Randy also had that annoying habit of talking over the PA from the sound booth while we played. Hey Randy, did we ever go out on your mail route and hand out priority letters? I think not!
Randy Now: This was before With Sympathy came out… before they signed with Arista even. I got their first 12” single called “I’m Falling” from [DJ subscription service] Rockpool. I found my copy of it recently and saw that I had written “Patty” on it, and a phone number. That must have been Patty Jourgensen, his wife, who was also his manager.
Al Jourgensen (Ministry): This was before the With Sympathy nightmare started. We had a nickname for Randy: Goofy Grape, after the Kool-Aid character from the ‘60s. We called him that because he always had a big old smile on his face, even as the owner of the club was yelling at him. He had to deal with so many egos in so many bands. Randy was in over his head, man. But he would just grin and bear it. City Gardens was like CBGB West. In the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere, this club springs out of the woods. City Gardens was like a mirage. You come out of the woods in Jersey, and all of the sudden there’s these lights and this big parking lot, and everyone played there. If you were anyone, you played there. You’d drive through woods and forest, and then Goofy Grape would be there to greet us. In New York, we played the Peppermint Lounge and some other club, so we had to be there a week. We lived at the Iroquois Hotel, seven of us in one room, because it was cheap and the only thing we could afford. For food, we would go over to Times Square where this movie theater would throw out their stale popcorn. We would take 50-pound bags of popcorn back to the hotel to eat for the whole week. This was not glamorous, trust me. You must tell people this! It’s not glamorous, sharing a hotel room with seven people… seven stinky people in a van, playing shithole clubs. City Gardens was a haven for us. We always sold it out. Other places, 50 scraggly looking people would show up, and we’d be in the van eating stale popcorn. City Gardens was a complete fire hazard. I got electrocuted there. I never got shocked so bad. I went up, plugged in my guitar, went to the mic to sing, touched it with my lips, and got thrown back six feet. I passed out and they were deciding whether to call the paramedics, and then I woke up and yelled at Randy. In 1977, I had a band called Slayer in Colorado, where I went to college. It was originally Reign Slayer, but I made them drop the Reign. We would play three sets a night, mostly covers, Aerosmith and the like. You would barely be able to get away with a couple of original songs without people throwing stuff at you. Like, beer and fruit or whatever. And bands had to be brave, because we didn’t know if clubs were going to pay us! We’d show up, and it would be touch and go, and we’d hope that they would pay us so we could get the hell out of there. But Randy always hooked us up.
The following excerpt is taken from “No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens” by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico
Bad Religion/ALL/Vision/Shades Apart – June 29, 1990
Dave Franklin (Vision, vocals): Shades Apart opened up, then we went on, then ALL, and then Bad Religion. The night before Shades Apart opened for Bad Religion at the [punk club] Anthrax in Connecticut. I went up with the Shades Apart guys to see Bad Religion, and there were maybe 150 people there, 200 tops. I was hanging out talking to [Bad Religion’s] Brett Gurewitz and Greg Hetson, and they were both like, “Man, I thought we were a little bit bigger on the East Coast.” And I was like, “This is kind of a weird place.” I mean, it was a great place to play—totally cool people—but was hit-or-miss. I said, “Tomorrow night in Trenton, at City Gardens, the show is going to be off the charts.” When the next night came and we pulled into City Gardens, there was already a line around the building. Then the Bad Religion guys pulled up in their van. The first thing Brett said to me was, “You weren’t kidding!” The place was already sold out.
Peter Tabbot (Vision, guitar): This was another amazing City Gardens show. Bad Religion are/were…well…BAD RELIGION. One of my favorite bands, and we were all so psyched to share a stage with them in Trenton. They had pretty much come back from the dead just a couple of years before with the release of Suffer and No Control. This may have been their Against the Grain tour, and they had totally reestablished themselves as the smartest, best punk-rock band around. ALL just had a release or two out at the time, I think, and they were still kind of riding the coattails of The Descendents popularity while generating their own fan base with their kind of prog-punk melodic style. But they were definitely a good draw on their own. With us and Shades Apart, even though we were local bands, we both had a significant following. The show was packed. I would never, ever throw my band into a conversation about the great shows you would catch routinely at City Gardens, but objectively, it was a pretty good bill in 1990. It was typical of what Randy would do: four bands, each of whom has a significant audience psyched to see them for $7 or $8. Randy would put that together every single weekend, for seemingly years on end. You’d get two, three, or even four national touring acts on the same bill, and then the next night you’d get another fantastic show. Maybe it would be hardcore/metal one night, and then punk/indie the next night, but always amazing shows for just a few bucks. What I remember most about shows like this Bad Religion show at City Gardens [is that] you knew a fair number of the people. And you often went to whatever shows were happening on the weekend, even if it wasn’t a band or style that you closely identified with. A place where you knew the bouncers and the bartenders. I would imagine that this happened, to a lesser degree, at places like CBGB or The Ritz in New York, but those places didn’t have that same feeling. As large as City Gardens was, and as many people as you’d see there for bigger shows, it always felt like someone was having a great show in your backyard. That is, if your backyard happened to be the bowels of Trenton. This show is a really good example of Randy pairing great national acts with some pretty decent local bands.
Scott Reynolds (ALL, vocals): I remember the stage smelled like puke all the time. We’d come in and load in and every time we’d be like, “God, it smells like puke up here!” I mean it was really, really strong. It was really gross, and you could smell it while you were playing. It was part of the charm, I guess.
Dave Franklin: That was a great show. I recall I was in back bar and the Shades Apart had just finished. The crew was setting up Vision’s equipment, and [Vision bassist] Kevin was there with his brother and a bunch of other people I knew. I wasn’t in the conversation, but I was probably three or four people away from the conversation, and I could hear Kevin saying, “Wait ‘til Vision goes on, this place is gonna’ go CRAZY!” And sure enough, we went on and the place just went absolutely crazy. Blink of an Eye was out, and we were already like the house band. Everybody knew our songs and went nuts! Bad Religion and ALL were amazed by the crowd.
Scott Reynolds: That was always one of my favorite places to play. We had big shows there.
Jeremy Weiss (City Gardens regular): The show was sold out. This is a true story: I was a very resourceful kid. I knew how [clubs] worked because I’d started booking shows, and I knew back then that bouncers would just as soon check IDs at the local bars as they would at City Gardens. I also knew they were susceptible to bribes. So, I walked around the back, I knocked on the door, and this towering individual popped his head out and said, “What?” I said, “I’ll give you $100 to let us in.” He didn’t say one word, nodded, put his hand out. I gave him $100 and me and four of my friends jetted right into the show while 275 other people stood out front, bummed out. We got into that show and were completely blown away. It was so packed that it was raining inside the club.
Scott Foster (1124 Records): I caught just about every ALL show that came through there. They were one of my favorites. That night we were waiting in line outside, and I saw some guys playing catch with a baseball. One of the guys missed it and the ball rolled over to me, so I picked it up, and, when I went to give it back to him, I realized it was [ALL’s] Karl [Alvarez] and Scott [Reynolds] playing catch. Karl said, “You wanna take over for a second?” and he gave me his glove. I played catch with Scott Reynolds for ten minutes while Karl did something else.
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.
“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!