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. “
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).
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…
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…
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.
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