly Punks to the end, though) I have to take my shots at Jersey because…well, because it’s Jersey. Still, Bordentown is a very nice little spot and I always enjoy my sojourns up there, even if the ride is very long.  We met at a very nice Italian restaurant called Toscanos (shout-out for free food next time???). It was so nice that I couldn’t understand a single thing on the menu. Me and Salerno, a couple of Dagos, were WAAAY out of our league on this one. I kept reading over the menu for anything with gravy; they kept calling it “sauce.” Sheesh. I think Randy would have been happy if he could have just gotten a hamburger, or a diner-like blue ribbon special. The sophisticates among us; the Tozz, Pete, Amy and her husband Howard seemed right at home with the elegance of the food and the ordering of the wine. Me and Pookie were just happy to be there.

"RIOT" crew enjoys a celebratory feast.

There was a greater purpose involved with this gathering; as much as we like each others’ company (at least I think we do. I know I do. I can’t really speak for the others. I’m pretty sure that Pete Tabbot hates me, but that’s just jealousy because I’m so damned handsome…) we had an exciting incentive to get together. Tozzi had just pieced together a trailer for the film and wanted to premier it to us. I (who am notoriously bad at checking and keeping up with my email) didn’t realize this was happening until the day before, so I didn’t really have time to be nervous. We’ve been shooting for months and I have not seen one bit of footage; not a single second. And not that I doubt Tozzi’s talent at all. I am completely new to the world of filmmaking. I deal in words, not visuals, so the mechanics of telling a story through film is like a baffling alchemy to me; a kind of divine magic that escapes my clumsy brain. All I knew is that we had literally hours of footage shot. I could not fathom being the director and wading through all that and splicing together any kind of coherency and continuity. I’d be too overwhelmed. Even piecing together a 5 minute trailer seemed like a Herculean task to me. Once again I must tip the cap to the esteemed director.

Amy and I arrived with our spouses and everyone had gathered at the bar to wait for us. As soon as we walked in I presented the crew with gifts I had for them. I had been working on getting them done for months: T-Shirts emblazoned with the “Riot on the Dance Floor” logo. As a testament to the generosity and the general altruism of folks that grew up in “our” scene, Bruce Boyd (former drummer of Philadelphia’s own Pagan Babies) designed and printed five of these shirts just for us and then took the time to have them shipped all the way to Philly (Bruce lives in Utah now). Funny aside: when the package arrived in Philly for postal processing it was handled by Michael McManus, former singer for the Pagan Babies and current vocalist for the Heels. Michael immediately recognized Bruce’s name and my name (not to mention the Punk Rock drawings Bruce had inscribed on the box) and added some graffiti of his own (the best line being “small people make cool movies”)! True story, swear to God! Anyway, it felt good to give something unique to the people who have become such a huge part of my life over the last few years and I was glad that, with Bruce’s help, I was able to express an infinitesimal bit of my gratitude.

Oh, and Pete actually bought a round of drinks. Of course I am in NO way disparaging or casting the slightest of aspersions on his ethnicity…  (Hee hee, just kidding Pete.) Pete always buys rounds whenever we get together; far more than my cheap ass ever has…

Pete Tabbot hamming it up as usual.

We sat and were served a feast of immeasurable proportions, foods I have never seen or eaten, and it was a fitting repast for what we were about to consummate. We were about to view the newly-fashioned trailer for “Riot on the Dance Floor.” This was a monumental moment for all of us. More than a year’s worth of work and we were about to see what we had put our creative souls into. That’s when it hit me, and then I got really nervous.

I was given the first chance to view. Randy and Salerno had already seen it, and they were dead quiet; no information forthcoming. I put on the headphones and Tozzi hit the play…

Now, obviously I am not going to give you a bit-by-bit description; that would ruin everything and would render the entire concept of having a trailer pointless.

But, what I can give you is impression; one person’s absorption of impact, fascination and ever-expanding incredulity at seeing something so perfectly crafted. That is; definitively speaking, the inability to believe that not only did something this cool exist, but that I had some small part in its invention. (I know that sentence was grammatically horrific, but you get what I’m trying to say).

I could see Tozzi was even a little bit nervous at having us all view his baby. Understandably so; again: I could not begin to imagine what that must have been like for him. I know I’d be a wreck.

And then it started…

Amy Yates Wuelfing

A blank screen bleeds easily into a familiar voice signifying the beginning. It’s a voice we all know well before you see its owner, and its stature in popular culture is heavy and respected. A humorist who is pure Jersey sets the tone for the next five or six minutes. It is an instant impression of how heavy this whole visual journey is going to be. Even with a genuinely funny joke you begin to realize that this film isn’t fucking around: a lot of heavyweights came out to support this endeavor; those whose lives have been touched and shaped by this bleak brick bunker we all, for a time, called home. Quick cuts to little teasers (after, of course, both mine and Amy’s names flash across screen in magnificent, ego-inflating grandeur. My mom’s gonna’ be so fucking proud!) followed by an assault of gritty, sweaty, vintage footage. It is here that Salerno’s eye blazes with its usual intensity and bold epiphany. In a flash his eyes are the viewers’ eyes and no amount of live footage even comes close to the human-ness that Ken’s photos exude. Icons are laid bare; the truest of avatars to represent City Gardens, the immortal Punkcards) fly in strobe-like flash. Years of indelible memory is simultaneously reinforced and reincarnated. You remember. You start to feel, hear, smell the ideals of your youth and the pure joy of expression. In less than half a minute you become 15 years old again; sneaking out suburban windows, breaking curfews, evading police and angry skinheads and living through the hot blood in your veins; the life-force that you once wielded with such casual indifference. You become the film, whether you ever stepped inside the club’s confines or not. If you had any similarity with those who tell their amazing stories you feel the same universal surge of pride.

But beyond the euphoric sentimentality of nostalgia and “back-in-the-day” moments you begin to realize that there’s so much more to this story. You begin to see beyond the linear constraints of a regimented timeline that there is a gentle humanity behind the bloody pit stories and legendary moments of artistic perfection. There is a nakedness that is raw courage, so beautifully human in its honesty, which is the root of this film’s power. You see the lives of those involved and you see the cathartic empowerment of what we all grew up with. You see your own life mirrored in the tales of those who literally bled to make City Gardens a living entity. And you are served a sense of justice in seeing what you considered holy ground now being immortalized for the ages. That, to me, is where my pride lies. The fact that I personally feel vindicated for all those years spent worshipping the music that afforded me both life and identity. Never mind the fact that I was able to contribute to this visual document in a very small way; fuck that. It ain’t even about that. I’m speaking solely as a fan who lived and died by those Punkcards; a fan who left blood and snot on that checkered battlefield on many an ill-fated and violence-strewn Sunday night. I watched this trailer as most of you will: a pure fan. A little guy in the great scheme of things. And while the uber-cool, Punk Rock etiquette heavily discourages the gushing or giving of props to anyone I am always the first one to say FUCK THAT. I’ve said it before: I was never cool enough to be in a band, I was never anybody in any seen. I was the kid that wrote semi-love letters to guys like Cappo and Stigma and Jimmy G and who still, to this day, gets star-stuck eating dinner next to the guitar player from Vision. So when I look on a screen and see myself sandwiched in between people I’ve revered for years; people who have had more influence in my life than poets, preachers, parents and teachers combined, I am truly the most grateful person Earth. And that’s what watching this trailer was for me: a celebration of potential on the cusp of realization. A creation that is as much flesh, bone and blood as the music that saved all of our lives. A tribute to living, and endorsement of freedom and abandon and the purity of youthful expression.

By the time the champagne arrived I was thoroughly moved and on the verge of tears (there’s your opening, Ms. Jenn O’Neill. Take your best shot…) because this was my life. Our lives, in so many ways. And, just like with the music, we have those orators of perfected verse to articulate those emphatic, passionate words that sometimes fail us. When we are unable or unwilling to speak, we have all turned to some piece of music to speak for us. Such is the firm foundation of this film.

The main thing to realize is that (in my opinion) we will make you all very proud. It is my hope that every single person who views the completed film will feel some semblance of what I am trying to describe here.

As always, I have to thank my second family: Tozzi, Pete Tabbot, Salerno, Randy Now, and, of course, Amy. You guys have all been amazing, and I cannot aptly express how thankful I am to have this opportunity.



More to come…

(All photos by Ken Salerno)

OFF! NYC 3/26/11

March 26th 2011 presented a bit of a quandary for the crew of “Riot on the Dance Floor.” There were two major events happening that night, both of which we, as a crew, felt needed to be documented and captured on film. For any other production that had luxurious amenities like money or a crew of more than, say, five people, this probably wouldn’t have been an issue. Group 1 would take location A, group 2 would take location B… Problem is, Tozzi is pretty much the only one right now who has shot anything of this magnitude. Sure, Salerno is a genius with the stills, but you don’t want to take his camera out of his hand. Besides, I don’t think it would be humanly possible. So, we decided to split the duties. Tozzi, Salerno and Pete Tabbot went to the gala extravaganza that was Sick of it All’s 25th Anniversary show and me and Pookie went to Santo’s Party House for Keith Morris’s new outfit OFF! and their NYC debut. Tozzi gave me a camera and told me to just get what I could…

The first disclaimer I would like to put out there is this: I’ve never filmed ANYTHING in my life. I work in words, not pictures, and seeing that I haven’t heard from Tozzi since the show, I’m guessing that my camerawork was beyond horrible and mostly un-usable.

Everything about that day was hectic and up in the air. I have interviewed Keith Morris several times over the years, and not only is he one of the best interviews out there, he is so accommodating and nice that it almost makes you sick. I had already interviewed Keith for the “No Slamdancing” book, and had some great stories from him about the Circle Jerks shows at City Gardens. From someone who has seen and done just about EVERYTHING in Punk Rock, Keith is a veritable font of stiffly sarcastic humor, unique perspective and an unending stream of choice quotables. So I had been working this thing for about a month, back and forth with Keith. He said he would be happy to sit and talk on camera if there were time to do it, but that I should not expect much as this was OFF!’s first trip to NYC and the demands on his time were going to be multitudinous. As a veteran in this game of trying to “get the interview” I’ve heard this all before and understood that I might have to undertake some unconventional means to get this done. It was agreed amongst the crew that if we got Keith to talk, great. If not, we’d get some live footage and see what we could do with it.

So the roadtrip began with me and Pookie meeting up with an old friend, Mark Doyle, bass player for one of Philly’s best groups out there: The Bad Vibes. Known Doyle since we all first started going to shows WAY back in the day and I was very glad he decided to come along. I knew we were going to have to try to get this interview guerilla-style, and just hope we could catch OFF! loading in or just after a soundcheck or something. All I knew was that they were coming in from Baltimore, that Keith had no idea when they’d get into town and, even better, that Keith did not have a cell phone. Fuck it, I love a challenge. Left Philly around 1PM with the intention of meeting the rest of the crew around 3 or 4 to discuss strategy…

Those bastards had it easy. Tozzi, Salerno, Tabbot… they had the whole hook-up: photo passes, a guaranteed spot to film the show, all-access… Fuck it, I’m too grimy for all that rock star shit: me and my crew were going at it total punk rock style: no communication whatsoever, a backpack stuffed with cans of cheap beers to be pounded down in the bathroom stall before the doors opened so we could be drunk as hell and not have to pay those RIDICULOUS NY bar prices, and the idea that, if all else failed, we KNEW we were going to see a great fucking show.

DISCLAIMER NUMBER 2: here is where I want to say that I love Sick of it All. Between 1987 and 1990 I had probably seen them play well over 25-30 times. City Gardens, Revival, CBs, The Troc, Unisound (where we were ALL friends!) and probably half a dozen other venues throughout PA, NY and NJ. They were and are a GREAT later-generation Hardcore band. But… I was WAAAAAY more excited to see OFF!

We all met up early, it was windy and cold as fuck and we found some bar to kick back in before we went our separate ways. I have to say here that, while sitting in a back corner waiting for drinks, that Ken Salerno, a man whose artistic talents I have come to admire like no other, stopped a conversation by paying me some of the highest compliments I’ve ever received from someone whose work I so deeply respect. I was floored. Thank you, Ken.

We went up to Santos to check out the scene. There were a few people milling about outside and we kind of wormed our way into the venue to take a look around, see what we could find out. OFF! had yet to arrive and I think the sound guy was getting annoyed because they were supposed to be sound-checking. Thus began the period of waiting that is well-known to anyone who has ever gone to a gig early, whether to get interviews for zines or to try and get in during a load-in so you don’t have to pay at the door, or just to hang out with friends. Back in our day you could usually get all fucked up, either drinking or getting high while you spent the endless hours waiting around for the doors to open or something to happen. Nowadays everything is so safe and sanitized, I was afraid to even smoke a goddamn cigarette outside…

Now, Pookie has never lived this life, so everything is new to her. Doyle and I were really amused by her hesitation when we just opened up the doors and walked in. “Can you really do that?” Doyle explained to her the theory of WWA: walk with authority. No one questions you when you look like you belong there, and, if they do, you have a hundred and one viable stories to use. Us being us, no one even gave a second look.

And we waited. And waited. Salerno took some great shots of nothing happening. And we waited some more. Before long, those boys had to trek up the street to set up for Sick of it All, so I was given a fast lesson in how to work the camera Tozzi gave me and they took off. And we waited.

As the first band was playing (I think Doyle said they sounded a little like Philly legends YDI. Or maybe it was Brendan Keenan who said it, I can’t remember) OFF! finally arrived at the venue. I saw them pull up. I already knew there was no chance of getting an interview with Keith before the show and he started to apologize for being so late but I told him not to worry, we’d figure something out. They literally pulled up, unloaded their gear, set up their merch table and then hit the stage…

I jumped right up on the stage and secured my perch. Some twenty-something dude was like “hey man, can you move, I’m going to be taking pictures…” Sure dude, I’ve been going to shows for 25 years… of course I’ll defer to you… HA!

Then OFF! came out. AND THEY FUCKING BLISTERED THE PAINT OFF THE WALLS! This wasn’t a “remember when” type of revival show, with washed-up, sad and hoary old punkers trying to relive the glory days of years gone by. This was pure adrenaline; thunder and rebellion clocked in minute-and-a-half segments of white-hot purgatory that hit you right in your metaphorical balls. Searing, seething, semi-familiar riffs that rode hard and fast and made you remember why you devoted your entire life to music in the first place.

Well, after the show everyone was drained from front to back. I managed to steal a setlist off the stage and gave it to Steven Yu, because he fucking rules. We met up with Tozzi, Salerno, and Tabbot afterwards and their experience was just as memorable. Keith was besieged with well-wishers and fans after the show, so I just thanked him for such a great time. He again apologized, but, no worries, we’ll get that interview in the film. THAT much I promise you.

And still, the highlight of the night was this: after making our way back to the car, me Pookie and Doyle began our trip back to Philly. We had to wind around a few Manhattan streets to get on track to the tunnel and back onto the turnpike. It was a Saturday night in New York town, so all the swells and hipsters were out and about their trendy evening. And as we were stuck in traffic for a quick minute we pulled up alongside one hotspot that had a long line of well-dressed metropolitan-looking people who were obviously way cooler than we. And us, being the scumbag assholes from Philly that we are (well, me and Doyle, anyway. Pookie not so much) just couldn’t resist. The drunken Mark Doyle, hero of the irate and misanthropic, rolls down his window and starts yelling something to the effect of: “you fucking New York assholes, look at you, you fucking douchebags standing in line. You just got fucked in the ass by Philly…”

And OFF! we went…

Greetings From Asbury Park!

Asbury Park… what a strange little place. It is at once bustling and desolate; quaint and sinister. And there’s always something vaguely poignant about a shore town in the dead of winter and buried under weeks’ old dirty snow. Asbury’s garish gaiety combined with blight and banality was beyond surreal. Vacancies lined the blocks next to almost-revitalized splendor like half a mouth filled with broken teeth. Shore towns have always been strange to me. As a kid I could never grasp the concept of all these places (whose very existences were the definition of summer memory) still being there in the winter. I just figured they magically disappeared until Memorial Day…

My long ride began in the suburbs of Philadelphia on the coldest day of the year (up until that point, at least. I think it’s actually colder today). A trolley, an EL, a train and a car ride and my head already swam with random route numbers. I made it to the Trenton train station (quite possibly my least favorite place on Earth), slept on a couch at Amy’s and then rode up to Asbury with Tozzi early Saturday morning. For a person who hates travelling as much as I, this, in itself, was quite a journey.

The spot we had for filming had been secured for us by longtime Vision cohort and all-around funny guy Derek Rinaldi. Some place called the Annex, and we just could not figure out how to work the thermostat. For most of the day we had no heat. In a way, I think this worked best for us: using the David Letterman theory I figured a cold audience/interview subject would be on their toes more than a comfortable one. I don’t know if this was the case, but it was cold as fuck all day long. Lucky for us (me) the bar next door opened at 11AM and quick shots of whiskey snuck throughout the day were very helpful. Our buddy Fritch, creator of the film The Last Bastions of Rock was also in attendance filming some real candid behind the scenes stuff and just hanging out. Between him and Salerno our day in Asbury Park was well-documented. And a lot of that stuff you’ll never see, because it’s just too raw to be put out there…

First up: some City Gardens alums. WTSR DJ Scott Lowe provided us with some descriptive insight into the earlier days of City Gardens while also adding yet another perspective to Randy Now’s diverse musical path: his life as a college radio DJ. Scott was kind enough to give us some old promos and bits from some of Randy’s radio shows throughout the years. Scott was followed by another lifer; Tom Crist who also had seen Randy’s rise from the earliest years.

Then there was Gentleman Jim Norton. To understand what it is to interview Norton is to know this: in blocking out times for interview sessions we give most people a half an hour when doing a crowded shoot like this. With Norton we blocked out a full hour, with a couple of half-hour slots just in case. And he used most of that time. Jim’s insights are invaluable. There is nothing better than having a guy who both played the City Gardens stage and worked it. His stories about Randy are priceless; his stories about stage-managing big-ego-ed artists are a piss and, of course, his tales of the life of a City Gardens bouncer are just about the best thing ever. Jim was composed, eloquent, incredibly funny, patient and self-effacing throughout the process. I guess all those straight edge years really do something for the memory because his testimony was filled with some great, detailed stuff and he just has a knack for telling a story.

After Norton we sat with Tim McMahon, frontman for Mouthpiece, head honcho at Double Cross Webzine and just a real nice guy. Tim is like a curator of Hardcore knowledge; he has a great sense of overview when it comes to the history of Hardcore because he is such a fan. You could see it in the way he animatedly spoke about the great Youth Crew shows he attended at City Gardens; how those shows and bands impacted and influenced his life. And still do to this day. His excitement was very contagious and I couldn’t help smiling throughout his segment. Plus, he’s got the best hair in Hardcore, that’s for sure.

And then came the hometown heroes; the Jersey champs: Vision. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I dug Blink of an Eye back in the day. And anyone who has seen them knows there is no better live band in terms of pure energy. I must have seen them play 100 times back in the day, but this was the first time I had ever sat and talked with the guys. First up was Pete Tabbot and he pretty much blew us away with his concise and quietly funny stories. Like a lot of the people we interview, these guys were fans of the music and once you get them talking about it that shines through. Pete talked about amazing, inspiring shows with clarity and enthusiasm. It was during Pete’s segment, while I was busy remembering fondly the chaos that was the night Vision, Pagan Babies and the Uprise played with Exploited, I realized that Saturday was 24 years to the very day of the riot. How eerily fitting…

While Pete was being filmed we sent Dave Franklin and the rest of the crew over to the bar. By this time we had a nice loud consortium of rambunctious people. Norton stayed and hung out with the boys, Alf Bartone came along for the ride as did Russell Underdog and few other friends. The vibe was jovial, fraternal. It also helped our cause to get Franklin a little liquored up before his interview… When finally it was time for the gregarious Mr. Franklin to sit in the hot seat he was ready to go. And, as hilarious as he was on-camera, the shit that went on before and after the shoot was the real show. Without getting into too much detail I will say the best story of the day (which never made it on film, thank God) was a dual telling by Franklin and Salerno of a certain friend of theirs from back in the day walking up the Garden State Parkway for miles while smoking an ounce of crack. Swear to God. You can’t make that shit up.

When Dave sat under the bright lights he was amazing. The guy is who he is; 100% energy and no bullshit whatsoever. Vision was kind of like the house band at City Gardens through the late 80s because they played there so many times. Dave vividly remembered every last one of them, and every last one of them seemed to involve some incident that was just fucking hysterical. Funniest story (well, the funniest he told on-camera, anyway) was Vision’s first gig at City gardens with the Exploited and how Randy exploded in a tirade upon learning that Vision’s bassist at the time had actually been banned for life from the club because of fighting. To hear Dave recall it had us all laughing and trying not to ruin the audio with our laughter.

But, on the real: Dave had a special kind of quiet reverence for the place and for what it meant to him. He resoundingly stated, for anyone who would listen, how important City Gardens and Randy Now were for both his life and his band. He spoke of the honor of being asked to open for the Ramones, he spoke of the wildly raucous nights he spent on the City Gardens stage, leaping and bounding like a Wildman (and often of swinging from the rafters, much to Randy and Tut’s mutual dismay). Most touching was the way he spoke of his relationship with Randy and the fatherly way (even when Randy was screaming and cursing at Dave for some boneheaded stunt) Randy treated him throughout the years. It summed up a lot of people’s feelings toward Randy: his never-ending generosity when it came to the bands and the fans. The way he was willing to put himself out there solely for the sake of the music. I think every person that had ever been booked by him felt this in some way or another. Franklin was most appreciative and exemplified this with a deep sense of honor.

For me… I am a fan and have never pretended to be anything but. To get into a room with these guys, these heroes from my past who, through their music, made my life seem almost important and bearable, is an honor that never really loses its impact. I am not at all embarrassed to express my gratitude and my very real admiration for the people who I get to meet who made the music. It never gets old to me and talking with these people, even 25 years after the fact, has the ability to transform me into that douchey 14 year old who is starstruck and shy. I don’t care. That has been the best part of this whole experience. If you had told me 25 years ago that one day I would be sitting around with the bands whose records I cherished more than my own life; just sitting and talking about the music and the memories, I would never have believed you. That is the beautiful thing about Hardcore: it’s always been an accessible, generous thing. It’s always been a mirror of integrity and the ideal that it’s better to give back than to take. And as we sat around afterwards, laughing and lifting drinks to our health, I looked around the table and realized that this is where I was meant to be.

The Calhoun Mile

Most of you will remember that back in the day going to Punk Rock shows was not always the safest things to do. Everyone knows that the best spots to see shows were always in the most dangerous neighborhoods. It ain’t like it is now, with all this sanitized, well-structured and heavily-scheduled “fun.” You took your chances when you went to a Hardcore show and any one of a million things could have happened to you between the time you walked out your front door and when, eventually, you returned there. And that was part of the excitement.

Without getting sidetracked into a long-winded discussion of the socio-political, cultural and geo-economical cause and effects of poverty, it will suffice (at least for my purposes here) to say that the indisputable truth is this: if you went to a Punk Rock show in the 80s you weren’t going somewhere nice.

Being 13 and having hardly stepped outside the confines of my lily-white suburb, Punk Rock was the first thing to take me out of my known comfort zone and show me a side of life I had really only known through television and the narratives of the earliest Hip Hop records. I was embarrassingly naïve and I have no problem admitting it because most of you reading this were in the same boat at the same time.  It’s no secret that Punk Rock is and always was a mostly-white, mostly-male, suburban phenomenon (yeah, yeah, I hear all you LES NYHC peeps yelling out there, but I’m looking over a broader spectrum of demographic here), and most of us (with obvious exceptions) fit neatly into those parameters. And that was cool.

The thing about our scene was participation. It was a living, breathing, participatory beast. You had to get your hands dirty and your nose bloodied to really absorb it. You could buy all the records and ‘zines you wanted, but you weren’t really “in it” until you had gone to shows. Dirty, smelly, sweat-soaked shows. It was just a rite of passage; one of many.

My friends and I grew up primarily in Philly. We had our spots and none of them were too nice. Being leather clad, mohawked Punks or long-haired hammers or skins in full dress, going into some of these neighborhoods where the clubs resided always meant being hassled by the locals (and, a lot of times; the cops) and you took it in stride because that was the badge you wore and the flag you flew. Freaks unite! For us, getting to City Gardens was the scariest thing we had encountered. We were unfazed by North Philly; by the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Baltimore’s scary world of row-homes and rubble. Shit, we weren’t even scared of the back-woods, Nazi-infested hellholes that populated the Pennsa-tucky regions like Reading and Allentown PA.

But going to Trenton was always, somehow…different. I remember my first trip like it was yesterday. I was riding with a friend we called The Moshing Fetus. Yep. The Moshing fucking Fetus. One of my best friends, and the only person I knew, at that time, with the balls to drive to City Gardens. Just a couple of hammers trying to find a show. Well, that night we got incredibly lost and toured the wide world of Trenton for hours. Everything was gray, desolate, and quiet in the winter’s slumber. It was like a surreal dream gliding through those streets. I was thoroughly insulated and under the thrall of the sense of invulnerability that comes with youth and stupidity. When we finally found Calhoun Street we were at the bottom of it; where all the government buildings and stuff are. I remember thinking “well, this ain’t so bad. It’s right up this street…” And so we saw the sights. It seemed like every ten feet you hit a red light that lasted for fucking hours and while you were waiting you drew the most conspicuous attention from the locals. They knew. After so many years it was easily apparent what all these weirdo-looking white kids were doing riding through Trenton and sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was scary. I never felt so frozen and as accessible as I did sitting through those long, long red lights. Maybe it was being out of state, maybe it was being so completely unaware, but something about Trenton was unnerving. Of course, I was only seeing a very small part of it, but the young eyes of youth only know what is contained within their horizon. The funny thing was, looking back there was a lot more to fear inside the club than in the neighborhood around it. I’d seen people get beat down bad on the City Gardens dancefloor; I’d seen people stabbed outside. Shit, the parking lot alone was more dangerous than all of Trenton. But we were never scared of what went on inside.

Anyway, that ride came to be known as The Calhoun Mile and my friend Pablo still, to this day, says; “don’t tell me you’re Punk Rock. You ain’t Punk Rock unless you did the Calhoun Mile.” Like I said: a rite of passage. Each club in every city has its own; Trenton was no different.

Punk Rock first intimated to me that the world was a bigger place than what I knew. Punk taught me this when schools, parents, teachers, priests, councilors, etc. didn’t. Or wouldn’t. Or couldn’t. Yeah, it’s pretty corny and cliché: middle-class white boy finding excitement in the supposed “danger” of urban blight, but I can’t front. It was exciting; it was a part of the City Gardens experience.


The greatest thing about City Gardens was the legendary air that surrounded the club. While it was a great place for the wild, burgeoning scenes that were emerging in the mid-to-late 80’s there was also a great sense of Punk Rock history that served as the foundation of the City Gardens aura. The list of classic acts and obscure icons is eclectic and rich with tradition and lineage. Some of the greatest, most influential artists that nobody ever heard of killed it up on the City Gardens’ stage and thus furthered the indelible myth of both the scene and the club.

I was a Hardcore kid; I was in on the birth of the second wave of Hardcore music that had spawned from the earlier bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag. By 87 I was following the New York City (specifically the Lower East Side) bands that were redefining the genre and City Gardens was a haven for these guys. It seemed like every Sunday there was an all-ages show that featured some of the greatest Straight Edge bands of the era: I can’t tell you how many times I saw Gorilla Biscuits, Sick of it All, Bold, Judge, Youth of Today, Quicksand, Underdog, Token Entry and the bulk of the Revelation Records lineup. Those shows were vibrant festivals of youthful exuberance and were crystalline moments of a scene that was just coming into its own. And, true to the City Gardens aesthetic, the shows were energetic, chaotic and eventful.

I missed the first wave of the original Punk Rock pioneers and the birth of the first Hardcore movement. I had missed the potent primes of some of the most vital bands and artists that had shaped my musical world and initiated me into this scene. But thanks to Randy Now I got the chance to see some true legends while they were still virile and magnificent.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Ramones at City Gardens. It was in April of ’88 and it was my second trip. They weren’t the same band as the Leave Home and Rocket to Russia era- Ramones, obviously. And they hadn’t yet been properly acknowledged for their place and importance in Rock history. Truth was, at that time, nobody but the diehard fans really even knew the Ramones were still around. They were touring constantly and releasing albums consistently but, as far as “commercial” radio went, well, you remember what was big at the time. Suffice to say that there wasn’t a whole lot of room for a band as austere and un-flashy as the Ramones. As far as the Punk scene went, second and third generations of the music had already come and gone and, while they owed much to the Ramones, some had denounced them in a holier-than-thou stance of fierce independence. The Ramones were unfairly labeled as “sell-outs” by a lot of the ignorant New School Punks and shunned as “old men.”

Of course, I was one of those brash, asinine kids yelling “sell-out” at the time. So when I went with a friend to City Gardens to see the Ramones I was less than enthused. I was way too cool to admit to liking something so old and out as the Ramones. I was the kind of kid that would tell anyone who asked (and nobody ever asked) that the Clash sucked, the Sex Pistols were gay; that Television and Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads were not Punk Rock and the Ramones were boring and over.


The Ramones were like a machine; they cranked out a slew of classic hits that sounded fresher and meaner than any records I had bought in the previous five years. They were a polished and professional unit that coursed along in swift, sleek fashion. They were loud; they were visceral and completely unconcerned with anything but the music. They were true to form and they casually proved their prowess as one of the fiercest live acts Rock and Roll music has ever produced. They kicked my ass in a most embarrassing way; showing me just how ignorant and naïve I was. I thought I knew it all at the age of 15 and there were the Ramones, the ones who really had seen and done it all, to point out just what a jackass I was and how much I had to learn. That show was one of those moments where you can actually feel yourself being enveloped by history and becoming a part of something huge.

There was a steady parade of great musicians who, by the time I got around to seeing them perform, had honed their craft to a perfect science of sound and energy. I saw Social Distortion, one of the greatest California Punk bands of all time, long after their Mommy’s Little Monster heyday. By that time Social Distortion was well into their Rockabilly phase. Gone was the ragged and sloppy Punk fashion; this new phase brought a stylish throwback to sharp gangster threads. Mike Ness wore khaki chinos, suspenders and a wife-beater T-shirt. On his feet were savagely polished wing-tips and he looked real boss and very far removed from the spotty teenager who had loved the sound when he smashed the glass in his glory days. And they still ripped the shit out of City Gardens. That show was packed to the roof with old Punks and bikers. I had managed to get right up to the stage and was inches away from a still-messily-mascara-ed Mike Ness as he spit fire through a Les Paul and rocked sleeves of girly pin-up tattoos. Their presence was locked and tight; you could see the ease with which they owned the stage.

The Bad Brains were probably the most influential band I had ever heard. I saw them at City Gardens in 1987, when their best recordings were already behind them. They were no less ravenous and insane with age, though, and the set they played that night, while littered with newer, slower songs that had a Metal tinge to them, was amazing. The classics brought a roaring sense of camaraderie to the crowd; a lot of the kids were young like me and getting their first sight of what a true Hardcore band was. The pit was more of a celebration than a battlefield; it was as active and frenzied as could be without a trace of violence. We danced and skanked and stomped and you could feel the waves of positive and harmonious energy. I think that show drew the most enthusiastic crowd I have ever been a part of.

The same with Rollins. I saw him in late 1991; a spoken word show. That engagement was the first time Rollins had spoken publicly about the murder of his best friend Joe Cole. It was a galvanizing moment for me and the few hundred other people in the audience. Rollins had been, for years, telling crazy Punker stories about himself and Joe and when he launched into a tale about the two of them coming home with a fistful of Sylvester Stallone films (which they rented solely for comedic value as usually is the case with any Stallone film) we all thought it was going to be another goofy story with a hilarious punchline. Somewhere along the way things got really bad as Rollins very plainly and clinically told the story of being forced into their home by armed robbers and forced to kneel in execution positions while waiting to die. One was shot dead and, for some reason, Henry was spared. It was a heavy, heavy moment and after punctuating the story with a screaming “BANG!” that was the gunshot which ended his friend’s life, City Gardens went deathly quiet. I’ve never felt such a dramatic, heavy air in one place. You didn’t have to know anything about Rollins and Cole to be affected; it was a horrible story that would have broken the most thickened Skinhead’s heart.

I saw the Cramps and the Damned at City Gardens, long after they had made their names and were approaching legendary status. I saw Killing Joke and D.R.I and G.B.H. I saw GangGreen and the Circle Jerks, and for a couple of bands that had been around for a while they both rocked the shit out of those crowds. I saw Suicidal Tendencies after they had gone “Metal” and had gutted their original lineup and they were still one of the best live acts I’ve ever witnessed, even if they had “sold out.” I saw Agent Orange and a ton of Ska bands that I never would have seen anywhere else. A lot of these groups were bands that had, supposedly, been written off as “trash that would never prosper or go any further than the garage and demo stage” by countless pundits and journalists. Some of these bands, by the time I saw them, were actually thought to be irrelevant. And somehow they always brought the heat when they played.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Randy Now for being a very influential person in my life; and I never even met the guy. For so many years he was nothing but an anonymous, kind of goofy voice that came on between sets and calmly (and very un-Punk-ly) announced the upcoming City Gardens events. But, as far as my own, personal experiences, Randy was an artist and a true visionary. He just had an ear for great music, no matter what it sounded like and because of his love for the music I got to witness some revolutionary events and historic moments.


The holidays have brought us all something we desperately needed: time off. With all the hectic doings that these days entail, I gotta tell you I was kind of happy not to have to ride the lovely MegaBus from Philly to NY in the freezing cold. We shut down production this past week for some much-needed holiday revelry. And while it was nice to step back, I can’t seem to get rid of this nagging feeling of GO! GO! GO! that’s at the back of my brain, cursing my inactivity. ‘Cause all I want to do is fucking GO GO GO! I love doing this; I love every aspect of putting this film together. Even the most tedious of tasks is exciting. So rest and relaxation is pretty much a double-edged sword. While I do enjoy being lazy and hanging out at home with Pookie and the cats, the compulsive side of me wants to be OUT THERE, chasing that story, meeting the people of legend and nefarious reputation, building and talking and connecting and creating. It’s like friggin’ crack to me. When you get into those moments where the camera is rolling (or whatever cameras do nowadays with all that fancy-schmancy technology) and it’s just the few of you in the room, just talking, there is an energy that is palpable and thrilling. There is a reverence observed, to some degree, when we get together and talk about City Gardens and what the music meant, what those days meant. It’s not so simple as “nostalgia” or “sentimentality.” It’s deeper than that and not nearly so serious. There is a lot of laughter and that’s what keeps me coming back.

We did launch our brand-spanking new website (shameless plug!) so you can check out some of the work we’ve been doing over the past few months. A lot of people have put in tremendous efforts in helping this to become real, and our gratitude is immense. For me, it’s all about the amazing people I get to work with on this project.  I’d daresay I was “blessed,” if I believed in that sort of thing. They are kind of inspiring. This inspiration I experience is derived from their passion. Each person represents a new facet; a new perspective for me to contemplate. Example: when Amy and I first started collaborating for the book I was most forcefully impressed with her writing style. It was concise, business-like (which is imperative for non-fiction) and utterly logical. Her ability to chronicle an event through the starkness of other people’s exaggerations was admirable. In our time working together she has shown me the brutality of self-editing and how fundamentally important it is. For someone like myself, who has a tendency to ramble self-indulgently through purple lands of overblown exclamation, Amy taught me the value of succinct and objective reporting. Plus she just flat-out fucking rules.

And then there is Tozzi. You can’t say a bad thing about this guy. He is earnest, intuitive and so nice it makes me wanna’ friggin’ puke sometimes. Tozzi is the kind of guy you vibe with right away on levels both personal and artistic. His enthusiasm is infectious and it drew me in immediately (I am not what you would call an “enthusiastic” person by nature). The thing is; his vision is dead-on. He sees the story in ways none of us do, and he’s bringing it about with a fluid and even-handed manner.

Salerno. That right there is the driving force. The man is walking history; he has seen life brutally in black and white and has never blinked. Ken’s the oldhead, which is a term spoken with dignity, admiration and respect. Salerno is the guru with parables that extend beyond words. He captures emotions of every kind like they are solid, tangible things. His eye has seen it all and his life has absorbed it all and now I get to witness this on a daily basis. The history Salerno holds is my youth and the youth of thousands of others. He is easily the backbone of the film.

So as we round out this year of 2010 with varying degrees of relaxation and partying, it’s nice to look back on what we’ve accomplished. But looking forward I am itching to get back at this thing.


This past weekend the crew got together just outside of Princeton NJ for a full day of shooting interviews. Me, Amy, Tozzi and Salerno met up early on a gray Saturday morning. On the itinerary for this shoot were a bunch of regulars, some of which had been at City Gardens on day one. The docket included various former DJ’s, bouncers, stagehands and general observers. These are the folks who watched a fledgling little faction of supporters grow steadily into tight-knit groups of friends and, eventually, a scene. Laughs were had, Gail brought some AMAZING pumpkin chocolate truffle creation that had us all salivating, and every time you turned around Salerno was there with that damn camera of his taking those “candid” shots (which really means taking pictures when you’re not looking and unprepared and in the worst possible grimace or chuckle in which to be photographed…). As an added bonus, Randy Now even joined us for the day.

As I sat and listened to people speak I noticed certain details that had been coming up throughout the shoot; a few common threads run invariably throughout all these stories. Constant themes of friendship worked their ways through these narratives of cognizant recognition of this thing called music. To a person each one basically told a similar story: that of people dissatisfied with the world (and particularly) the music around them and how they actively sought something different, something with substance. Even if, at first, they had no idea what they were searching for. Each told tales of rebirth in a music scene that meant more to them than anything else at the time. Their lives, minds, and passions were all inspired by the various forms of music they discovered and all were lead down a similar path they met. Most likely, at City Gardens. What comes through most pointedly is the sense of community that was had back then. There’s a reason why most of these people are still close friends some twenty-five years later.

Most riveting were the tales of the bouncers. Thinking back, especially, to all those Hardcore shows… man they were fucking wild. Often times they got pretty out of hand. To hear what it was like from the guys who saw (and dealt with) it every night was amazing. These guys were their own separate faction. While they loved the music and were there for the music, they had a job to do. They saw A LOT. Bouncers are a breed apart, that is for sure, and their insight is both unique and invaluable. There is a definite sense of weird juxtaposition when hearing them describe shows I saw with my own eyes. Stuff that, as a fan and a patron, I never knew was going on was brought to light in vivid detail. For me, I spent the majority of the shows watching the stage. These folks, for the most part, were looking in the opposite direction. They were part of the energy coming off the bands reflected and directed back at us. They were a big part of the synergy between us and the bands; like conductors and conduits. Even the mundane seemed transformed into the magical. For example: being tapped by Randy to help the Ramones load in might seem like a chore to someone who has loaded in hundreds of bands before. To a kid who was 14 at the time it would have been nothing short of miraculous to be able to do such a thing. Many of us, maybe most of us, were just fans. The closest we ever got to our heroes was perhaps and after-show handshake, or a minute at the merch stand. Maybe we got a night out for pizza with them, or, if we were lucky enough, found some kind of party to fall into. Most of us, though, just went home and dreamed about how cool it would be to be in our own band, playing our own shows… These guys had a hand in the reality of it. These bouncers, DJs, light and sound people etc; these guys saw the trivial be elevated to the holy and saw daily examples of artistic purity.

For me, the deeper I get into hearing people’s stories the more I see, remember and re-live my own. This is the entirety of beauty in what we are trying to capture. Behind each story is an air of humanity; a detailed account of how the music so forcefully touched all of our lives. With each one I am transported back to an energetic, optimistic time in my life, one I have since lost and am constantly looking for. You can see it in their eyes as their stories unfold; each one of them gleaming with a fraction of the joy they so vividly remember. To be entrusted with the care of these stories; these living things, is to hold a legacy in physical form in your hands. It is gentle and yet strong… vital. To hear and remember those days told in a language of youthful enthusiasm and pride is to feel validated (and, in some ways, vindicated) and brings you close to people who share something very reverent with you.


This past Friday our crew took to the road and headed down to Washington DC for a day of filming. The first stop was the legendary Dischord house and a sit-down with Ian MacKaye. This was one I’d been looking forward to since we first began this odyssey. We were met with gracious hospitality, Ian happily showed us around the house and its history. He offered us tea.

For me, Dischord has always stood paramount as the model for integrity and independence. Which is pretty much the theme of this film. The idea of starting with nothing, building it into something, and still retaining some sense of autonomy while doing it is the reason why we’re all here and involved with this project. It’s the reason we rock the music we’ve been listening to for years, it’s how we live and how we conduct ourselves. It’s a defining passion that has guided us since we discovered music. Seeing the Dischord house, being inside of it is beyond description. To this day I am still a fan of both the music and the label and to step inside a world devoted solely to making music is both humbling and inspiring.

I have no problem admitting that I was kind of star-struck. That goes without saying. I am glad that Tozzi did the interview, I don’t think I could have gotten a question off without stuttering and flop-sweating. Tozzi did an amazing job, he intrepidly plowed through a series of questions that Ian has been asked a thousand times over. Interviewing Ian is no easy task for a variety of reasons. The first being the sheer intensity of the undertaking. It’s like a physical force that is overwhelming, you can hear the intensity and unabashed passion in his voice. He still carries that fire with him.

Interviewing Ian is something you need to be prepared for: at the turn of a phrase he can put a question right back on you. It can be very daunting. He demands a lot out of you with just a look; he is all about participation. Like at any of his shows: it is understood that this is an organic, back-and-forth exchange. A conversation. To be able to stand in with him you must be willing to to go all in and you must be willing to be challenged. Depending on the interviewer, this can be a dream or a nightmare. Ian is frank, bold, and unafraid.

What comes through most is his appreciation and his love for the music. He has a vivid mind and memory when it comes to the music. Not just his own, either. This is a man who has dedicated his entire life to the art; it’s what fuels him.

For me, just sitting on that porch was inspiring. Later on Ian showed me old pictures and the walls covered with all the Dischord records he’s put out over the years. He took us on a walking tour of the hallowed basement where all his bands played at one time or another. It still looks the same as it did in “Another State of Mind.”

A long time ago Ian wrote: “we’re not the first, I hope we’re not the last” and that line kind of sums it up. None of us were first; many have come before us and laid the groundwork. Hopefully we won’t be the last. We hope the generations after us find the unbridled spirit of underground music as exciting and vital as we do and carry on with tradition while forging new paths.

Disclaimers and Other Background Info


This is the new blog dedicated to chronicling the creative processes behind the upcoming (as-of-yet-untitled) documentary film about Randy Now and the club he spent many years running and promoting: City Gardens.

A little history: City Gardens was a (primarily) Punk club located in Trenton New Jersey that opened in 1980 and saw many, many legendary acts come through during its existence. For many of us who attended shows regularly, City Gardens held an almost-magical sway over us. Good friends, good music, adventures and history brought us all together and forged a bond that unites all of us in some small way.

Since the end of the Randy Now era in 1994, many people have wondered what the story behind City Gardens was. We here hope to present that story and do it justice.


Steve Tozzi: The director.

Ken Salerno: The eye, the historian, the guru.

Amy Yates Wuelfing: The producer and the one who got the ball rolling.

Steven DiLodovico: a producer.


This blog will be one person’s accounts of the making of this film. Do not look for juicy bits of gossip, or for secret info about the film while it’s in progress. This is simply an impressionistic account of the amazing people I’ve personally encountered while working on this project. This also means that the opinions, viewpoints, etc. expressed in this blog are solely my own and do not represent the opinions of anyone else involved in this project.

Also, if you are looking for technical information about the process; if, for example, you are looking to find out what kind of camera Mr. Salerno uses, or the mics and lenses used while filming, you are in the wrong place! I don’t know shit about all that and wouldn’t even begin to pretend to. I’m a writer, dammit!

Anyway, feel free to post comments or to contact me or any of that good stuff.

Thanks for reading.

Steven DiLodovico

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