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.