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.
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…
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…
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)