Descendents/Rollins Band/MIA/Cancerous Growth - June 21st, 1987
Tim McMahon (Mouthpiece, vocalist): At some point, as I’m discovering different styles and genres of punk and hardcore, Tony [Rettman] tells me, “Hey, my brother Don is a DJ at City Gardens. Did you ever hear of City Gardens? It’s this club in Trenton that all these punk bands play. Punk bands, metal bands, hardcore bands… I can always catch a ride with my brother and get in free.” Don Rettman always got there hours before it opened with his records, and Tony would go in with him. Tony said, “If you ever want to come to a show, I’m sure you could get in with me and my brother.” It took me a good solid year before I got up the balls to actually take him up on his offer.
Milo Aukerman (Descendents vocalist): I like Henry [Rollins] a lot, and I liked the first couple of records he put out. I really didn’t hang too much with him. He kind of kept to himself, but he’s fascinating to watch. I would study his onstage demeanor, not that I could ever pull it off, but just because it was so dramatic, and you would feel him glaring out at people. It was all part of this… I don’t know if it was an intimidation scheme or just the intensity of it. It was really impressive. I think that of all the Black Flag relationships, the one that is probably the warmest is between Henry and Bill [Stevenson, drummer]. There were never any sparks between Henry and Bill.
Tim McMahon: This was my first show. I remember Don had all these crates of records in the back of his station wagon. Randy met us at the door and was like, “What’s going on guys? Come on in. Who’s this guy?” He ushered us in, and we went over to the DJ booth. Don got set up and we hung out, walked around a bit and checked things out. We didn’t go too far. We hung around the DJ booth and waited for the doors to open.
Henry Rollins: That would be ‘87, when we put the Rollins Band together. The rhythm section, Andrew [Weiss] and Sim [Cain] were Trenton guys. Chris Haskett and I migrated to Trenton and lived on various members’ floors. We would live on Sim’s mother’s floor, and then we were living on the bass player’s floor, and sometimes the bass player’s parent’s floor, all in the Hopewell-Trenton area. And these people were very kind to us.
Tim McMahon: To me it was really shocking, really mind-blowing, when the doors opened, and I started seeing the crowd pour into this place. All kinds of people that I had never seen before in my life. I felt like I was three feet tall. They were all giant, big, tattoo-covered, spiked, Mohawked, crazy-looking people. Torn up jeans with bleach splatters, crazy-looking t-shirts with sleeves cut off, leather jackets… You had all these dirtbags and metalheads, just a little bit of everybody. It really wasn’t just punks. It was all kinds of society’s rejects. I stood there looking at these people, so intimidated and nervous, and wondering, “Do I belong here?” It was scary as shit. I felt like a riot could break out at any minute, and my little ass would be trampled or stabbed or shot.
Joe Z. (City Gardens soundman): I did sound at City Gardens on a regular basis, and I met Billy Tucker, Sim, and Andrew. I hooked up with Sim and Andrew in 1984 and we formed a band called Arrested Development, and we played City Gardens a few times. At that time, Henry Rollins was hanging around, and I introduced him to Sim and Andrew—and then he stole them to form the Rollins Band! I thought I was going to be in the Rollins Band too, but I got the flu and when I finally got better, I found out he got Chris [Haskett] to play guitar. There were no hard feelings, though. I let them rehearse at my house.
Henry Rollins: On and off, all the way up to ’92, we would stay at Sim’s mom’s house and practice in Hopewell in the bass player’s basement. That’s where we wrote all the End of Silence songs. I became quite the Trenton local. I’d live there for months at a time to work on getting ready for a tour or getting ready for an album. I remember it was really fun to somehow feel like a local band. I really like that vibe, and I really liked my time in Trenton. Everyone was really cool to me. Some nights we would go down to City Gardens to see the shows, and they would always let me in for free, which was cool. We saw the Pixies, GWAR, Bad Brains… And I really enjoyed the Crystal Diner.
Sim Cain: Henry loved that place [Crystal Diner]. It’s a Trenton landmark. He didn’t have a driver’s license, so I was chauffeuring him all around town.
Tim McMahon: I don’t remember too much about Cancerous Growth playing, though I do remember Tony telling me later that they’d become a backing band for G.G. Allin. M.I.A. I really liked. They were sort of like a melodic, Social Distortion-sounding band. I bought one of their t-shirts. They were like a light in the dark for me. Even though I wasn’t that familiar with them, I could tell they had a different vibe. When Rollins went on, I was standing back by the DJ booth watching him, in awe that this was Henry Rollins. This was the singer from Black Flag. To me, Black Flag was as big as AC/DC. To be standing there, only forty feet away from him, was surreal. It was hard for me to grasp that you could be standing up in front of your favorite band and reach out and touch them. Rollins, as a performer… it was scary. He looks like a fucking lunatic. He’s screaming… the way he’s pacing around the stage and his body gestures and everything, and the stuff he was saying… I thought the guy could just jump off the stage and stab me or something! I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy is larger than life. This guy is a legitimate superstar.” That show was really intimidating. Everything: from the crowd, to the venue, to the neighborhood.
Henry Rollins: It would be Chris and I living in Sim’s mom’s house, and we would try to be as unobtrusive as possible. We would find ways to disappear in the evening, to get out of her way, because she was so cool and hardworking. We would frequent the Crystal Diner. Typical diner fare, it has the nine-page menu. At two in the morning, you’d be like, “So, you guys really have eggplant parm? Right now?” and they’d be like, “Yeah.” And they’d bring it out in seven minutes, and it was like, “Wow!” What’s happening back in that kitchen? I have fond memories of that time. We wrote a lot of good songs in Trenton.
Sim Cain: Henry was crashing on my floor, basically. Our first rehearsals for the Rollins Band were in my basement in Trenton. We were working all the time, so it didn’t really matter where we were actually living. We spent about a month rehearsing and getting the band together, and then we hit the road for the next ten years. There was a good stretch of time where we were touring so much, that I gave up the place I was living. When we weren’t touring, Henry and Chris would stay at my mom’s house, which was very funny. They were sleeping on the floor in the TV room, and I was so fed up with them that I was the one who didn’t stay there. I would bring them home after rehearsal and go stay at a friend’s house. I would leave them there with my mom and then jet. They made me crazy, but they got along well with my mom. She was team player. She actually sold merchandise for us at a couple shows, and she ran the merchandise booth at City Gardens a few times. Randy loved her. I mean loved her, but my mother can handle herself.
Tim McMahon: The Descendents headlined. It was the All tour. At the time they were one of my favorite bands. A little more on the poppy side, and they weren’t crazy. They weren’t violent. That was the band that I was really looking forward to seeing. They were incredible that night. I probably had five or ten dollars in my pocket and, instead of being smart and buying a Descendents shirt, I blew it on an M.I.A. shirt. I wasn’t really “blowing” it, but still, I should have gotten a Descendents shirt. I was so blown away by them. They were great. Up until that point I had just listened to the tape, and to actually see them live in front of me, playing those songs… man. I went home and told my mom I got the shirt from Don or something. Little did she know what I had gone through to get that shirt.