Ron Gregorio is the publisher/editor/photographer who made the seminal “Hard Times” ‘zine. While he and Amy Yates Wuelfing put the finishing touches on their book: “The Hard Times Anthology,’ Ron took a moment to reflect and put some words down on paper for us.
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By: Ron Gregorio
One day, while perusing the DiWulf Publishing House website, I saw an advertisement for six extraordinary, limited-edition punk rock photos from the early 1980s. They looked familiar. Some of my favorite bands. They were my photos! I was proud and humbled to think that people were interested in my photos. It’s not like I am a talented photographer. For me it was mostly a matter of persistence, access, and money. Or, more accurately, not watching my money—which also helps explain the short existence of Hard Times Magazine. The law of averages dictated that, out of the hundreds of rolls of film I shot for Hard Times, six would turn out extraordinary.
Those were the days before everyone was walking around with a phone in their pocket that also took photos and video and on which you could access every song ever recorded and some that weren’t. Back then, if anything, people had junky, plastic, instamatic cameras. Real cameras were expensive. Photography was an expensive hobby. Most college kids couldn’t afford an SLR with multiple lenses plus the cost of film and developing. I could because I kept dropping out of college and always worked. The other benefit of repeatedly dropping out of college was that I never learned to think about all of the money that I was throwing away on camera equipment and film and developing. Had I thought about it at all, I would not have spent all that money on photography: I would have spent it on motorcycles. In fact, I initially bought an SLR to take photos of the Hard Times Racing team.
If there’s one thing more difficult than photographing musicians jumping around on a dimly lit stage, it’s photographing speeding motorcycles. So, it was at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit and Pocono International Speedway where I honed my technique of taking a zillion shots and spending all of my money to develop them in the hope of getting one good one—and usually not. Luckily, In the early days of Hard Times Magazine, a woman about my age who worked at the One Hour Moto Photo on Passaic Street in Hackensack took a liking to the magazine and would develop my film for free.
And now, thirty-plus years later, I am proud and humbled to see some of my photos on the DWPH website; photos that I haven’t seen in many years. (I dumped all of my negatives and prints on Amy because I wanted to clear out my basement!) Photos that brought back a lot of memories. Photos of great talents like Glenn Danzig. Henry Rollins. Tesco Vee. D Boon. Samhain. The Descendants. Wait, the Descendants? Who took that? I never met the Descendants! Well, apparently, I did. In fact, I even saw them perform! Not that I have any memory of it. But I have the photos as proof.
I was fortunate enough to see so many shows in the short time that I published Hard Times Magazine that I’ve forgotten some of them. Sometimes I saw 3 or 4 shows a week. Plus, I saw who knows how many shows before and after Hard Times. I grew up in northern NJ, about 10 minutes from the City, so I had the opportunity to see shows all the time. So many shows that I could forget seeing great bands like the Descendants. So many shows that I could forget being at City Gardens for Danzig’s first ever show despite the documentary evidence that proves I was there.
And then there are the ones I will never forget. Samhain’s first show at the Rock Hotel in NYC and getting to meet one of the progenitors of U.S. punk, Glenn Danzig. The UK Subs at City Gardens and getting to meet one of the progenitors of British punk, Charlie Harper. The Meatmen at NY South in Bordentown NJ and getting to meet my motorcycle-racing hero—my idol—Tesco Vee. Suicidal Tendencies at the Ritz. Dead Kennedys at Irving Plaza. Husker Du at Maxwell’s on New Years’ Eve 1984. Pretty much every Husker Du show. Pretty much every Minutemen show. Never a bad show, which reminds me of one of those awkward interview sessions when Amy was struggling to prompt me to say something interesting for the Anthology. One of the questions she asked was “what was the worst show I ever saw.” I didn’t answer but thinking about it later it didn’t take long to come up with one: I never saw a bad punk show. Punk wasn’t like seeing Black Sabbath or David Bowie from the blue seats at Madison Square Garden. 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.