Nancy Barile has called the Boston area home for a few decades now, but within a few minutes of meeting her it’s easy to tell she’s a Philly girl through and through. Born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, this nice Catholic School girl found an early rebellion in the emerging punk scene of the late-‘70s and it was the perfect antidote to the stifled creativity and sadistic nuns that ruled her early years. It didn’t take long for Ms. Barile to find an adoptive family of punks, misfits, creative personalities, and music-loving kids devoted to the same principles of freedom. As the title of her forthcoming book suggests, Nancy was no wallflower bystander, and she certainly wasn’t an accessory for the mostly-male punks that dominated the scene at the time. In fact, as detailed in her memoir; Hold my Coat? Not in Philly: The True Story of a Female Punk Pioneer, Nancy tells a tale of women who were very active in the nascent (and very inclusive) Philadelphia punk scene. This was a world where the typical groupie narrative was eschewed; where female stereotypes were decimated and discredited by a small group of women who lived for and by the music, and who were just as involved in growing the scene as the boys were. And while her early roots took hold in the city of brotherly love, it was a fairytale romance with a Boston hardcore icon that led to the second chapter of her life: a highly lauded and unanimously respected teacher in Revere, MA.
Now, in her new book, she not only describes the origins of Philadelphia’s punk scene with a great sense of history, she also tells her story of empowerment and achievement. The correlations are easy: being a teacher in a society that does not value education as much as it should, Nancy used all her DIY capabilities to make a positive difference in her students’ lives by utilizing any and every means possible. It is upon the foundation of punk and hardcore that Nancy has constructed an inclusive environment for students; teaching them the first tenet of hardcore: always stand up for yourself; always fight for what you believe. And never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot be.
What was your inspiration for writing this book? When did you first start to think that your story would make for a good book?
I started to share stories from “back in the day” on Facebook and Instagram, especially when I posted a photo or there was an anniversary of a show I remembered. People seemed to enjoy these reflections, and several said; “You need to write a book.” Since I work as a content writer and storyteller in my side hustle, it wasn’t so hard for me to put my stories into book form. Another huge impetus was the amount of misinformation and assumptions about women’s participation and role in the punk/hardcore scene that I had been reading. As an educator, feminist, documentarian, and punk, I felt the need to clarify the record a bit.
What is the overview of the book? I understand a lot has to do with your days in the music scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
My book is just my little tale of being an alienated and marginalized Catholic schoolgirl who loved music and was fortunate to be at the epicenter of something magical and exciting. It’s basically a love letter to Philadelphia, its punks, its women, and its punk and hardcore scene. At its core, it's a reflection on the power and importance of music.
We know you’re a teacher; what do you teach? How old are the kids that you teach?
For the past 24 years, I’ve been teaching English Language Arts to students in a low income, urban, multicultural high school – mostly juniors and seniors, 16 to 19 years old. I also teach in the undergraduate and Graduate School of Education at Emmanuel College, where I teach students of a variety of ages, who want to be teachers.
If you hadn’t become a teacher what occupation do you think you might have ended up in?
I think about that all the time. There’s a chance I might have continued in the music business, maybe managing a band, working as a promoter or running a club – but that work is tough. I might have ended up in a non-profit sector fighting for a cause. I was a behavioral science major, so I could have ended up being a therapist or counselor. I love dogs, so maybe I’d run a shelter or rescue facility. But teaching is something that I wanted to do since I was about 5 years old.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
Building relationships with my students to help them achieve is my favorite thing about teaching. When you see that light in a student’s eyes, or you provide your students with an opportunity they might not have, or you help them overcome an obstacle standing in the way of their success – that’s an exciting, rewarding feeling.
Tell us about the title of your book. What’s it mean? Where did it come from?
I remember over the years hearing stories (from men) about how women weren’t up front or in the pit at shows. Basically, some men said they would tell the women to “hold their coats” while they participated in the action. As someone who was up front and in the pit with my female friends at many shows I took offense and I had a great deal of evidence to prove that, while it may have been true for some, for many women, the whole “hold my coat” notion was insulting and patently false. In addition, there were plenty of female punk pioneers on stage, too. So, I thought I’d stick my two cents in, and this seemed like an apt title for my story.
In your book, you speak often about how your years learning and doing things in the DIY style of punk rock helped prepare you for your teaching career. Can you tell us a little about that? What similarities have you found in both worlds?
I realized pretty quickly that despite years of schooling, multiple degrees, and countless hours of professional development, punk rock contributed much more to my ability to connect with and help my students than any teacher training program. It was through punk rock that I was able to understand and reach disenfranchised and marginalized teens—mainly because I was one—and so were my friends. Punk enabled me to recognize the importance of self-expression through language, and so, as a teacher, I encourage my students to tap into the power of words to communicate anger and joy, and, of course, to change the world. Punk rock introduced me to a diverse and multicultural world. It taught me to believe in the strength of music and the arts to break down racial, ethnic, and class barriers to unite people. The punk creed I subscribed to railed against racism, prejudice, and hatred of any kid. Now, as a teacher, I often create assignments that ask my students to take a stand despite conflicting data, complicated politics, and intense societal pressure. I want to equip my students with the skills necessary to understand perspectives and cultures, to comprehend and critique, and to demonstrate independence. The do-it-yourself work ethic, so vital to the punk rock scene in the early ‘80s, has proven immensely valuable in gaining resources, knocking down walls, and refusing to take no for an answer when it comes to my students. And that sets a strong example for them. Punk taught me not to be manipulated for the sake of a personal agenda, especially if I believe it will harm my students. Most importantly, even at this age, and because of punk rock, I continue to question authority – a fact that still gets me into trouble from time to time. But I refuse to blindly follow the directives of leaders who attempt to compromise my integrity or the integrity of those whom I am entrusted to help. In my classroom, punk rock lives on.
You have some pretty interesting stories of going to punk shows in your book, and with some of them there is definitely an element of danger within the experience. Can you give us an idea of what it was like to see bands like Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat back then?
Well, in many cases, the real danger was not in the venue but outside the venue – with locals who didn’t want you in their neighborhood. That was the case with the riots at the Dead Kennedy show in Staten Island and Kensington, PA, the Black Flag show in Kensington, and the Minor Threat/SSD/AF/FOD show in Camden. But in all cases, seeing bands like the Bad Brains, DKs, Minor Threat, SSD, and Black Flag made the danger worth it. Those bands were incredible, and the energy was always frenetic. There was just something inside me that craved that explosiveness, and those bands – and many other great hardcore bands from that time period - fed the beast.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I’d like for people to better understand punk and hardcore. The punk and hardcore scene was made up of a band of brothers and sisters who worked together to create and develop a vibrant scene. We loved each other, fought with each other, worked with each other, promoted shows, made music, and experienced something truly unique right at its birth. I hope I’ve captured some of the power that is punk and hardcore. I hope that the book empowers people to take risks and chances to make shit happen. We didn’t really know what we were doing back then, but we took some risks and made it happen. That’s a timeless concept. I’d also like people to have a better understanding of the historical and sociological characteristics of the time period. Philly in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s was a very colorful, dangerous, blighted, beautiful place back then, and I hope I’ve brought some of that back to life. Finally, at its heart, the book is about music – music from the ‘60s, ‘70’s, and early ‘80’s - that had the power to transform and which has been enhancing my life for many, many years.
Once the book is finished, will it be required reading in your classes?
Oh God, no. While there are certain aspects of the story that can be empowering and inspiring to kids (and my stories might give me some street cred), there’s a lot that people might find a bit unsettling or disconcerting, like some of the violence. I wouldn’t stop a kid from reading it on his/her own time if they wanted to, though.