Tag Archives: Punk Rock

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.

Cheers!

Cheers!

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…


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