Philadelphia

ON THIS DATE IN CITY GARDENS HISTORY: TRANS AMS AND TROUTBUTTS - DEAD KENNEDYS/AOD/FLIPPER JULY 18 1983

ON THIS DATE IN CITY GARDENS HISTORY: TRANS AMS AND TROUTBUTTS - DEAD KENNEDYS/AOD/FLIPPER JULY 18 1983

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!

ON THIS DATE IN CITY GARDENS HISTORY: BAD RELIGION/ALL/VISION/SHADES APART JUNE 29TH 1990

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

Dave Vision at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

Dave Vision at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

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.

Bad Religion at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

Bad Religion at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

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.

ALL at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

ALL at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

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.

Shades Apart at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

Shades Apart at City Gardens. Photo by Ken Salerno

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.

BTW: Writing Does Not Help with Insomnia - A Look Back at the "Hard Times" Years

BTW: Writing Does Not Help with Insomnia - A Look Back at the "Hard Times" Years

“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.”

Author Profile: Marco On The Bass

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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.

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
-Marc Wasserman

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.

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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’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.

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.

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DiWulf Publishing Announces "Hard Times" Anthology for 2019

DiWulf Publishing House has made its primary mission to document and celebrate subculture in its many forms. One of the most important facets of the punk and hardcore DIY scene has always been the proliferation of the fanzine. In fact, the ‘zine represents the ultimate expression of true independent publishing, one of the founding principles for us here at DiWulf. In a time when no established, “respectable” publications would cover underground scenes, the fanzine was there to broadcast and inform and, most importantly, to inspire. It was the most important part of underground music in terms of communication and information and it was a very powerful tool for kids who would otherwise be voiceless. It can not be overstated how important ‘zine culture is and was to the underground movement, and it is something that is very close to our hearts, and, naturally, we wanted to represent what a huge influence ‘zines were to us both personally and as authors and publishers.

The issue that never was: Hard Times Issue 8, featuring John Stabb, was never printed

And now DiWulf presents its own ode to ‘zine culture: a retrospective anthology of the seminal NY/NJ/PA ‘zine Hard Times. Tentatively scheduled for an early-2019 release, the as-yet-untitled anthology will contain all seven issues that were published, as well as the long-lost and never-published eighth issue, which featured Government Issue frontman John Stabb on the cover. Included in the book will be all original interviews along with record, ‘zine, and show reviews, scene reports, political commentary, and some really great photography from Hard Times creator and publisher Ron Gregorio. Hard Times was a glossy black and white printed ‘zine that ran from 1984-1985 and covered some of the biggest names in punk and hardcore history.

Hard Times was also a starting point for DiWulf Publishing House co-founder and author of No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the legendary City Gardens Amy Yates Wuelfing. Amy’s presence is featured throughout Hard Times’ life span and her interviews and reviews are a creatively intimate look into her young career as a writer and historian. While the Hard Times anthology will surely spark waves of nostalgia for any east coast punk from the ‘80s, it will also serve as a reminder of the exuberance of youth and a cultural barometer for what was happening in ’84 and ’85.

Included in the features are several interviews with punk and hardcore luminaries like Samhain, Cause For Alarm, Jello Biafra, Ian MacKaye, Butthole Surfers, U.K. Subs, Flipper, The Meatmen, John Lydon, Circle Jerks, The Replacements, and many more.

We will be bringing you all the information as this project moves forward right here on our website, as well as all release date and pre-sale information as it becomes available. We also have a few cool surprises we are working on to go with the book and may even have a few old, original issues of Hard Times stashed away in the DiWulf basement…

The Husker Du lads enjoying a fine issue of Hard Times backstage at City Gardens. Photo by Ron Gregorio

We cannot express how excited we are about this book; it is a true labor of love, and it will be something that will add just another small piece to the rich history of the punk and hardcore subculture.