“I remember what went down at that show. It was crazy…” - Chuck Treece
Pat Baker (Mouthpiece/The Semibeings): This was my first time on that stage, and it is something I’ll never forget. To be able to play at the place I idolized was incredible. I think I was 16 years old, and that was odd in itself.
Tim McMahon (Mouthpiece, vocals): We had played with Insted in Reading at the Unisound, and somehow we got on the bill at City Gardens. Randy reached out and asked us if we wanted to open the show. We were floored. It all came full circle. You start thinking about the very first time you did a stage dive there, whether it was legal or not. You start thinking about all this stuff like, holy shit. I’m going to play City Gardens. I had only been going to shows there like three or four years, but it seemed like an eternity. 1987 shows seemed completely different from 1990 shows. Totally different crowd, totally different feeling… it could have been a whole different club. Those early shows I went to seemed so dark and heavy and punk. [Later], the scene looked different. You went from punk rockers to kids who were clean-cut looking. By 1990, it seemed my whole high school knew about City Gardens. Kids who weren’t into punk or hardcore were going to shows at City Gardens because it was close and because it was the place to go.
Jeff “Stress” Davis (Suburban Hoodz): I got jumped, and I got suckerpunched. My buddy, Jay Kilroy, was on the corner side, near the bathrooms, and I was walking toward him. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, but when I turned around, no one was there. I kept walking. Someone shoved me from behind, and when I turned around he fucking decked me. BLAM! He split my lip open. I was so dazed, but I put my hands up to go at it. The security guard came out of nowhere and completely fucked this dude up. It ended up being someone from Vision’s squad who jumped me. They said I went up to two of his girl pals and said, “What’s up?” and punched them in the face. I said, “What are you talking about?” That never happened! It was crazy. They stitched my lip up with no anesthesia, and the douchebag doctor shaved the left half of my mustache off and left the right side on! I think he did it on purpose.
Dave Franklin (Vision, vocals): Insted was out here on tour, and the only way that Randy would let them play was if Vision played with them. This is another funny one. After our bass player Ivo—who had been banned for life from City Gardens—was allowed back into the venue to play and see shows, there was a Circle Jerks show. There was a big pit in the front and a smaller pit in the back, by the bar. The place was packed. Some dude was at the edge of the second pit acting like a retard, running into people and not really dancing or anything. He ran into Ivo, who pushed him away, no problem. He runs into Ivo a second time, and Ivo again pushes him away. Third time he comes around, and Ivo drops him. I watched Ivo nail the dude. He was out cold, nose broken, the whole deal. Sure enough, Ivo was banned again. By that time we had turned Vision into a five-piece. We added an extra guitar player, and, because of that incident, Vin had to play bass. Ivo couldn’t play this show, but we already had it booked. We played a a four-piece that night.
Tim McMahon: I remember thinking, my God, this is it! We have reached our goal and this is the greatest thing ever! I’m up here and the giant City Gardens stage is ALL MINE! I had watched so many bands play on that stage, and I’d be thinking to myself while I’m watching, dude, why isn’t that singer jumping off of that drum riser? Now I’m the guy up there, and I’m going go off. In your mind, you kind of invent what the perfect show is going to be: the band is going crazy, the crowd is singing along, diving, and going crazy. You’ve seen videos of it happening and you want to see it happen while you’re there. I’m up on that stage and I’m thinking I’m just going to go fucking nuts. I’m gonna jump around every chance I get. I’m gonna run all over the place. I’m gonna dive off into the crowd… Oh, and I guess I’m gonna sing a little bit, too… There were no drugs that could make me feel any higher than I was going to feel on that day, on that stage, playing this place where I saw my first shows and where I saw so many great bands.
Dave Franklin: That one really stands out in my mind. I pulled up in the parking lot and saw Lou and Pete Koller from Sick of It All. I was really good friends with those guys, but I didn’t know they were coming to the show. They came all the way from Queens and I asked them what they were doing. I thought they came because Insted was in town. They didn’t even know those guys. They had actually come to see us!
Tim McMahon: I think we had a pretty good show. At the end of the set, our drummer kicked his kit over. We knocked over the guitars, threw them down, and let them feedback. My thing was, at the end of the shows, I would always dive into the crowd. The guitars are ringing, the drums are knocked over, and I’m gonna do a flip into the crowd. The one security guy, Judd, was standing there yelling, “Man, you fucking guys are never playing here again!” I remember hearing that as I’m up on top of the crowd, and I’m just like, “Fuck yeah! We just did it! We just played City Gardens!” That’s how we ended our set. The crowd put me down on the floor and I just walked up, went back up to the dressing room, and that was it.
Dave Franklin: So, when we played, the place went so crazy that Lou and Pete were up on the stage to keep people from smashing up the gear. By that time, Randy had given in and was letting people get on stage. In fact—and I don’t remember if it was this particular show or not— but at one show we cut our set short for some reason, and everybody was like “You gotta’ finish!” We hadn’t played “Falling Apart” yet, and the place was going nuts, chanting for us and everything. So, we start playing it and everybody piles on the stage. Randy was so pissed he came up on stage and pulled the cords out of our amplifiers. He unplugged everybody so it was just the drummer playing the song. It didn’t matter, everybody in the crowd sang along until the song was done! We pissed Randy off many times.
MAY 3 1987 THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS COM TO TRENTON
This is the story that started it all, the first story Amy completed for "No Slam Dancing." Here it is in it's entirety with photos by Ken Salerno.
Randy Now (City Gardens promoter): This Butthole Surfers show is one of those shows that 5,000 people claim to have been at, but only 500 tickets were sold.
I loved the band, I really did. The Buttholes played three shows for me before this one. The first was an all-ages show at a little place called New York South. The second time I booked them was at City Gardens with The Replacements. That weird bill happened because the Buttholes pretty much lived on the road. They would call up and ask for a gig, and then you wouldn’t hear from them again until the day of the show. You just had to believe they would show up. The Replacements wanted to play the same day, and we hadn’t heard back from the Buttholes, so I thought, why not just book The Replacements too? We left them both on the advertising. I’m not sure who opened for who. I guess the Replacements opened.
Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers, lead singer): My strongest memory of City Gardens is arriving to play a show on one of our first tours. We didn’t confirm the gig in advance, so, when we got to the club, the marquee out front said, “Tonight: The Replacements.” I thought it was ironic that we got replaced by The Replacements.
Randy Now: The third time was a great show. They were getting more popular and the audience loved them. They had three or four encores, and the crowd couldn’t get enough.
Tony Rettman (City Gardens regular): I was really young. My older brother Don used to take me to shows, but the Butthole Surfers’ music was totally over my head. It just sounded like a jet landing… forever. A blur of noise. I remember one show where they had swear words written all over their bodies, including “shit” and “fuck” on their faces. And it wasn’t something they did just for the show, because they drove up and were hanging out the whole night before they played with cuss words all over their faces. And I thought, that’s pretty badass.
Tim Hinely (City Gardens regular): It’s hard to describe exactly what a Butthole Surfers gig was like. When kids these days tell me how wild or crazy their favorite band is, like Slipknot or Marilyn Manson, I utter three words to them: The Butthole Surfers. For starters, they were total freaks. Drummer King Koffey and his “sister” Theresa played the double drums like they were from another planet; the bassist Jeff had a backwards Mohawk and looked like he was having trouble staying awake; and guitarist Paul Leary was cross-eyed on purpose; and last, but certainly not least, was seven-foot-tall singer Gibby Haynes. No shirt, gut hanging out, long greasy hair, yelling at everyone. The guy was fucking scary.
Mickey Ween (Ween, guitarist): That was the band we would sit around and listen to when we were getting high. You get these pictures in your head: “What are the guys who make this shit really like?!” It was so insane. And then you find out the truth… and they’re even worse, even more insane, than you imagined.
Tim Hinely: Some of the bands that played the club were really polarizing. A skinhead band would play and the skinheads would be into it, but no one else would be, or a non-skinhead band would play and the skinheads would flip them off. But when the Buttholes played, everyone was into it. The skater kids, the hardcores, the skinheads, the punk geeks… everyone was into it. There was so much insanity that all genres were put aside.
Randy Now: They were pretty big at this point and starting to break through. They had just released “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” which got airplay on MTV, and they had a lot of their own sound and light equipment. They had a projection screen showing films with nude scenes and Ohio State Trooper accident films and stuff like that.
Gibby Haynes: Those were real 16mm films. To find them I had to do research at University of Texas, looking in reference books and tracking things down. Back then you had to be pretty imaginative to get those kinds of films. The people who had penis-reconstruction films were very sensitive about distribution. You had to call up and pretend you were a doctor. We would have stuff mailed to our house outside of town that was addressed to The Pathology Wing, at So-and-So Hospital, Dr. Gibson Haynes.
Tim Hinely: Right before this show, they played at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ, and it was a wild affair to be sure. The band that played prior to them, The Serial Killers, had thrown cans of dog food out into the crowd, so it was smeared all over the floor and made everything slippery. The place was packed to the gills, steaming hot, and there was dog food all over the place. I haven’t even mentioned the naked lady dancer—with a beard, who had not bathed in a year—the smoke machine, strobe lights, and the films playing behind them of gory car crashes from the 1960s.
Gibby Haynes: I was in charge of the show. I thought, if I couldn’t really sing, then I might as well put on a show. So at first it was smoke and strobes. And then it was lots of smoke and lots of strobes. Completely fill the club with smoke until you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, with a pulsing, bright-as-shit light that would make you vomit and convulse. We would make effigies from newspaper and then tear them up in the strobe light, which was cool because it looked like you were tearing a human apart. We would dress up the dummies the same way we were dressed, and then jump behind an amp, throw out the dummy, and rip it up.
Randy Now: The show was booked, and I kept hearing from all across the country that they brought a nude dancer onstage. When they showed up that day I asked Gibby to not have the girl dancing nude, because it was an all-ages show and there would be kids in attendance. And he said, “Okay.” Which really meant, “Fuck you.”
Mickey Ween: There were four bands. We were first, then Cleft Palate, and then a punk-rock accordion player named Malcolm Tent. There were three bands with no drums opening for a band with two drummers. I had seen Buttholes before, and they were my favorite band at the time, but Aaron [a.k.a. Gene Ween] hadn’t seen them yet. It was our first real club gig, and it was total luck that we were opening for our favorite band. We watched them do a soundcheck and it all seemed pretty normal, just a regular band setup. Aaron was like, “What’s the big deal?” because I had told him all these stories about the mayhem at their shows. But when they went onstage, it was a whole different thing.
Randy Now: The dancer takes her top off the very first song, but it was hard to see her because she was behind the two drummers and the film projections were reflecting off the drums. But she was topless, and I knew when Tut [the owner of City Gardens] saw her, he was going to go berserk, because it was his ass on the line if some little kid goes home and tells mommy there was a naked lady on stage. It was a huge crowd, too.
Mickey Ween: Her name was Tah-Da: The Shit Lady. Like, “Ta-Da!” She had taken a vow of silence and didn’t talk.
Gibby Haynes: That was the first tour with Kathleen as our dancer. Usually, she was totally naked. She was from Atlanta and part of the crazy Atlanta music scene. Lady Claire, RuPaul, and Frank Floyd Felicia… that whole group from Atlanta. We used to play a club there with a little bitty stage, and we saw a band with two women. Kathleen played drums and Cabbage danced, but we got them mixed up. When our drummer, Theresa, quit, we wanted another girl drummer, but we were so loaded we got it backwards. We said, let’s get Cabbage, thinking she was the drummer. And she sucked. Really bad. When Theresa [Nervosa, drummer] came back, Kathleen became our dancer, though she was actually the drummer we wanted but didn’t get.
Tom Hinely: Guys started elbowing each other, and some of the punks were yelling lewd stuff at her, not that she noticed. Parents were screaming at Randy… parents who took their kids to the show and were maybe going to hang out in the back but were now freaking out. There was the naked woman onstage, and then Paul Leary, the guitarist from the Buttholes, pulled his pants down and started flipping his dick around. I remember turning around and seeing some moms and dads totally losing it.
Tony Rettman: I was 12 years old, and I see this topless woman on stage, so I’m like, “Wow! Boobs!” It was the first time I saw naked boobs in person that didn’t belong to a family member. And the band looked green, but I didn’t know if they painted themselves or if they just had scurvy. I remember Gibby saying all this weird stuff like, “Don’t you hate it when your dad walks in and you have a wine bottle up your ass?”
Mark Pesetsky (City Gardens security): I was onstage acting as general security. When the crowd first saw the naked woman, they went crazy, but then it wore off and became old hat. After that they focused on the band.
Tim Hinely: Something seemed a bit weirder about this gig… I mean, all was going smashingly. They played “Cherub,” “BBQ Pope,” “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave,” and, of course, their hit single, “Lady Sniff.” Complete with all the farting noises one can stand.
Mickey Ween: They dropped pieces of confetti that had cockroaches on them. Little white pieces of paper the size of a matchbook with a cockroach picture on each side. I don’t know where they got this shit, but they had bags and bags of it. I remember playing at City Gardens six months later, and this confetti was still falling out of the lighting trusses. Up to a year later you would walk around the stage and find these little pieces of paper with cockroaches on them leftover from the Buttholes show.
Gibby Haynes: That stuff hung around. Three years ago, I coughed one up.
Randy Now: I knew Tut was going to go crazy when he saw this whole thing, so I kept him distracted in the back counting bottles of Jack Daniels or something. Their set was almost finished when he comes out, sees what’s going on, and tells me to go up on the stage and tell the dancer she has to put her top on. I’m up there doing hand signals and waving, but they ignored me. Of course, Tut wouldn’t get involved himself. He’s just standing in the back yelling at me to do something. We had this big on/off breaker switch that fed the power to the stage. It was gigantic. It looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie from the ‘30s it was so huge. He’s yelling, “Pull the plug! Pull the plug!” So we pulled it.
Tony Rettman: Gibby set his arm on fire and was waving it at people. I was too young to be scared. I didn’t know enough to know that things like that aren’t supposed to happen.
Tim Hinely: Everyone realized the plug got pulled and were pissed. People were yelling, “Bouncers suck!”
Mickey Ween: And that set off a whole series of events. The lights came on and the PA went out, and the whole place was filled with smoke, either from a smoke machine or Gibby’s burning arm. When the house lights went on, you could see everyone for the first time. The two drummers kept going, Gibby had the bullhorn, and it turned into this tribal hell. That’s what was so great about seeing the Buttholes. It was like you were in Hell, especially if you’re on drugs.
Randy Now: After we pulled the plug, they kept on playing and starting pouring rubbing alcohol onto the drum cymbals, setting it on fire and then hitting them so that the fire flew all over the place.
Mickey Ween: I was watching them from the dressing-room window, which was up over the stage. And they started doing the thing with the cymbal, pouring rubbing alcohol into it and letting it burn with a low, blue flame… until he hit it and the flames would shoot up. The flames were hitting the ceiling and then going horizontal, creeping along the roof. I don’t know if it actually caught on fire or was just smoldering, but it was clear it was all about to go up.
Mark Pesetsky: I see fire flying everywhere. Meanwhile the insulation from the ceiling is hanging down, and I’m thinking, that’s going to catch on fire any minute. So I started grabbing their beer and throwing it on the cymbals to douse the fire.
Randy Now: Fire was a sore subject to begin with, because before that we’d had Wendy O. Williams from The Plasmatics. She had a little cherry picker that she would use to go out over the crowd, and she set the ceiling on fire. A bouncer had to grab a fire extinguisher and put it out. Bands always wanted to do stuff with fire.
Mickey Ween: A security guard came onstage, and Gibby threw the alcohol on him. The dude just started backing away since it was clear that Gibby probably would set him on fire. And now, knowing Gibby like I do, it was definitely within the realm of possibility.
Mark Pesetsky: Gibby just gave me that psycho look with the Charles Manson eyes. He grabs a bottle of the rubbing alcohol, throws it on me, and then starts walking toward me with a lighter. At that point, John, the other bouncer, jumps offstage. It was every man for himself.
Gibby Haynes: Oh yeah, I do remember that. I mean, I’ve lit kids’ heads on fire and they were smiling! They were happy about it. If I was on fire, they figured they were safe too. When I say light their head on fire, I don’t engulf their head in flames. If you cover your hand in alcohol and light it on fire, for a quick moment you can touch the top of someone’s head and leave a handprint of flame on top of their head. And it’s really cool to look at. And people don’t even realize that their head’s been lit on fire, that’s how benign it is.
Mark Pesetsky: We turned around and went back to the stage, and we were both ready to hit him. I went up to Gibby and tapped him on the shoulder, and he turns around and sticks his hand out to shake my hand. So I shook his hand. But when they were loading out, I stole his guitar tuner.
Gibby Haynes: Alcohol burns at such a really low temperature. You can dump it on your hand and go “one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three, whoa!!!” and that’s how long you have before you feel it. Gas, you want to put it out quicker, and it’s a lot harder to put out. The first time I ever lit my hand on fire, I used lighter fluid and the flame would not go out. You have to deprive it 100% of oxygen before it will relinquish its fiery grip, and it’s a bitch. It’s a bummer to put it out once it gets going. I learned all this through trial and error.
Randy Now: The insulation caught on fire—or at least it seemed like it was going to—and that’s when Tut ran on stage with the fire extinguisher. He didn’t say anything. He just walked up there like he was the maintenance man and putting out fires was part of his job. With me, he was panicking, cursing, and yelling, but when he ran up on stage he was calm. Meanwhile, the band had no reaction. They were laughing. It was so surreal that maybe they didn’t realize a battle was going on. There was a battle happening on that stage, and it was The Bouncers vs. Gibby.
Gibby Haynes: We tried to create chaos, but it was never mean-spirited. It was never exploitative in nature. I would never play nasty pranks on people. There was no real philosophy behind it.
Mickey Ween: I remember seeing Tut in the middle of all of it. The band was a really intimidating band to look at, and they’re not pussies. I know guys in bands who are all artsy-fartsy, playing tough music, but they are not tough people. Paul and Gibby, though, are pretty athletic. They aren’t people you’d want to fight. And I always assumed those guys were on LSD. Gibby’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He can talk about anything, but you wouldn’t want to mess with him.
Randy Now: At one point I was up onstage, grabbing Gibby and shaking him. I also grabbed a towel and tried to put it on the dancer, but she ripped it off.
Mickey Ween: The drummers kept playing, Gibby is screaming into the megaphone, the staff opened the doors to kick people out, and that was it. The show was officially over. And it got scary when the audience realized the show was over. They started breaking stuff.
Randy Now: The soundman was trying to protect our equipment because we had no idea what was going on. But someone managed to steal that big 24-channel cable that I had just bought! I’m still pissed about it. How did they roll up a 100-foot cable and take it without anyone seeing? But the soundman is up there acting like nothing else is going on. He’s putting the mics into boxes. The fire didn’t bother him and the fire extinguisher didn’t bother him, and he was acting like nothing bizarre was going on. He was oblivious.
Tim Hinely: Everyone was milling around, yelling at the band, yelling at the bouncers, yelling at Randy. Finally, Randy came over the intercom and said, “Okay guys, it’s time to go.” And then people started leaving.
Mickey Ween: When the crowd got kicked out, they started taking rocks from the parking lot and throwing them. I remember someone throwing shit onto the cars and kicking out the headlights and grills of the cars parked along the front of the club. And that, to me, is what made it a certified riot. It was like, what the hell is going to happen here? I think Randy’s car got targeted.
Randy Now: Some of the people went out and started smashing cars. They were really charged up. We finally cleared the audience out, but the band refused to leave. We had to call the police to get them of the building. I told the cops, “This band refuses to leave the building.” The cops showed up and said, “Look, you guys gotta leave.”
Gibby Haynes: Was there police involvement? That’s because we wanted to get paid. We didn’t get paid! I want it known that’s why we didn’t leave. I remember talking to really absurdly dressed state police. Dudes who looked like they were wearing English riding pants.
Bart Mix (City Gardens bartender): When the police came in, they walked up to the bar and started looking at bands for upcoming shows. One of them goes, “What the hell is an Electric Love Muffin?!” They were angry over the name of a band.
Randy Now: When they agreed to leave, I paid Gibby the other 50% I owed them from the guarantee. I said, “You need to sign this before I give you the money.” I counted it out and held it in my hand and refused to give it over until he signed the receipt. Honestly, there was such a large crowd there, they probably could have gotten bonus money, but I wasn’t about to give them that. And now I’m glad, especially since they stole the cable! But I paid them their whole guarantee, which was $2,500.
After that, we could never book them again. We told their booking agent what happened: they started a riot onstage and tried to set a security guard on fire. I’m not sure if I told him about the naked woman. Their agent reamed me out and called me a bunch of dirty names. Somehow, when the story got back to him, I was to blame.
Tony Rettmen: When I look back on it, it was fucked up on so many levels. What was I doing in the middle of Trenton? Why was I seeing a naked woman? Why was I hearing this music? I was 12!
Mickey Ween: Sometimes I think people don’t believe me when I tell them what our first gig was like. I was never concerned for my safety. It’s still the best show I’ve ever seen, to this day.
“Punk was standing up against the stage, standing within the splash zone, catching stage divers, stage diving and hoping to get caught, listening to exciting, energetic, emotional, so-real-it-was-almost-insane music being played by exciting, energetic, emotional, so-real-they-were-almost-insane musicians in small rooms like CBGB’s, A7, and Maxwell’s in Hoboken. A bad show just wasn’t possible.”
“I feel like writing this book has been the culmination of a lifelong love affair with ska music. It hasn’t always been easy, particularly when I first started, but once I found my footing it’s been one of the most satisfying creative experiences of my life. Getting to write about what I love and talk to people about our shared love for ska music has been amazing. Most of the time it hasn’t felt like work. I’ve felt blessed and grateful that I’ve been given the chance to do this. “
“With hundreds and thousands of people in the scene you will for sure meet some new faces in the book. My hope for the film is also my hope for the book, I’d like to inspire young people worldwide to start their own scenes. To put down the video games (do I sound old yet?) and go outside and create a community. I would also like to inspire empathy and understanding with the individuals in this community, a community that is largely Latino, a community that has existed for generations. A community that worked for tens of thousands of hours, for free, to create a scene for themselves. I’d also like to illuminate the history and give counterpoint to the unfortunate assumption that punk is mostly young white kids and that the history of the Los Angeles punk scene begins and ends with Decline of Western Civilization Part 1. The punk scene, specifically the backyard punk scene, in Southern California existed before and during Decline and it and continues to this day.”
Marc Wasserman is no stranger to challenge. Whether on a stage or writing, Marc is not one to shy away from a daunting task. And now he’s initiated a bold undertaking in his attempt to put to paper an oral history of the American Ska scene. While still in its infancy, Marc’s as-yet-untitled collection of history and anecdotal experience centered around the birth and formation of America’s version of a British stalwart, the founder of New Jersey’s first ska band (Bigger Thomas) is at the outset of a historic venture. This is Marc’s first book, and it is also DiWulf’s first foray into the American ska scene. Marc, who divides his time between writing and performing, is finding the demands of being an author intense but satisfying. Tackling the history of such a revered and storied art form is not something to be taken lightly, and he is finding new challenges with every story told.
What was your impetus for writing this book? What made you decide to undertake this project?
I’ve written a ska blog called Marco on the Bass for some time. My goal has always been to tell the stories of bands, DJs, and people who love ska and reggae music. At one point I focused on posts about all the bands of the New York City ska scene of the mid-80s. I interviewed band members and at one point held a reunion party for the 25th anniversary of the iconic NY Beat: Hit & Run LP released by Moon Records that included all the key bands that were part of the NYC ska scene. That opened my eyes to the idea of documenting the origins of the larger American ska and reggae scene of the mid-70’s through late-80s that was influenced by the 2-Tone movement as well as other musical genres like 80s new wave, punk, and hardcore. It’s an incredibly rich subculture that led to the explosion of the 3rd wave ska in the 1990s with bands like Sublime, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and more who drew their inspiration from bands like the Untouchables, Bim Skala Bim, the Toasters, Fishbone, and the Uptones.
Tell us a little bit about your life in music. When and how did you discover ska?
Hearing the Specials first album at a friend’s house in 1979 when I was 14 was a life changing experience for me. What I heard confused me at first. The sounds were alien. It was manic and gritty. The syncopated beat was different than anything I had ever heard, and the lyrics were almost indecipherable. But the punk energy of it was amazing, and the reggae vibe and its message resonated with me immediately. It was like a switch was turned on in my brain and I was immediately connected to something much larger. Suddenly, I felt like I was home. I immediately became a disciple of 2-Tone and bands like English Beat, the Selecter, Madness, Bad Manners, as well as UB40 and Steel Pulse. That was the start to a musical journey that has included starting the first ska band in New Jersey in 1988 – Bigger Thomas - and playing ska and reggae music for the next 30 years! I’m still at it, playing live with Rude Boy George and a studio project called Heavensbee.
I know you’re in the early stages of research and writing, what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far?
How much more of the story I need to tell! By that I mean, that each interview I do leads me down another path to another story and so on. I thought I knew the whole story but the more I dig the more I realize there is so much more of a story to tell. It’s both overwhelming and exhilarating!
What do you hope people will take away from this book when all is said and done?
I don’t feel that the American version of ska gets the love and respect that other uniquely American sub-genres like punk, hip hop, and hardcore do. I’m hoping through the stories I’m collecting to show how important this music was to a lot of people. This is music that really changed the course of people’s lives. It’s amazing to learn how hearing a ska or reggae song moved a lot of a people to become musicians, promoters and DJs and those people created music scenes that impacted thousands of other people.
Who are some of the people you’ve interviewed so far? Do you have a favorite interview at this point?
I’ve been amazed at how interesting everyone’s individual stories have been. There is something hilarious, moving, harrowing, and sad in nearly every story that I’ve heard. It’s the human condition with a ska and reggae soundtrack! That said, a few interviews have really stood out. Ron Rhoades of The Shakers was particularly fascinating. The Shakers were the first American reggae band. They built a huge following in Berkley, CA in the mid-‘70s and were signed by David Geffen to Elektra/Asylum Records in 1975. Their story is a microcosm of the music business of that time, but also about how far ahead of the curve they were. No one got reggae music in 1976 in the halls of a major record label. I also really enjoyed interviewing Vicky Rose, who was the original bass player for The Toasters. She was one of the few female musicians in the nascent American ska scene of the early ‘80s. She also paints a vibrant picture of the East Village at that time, including a rehearsal space on Avenue A that was home base for The Toasters but also for the Beastie Boys and Bad Brains and many others.
What made you decide to tell the story using the oral history format?
At one point, a long time ago, I considered being an academic, so an oral history seems like the most accurate and academic way to tell a larger historical story from many varying points of view. Also, I didn’t want to bias the larger story with my point of view. But, I also find the spirit of oral histories to be super creative. They provide a ton of leeway in how you can approach telling a big story. Two recent oral histories that I loved reading and that have served as blueprints for my approach include Mad World – An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined The 1980s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein and Walls Come Tumbling Down: Rock Against Racism, 2-Tone, Red Wedge by Daniel Rachel. I hope my book is as good as both of those books.
What has been the most difficult part of writing this book for you?
The most difficult part of writing this book is the actual idea of writing a book –if that makes sense. I’ve never written a book, so intellectually that’s been daunting. But the best advice I’ve received is to just put my head down and do the work and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m a hard worker and I’ve just been trusting my instincts, which, I think, is a good way to go. I see two parts to this process. The first phase is the research and interviewing process. I’m deep into that now. It’s a lot, and there are still a lot of people I need to speak with. Knowing when I’ve reached the end of that phase is one I worry about. I’m always worried I’ll miss that one key story. The second phase is the actual writing phase. I think that will be fun, but I still need to find the thread that holds the story together. I have an idea of how to do that, but I won’t know until I sit down and look at all the stories I’ve got. And it will be a lot of stories!
As a ska fan, why do you, personally, think this book is necessary?
I’ve had a lifelong love affair with ska and reggae. The music helped me get through some very difficult times when I was young, and being in ska bands; being a part of ska scenes has provided me with a surrogate family that means the world to me. As corny as it may sound, writing this book is my way of giving back to so many people who have given me so much and have inspired me through their music. Plus, the story of American ska is one that deserves to be told.
Your love and passion for ska has been well documented through your blog and your many years being a part of the culture. Is there any other type of music you listen to or that inspires you?
I’m equally as obsessed with ‘80s new wave as I am with ska. 2-Tone ska and reggae revealed harsh economic, social, and racial injustices with a power and a fury that was undeniable, but also danceable. It forever influenced my worldview and moved me to learn an instrument and start a ska band. While ‘80s new wave retained the vigor and irreverence of ‘70s punk music that had fueled 2 Tone, it incorporated style and art in a way that opened my world to ideas of love, friendship, fashion, and helped give form to my own burgeoning identity. I sought refuge in new wave's incredible diversity of nervy pop (XTC), synth pop (Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Human League), new wave songwriters (Elvis Costello), pop bands (Squeeze, INXS), pop-reggae (The Police) and more mainstream rockers (Billy Idol, The Romantics). Here in the US, 2-Tone was lumped in with new wave, so, in many ways, despite their completely different musical worldviews, they are inextricably linked in my musical consciousness.
What do you think is the reason for the longevity ska has enjoyed as a movement, as fashion inspiration, and as a music scene?
That’s a question I’ve asked a lot of the people I’m interviewing. Despite the diversity of the people I’m talking to, they almost always say that ska music helps to dance the blues away. When it’s done right, there is an undeniable power and energy to it that is emotionally and physically satisfying. You feel it in your soul. As a musical form it’s also mutable, which has had a lot to do with the more American forms of the genre: ska-punk, ska-core, etc., that appeared in the mid-‘90s. I think the 2-Tone dress style that was driven by the traditional Jamaican rude boy look just never goes out of style. Looking sharp and fashionable has always been as important as sounding good!
What can readers expect from your book?
If I do it right, I hope they can expect an epic story on how the music of Jamaica – ska, rocksteady and reggae-- has served as the inspiration for a uniquely American version with its own subculture. At the very least they will be able to read some very entertaining stories from a very diverse group of people who, at one point or another, have made ska music the be-all-end-all of their lives.
Do you have a title for the book yet?
I’ve got an idea for a title that I’ve shared with a few people and their reactions have been positive, but I want to sleep on it a bit longer before I reveal it.
It is with great excitement that we announce Freddy Alva's first book; Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore has COMPLETELY SOLD OUT of its inaugural print run. The book, which presents a unique history of the intersection of two New York subcultures: graffiti art and NYHC. Along the way, Urban Styles has garnered critical acclaim for its in-depth research and attention to detail. It stands as an important document that legitimizes and oft-overlook aspect of New York's hardcore scene of the '80s and '90s: graffiti art and the subculture that grew around it. This is DiWulf's second book, and it is the second to completely sell out. I think we're on to something here...
We here at DiWulf want to congratulate Freddy and art director Orlando Arce for their amazing, tireless work in bringing this story to light. They have created a book that now sits among the hallowed annals of hardcore history. Our thanks go out to everyone who took the time to be interviewed in the book; to all those who donated photos and artwork, and, most importantly, to all the people who supported Urban Styles from the very beginning. This was truly an independent, DIY effort that could not have been possible without the contributions and support from the all the people who believed in the project.
Plans for a second printing are in the works. As of yet we do not have a definite timetable for when that will happen, but there will eventually be a second printing of Urban Styles so keep your eyes open!
From Amy and Steve at DiWulf: Thank you to all those who have stood by us and believed in the work we are doing. To all those who bought a copy of Urban Styles; who told a friend about it or posted about it on social media: THANK YOU. As a small publisher dedicated to publishing niche books, word-of-mouth support is the most important thing to our survival, so we owe you a HUGE debt of gratitude.
Congratulations to Freddy on such a rousing success and we can't wait to work with you again!
DiWulf Publishing House has made its primary mission to document and celebrate subculture in its many forms. One of the most important facets of the punk and hardcore DIY scene has always been the proliferation of the fanzine. In fact, the ‘zine represents the ultimate expression of true independent publishing, one of the founding principles for us here at DiWulf. In a time when no established, “respectable” publications would cover underground scenes, the fanzine was there to broadcast and inform and, most importantly, to inspire. It was the most important part of underground music in terms of communication and information and it was a very powerful tool for kids who would otherwise be voiceless. It can not be overstated how important ‘zine culture is and was to the underground movement, and it is something that is very close to our hearts, and, naturally, we wanted to represent what a huge influence ‘zines were to us both personally and as authors and publishers.
And now DiWulf presents its own ode to ‘zine culture: a retrospective anthology of the seminal NY/NJ/PA ‘zine Hard Times. Tentatively scheduled for an early-2019 release, the as-yet-untitled anthology will contain all seven issues that were published, as well as the long-lost and never-published eighth issue, which featured Government Issue frontman John Stabb on the cover. Included in the book will be all original interviews along with record, ‘zine, and show reviews, scene reports, political commentary, and some really great photography from Hard Times creator and publisher Ron Gregorio. Hard Times was a glossy black and white printed ‘zine that ran from 1984-1985 and covered some of the biggest names in punk and hardcore history.
Hard Times was also a starting point for DiWulf Publishing House co-founder and author of No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the legendary City Gardens Amy Yates Wuelfing. Amy’s presence is featured throughout Hard Times’ life span and her interviews and reviews are a creatively intimate look into her young career as a writer and historian. While the Hard Times anthology will surely spark waves of nostalgia for any east coast punk from the ‘80s, it will also serve as a reminder of the exuberance of youth and a cultural barometer for what was happening in ’84 and ’85.
Included in the features are several interviews with punk and hardcore luminaries like Samhain, Cause For Alarm, Jello Biafra, Ian MacKaye, Butthole Surfers, U.K. Subs, Flipper, The Meatmen, John Lydon, Circle Jerks, The Replacements, and many more.
We will be bringing you all the information as this project moves forward right here on our website, as well as all release date and pre-sale information as it becomes available. We also have a few cool surprises we are working on to go with the book and may even have a few old, original issues of Hard Times stashed away in the DiWulf basement…
We cannot express how excited we are about this book; it is a true labor of love, and it will be something that will add just another small piece to the rich history of the punk and hardcore subculture.
DiWulf Publishing House is very excited to announce a new member of the family: Marc Wasserman. Marc is embarking on his passion project: constructing an oral history of the American Ska scene and its place in American subculture. Marc, who has been collecting stories and researching histories for some time now, is currently in the process of putting all the material together. The as-yet-untitled book will be told through the recollections and anecdotes of the people who lived it: the musicians who were heavily influenced by the 2-Tone stuff from the UK, the historians who documented and supported the scene from its infancy, the bands that made music and toured relentlessly, and the fans who fell in love with the American counterpart of a beloved British subculture.
Marc, a New Jersey native, has been playing bass in the band he co-founded decades ago: Bigger Thomas. Bigger Thomas, who were originally known as Panic!, hold the prestigious distinction of being the first Ska band from New Jersey. These days he splits his time between his latest outfit, Rude Boy George;; a band that re-imagines '80s hits in Ska and Reggae formats, and keeping up with his highly-regarded blog Marco on the Bass.
In keeping with DiWulf's family tradition, Marc has long-standing ties with both Amy and Steve, DiWulf's founders. Marc was a big contributor to Amy and Steve's first book: No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens. Marc was a veteran of New Jersey's most infamous punk club, and the relationship he forged with promoter Randy Now has been a long and fruitful collaboration that lasts to this day. It was a natural fit for his first book to be published by DiWulf and it is a bit of a homecoming for both publisher and author.
Marc's book plans to cover the years 1979-1986 and will focus on both well-known names like The Toasters and Bim Skala Bim, as well as smaller regional scenes and the Ska bands those scenes produced. Right now he is in the earliest stages of gathering material and research. DiWulf is looking towards the end of 2018 as a tentative release date.
Marc's book and his alliance with DiWulf illustrate the publisher's devotion to working with and giving voice to first-time authors as well as reinforcing the company's dedication to celebrating and preserving subculture in all its eclectic forms. DiWulf is, first and foremost, a family, and having Marc aboard is a natural fit for both author and publisher.
Stay tuned for more information...