RE-BLOGGED FROM JERSEY BEAT. INTERVIEW BY JAMES DAMION
Steve DiLodovico is one-half of DiWulf Publishing, best known for publishing the seminal account of Trenton, NJ's City Gardens, No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History Of The Legendary City Gardens. DiWulf has lots more in the hopper, as Steve discusses in this interview with his old friend James Damion. Steve also talks about how he became a publisher, why he loves it, and bravely shares details about his lifelong battle with Crohn's Disease.
Interview by James Damion
Q: First of all, I’d love to learn more about DiWulf Publishing. Can you give a description as to what DiWulf does and how the idea to start a publishing company came about?
Steven: This is going to sound real corny, but what we do at DiWulf is make punk rock books. It’s kind of our unofficial slogan. While we are primarily rooted in music, we use the term “punk rock” loosely, meaning it’s not always specifically about punk rock music. We consider topics and projects that represent any kind of non-mainstream subject to be “punk rock” in our opinion. The idea behind the company is to publish authors who specialize in various aspects of subculture and the documentation of under-represented, talented people whose work might otherwise go unnoticed.
DiWulf came together originally as just a slapdash name to put on the spine of our first book. Since we self-published it, we needed a name. It was simple – a combination of my last name and my partner, Amy Yates Wuelfing’s last name. Amy and I co-wrote a book, No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardensand when it was finished, we spent a couple of years unsuccessfully trying to get an established publisher interested. We even had a fancy-pants literary agent represent us for a time. But, no one was interested in a book about some club in Trenton they’d never heard of and nothing ever came of it. The kept telling us weird things like “you need to sex the book up.” We had no idea what that meant. We were told over and over that no one outside of Jersey (and, most likely inside of Jersey) would be interested in reading that book. Amy and I both come from DIY scenes. Our obvious choice was to publish it ourselves. At the time, around 2012, Kickstarter was a real big way to crowdfund a project like this, and, at the same time, Facebook was REAL lax with their algorithms – you could actually post something, anything, on your public page and all the people who followed your page would actually see the post. Fortunately for us we had literally HUNDREDS of generous patrons who really wanted to see this book happen. We would not be here talking if it hadn’t been for all the people who supported the book and made it a reality.
So, after picking the name DiWulf, Amy and I started talking about the various people we knew who either had great ideas for books or were looking to have stuff they had already written published. We began to talk about using what we had learned in the years we worked on No Slam Dancing to help other people who had the same troubles we dd. Amy and I have a deep love for history when it comes to the subcultures we grew up in, and we both have a very passionate love for books of all kinds.
Q: Was there a template or game plan?
Steven: At first, we kind of just made it up as we went along. But, the more it took shape, we kind of modeled it after the small hardcore and punk labels of the ‘80s that put out our favorite records. We were very inspired by these labels and that’s sort of what we looked towards for guidance. The game plan was to publish works by friends, family, whomever we could find that had a passion for documenting histories that often went unnoticed and undervalued. We wanted to make gorgeous books in really small print runs to make them very special, and we wanted our authors to cover subject matter that was important to them.
Q: What was / is the ultimate goal?
Steven: Really, there are only two goals – to put out beautiful, quality books and to make this a sustainable business so I can quit these stupid fucking jobs that kill my soul every single day.
Q: So, “No Spikes” was DiWulfs’s first finished effort?
Steven: Yes, and it was the impetus for us to start a publishing house
Q: I understand Amy had been putting the pieces of the project together for years when you joined forces. How do you feel your input impacted the project and if that impacted it finally being finished?
Steven: Yes, Amy is the one who made all this happen. She started working on No Slam Dancing somewhere in the late-‘90s and it wasn’t until about 2007 that she and I (VERY randomly) met by chance on the Internet. It turned out to be a perfect partnership. I’m enough years younger than Amy (did I phrase that diplomatically enough?) that I was basically a different generation, at least when it comes to punk. While the stuff we were into overlapped a lot, I was way deeper into the real heavy, much more violent side of the scene – I was into hardcore punk, thrash metal, really heavy rap (I refuse to use the term “gangsta”)… really anything that was super heavy, super-fast, super-offensive. I had no knowledge of things like New Wave, I had no idea what the fuck a “New Romantic” was. Amy knew all that stuff really well. Also, a huge part of City Gardens’ history were their alternative/new wave dance nights and I had never attended one in my entire life while Amy spent many years going to those. We each had specialties within our subculture, so me coming along complemented what she didn’t know, and she did the same for me. We also knew tons of people, so it really helped broaden, not just the amount of interviews we did, but also the variety of scenes our interview subjects represented.
Q: (Asking for a friend.) How should an aspiring writer approach an independent publisher when they have an idea or finished product they wish to publish?
Steven: I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I know that for us, just reach out like a normal person and say hello first. Secondly, I think your best bet is to have, at the very least, a finished manuscript. I love hearing people’s ideas, but as soon as the email says “I am working on this great idea…” that means to me that there is no end in sight and, most likely, the person will never finish. Especially if it is their first attempt. If you do have a finished manuscript, put a proposal together and send that first. I can tell you I won’t read a manuscript until I’ve read the proposal first. It’s easy enough to look up the format. A basic PDF file that outlines the project, gives the details, etc. For us it is as much about the person as it is the project. Someone could write the next “Crime and Punishment” but if they are difficult to work with or don’t share the same vibe, the same philosophy as us, I don’t care – we are passing. Life is too short to deal with egos.
Q: Thanks, in large part to social media, A lot of us felt as if we were along for the ride for much of the process, particularly the interviews. Can you share some of your thoughts and experiences working with so many creative souls?
Steven: That was easily the best part about working on No Slam Dancing: Meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, and, most of all, getting to talk about the music that changed my life and had a huge part in making me the person I am today with the people who made the music. I got to spend a few hours asking Jello Biafra every fanboy question I could think of. I got to grill Eerie Von on EVERYTHING Misfits-related. Jack Grisham told me some of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard. Ian frigging McKaye invited us down to the Dischord House and spent an entire day answering questions, showing us journals, photos, and just about everything Dischord-related you can think of –
he even made us tea! Tesco Vee told great stories. Dave Vision (R.I.P) gave me half a book’s worth of insane stories. Amy and I had an amazing day with Dave Brockie (R.I.P.) and the rest of the GWAR crew… I mean, this is stuff I dreamed about when I was 14! So many people were so generous with their time and memories, it really was a testament to what the underground music scenes of the ‘80s were all about. The other thing is the “regular” people that helped us out with stories and photos and memorabilia. My old friend Jamie Davis pretty much wrote the entire second half of the book for us! Social media was key for us – not only did it help us raise the money for funding, but it let people know that there was a book coming out about a club that so many people loved. Amy and I felt that keeping people posted in almost-real time might be fun for those interested. Listen, it ain’t easy to get people excited about a book that has more words than photos in the 21st century, so we needed all the help we could get.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the team you assembled and worked with. Ken Salerno and Peter Tabott. They are personal heroes through both photography and music. I’d love to know more about those who participated and how they became part of the team.
Steven: While Amy and I were working on the book, Steve Tozzi reached out to us and told us he was working on a documentary about City Gardens. We had never met Steve, but once we found out Ken Salerno was involved, and then Pete Tabbot from Vision, we were all in. Suddenly we had a whole new avenue of resources when it came to contacts and interviews. Amy and I became producers on Riot on the Dance Floor, and that project was a HUGE help for our book. Anyone who has ever met Pete knows what a great guy he is – thoughtful, smart, and really just gets it. And Mr. Salerno… of all the people I personally encountered working on all the City Gardens stuff, I think it was Ken I bonded with the most. And now, even though I don’t see him often (no one does), I consider Ken a really close friend.
Q: Having been from Queens, New York and getting most of my Punk and Hardcore music education on the Lower East Side. New Jersey seemed tame to many of us. However, my several trips to City Gardens were hair raising experiences. You were a lot closer geographically. Therefore, I’d like to get your perspective of the club and the area.
Steven: Philly was a pretty rough scene, but I always felt safe because we all knew each other. Going to Trenton in the 80s was like a whole different universe. Trenton, like a lot of cities at the time, was struggling economically. I was 14 the first time I went there. Up until then, every show I had been to was always in a “bad” neighborhood, so Trenton really didn’t phase me. Plus, you have that ignorant fearlessness of being an invincible teenager, so you just weren’t scared of anything. I was more afraid of what went on inside City Gardens than the neighborhood. When I started going, City Gardens had a pretty big white power skin contingent that would show up a lot and cause trouble. The only thing that ever really worried me was the fact that I was an outsider. The same way I would feel the times we’d make road trips to CBGB matinees. It was not my scene, and all I wanted to do was blend in, have fun, and not be noticed. Honestly, I never had a problem at any venue, really. I learned early that when you are not in your home arena you have to be cool, be respectful of where you are.
Q: What was your overall reaction the first time you went to a show there? Were you forewarned? Were there people who gave you descriptions before you went?
Steven: City Gardens definitely had a reputation that reached us in Philly, but once I went there, I could see how overblown it was. Their hardcore and punk shows were no different form any others I had been to. Just a lot bigger of a venue. Mostly I heard about Nazi skins there. This was around 87, 88, so Nazi skins were all the rage thanks to Geraldo and Morton Downey Jr. City Gardens, at least to me, was this mythical place. It was far away – you had to either have a car or know someone with a car to get there. It wasn’t like Philly, where you had any number of options to get to a venue. We would see these insane flyers with the craziest bills, but for a few years we had no idea where City Gardens was, or how to get there. That was a big part of the “mystique” for me.
Q: If there was one anecdote about your experience, there. A particular band, show or exchange that sticks out in your mind?
Steven: Really, there are two. One was a big riot that happened after a Leeway show, for the simple fact that it was the biggest “riot” I had ever seen. But the story I always tell about City Gardens was going to see Jane’s Addiction in 1988. It was not a show I would have gone to normally, but we got free tickets. I had never heard Jane’s. Back then, we would go to just about any shows just because, well, they were shows. So, I went, had a fun time, and when Jane’s played they absolutely blew me away. I was stunned at how good they were and even more stunned by how much I liked them. There’s a lot you can say about that band and its members, but for that night, for about an hour and a half, they were the greatest band on the planet.
Q: Every writer has his/her journey. Can you tell me about what first inspired you to write?
Steven: I grew up surrounded by books, and my first love, even before music, is a good book. I always wrote stories in school and would try to make them as funny as possible. I did well with the laughs, but the nuns quickly beat the sense of humor right out of me. It always seemed that I would be a writer. Little did I know how much I would come to hate it. That’s why I became a publisher – I despise writing.
Q: Having been at it for so long, both as a hobby and profession. Would you any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Steven: Just keep writing. Whether it is a blog, a journal, whatever. Just keep doing it. Every day try to write at least one thing, even if it sucks. There are so many outlets today, which is a blessing and a curse. Sure, it increases your ability to be read, but, for the most part, you can’t make a living out of it anymore. I have to work 2 jobs just to keep my lifestyle hovering right at the abject poverty level, and I’ve been doing this professionally for over 25 years. Words and writers don’t really have much value these days.
Q: How did you get the nickname “Sicko”?
Steven: So, when I was 11 or 12, I found, totally by accident, a local college radio station playing Slayer. I was an aspiring metalhead (or, as we call them in our local vernacular – “Hammers” because of the way they bang their heads), but I really only knew the classic rock bands from my aunt’s record collection – Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, etc. I heard Slayer and that was it. It was a wrap. Sabbath was my first love, but they weren’t “mine.” They belonged to the generation before me; a demographic of dopers and parking lot rulers. Anyway, I found this local college radio station playing metal and I became a regular listener. I never had any friends, so Friday nights at midnight I’d be in my room with a boom box and the phone, calling in Death Angel and Mercyful Fate requests. I got to know a bunch of the DJs. To be a true metalhead you had to have a cool hammer nickname. The guy whose show I called (and who eventually took me to my first “real” show) went by Dr. Death. The guy who named me “Sicko” was called “The Ripper.” So, naturally, I needed a cool metal name. Since I ALWAYS called and requested that Suicidal song “I Saw Your Mommy and Your Mommy’s Dead,” The Ripper began calling me “Sicko.” It stuck. It’s been sticking since I was 12 goddamn years old, ha ha!
Q: I had been following your blog for years. Are you still blogging in any form?
Steven: Nah. I do far more work editing other people’s stuff these days. I end up hating everything I write, so I delete it all. Before that, I would burn my notebooks after they were filled. One of the great personal revelations I’ve had in the years since we did No Slam Dancing was that I found it far more fulfilling to help other authors get their books out. The second book DiWulf released was from a good friend of yours, Mr. Freddy Alva. I can’t tell you how much I loved working on Urban Styles and working with Freddy, although Freddy might have a different view because I can be a real pain in the ass to work with. I am very intense about how our books look, feel, and sound, and I REALLY wanted that book to be as beautiful as possible. When that thing was done and we got the first shipment in our hands, and when we were able to hand the very first copies to Freddy… man, what a great feeling that was. To see an author get their first look at their very first book… that is a joy I was not ready for, and it is what confirmed for me that I wanted to be a publisher and not a writer.
Q: I’ve always identified with your sense of humor and quick, yet often dark wit. Where does that edge come from and has it ever come back to haunt you?
Steven: Ha, that’s a loaded question if ever there was one. Let’s just say I very much take after my mother and let’s just say that my big mouth has gotten me in a LOT of trouble over the years. I’m almost 47 years old and I am STILL getting into trouble because of the things I say.
Q: At the moment, I’m sitting here at The Mayo Clinic waiting for my third scheduled appointment of the day. With that said, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. Your struggle with Chrohn’s Disease, how you learned you had it, the treatment and road ahead. Would you be open to sharing your experience?
Steven: It’s funny – for the forty-some years that I’ve lived with Crohn’s, I’ve never really talked about it, definitely not publicly. It’s a difficult thing to get into because it is so personal and, such a huge, intimate part of my life. But everyone has something – everyone struggles with some kind of bullshit, either mental, emotional, physical, whatever. I don’t have to tell you that. I never want to come off like I am looking for sympathy because I know so many people who have it so much worse than I. To tell the truth, I am pretty lucky. Basically, I’ve had it all my life. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was about 14 or 15. It’s no accident that my utter devotion to and love for music really solidified around this time. When I first got really sick, I had two tapes with me in the hospital: the Embrace album and “Dark Days Coming” by 3. I don’t think I have to tell you how important music is when you are spending literally weeks in a bed recovering. Same with books. My companions became people like Raskolnikov and Dwayne Hoover and Holden Caufield and Yossarian and Hazel and Fiver. Isolation easily leads to disenfranchisement, and I was at the perfect age.
Back then, there really wasn’t much treatment available. They pretty much loaded you up with steroids. I was on Prednisone regularly throughout most of my teen years, and decades later I’ve come to realize how that drug affected my life. I was an angry kid to begin with, but Prednisone REALLY exacerbated the anger and really fucked with my personality. I was VERY unlikable as a teenager (I ain’t much more likeable as an adult, but that’s an entirely different story). Part of that was due to the disease and the treatment. There’s a certain amount of self-actualization and realization that comes with being young and being diagnosed with an incurable, life-long disease, I think. I think everyone who faces something like that goes through some intense introspection.
I’ve never been much of a PMA guy, so I’ve never been much of an advocate or cheerleader or the kind of person that gives life advice. To me, the PMA is a cop out – a Brad Goodman-like easy band aid for very deep, very complex situations that arise in life. It’s a slogan, not a solution. And I’m not trying to put down anyone who follows the PMA lifestyle or keeps it close to their heart, that’s not what I am about. I am simply speaking about myself and my own beliefs. I’m never going to stand here and say, “I don’t let this disease control my life because blah blah blah…” Truth of the matter is, the disease has limited me and a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do in my life. I have weird relationships with food - I don’t like it. I never developed a palate, discerning or otherwise. I eat the same things my six-year-old nephew eats. I have a deathly fear of restaurants. I mean, think about it – the most culturally accepted act of communion and commonality among human beings is the breaking of bread; be it symbolic, ritual, or just sharing a meal with friends. I have none of that – no desire for it. It’s not a sad thing; you can’t really miss what you never knew. But, in the normal world, this kind of cuts you out of so many societal conventions. Everything is about a meal or a drink. And both of those things I have zero interest in. It’s weird how many aspects of your life it affects. When I was a teen, I thought for sure that I’d “grow up” to be the punk rock version of a Rolling Stone reporter – travelling all over the world with bands, writing about music, living the life of the road… Well, traveling has always been a problem for me, and it’s even worse now. So, yeah, it’s definitely affected parts of my life. I spent the better part of the 90s self-medicating in VERY dangerous ways. Basically, I wanted to die, and I went about in the slowest, most self-destructive ways I could find. I can talk about it now because I am so far removed from it. I don’t think I was consciously aware of it at the time, but I knew. I had a lot of fucking fun getting high, but the ‘90s were pretty brutal.
It’s a painful, miserable fucking way to live that most people don’t understand. It’s not something that comes with a death sentence. It comes with a promise that your quality of life will pretty much suck. It’s suffering, and there is nothing noble or character-building about suffering. It’s unnecessary. It’s something that is very difficult to talk about with the people in your life, it’s easier just to bail and make up an excuse. My wife understands, and I can talk to her about it, but that’s about it. I don’t join any kind of support groups or anything like that. I’m not much of a joiner. But there are people, like yourself, James, that have an innate understanding, compassion, and natural empathy that comes from both personal experience and from being a perceptive, kind person, and they are easy to talk to about this kind of stuff. And I think maybe those people come into your life for some kind of reason.
Earlier you had asked about where the darker side of personality comes from – I guess this is really kind of it.
I’ve recently begun talking more openly about it and how it’s affected me for a few different reasons. I put a big public facebook post up, mostly out of convenience. It’s just the easiest way to reach most of the people in my life and try to explain to them why I’ve missed their shows, their gatherings, their parties, etc. I’ve just begun a new course of treatment, but I’ve been given “new, exciting” treatments every time a new one comes along. It’s really all the same – you manage symptoms and hope for the best. Recently I’ve been dealing with my immune system going haywire. It keeps me in the house most of the time, avoiding crowds. But the thing is, I’ve struck a balance as far as dealing with it psychologically. That whole macho “I’m gonna beat this and I refuse to let it affect my life” thing is just not me. I am not that guy. I have respect for the people who can handle things that way – they are a lot stronger than I. But it’s just not me. What I have learned is to deal and survive and move on. That there is strength in submission; that there is a peace in accepting limitations and, if those limitations can’t be overcome, then finding ways to get around them. I learned that anger, while motivating, is self-defeating when it is not productive. I learned that shame and guilt are brutal enemies, and I’ll probably be butting heads with them for the rest of my life. Crohn’s is the reason that the things that bring me the most joy are solitary endeavors – reading, mostly, (especially when it is combing through manuscripts looking for gems and jewels), and listening to music really, really loud.
Jesus, that was a fucking grim answer. Sorry if I bummed anybody out.
Q: Over the years I’ve learned and come to know how special and integral to my own overall health, both physical and mental, my wife is. I know you and RoShawn have been together for a long time. Would you be open to sharing how you met and how she inspires you?
Steven: Ah, now we can move from the darkness to the light. What can I say about RoShawn, AKA Pookie? Shawn and I have a FANTASTIC “how we met” story that just kills everyone else’s. For real: I’ll fight anyone who thinks theirs is better. It’s a long story that I’ve written about (and then, of course, deleted,) extensively. I first met my wife in a shitty dive bar in Philly in 1994. I was in my most self-destructive phase, and I would go to this bar almost every night. In the most cliché of moments, I actually did see her across a smoky room, and I was instantly struck. And, even more cliché, I turned to my friend, Craig and his girlfriend at the time, and literally said: “I am going to marry that girl.” It was mad corny, but I fully admit to saying it out loud. I was talking shit, but it sounded cool. Of course, I never got the courage to go and speak to her, and just went home. Went back again the next Friday night and there she was. And there I was, paralyzed as usual. I became a stalker – I knew she’d be at the bar every Friday night, and I made sure I was there. One night, I finally got drunk enough to approach her. She was cordial, coy, and I actually thought I was getting somewhere. When it came time for me to ask for her phone number, she hit me with the old line “I’m sorry, I don’t have a phone.” I knew what that meant, and, crushed, I went home with every intention of returning the next Friday night and resume my stalking. Well, she wasn’t there the next Friday. Or the next. Or the next. She was just gone. I didn’t know anyone who knew her, I had no real connection to her, I had no way to find out where she went. But, I was 22 and having the time of my life, so it was pretty easy to move on. Except my fucking friends would torment me with stories of seeing her all over parts of the city. But even those stopped, and it wasn’t until 10 years later I found out she had left Philly with a friend, a dog, a gun, and a pound of weed, and went across the country where they ended up “accidentally” joining a cult in Texas before escaping and making it all the way out to California.
Fast forward to February of 1998. I am working in coffeeshop on South Street and living in the apartment above, sort of like Fonzie, but way less cool and no Pulaski triplets. One random Tuesday night this stunning woman comes in my shop and she’s giggling. Her guido friend (his name was literally Vinny) finally said to me, “my crazy friend here thinks she knows you.” And it was her. About a week later she moved in with me, and we’ve never been apart since. What’s really funny is how different we are. Other than great literature, we have very little in common, at least when it comes to the superficial things. She likes stuff – I do not. She loves fantasy and comic books and podcasts and all that nerd shit. She’s been podcasting for years, has won all kinds of awards (her Harry Potter podcast hit over a million downloads) and I literally have never listened to one second of one episode! But, to be fair, I hate podcasts and I hate Harry Potter, so it’s not about her, ha ha.
RoShawn is the strongest person I’ve ever met. There are stories from her life that, if anyone else had tried to tell them to me, I would never believe it. I once watched my wife curse out Danny Partridge Bonaduce in a bar, telling him: “I don’t give a fuck how famous you are, stop asking me for cigarettes.” She has saved my life on numerous occasions, metaphorically and literally. She got me out of the life. She took care of me after all my surgeries. She’s an emotionally even keel to my full-on-Italian over-sensitivity, and she knows how to diffuse my potential blow ups. She is the reason I can keep going. I’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve known her for 25 years and she still surprises me every single day. She’s also the funniest human being I have ever known. She’s the best I know.
Q: What’s next for DiWulf? Are you currently involved in any projects?
Steven: We had a couple of setbacks in 2018, lost two projects we were really counting on, so we’ve regrouped and focused our energies on the next wave of books. We have some good ones. Back in the ‘80s, Amy worked on a well-known NY/NJ ‘zine called “Hard Times.” We are in the process of finishing an anthology book with all the issues and original interviews from the ‘zine’s run, plus some essays and stuff from some very cool people. We’ve also been working with filmmaker/photographer/historian Angela Boatwright, who directed the documentary Los Punks: We Are All We Have, on a book that will be an expanded and updated version of her film about the thriving East LA backyard punk culture. And we have a great oral history of the American Ska movement that is currently being written by Marc Wasserman that is going to be a fantastic book; I’ve been reading chapters he’s sent and thus far it is both highly informative (the research is deep and impeccable) and very entertaining. We also have an author who is currently working on a history of a very well-known bar in the New Hope area of Pennsylvania that has a long, storied history with music, and that is coming along nicely. I have plans to do an art book with one of my oldest and most talented friends, Jim Houser. And I am ALWAYS looking for something new and different to work on.
We’ve learned a lot over the past few years, and the biggest lesson is to only work with family. No matter how great a book might be, it just ain’t worth it if you can’t vibe and connect with the author; if they don’t share your same philosophies on what a book should be and what a book means. This isn’t a field to get into for money or prestige, or to become facebook-famous. This is something that is almost sacred to us, and the artist is almost as important as the work itself. We’ve been VERY lucky with the people we’ve gotten to work with: Freddy Alva, the legendary Ken Salerno, Steve Tozzi, Angela Boatwright, Orlando Arce… really too many fantastic, talented people to name. It’s as important to us to keep that familial vibe going as it is to find and publish great works of art.
For more information, visit www.diwulf.com.