Starting the New Year Off with a Bang - Keith Morris vs The Wall of Death, January 1st, 1989

Starting the New Year Off with a Bang - Keith Morris vs The Wall of Death, January 1st, 1989

The following is an excerpt taken from the book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico. All photos by Ken Salerno

Circle Jerks/Deadspot – January 1, 1989

Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks, guitarist): Recently my daughter asked me if skinheads ever came to Circle Jerks shows. When I told her yes, she said, “Don’t they know you’re Jews?” I told her this story...

Stephen Ernest Saputelli (Deadspot, bassist): I remember how scared we were just driving through Trenton… that in itself was a rush. I had just joined the band, and we were opening for the Circle Jerks

Randy Now: We put the word out on the punkcards and fliers that no Doc Martens were allowed in the club. A cool person who wore Docs would understand and say, “I’ll wear sneakers instead.” I even had a slogan, “Wear your Chucks and save two bucks.” That ban on Docs went on for a little while. It was stupid rule, but it worked. It sent the message: no more fucking Nazi skinheads.

Tony Rettman (City Gardens regular): I don’t know if all the skins had been partying all day or what, but they were ready for the Circle Jerks.

Steven DiLodovico (author): In ‘89 I was a total skin… except when I went to City Gardens. I always dressed down, mostly because you couldn’t get in if you wore the skinhead “uniform,” but also because the locals were pretty rough. I tried to be as invisible as possible in Trenton because it wasn’t home turf. The day of the Circles Jerks show, I knew it was going to be rough. I had been to City Gardens enough times to know what the crowds were like, and the Circle Jerks were the kind of band that would inspire vociferous reaction from the crowd. I also knew the locals were going to give Deadspot a real hard time. Which they did.

Stephen Ernest Saputelli: We’re up there, rocking out, and I didn’t even notice I was getting spit on. Then I saw [Deadspot singer] Mike looking at me, and we were like, “What the hell is this?” I didn’t know what to do, and it was funny because the other guys in the band were apologizing to me between songs, telling me to hang in there. What was I gonna’ do? Jump off the stage and start kicking ass? I wasn’t a tough guy or anything. We hung in there and did our thing. I didn’t realize how scary it was going to get.

Stephen Brown (The Family): Randy kept saying, “No stage diving, no stage diving.” And it was like, “Wait a minute. No stage diving? What’s gonna’ happen? You just gonna’ walk away you fucking wimp?” So we dove, you know?

Tony Rettman: I don’t think Deadspot even got to finish their set. The regulars were knocking over their mic stands and acting like retards.

Stephen Ernest Saputelli: We got a really angry reaction from the crowd that night. I don’t know what was up with the audience. They really hated us! I’ve seen opening bands get rough treatment before, but we had these like young skinhead kids hassling us the whole time. We probably could have beaten the crap out of them if we had to, but their back-up was really scary. The [older kids] didn’t even bother coming to the front to mess with us, and it was more humiliating because we had these little kids abusing us while we were rocking out. I mean they were spitting on us, calling us “Baldspot.” They were pretty fucking rough.

Steven DiLodovico: Man, they were fucking brutal. I actually liked Deadspot, and I felt so bad for them. At the same time, it was really fucking funny. “Baldspot” was cracking me up.

Nancy DeSimone (City Gardens regular): I usually hung out in the back because I didn’t feel like getting my face kicked in. There was a lot going on that night and there were rumblings like, “Oh shit, something’s going on.”

Greg Hetson: There was a group of skinhead gentleman who decided to come to the show, take over the pit, dominate, and not let people near the stage. They were sieg-heiling and that kind of stuff, causing problems. They were fighting with the kids five-on-one, beating little kids up.


Randy Now: The “wall of death” was when skinheads would link arms forming a giant steamroller, and then they would run full steam at the stage… rolling over anyone who was in the way.

Alex Franklin (City Gardens regular): The wall of death... everybody did that. Murphy’s Law wrote a song about it. It’s just how it was. It was awesome.

Carl Humenik (City Gardens security): I, along with the other bouncers who worked there, would try to stop the wall of death from happening, but you just couldn’t. You could try, but they were going to come at you no matter what.

Keith Morris (Circle Jerks vocalist): This wall of death is as stupid as it gets, and we’ve seen a lot of really ridiculous things because we are dealing with a ridiculous art form to begin with. City Gardens was the only place I had ever seen it. I’ve seen a lot of knucklehead dances. There’s the one dance where they kick, and they punch, and it looks like a fucking spastic monkey or a gorilla with a fucking M-80 shoved up its ass.

Steven DiLodovico: The wall of death was something you knew was coming at just about every show. You knew to keep your head on a swivel because it was real spontaneous and could happen at any moment. You could really get fucked up if you weren’t paying attention.

Keith Morris: The room at City Gardens has the floor that goes all the way back to the bar.

Alex Franklin: Kids were dancing and doing their thing. The thing is, Keith Morris is a West Coast guy. At West Coast punk shows, they still chase their tails. They still “circle pit” out there, even to this day. We stopped doing that in 1986. We were beyond it by then. We were all punks and skins and hardcore kids, and we moshed it up. The circle pit was for the old dudes.

Greg Hetson: At one point, Keith told everybody to mellow out, and I guess they weren’t having any of it.

Keith Morris: These skinheads— maybe 25 of them—decided they were going to show everybody who was in charge. It wasn’t about the music and it wasn’t about everybody having a good time, it was about them letting people know how tough they were and all of the crap that goes along with their scene.

Steven DiLodovico: It was easy to tell that it was going to be one of “those nights” when the locals were looking to really hurt some people. So, I stayed clear of the pit.

Alex Franklin: I never took it as a malicious thing at all, like we were trying to hurt people. You did it to clear the pit out, and it was a good time.

Nancy DeSimone: Out of curiosity, I came out of the back and went up to the DJ booth to see what was going on. I could see this wall of dudes blocking off the entire floor just because they could, I guess.

Randy Now: Every skinhead was like Mr. America muscle head. They were all 6-foot-7. It was like the front line of the Philadelphia Eagles coming at you.

Keith Morris: They lined up at the back bar and locked arms. The Circle Jerks were performing, and I’m watching what’s going on. All these kids were aware of what was going on around them; they weren’t stupid statues. They noticed that something serious, something heavy, is ready to go down. Suddenly, I can see the floor in front of the stage, that black-and white-checkerboard floor. It was like the parting of the Red Sea. I’m wondering, “What the hell is going on? Why can I see the floor when, just a second ago, there was a mass of people covering it?” I look to the back and see 15 or 20 skinheads, and they’re locked arm-in-arm. It looked like a bullfight was about to happen. You have the bullfighter and the red cape, and the bull is huffing and puffing, and getting ready to charge. I look down to the floor and I see maybe 30 people in front of the stage. I put one and one together and get two. I realize that these guys mean harm, that they want to hurt people. And that’s not what the Circle Jerks are about. That’s not on the Circle Jerks’ list of, “Things to let people do at our show today.”

Steven DiLodovico: And it just kept coming… wave after wave of meaty, sweaty dudes running full speed at the stage.

Alex Franklin: Keith took it as if we were beating up on people, and we really weren’t. It wasn’t a malicious, let’s-hurt-people kind of thing. That’s how we danced, and everybody knew that. As a “regular,” you knew at some point that was going to happen. It was like having chicken fights. You weren’t trying to hurt people, you were just having fun in the pit and being jackasses.

Steven DiLodovico: I was watching the band, and I couldn’t believe how fucking great the Circle Jerks were. They ran through the classics, the newer shit sounded great, and the whole time you could tell that Keith was getting pissed.



Travis Nelson (Inspecter 7, vocalist): [My friend] Roger wanted to fight Keith Morris. Granted, Keith Morris had two security guards with him. The Trenton skins were there, most notably my boy Roger, and he basically called Keith Morris out right on stage. Keith hopped off stage— little skinny Keith Morris—with his chest all puffed out. He rolled up to Roger like he was going to do something, but he also had two City Gardens’ security guys with him, so… I don’t think it would have been the same deal had they not been there with him.

Keith Morris: I saw them slowly charge towards the stage, and I jumped off the front of the stage and ran at them. It was me against 20 or 25 skinheads. I said, “You’re not going to do that here. If you wanna do that, you can go out in the parking lot. All you guys can go out and play in the parking lot.” People shook their heads like, “This guy’s going to get killed. These guys are going to stomp him to death right here.”

Jim Norton (City Gardens security/stage manager): I had a run-in with Keith Morris once before. It was during the first Circle Jerks show I worked at City Gardens. One of the regulars, Ivo, was fighting. I knew him well and had thrown him out many times before. I went to throw him out and Keith Morris, in his own, special way, was like, “We’re not going to play! The bouncers are gorillas…” I was a fan of the band, but Keith kept going, “These guys are jocks and meatheads!” He went on this whole rant. “If you gorillas can’t figure out how to clamp people down without hurting them, we’re going to stop playing.” I thought, “Me hurt him? This is Ivo! Are you kidding me?” When they finished that show I actually tried to get a word with him while he was walking back to the dressing room, and he was a complete knob. He told me to take my, “football player, cop mentality” somewhere else. I was like, “You’re a dick.” It really rubbed me the wrong way, and it colored the way I look at him. It definitely spoiled my “fandom.” Even now, when I look at him, I think, he’s the dude who’s always right. I guess there’s not a point where he can sit there and go, “Oh, it looked a little different from where I was. Maybe I was wrong.”

Carl Humenik (bouncer): I worked many Circle Jerks shows before that. I personally never had a problem with Keith Morris. The whole band was pretty cool to me.

Keith Morris: You would think the bouncers would want to put a stop to all that. You don’t want anyone getting hurt in your venue. Maybe I was going to be backed up by the bouncers. That’s happened quite a bit, believe it or not. Fortunately for me, the bouncers had been paying attention to all of this. It seemed like they were wondering, “Okay, when do we get involved? Do we need to get involved? Do we just let these morons do whatever they’re gonna do?” Obviously, they’d seen it happen, because it was a regular occurrence at a lot of these shows. I had never seen it before.

Steven DiLodovico: There was also the usual contingent of white-power skins there that night, and they were all doing the usual bullshit… the sieg-heiling and all that.

Keith Morris: These skins formed an island in the slam pit and were sieg-heiling. We would play “Killing for Jesus” or “Making the Bomb” and they didn’t understand the sarcasm and the humor behind those songs. They thought we really meant that stuff. They didn’t understand that the make-up of the band is one-and-a-half Jews; at one point we were twoand- a-half Jews. I’m half-Jew, Greg Hetson is half-Jew, and Zander is, I believe, half-Jew, so it was like they just weren’t smart enough to get the joke. We’re here to have a good time. Yes, granted, we’re singing songs with lyrical content that occasionally deals with some serious shit, but we’re here to have a party. If you think you’re going to get away with that, you’re not. We will just stop playing.

Nancy DeSimone: They stopped playing at one point and tried to get everybody to stop, but they ignored the band and stood their ground. Keith started getting antagonistic and said something along the lines of, “Why don’t you all do us a favor and smash your heads into the front of the stage.” That got them all really pissed off. When I heard him say that, I was like, “Oh, fuck…”

Greg Hetson: Keith eventually invited them all to form a line and bend over, point their heads toward the stage, get a good running start, and smash their heads into the stage.

Randy Now: I got on the mic and said, “Hey, this isn’t Geraldo Rivera. Let’s play some music.”


Alex Franklin: The next thing you know Keith Morris jumped off the damn stage! He jumped off the stage, and that’s when everybody had a problem. Once you jump off that stage and you get into people’s faces, and you’re calling people out, it becomes a personal problem. When you are up on the stage, it’s fine. We can have our moral differences. But he jumped down and was trying to get physical with other people. He was right in front of me and he started yelling at people, and calling them assholes and tough guys, and getting in their faces. He’s only, like, five feet tall! The dudes he confronted were six-foot-tall meatheads, kill-you-for- ten-cents kind of people. They were rough dudes.

Greg Hetson: It was pretty gnarly. There were some big guys there.

Keith Morris: I was hoping, when it started to get ugly, that I was going to be backed up by some of the people who were just there to see the show. My ass was basically pulled out of the fire by the bouncers.

Carl Humenik: But as this wall was forming, Keith made it obvious that he wasn’t going to let it happen. It was weird. He’s a small guy, but he jumped down and took on this wall of skinheads. We were all like, “Oh shit!” It was our job as security [to step in], so all the bouncers came running from everywhere.

Alex Franklin: That’s what people did at shows in the tri-state area. I don’t think Keith got that.

Steven DiLodovico: Keith is not a big guy. I couldn’t believe this little dude was confronting the biggest, scariest skinheads I had ever seen. I was amazed at the size of the balls he had on him.

Keith Morris: I’m in a confrontation with these skinheads, and I’m obviously going to get pummeled. The security guys, all of them, within seconds, were standing alongside me. There wasn’t going to be a confrontation because the bouncers were pretty big guys. Even the biggest of the skinhead guys knew that something was going to happen. Maybe this was the time when the bouncers had finally had enough. Maybe they’d seen enough of the stupidity to say to themselves, “Here’s this little guy getting in front of all of these scary skinheads…” I wasn’t really thinking about the outcome. I was not going to allow them to do their wall of death, at whatever expense.

Steven DiLodovico: Amazingly, the skins never touched him. He was right up in their faces and they didn’t do anything. Of course, he had a pretty decent amount of bouncers crowding around him.

Carl Humenik: I knew and could talk to most of the kids who did the wall of death. If I told them to stop, they would stop. But the skinheads, if you antagonize them, then no one can talk to them. We started by pushing the people we knew out of the way, and we knew they would just go away. But Keith wasn’t going to stop. He was going to let them know what he thought, and I admire him for that. So, we waited, and when Keith was done, it was over. He said his peace, actually stopped the wall of death from happening, and went back onstage.

Greg Hetson: The crowd all cheered and, the next thing you know, the crowd turned on the skinheads and security promptly threw them out of the club.

Stephen Brown: [Keith Morris] told a story about confronting skins trying to do a wall of death? It wasn’t us. It sure as hell wasn’t The Family. No way. We would have kicked his ass and broken his arms.

Russ Smith (City Gardens regular): I do remember getting caught up in the wall of death a few times. If you were careful you just stayed out of their way they would eventually tire out. It was great because it opened up the area in front of the stage and I could get closer. The stage divers were a pain sometimes, but a good trick was to take their shoe off and throw it in the crowd. They couldn’t see who took their shoe, and it would take them a good two or three songs to find it. You couldn’t get high tops off, so you just had to grab it and untie the laces.

Alex Franklin: It was going to get ugly, but Big Ed and a few of the other bouncers got in the middle of it and diffused any problems.

Keith Morris: I’m not pro or con when it comes to bouncers, because I’ve seen bouncers do some amazingly fucked-up shit. But, at the same time, it’s either them or the police, and on many occasions there are people in the crowd who try to pull off some ridiculous stunt that has no business being attempted in the first place, and they wonder why they’re being thrown out. Why they’re handcuffed and being taken off to jail. But the Nazis knocked out a couple more kids, and that’s when the bouncers went to the island and started punching. There shouldn’t be any violence at these shows. We’re singing about violence; we live in a violent world. All we are is just a mirror of society. But this was one time when it was warranted. This was one time when I didn’t say anything, when they had the biggest kid and were dragging him out face-down, and he was kicking and trying to punch. You don’t punch a bouncer… are you kidding? You don’t walk up to Mike Tyson and spit in his face. You’re gonna get killed! You lose! If you’re stupid enough to do that, then you deserve whatever kind of stupid treatment they dole out. If you’ve got 50 bouncers, there will be at least a dozen that are level-headed and aren’t there just to fight.

Jim Norton: After hearing Keith talk about how appreciative he was of the City Gardens bouncers helping him, maybe the part where I said, “He never thought it looked different from where I was,” was completely wrong. Maybe I need to turn that back on myself. Maybe both of us are right. Maybe it was a conditional thing. One man’s goon is another man’s… whatever. I would appreciate it if the parts where I sort of hedge and describe how it looked from my side were placed before the nice things Keith said about the bouncers backing him up. Maybe I was the douche. A little self-realization—a little personal growth—never hurt anyone...

Nancy DeSimone: The show is over, and the security guys were all circling around the band and to make sure nobody was going backstage. They weren’t letting anybody get near the band.


Stephen Ernest Saputelli: By the end of the night, our guitar player Paul was like, “Those guys [in the audience] want to kick our asses. Let’s get out of here!” Randy told us that we couldn’t leave because all the skins were out in the parking lot waiting to fucking kill us! The staff came back, and they told us we couldn’t walk out and get in our van. We gave the keys to the sound guy, who got our van and drove it around back, and we scurried off. I never had to run for my life before. It was cool, though, in spite of everything. I really dug being on that stage.

Keith Morris: When we get through playing, we would [usually] hang out. The guys would want to drink a few beers, dry off, collect our thoughts, try to get laid… all of that fun stuff. But then the owner of the club says, “You guys can’t leave right now because there’s a parking lot full of skinheads.” And I’m thinking, “There was a room full of skinheads twenty minutes ago. What’s the big deal?” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was going to be ten guys versus fifty guys. It was going to turn into this big, ugly, brutal thing out in the parking lot. It’s not like I was afraid or anything, it’s just the way the owner explained it. He said, “If you want, you can take a look outside.” The only way you could look outside was by opening the front door, and I saw four cars, with five or six guys in each car, driving around in circles in the parking lot. I’m like, “Okay, what are they trying to prove? What are they doing here? Why don’t they just go home?” Well, they wanted to beat up and kill the lead singer of the Circle Jerks. I thought about it and cracked up! I’m not going anywhere.

Randy Now: They had to stay in the club for a while after the show. There were skinheads outside who wanted to kill them.

Carl Humenik: That wasn’t just the Circle Jerks shows. That situation happened a number of times. Anytime there was a problem on the floor, they would go outside and wait for the guy they had a problem with to come out. If I have a problem with someone, I tell them. I don’t go out and get a bunch of my friends and circle the parking lot waiting for them. It’s an instance of someone trying to show off and be a man but never actually doing anything.

Nancy DeSimone: For what seemed like a really long time we couldn’t leave. The guards were outside saying that a bunch of people were waiting out in the parking lot. We were sitting inside like, “What the fuck?” We couldn’t leave!

Greg Hetson: We just hung out playing ping pong and pinball.

Nancy DeSimone: I was terrified because I had never had any sort of run-ins with skinheads before, and everyone was taking the whole situation pretty seriously. Well, Keith was all, “Fuck them!” but everyone else sat there drinking beer and was thinking, “You know… we didn’t sign up for this.”

Keith Morris: They’re out there driving around in circles waiting for us to come out, and the really ridiculous thing is that if they really wanted to fuck with us, they could have slashed all the tires on the van, on the trailer, smashed out all the windows. But apparently they weren’t even smart enough to do that.

Nancy DeSimone: Eventually, when the coast was clear, we barreled into our cars and went to Denny’s or something, and then we went to the Red Roof Inn. All City Gardens bands stayed there, but none of the skinheads even thought to come to the Red Roof.

Greg Hetson: I guess eventually their parents came to pick their little boys up and take them home.

Keith Morris: When we left, nothing happened. We got in the van and drove away. They were long gone. We hung out with the staff and Randy, and we went upstairs and played pinball. You get really good at pinball when you’re on tour.

Steven DiLodovico: In a weird kind of epilogue, my friend Brian and I were riding back to Philly after the show. We were driving down I-95 and we notice this small pickup truck with a ton of gear in the back. We pull up alongside, and it’s the guys from Deadspot. We had known those guys for a while. Brian had had them on his radio show a few times, and we would see them at all these Philly gigs. They are making the waving motion, like “come on, follow us!” So, we did. We ended up following them back to some trashy apartment complex in Delaware County. We go upstairs, and there’s a small party happening. We knew no one there except for the guys in the band, but everyone was cool to us. We were in some back room drinking and laughing about the show when someone came in and made an announcement that one of their oldest friends had just committed suicide. You can imagine how weird and uncomfortable it was, especially for me and Brian. Everyone’s crying and in shock, and me and Brian tiptoed out, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. What a strange, strange night.

Back to blog