When Amy Met Steven: A Not So Brief History of DiWulf Publishing and the Little Book That Could...

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By: Steven DiLodovico

I often get asked how I got involved with co-writing No Slam Dancing. Did I know Amy from back in the day? That sort of thing. It’s kind of a funny story. Well, you may find some smiles in it; to me it’s more of a rescue tale than anything else. A harrowing escape, it was. From the depths of a hell-filled indignity I arose… ok, that’s a bit much.

But, for real, she did get my ass out of a bad, bad situation.

I had been living in Charlotte, North Carolina (don’t ask, it’s an even longer story than this, and one I am not at all fond of) for a few years doing nothing but existing. That, and informally adopting colonies of feral cats. I worked in the service industry; a befitting fate for someone as miserable and un-customer-service-friendly as I. I hated it. I hated my life. My wife was just as miserable. The business of existing was thoroughly inhibiting our desire to live.

I was scratching out a few bucks here and there doing some freelance writing. I hated that, too. Lots of “ehow.com” how-to articles for $15 a pop. You know; the big money. I had neither talent nor drive. I hated writing; I hated the act of writing and the self-abasement contained therein. Mostly I just couldn’t stand the sound of my voice in my head dictating the words.

I had a small gig; I forget who it was for, to write about my own experiences in the Philly hardcore scene of the ‘80s. It was nothing major, but it was better than writing step-by-step instructions for changing turntable belts and the other dumb shit I was writing. The piece was turning into more of an essay/memoir than an actual historic document. I was recalling all the great shows I had seen in such hallowed venues as Pizzazz, Revival and such, and I thought to myself; what about that place in Jersey we always went to? City Gardens? I honestly had not thought about City Gardens in well over 10 years. I figured I had to at least give the place a mention, since it had been so important to me at the time. When I was going there I knew practically nothing about the place. I knew there was some guy named randy who ran the place, and I knew that most of the Philly promoters absolutely hated him. That’s about all I had to go with, so I figured I better do some research.

There was no Facebook or Twitter or any of that other shit (Facebook may have been in its infancy at the time; this was late in 2007. If Facebook did exist, I sure didn’t know about it.) I went with the standard Google search and, surprisingly, found very little information about City Gardens. I did find something called “The Seedy Gardeners Group.” It was a Yahoo news group kind of deal, where members went back and forth with conversations via group emails (how quaint!). So I joined and began throwing about general questions asking to speak to anyone who attended shows (specifically hardcore shows) at City Gardens. Just about all of the responses I got were to the effect of: “most of us in this group went to the dance nights at City Gardens and were more into new wave than hardcore. Sorry.” I had effectively given up when I got this message from a woman named Amy:

Email me off group. I have a calendar with every City Gardens show.

Intriguing, to say the least. I emailed her. She told me she was writing a book about City Gardens and she had compiled a calendar with show dates and bills that covered about 15 years’ worth of the club’s existence. Now that was pretty fucking impressive. She sent me something called a PDF file. I had no idea what that was and it took me four days to figure out how to open it. Once I did, though, the floodgates opened and there was no stopping the heavy rush of nostalgia and sentimentality that washed over me. So many shows… So many that I had forgotten more than I remembered (there would come a time, a few years later when I was fully immersed in the writing of this book, where old friends would tell me detailed accounts of shows I had been to with them that I had no memory of. This would become a very common occurrence).

I was at a dead end. I had nothing... I thought of all the people I needed to interview and it just made me want to get drunk and forget the whole thing. My efforts to bamboozle someone - ANYONE - into doing this book with me came to nothing. And then this message appeared from some a-hole I never heard of. Steve? Who was this dick?
— Amy Yates Wuelfing

Even stronger than the memories of the shows was the memory of friends I hadn’t seen in so many years. The fun times, the scary times… everything we shared. I was very excited that someone was writing a book about City Gardens, and I enthusiastically volunteered to help in any way I could. Amy offered to send me a chapter she already had done and I couldn’t wait to read it. She sent me a link to a site called the Rumpus. They had posted the (now-infamous) story of the Butthole Surfers wreaking havoc in their own, special way. I was blown away. It wasn’t just the story that got me; it was the format. I had never read an oral history before. I quickly dashed off several of my own recollections and sent them to Amy. We began chatting through email. Amy and I were from two different eras. I was the young late-comer to everything; uninterested in anything that wasn’t hardcore, thrash, etc. The hard stuff. Amy was a new wave/dance night girl who covered a lot of early hardcore while doing her ‘zine Hard Times in the early ‘80s. We both had our areas of expertise and it was almost too perfect how complementary they were.

A few months went by and I kept sending Amy stories. I must have sent over a dozen, and I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of my City Gardens life. I really wanted to contribute to this book. Again, it was the format that pulled me in so deeply. All these different perspectives telling their details of the same story. It was sometimes contradictory and sometimes eerie the way two strangers would point out the smallest details and describe them identically. Meanwhile, Amy and I formed an electronic friendship. I would write her early in the morning before I left for my soul-killing job and return home each night to her reply. No, I didn’t have a phone where I could check email. I didn’t even have a flip phone then. Just a landline. I was always excited when I saw her name in my inbox, and always disappointed when I didn’t. She became a lifeline to my home and my previous life. I wanted in, and I was going to keep pestering her until she asked. I asked her if she had any contacts into the world of the later hardcore bands; the post-’86 wave. She didn’t. Either did I, really, but then I found this Facebook thing…

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PART II

So, there I was: stuck in Carolina and writing like a madman. Writing to live, really. I got by on more “how-to” articles, interviewing bottom-of-the-barrel porn stars (true story!), and freelancing for a bunch of Hip Hop Magazines. I got to interview some really cool people, and it was fun and all, but I wasn’t making any money. Every week something got cut off; electric, water, gas… It was a laughable combination of juggling and plate-spinning, and each day something new crashed. And me on my psychotic unicycle looking ridiculous amidst the buffoonery.  And with each shut-off notice came that dull, impotent anger and guilt-ridden shame of not being an earner of any worth. I just wanted to write; to disappear into that page and forget everything around me but it’s hard when you have a wife staring at you, wondering how the bills are going to get paid…

Each day got a little brighter, though; messages from Amy were a godsend. We would have these really great conversations through email and things were beginning to really click between us. Amy had a very motherly persona; I could tell that even before I heard her voice. As evidence I point to her many stray cat adoptions. She’s that lady in the neighborhood that feeds all the lowly wretches; she has room in her heart for every unkempt straggler, both human and animal. Amy was also very structured, organized and able to get shit done. I could tell just from her emails. She wrote me a proper resume to help me get a decent job (I had no problem getting jobs, I’m hip to the interview gimmick and how it works. What I was not good at was keeping my mouth shut long enough to actually keep the job. I usually got fired after about 6 months. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…)

I was really, really interested in her book. I wanted to be a part of it any way I could and I pestered her with every little thing I could remember about City Gardens. At this point, I’m pretty sure we hadn’t even talked on the phone yet.

I started contacting people; bands mostly. Almost every person I contacted from the hardcore scene of my era was enthusiastic and helpful. Jordan Cooper at Revelation Records gave me email addresses of a large part of the Rev roster circa 87-91. Every person I spoke to turned me on to two or three new contacts and it kept growing. The first person I interviewed was Richie Birkenhead. In my mind, it may as well have been Bowie or someone of that stature. I was that much of a fan and I was incredibly nervous. Luckily it was a phone interview. Richie was very mellow, very nice and endured a good two hours of me gushing about how much I loved all of his bands. Again: I couldn’t have been more un-punk.

I would transcribe these interviews from cheap microcassettes that had been used in a tape (TAPE??) recorder that was at least 25 years old. I’d send them off to Amy and tell her to do whatever she wanted with them. I didn’t care; at that point I was just excited to connect with people whose music had been such a big part of my life. Well, I guess my insidious plan of constant bombardment worked, because soon enough I got an email “formally” asking me to co-author No Slam Dancing with her. Fuck YEAH!

It’s fair to say that that day, that question changed my life forever.

I began conducting more and more interviews. All phoners; all done with my pitiful little tape recorder running the whole time. One interview would lead to two more introductions; conversations of, “oh, you should really talk to this person. They have a lot of City Gardens’ stories.” The scope of this thing began to unfold exponentially. It was very exciting to me; I had never attempted anything so ambitious and the escape it provided was invaluable. When I couldn’t even scrape together enough money to buy new microcassettes, I’d tell Amy, and within a day or two there’d be a package in the mail straight from some office supply chain with packs of tapes. When I couldn’t pay my phone bill to actually do the interviews, Amy would say, “send me the information,” and within an hour it would be back on and working. I’m not proud of these things, but this is the absolute truth. She had never met me, and was doing all this for me. For my family. Without having laid eyes on her, I was ready to do anything she wanted. In an instant she was elevated to that skinhead level of “I would take a bullet for this person” devotion. In my world, that’s the highest honor I could bestow on anyone, and Amy is more than deserving.

But, still, there was a lot of work to be done…

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PART III: Amy’s Version

Since Steve is giving his side of the story of how we met – I will give mine.

I started working on this book years ago. How many? I don’t know. I say 15, but I fear it’s been longer than that. Finnegans Wake took less time. The Brooklyn Bridge was built in less time. At times I said I was done with this stupid project, screw it, I’m not doing it. But the Universe was having none it. The story of City Gardens and Randy Now was getting told. By me. No way around it.

I had one bright shining moment when the Butthole Surfers piece was published on The Rumpus – and then nothing. I was at a dead end.  I had nothing. I would sit there looking at interview transcripts and wonder, What the hell am I supposed to do with this? I thought of all the people I needed to interview and it just made me want to get drunk and forget the whole thing. My efforts to bamboozle someone – ANYONE – into doing this book with me came to nothing. And then this message appeared on the Seedy Gardens Yahoo newsgroup from some a-hole I never heard of.  Steve? Who was this dick? He was all like, I went to City Gardens and does anyone have a list of shows?  My first impulse was to ignore it, but I couldn’t.

Emails were exchanged and I could tell this was the sucker, ah – I mean person – I was waiting for. And he knew that whole later era of City Gardens, the era when I had sort of stopped going as much.  Literally, a prayer had been answered.

I think the point is never give up. If you’re a creative person and you hit hard times, JUST KEEP GOING. Don’t let circumstances take your vision away. Ever.  Keep doing the work, keep producing. You never know what you’ll encounter. It could be life-changing.  It was for us.

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PART IV

Social media made No Slam Dancing happen; made it a reality. Suddenly, digging up legends from the past was simple. Contacting them was even easier. Selling them on participating in a book about City Gardens was the easiest part of the entire process. The people who played there had almost as strong a connection with the place as the people who went there. I don’t want to speak in such sacrilegious terms, but I have to imagine the kind of reverence I got from people when they spoke of City Gardens was similar to that which people attached to CBGB’s. I’m not comparing the two clubs (or scenes) by any means, just saying that people had a fondness for City Gardens that went beyond just the structure of the building.

Well, I was working hard; every day was spent engulfed in this world of the past. I found old friends (“show friends”) and we would re-live those great memories through pictures of shows, old fliers, etc. I was getting a lot of interviews on tape; connecting with a lot of people. But there was a wall I was hitting: I was too far away, geographically speaking. I needed to get home.

And, in so many ways, this is what the whole City Gardens project was about for me: going home. I had been away 10 years and now it was time. I couldn’t get anything done being so far away. Phone interviews are great, but it’s just not the same as being able to look a person in the eye when you’re interviewing them. I’ve learned a lot about the interview process: I have found the subtle ways to coax a subject down the avenues you need to get down without being obvious or obtrusive. It was fascinating, and I felt the process evolving as I did. The art of the interview is not an easy thing, especially for me. It’s a constant struggle for me to NOT talk; to just ask a question and let the subject say his or her piece. I talk too goddamn much. I get real excited, especially when the topic is music, and start interjecting and exclaiming. Trying to transcribe my interviews is a fucking NIGHTMARE because I often step all over the responses. And, more than anything, I really, REALLY hate the sound of my voice! This is why I’ve NEVER let anyone else transcribe my interview tapes. I play them back and get the biggest douchechills just listening to myself talk. It’s horrifying.

But jumping into this project was the ultimate trial by fire and I sure did jump in head-first. I navigated on instinct and enthusiasm and a strong sense of purpose. I’ve never taken a single college class; I’ve never studied anything about “journalism” and this flaw was a huge hurdle in terms of self-doubt and lack of confidence. But, again, it was just the sense of purpose; of needing to be a part of this, that drove me. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? Yeah, I’m the fucking KING of that.

So, we went all in (“we” being my wife and I and our two cats). I called in some favors and tried to see about moving back to Philly. I knew in my gut this was what I had to do. Amy had been pleading with me to move for months now. She often offered her home as a place for us to live, and, again, let me stress: we had never even met face to face. I knew Amy only as a facebook picture and a warm voice on the phone. But I had reservations. Doubts. Fears. Bouts of paralyzing anxiety. I am a huge weirdo, with all sorts of annoying habits and “quirks” and I’ve only ever met one person who could put up with living with me (I married her). I didn’t want to inflict myself on these good people. But Amy kept insisting.

I had this job; I was working in an HR call-center that served as an outsourced department for employee health benefits enrollment. It was a giant entity that took on huge corporations as clients and pretended to be their HR department. Companies like Sears and K-Mart and whatever behemoth puppeteer controlled their strings. Their employees called us when it was time for them to re-up their health insurance. They actually thought we were part of whatever company they worked for. Usually the callers were just so happy to hear a voice that spoke English as its first language that they never stopped to think about if we were at all qualified to advise them on their health plans. What a fucking joke. We were $12 an hour wage slaves who couldn’t give two shits about the people calling. It was a 90 minute bus ride each way for me and it was fucking miserable. The last straw was when we were told that our department’s new client was going to be General Dynamics. General Dynamics orchestrated war and did absolutely nothing on this planet but construct things whose only functions were to kill and harm human beings. We got this huge presentation from a couple of over-hyper suits sporting raging war-boners. For real: even the lady suit had a rock-hard warrection while describing missiles and tanks and god knows what else. The people around me got excited, too, which was kind of disgusting and scary. I was sick to my stomach and, on a break, called my wife. I was almost in tears. Crisis of conscience? I’ll say.

So, we loaded up the truck and we moved to Beverly. I mean, Morrisville, that is. We cut all ties with Charlotte, having worn out our welcome there several years before. Just us, the cats, a few meager possessions, and one long-ass drive. Do you have any idea how frigging big the state of Virginia is? It’s forever big and takes twice as long to drive through. But we made it. Barely. It had been a long time since I had to worry about gas prices (the last time I owned a car was somewhere around 1994) and I was continually amazed at how often I had to stop and just how damn much money it took to fill that U-Haul up! We seriously didn’t think we’d make the last 20 miles or so, and as we pulled into my parents’ driveway I knew I was going to have to borrow money to get enough gas to make it to Amy’s.

We made it and it was the middle of a weekday, so Amy was doing her 9-5 thing. Her husband let us in and showed us to the room where we would be staying. And that’s when it all came clear to me. In a small bedroom towards the back of the house was a room filled with memorabilia. Some really cool stuff, too. Deep purple walls, Leopard print on the rug, a green vintage couch, a neon light up that said “lounge…” It was a neat, comfortable room. I almost missed it. It blended in so well with the rest of the décor. On the wall, perfectly matted and framed, was a punk rock collage that was beautiful to me. There, under glass, sat three never-folded record sleeves for Halloween, Three Hits From Hell and Bullet. Originals. Assembled in Glenn’s mom’s basement in Lodi New Jersey. Three perfectly un-creased, perfectly preserved and mounted for all the world to see and probably untouched in decades. They were pristine. Just the sleeves, no records or inserts or anything, up there on display like it was perfectly normal to hang such things in a home. It was a sign. It was an immense sign; a portentous forbearing of how all this would go. And it would go swimmingly. It told me that my decision was right; that this was where I belonged. That this was the first step down a path I was meant to travel. Seeing Amy’s Misfits sleeves hanging there so casually was a comfort beyond words and a boost of strength after such arduous journeys.

We had hours to pass, my wife and I, before our host came home and we would actually have the chance to set eyes on our punk rock benefactor. We stretched out under the Misfits monument and talked quietly. I felt a calm come over me; a certitude that only comes from knowing deep in your heart that you are right. It was a joy to know such peace and confidence and I could feel it sooth both of us. She felt it, too.

When Amy came home it was more like a reunion than a first meeting. There were hugs and excited talking. Amy laughed off the Misfits sleeve’s so casually. “Oh, those? Yeah, Glenn gave them to a guy I did a ‘zine with back in the day, and he gave them to me…” Yeah, cause that kind of stuff is no big deal, right? I was freaking out!!!!

We knew we were onto something here, we just didn’t know what, or exactly where it was going to go. But in those first few hours I don’t think either of us cared. Amy had some long-desired help with this burden of a book and I had the long-desired purpose for which I had been searching all my life. We settled in for a cold, cold winter. I hadn’t seen a Philly winter like that in over 10 years. We hunkered down and began walking up a long, snowy hill that at times was such an insane idea, neither of could believe we were attempting to do this.

The real work had now begun. It would be another 4 or 5 years before No Slam Dancing was finished, but we persevered and, eventually, we had a finished book in hand. The problem: no one had any interest in publishing it. We got a fancy agent and everything. No help. We were told it was “too Jersey,” that it “wasn’t sexy enough.” We had no idea what these things meant and we started to get discouraged. But we were not undeterred.

Around this time a new thing was kind of taking over social media: Kickstarter. Now, I get the criticisms of Kickstarter, I truly do. In many ways it is little more than digital panhandling for people who have no business creating anything. But, back before facebook went super-crypto with all their content-suppressing algorithms: you could post just about anything and all the people who followed your public page would see everything you posted. Oh, those were halcyon days. So, Amy and I dove in to Kickstarter and we relied on every DIY lesson 25 years of punk and hardcore had taught us. We figured that if people really wanted to see this book happen they’d be willing to contribute to its production. We were right.

The highlight of the No Slam Dancing days was obviously having Amy booked on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That was one of the greatest nights of our lives. And it was HUGE for what we wanted to accomplish. The day after the episode aired we sold out our entire first print run. We quickly set a second in motion and sold all of those as well. It was fucking insane.

And that feeling; that sheer joy of seeing something through to the end; to contributing to a history that we loved and revered, and to see it all come to fruition in a very grass-roots kind of way, was inspiring to us. We wanted to do the same for other authors we respected and admired; authors who might face the same publishing challenges we did. We wanted to provide a home for history, especially the histories that would be overlooked by the mainstream world. We wanted to make dangerous literature and vivid histories. What began as a last-minute name invented just to have something on the spine of No Slam Dancing became an entity itself. DiWulf Publishing House: Heavy Lit Is Our Specialty.

 

-Steven DiLodovico December 2017

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