‘No Slam Dancing’: Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and… Jon Stewart?


Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn during a Black Flag show
 
I’ve read an absolutely embarrassing amount of books on pop music for someone who’s never read Dostoyevsky, and over the years I’ve learned to make my recommendations with care. I’ve found out the hard way that not everyone is as interested in Ronnie Spector’s autobiography as I am (ingrates), and that it’s difficult to convince someone that you don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy a book on the history of heavy metal. However, I’m completely serious when I say everyone will enjoy No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens—it’s just that universal.

To give you some background, City Gardens was a music venue in the most unlikely of places, Trenton, New Jersey, a city that’s been on the rapid decline for decades. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, riots ravaged the downtown, and even the cops were looting (for welding masks and catcher’s helmets to protect their faces from flying debris). Insurance companies began to drop businesses’ claims, deindustrialization exacerbated unemployment, and suburban flight grew in droves—Trenton, NJ remains a pretty dismal place, economically.

However, where there is a void, there is also opportunity, and a giant warehouse in a rough part of town became the site of a musical oasis, all through the tireless efforts of a few committed fans and staff. The actual City Gardens building had been re-purposed many times before, from a grocery store to a car dealership, but when it was reopened as a disco in 1980, local DJ Randy Now approached the owner, hoping to find a venue receptive to his New Wave tastes. What began as a few weekly dance nights quickly paved the way to booking some of the best bands in underground music.
 

The Descendents in front of their perilous tour bus
 
Before you write off City Gardens as just another scummy punk venue, realize two things. First, the Trenton neighborhood it called home was volatile. While slam-dancing can certainly incur some injuries, to say City Gardens was merely “violent” is an understatement. It saw a lawsuit in 1981, not a year after it began booking bands, when a woman was brutally beaten with a pool cue in inside the venue. And this is to say nothing of the skinhead riot that occurred later. The late Dave Brockie, better knows as GWAR singer Oderus Orungus, said City Gardens was so bad, they’d never go there as fans. Second, when I say “some of the best bands in underground music,” I think City Gardens’ booking philosophy is best summed up in Mickey Ween’s forward when he said, “they did not cater to the audience.”

This was not just a punk or hard rock club. For every Black Flag and Danzig (who had their very first show there), there was a Bo Diddley, Sinead O’Connor, Lydia Lunch, Iggy Pop, DEVO, Bauhaus, The Ramones (who played numerous times), Ricky Nelson, The Violent Femmes, RIcky Nelson, or Toots and the Maytals! The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart was bartending during a Butthole Surfers set with a topless dancer and some careless DIY pyrotechnics! The Beastie Boys almost didn’t play and got their tires slashed, presumably for being late! Someone threatened to break down the dressing room door to stab Jello Biafra! The chaos and sheer wildness of City Gardens is what truly made it unique, and it even hosted all ages shows!
 

Al Jourgensen of Ministry
 
Co-Author Amy Yates Wuelfing pinpoints the preposterous success of it all:

City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me. And unlike the clubs in Philly and New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.

What’s truly captivating about No Slam Dancing is the story-telling—it’s a complete oral history, meticulously collected from the memories and reflections of bands, employees, regulars, and all manner of City Gardens alumni. Over a hundred interviews were conducted to create an amazing compendium of anecdotes, and they don’t pull punches. Not everyone comes off well, and sometimes everything goes wrong, but the spirit of the moment is exciting and ambitious, and it’s all the more inspiring when you realize the entire fourteen year musical renaissance of Trenton, New Jersey was built from the ground up by Randy Now, the hobbyist DJ with a day job as a mailman. It’s an insane story, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

Below, Jon Stewart, Ian Mackaye and others talk about City Gardens in a trailer for Riot on the Dance Floor: The story of Randy Now and City Gardens.
 

Written by Amber Frost | Discussion
Jello Biafra on his days as a newbie punk

biafra
 
It seems unlikely that anyone even slightly familiar with American punk would need an introduction to the legendary iconoclast Jello Biafra. From his days as the brains, conscience and leader of the notorious and incendiary leftist punks Dead Kennedys, to his lengthy string of superb collaborative albums, to his politically charged spoken word performances, to his most recent work with The Guantanamo School of Medicine, Biafra (born Eric Boucher) has left a bigger stain on American counterculture than most. Unrepentantly opinionated (and to my reckoning, usually dead-on correct), Biafra can typically be heard issuing proclamations in a strident cadence that rings of Fred Schneider trying to imitate Mark E. Smith. Which was why it was actually quite refreshing to see this interview in Denver’s alt-weekly WestWord, wherein Biafra’s focus isn’t on politics, but rather a remembrance of his youth as a new initiate into the punk scene in his hometown of Boulder, CO. His journey to venerated counterculture elder statesman began with a stint as a hanger-on and later roadie for a The Ravers - a little-remembered band that later found much wider recognition under the name The Nails - which led to his ultimate Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment: seeing the Ramones in concert.

As far as I know, [The Ravers were] Colorado’s first punk band and one of the very first anywhere. It was more rooted in ‘60s garage than it was in Ramones or Sex Pistols and still an important part of my life and many other people’s. I’d been reading Marc Campbell’s reviews in the Colorado Daily, and he was much more brash and up front about what he liked and didn’t like.

So he was memorable instantly. Later, I found out he was the singer in the Ravers. They kind of centered around the old basement location on Broadway of Trade A Tape and Records in Boulder where I got a lot of my vinyl. They rehearsed in a back room and Rick Scott, one of the clerks there, was their manager.

Word got around, probably through Rick, that the Ramones were gonna come through Denver and play at Ebbets Field, opening for a major-label attemped flavor-of-the-month called Nite City. Ironically, it had to have Ray Manzarek and a pre-Blondie Nigel Harrison in it, among other people. It was an attempt at an instant FM rock hit, and the opening band was the Ramones.

So the handful of us who kind of knew who the Ramones were in the front row. Ebbets Field was a small, intimate place where everyone was expected to sit down. That’s what people did at concerts; everybody was supposed to sit down. Bill Graham would throw you out for dancing in San Francisco, and so would Barry Fey and Feyline security.

You undoubtedly know Rocky Mountain Low; Joseph Pope was one of the people in the front row with me. At the time, I didn’t really take the Ramones that seriously. I knew they rocked, but I would sit around playing the Ramones with my friends, and we would giggle at the lack of guitar solos and these boneheaded lyrics like “beat on the brat with a baseball bat” and “now I wanna sniff some glue.”

It had an impact enough to go down and see them. And out come these four, kinda degenerate looking guys in leather jackets—which is something you didn’t see very often then. One chord on Jonny’s guitar, and we knew it was going to be a louder than anyone of us were prepared for. We braced ourselves and instead of being goofy, the Ramones were one of the most powerful experiences of my entire life.

We were three feet from the stage and forced to sit down, of course. Not only were they really, really good, but half the fun was turning around and watching the Ebbets Field, country-rock glitterati, the guys with the neatly trimmed beards, Kenny Loggins-feathered hair and corduroy jackets, with patches on the elbows, as well as the cocaine cowboys and their women, with their 1920s suits with flowers, because that’s what Joni Mitchell was wearing at the time—they looked horrified. They had nowhere to go. Because Ebbets Field was so small, you couldn’t go hang out in the lobby because there wasn’t one. They just had to endure the Ramones.

It never would have occurred to me to try to go back stage and talk to the band. I didn’t know you could talk to rock bands. I was a wide-eyed teenager used to going to see arena rock at the Denver Coliseum or McNichols. At any rate, Joseph came back at one point and said, “Oh yeah, I was just back talking to The Ramones.” “What?! You can talk to the Ramones?”

That was the punk rock thing—we’re all from the same place. And that was the beauty of the live shows, too—my god, they’re so powerful, they’re so simple, anyone could do this. Shit, I could do this. Maybe I should. And that’s how it affected a lot of people in the room. The Ramones stayed an extra night and Ebbets Field let them headline, and the Ravers were going to open the show. Luckily, The Ravers needed what was then called “roadies.” So I me, Joe, Sam Spinner, and, I think, John Trujillo, were anointed “the roadies” on the spot.

Suddenly I thought, “All you people who thought I was a loser in school, now I’m somebody. I’m a roadie for the Ravers!” That meant many good times at other Ravers shows like playing with the Nerves and the big one playing on the top floor of the ex-elementary school at 9th and Arapahoe. Which was Driver which became The Nightflames and the Front.

By the way, if you’re curious about that Ray Manzarek/Nigel Harrison band Biafra mentions, I don’t recommend you trouble yourself with finding it, it’s horrible, horrible stuff.

Regular readers of this blog may have recognized that the Marc Campbell mentioned in the interview is Dangerous Minds’ own. I actually didn’t - DM‘s poo-bah Richard Metzger pointed it out to me. This, young aspiring writers, is why we have editors. Marc had this to add to Jello’s reminiscences:

The Ramones were traveling with a woman (Johnny’s girlfriend I think). She was dressed in fish nets and leather mini-skirt and reading a Nazi torture porn novel something like “Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS.” Totally silent. Dee Dee kept talking about how scary it was flying so close to the Rocky Mountains. An animated goofball full of manic energy. Joey, Johnny and Tommy didn’t talk much. They were intimidating. All theater, seamless and perfect.

The Ramones’ show at Ebbet’s Field was a religious experience for me. Perhaps the most important rock show of my life in that it solidly re-connected me to what I loved about the music and made me want to continue playing it. Months later, The Ravers were on their way to Manhattan and CBGB and Max’s. Eric helped load up the van and saw us off. He was too young to make the trip with us, or at least his parents thought so. I think I remember him waving bye as we sped toward our destiny. But that may be the movie version. Jello will have to correct me if I’m wrong.

For a look at what that Colorado kid evolved into, enjoy “Sing Along with the Dead Kennedys,” a bonus feature from the Dead Kennedys - The Early Years Live DVD.
 

Written by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
In God We Trust, Inc: Amazing footage of Dead Kennedys in the studio, 1981
12.04.2013
11:05 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Jello Biafra
Dead Kennedys


 
When Dead Kennedys went into the studio in 1981 to record In God We Trust, Inc., their “tribute” EP to the faster, thrashier “hardcore” musical style associated with the Washington, DC punk scene (think Minor Threat) the first sessions were laid down on defective tape stock, so they had to go back to the studio to record it again a few months later.

In 2003, videotapes of the band working out the arrangements and recording the songs during that initial session (taped for a documentary on punk rock) were released as The Lost Tapes on DVD. A raw mix was fed directly into the line inputs of the camera, so the audio is immediate and powerful. Using techniques that did not exist in 1981, five of the eight songs recorded during the first In God We Trust, Inc. session were eventually restored.

For In God We Trust, Inc., the group updated their anti-Jerry Brown screed, “California Über Alles” as a cocktail jazz redux inserting-newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan’s name in for the young governor who had succeeded him. (Brown was re-elected California’s governor in 2010.) Jello Biafra and the rest of the band, of course, don’t see eye to eye today, but the band captured during that ill-fated studio session was absolutely raw and on fire. Drummer D.H. Peligro had just joined the group at this time and he brought a lot to the DK’s sound.

I bought In God We Trust, Inc. on a music cassette. The b-side was blank and the label bore the words “Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help.” LISTEN TO THIS LOUD!

 

 
Thank you kindly, Mr. Clam!

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
The Art of Punk: Great new short documentary on Winston Smith and Dead Kennedys


 
The third and final installment of “The Art of Punk,” MOCA-TV‘s great web series that looks at the increasingly historically important graphic design of the punk era. This time around, Jello Biafra and Winston Smith talk about the “look” of Dead Kennedys’ posters, handbills and record covers and explain how the logo came about.

There’s a wonderful moment here when Biafra—generously giving credit where it’s historically due—explains his “aha!” moment, when he realized that collaborating creatively with Smith would allow him to present foldouts, posters and booklets ala Crass, but funny.

I thought that was really interesting. Another fun fact: The cover for In God We Trust, Inc. came before the EP did.

Previous installments of Bryan Ray Turcotte and Bo Bushnell’s production have concentrated on Raymond Pettibon’s distinctive pen and ink work on behalf of Black Flag and Dave King’s logo and Gee Vaucher’s militant collages that defined Crass visually. Three fun short docs totally worth your time. As a viewer, I really appreciated that they went out of their way to tell stories that you haven’t already heard ten million times before…
 

 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Music History in GIFs


 

2007.  Les Savy Fav releases Let’s Stay Friends. Not only does Les Savy Fav treat you to sweaty, powerful performances with plenty of partial nudity and plenty of beard, they also treat you to some of the finest songs ever written.

Music History in GIFs is exactly what the title says. The 8-bit animations are by Brooklyn-based guitarist Joshua Carrafa who’s in the band Old Monk.

Below each GIF is a caption written by Carrafa.



 

1986.  Jello Biafra and Alternative Tentacles are dragged in to court and charged with “distributing harmful matter to minors” over the visual and lyrical content of the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist.  After the police raid Biafra’s house and lawyers probe through the album, they remember there is some law or something that says you can’t censor that kind of stuff.

 

 

1979.  Frank Zappa releases Sheik Yerbouti. He masters the combination of humor and music, and it becomes his most successful album.  His song titles are dead serious though, like “I Have Been In You,” “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes,” and “Jewish Princess.”

Via Post Punk Tumblr

Written by Tara McGinley | Discussion
PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT: Jello Biafra vs Tipper Gore on Oprah, 1990


 
The whole PMRC music censorship flap of the 80s and 90s is a rare—BUT NO LESS DEFINITIVE—example of Democrats being just as bad, if not far worse, than Republicans can be.

The PMRC (“Parent Music Resource Group”) was headed by Al Gore’s then wife, Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, wife of Bush I’s then Treasury Secretary, James Baker, two bored Washington socialite busy-bodies who wanted to “make a difference” and get on tee-vee and stuff. Although the PRMC was nominally non-partisan, I blame the Democrats for supporting it more than I blame the Republicans (they didn’t call those Parental Advisory warnings “Tipper Stickers” for nuthin’).

The whole thing made it impossible for me to vote for Bill Clinton, with Gore as his running mate (both elections) and I didn’t vote for Gore in 2000, either. Clearly at one point in his public career, Al Gore backed censorship and thought crime as a winning political stance—he supported his wife’s efforts all the way—and frankly I didn’t need to know that much more about him. Gore might have rehabilitated himself somewhat with his environmental advocacy in recent years, but I still suspect that underneath he’s a total dickhead, nevertheless…

In 1990, The Oprah Winfrey Show hosted former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, future Fox News pundit, Juan Williams, Ice-T and Nelson George to discuss the PMRC issue.

For those of you too young to have lived through this, here a succinct bit of background from Biafra’s Wikipedia entry that will fill you in:

In April 1986, police officers raided his house in response to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). In June 1986, L.A. deputy city attorney Michael Guarino, working under City Attorney James Hahn, brought Biafra to trial in Los Angeles for distributing “harmful material to minors” in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. In actuality, the dispute was about neither the music nor the lyrics from the album, but rather the print of the H. R. Giger poster Landscape XX (Penis Landscape) [NSFW link] included with the album. Biafra believes the trial was politically motivated; it was often reported that the PMRC took Biafra to court as a cost-effective way of sending a message out to other musicians with content considered offensive in their music.

Music author Reebee Garofalo argued that Biafra and Alternative Tentacles may have been targeted because the label was a “small, self-managed and self-supported company that could ill afford a protracted legal battle.” Facing the possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2000 fine, Biafra, Dirk Dirksen, and Suzanne Stefanac founded the No More Censorship Defense Fund, a benefit made up of several punk rock bands, to help pay for his legal fees, which neither he nor his record label could afford. The jury deadlocked 5 to 7 in favor of acquittal, prompting a mistrial; despite a motion to re-try the case, the judge ordered all charges dropped.[citation needed] The Dead Kennedys disbanded during the trial, in December 1986, due to the mounting legal costs; in the wake of their disbandment, Biafra made a career of his spoken word performances. His early spoken word albums focused heavily on the trial (especially in High Priest of Harmful Matter), which made him renowned for his anti-censorship stance.

No one has posted Biafra’s amazing 45-minute long “Tales from the Trial” rant on YouTube, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy to track down.

Below, highlights of Jello Biafra absolutely eviscerating Tipper Gore’s pro-censorship arguments. This is an amazing piece of history, it really is:
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Rock outlaws: Interviews with Iggy Pop, Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch and Jello Biafra
04.20.2012
01:57 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Iggy Pop
Lydia Lunch
Jello Biafra
Richard Hell


Iggy talks about lessons learned from David Bowie: “No,you’re not coming to the dinner table on heroin.”

Jérôme de Missolz’s documentary Wild Thing (2010) was made for French television and it’s a pretty good look at rock n’ roll outlaws from the 1960s thru to the present day.

Here are some excerpts featuring Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, Iggy Pop and Jello Biafra. Lunch’s anecdote about The Dead Boys is a jaw-dropper. The Boys ate Lydia’s Lunch.
 

 
To watch the entire film (much of which is in French) click here. There’s some fascinating interviews (in English) with Eric Burdon, Genesis P-Orridge, Kevin Ayers and many more.

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Jello Biafra bobbing head doll
11.17.2011
12:37 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Design
Punk

Tags:
Jello Biafra
Throbblehead

jellllllooooo
 
Jello Biafra throbblehead just in time for the Holiday Season.

This figure capturing his look from the 80s is limited to 1000 numbered units, stands at 7 inches tall, and is made of super strong polyresin.

Jello is accurately sculpted right down to the piercing glare, star belt buckle and Alternative Tentacles tee.

A little bobbing Dead Kennedy can be yours for only $19.95. Pre-order at Aggronautix
 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Jello Biafra on Canadian TV
09.14.2011
12:00 am

Topics:
Politics
Punk

Tags:
Jello Biafra
The Hour


Joey Ramone and Eric Boucher (aka Jello Biafra) in Denver, Colo. 1977
 
Here’s a clip of the always witty, acerbic and insightful Jello Biafra on Canadian TV show The Hour.

I’ve known Jello since he was an 18-year-old hippie in Boulder, Colorado.  He was one of the smartest kids I’d ever met with an incredible knowledge of rock and roll and a radical, edgy sensibility. At a time when most longhairs where luxuriating in the Rocky Mountain High vibe, Jello was busy inhaling vinyl and sniffing grooves. We first met in a used record store. I think he was buying some Roxy Music and T. Rex.

He was one of a handful of Boulder teenagers who supported my punk band in 1976. He’d help carry my group’s equipment at gigs so he’d get into clubs that had a 21-years and older door policy. I’m not sure but that might have gotten him into his first Ramones’ show when I opened for them in 1977 in Denver.

I’ve literally watched Jello grow from a brilliant kid into a brilliant adult. I love the fucker. He has stayed true to his core beliefs while many aging punks have sold out and played it safe.
 

 
Photo: Don Fleming

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Jello Biafra voodoo man: When the saints go moshing in
05.26.2011
10:19 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Jello Biafra


 
Jello Biafra’s vast knowledge of rock and roll came into play last month at this New Orleans gig where he and members of Dash Rip Rock, Supagroup, Egg Yolk Jubilee and Cowboy Mouth dusted off some classic New Orleans r&b and garage rock tunes in what looks like an absolutely smoking party. Jello’s fire and brimstone attack is perfect for these slabs of funkified soul and Crescent City blues. Dr. Jello, The Night Tripper.

Jello, you oughta do this more often. It’s good for your soul and it’s okay to take some time off from from trying to bring down empires. Sometimes the most revolutionary act is the one that feels good. Your buddy, Marc.
 
“Land Of A 1000 Dances”

 
“House Of The Rising Sun”

 
“Ya Ya”

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Rage: 20 years of punk rock, West Coast style

image
(Germs from left to right: Pat Smear, Lorna Doom, Darby Crash and Don Bolles)
 
Back in 2000, I vaguely remember the documentary Rage: 20 Years of Punk Rock, West Coast Style coming out, but never caught up with it—my gut told me it wasn’t gonna be no Decline!  (plus, doesn’t the math seem off?  2000 - 20 only equals, like,  what…1980?)  Anyhoo, thanks to YouTube, I can now present to you a few of its highlights.

First up, here’s Germs drummer Don Bolles discussing singer Darby Crash’s well known fascination with both Nietzsche and Scientology:

 
Next up, here’s Dead Kennedy‘s frontman Jello Biafra discussing how it felt to be first a witness then a player in San Francisco’s exploding punk scene:

 
Bonus clips: The Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, T.S.O.L.‘s Jack Grisham

Bonus Germs: Lexicon Devil, live @ The Whisky, 1979

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion
CIA Releases Iran-Contra Documents After 20 Years
11.06.2009
04:57 pm

Topics:
Politics

Tags:
Jello Biafra
CIA
FOIA
Oliver North
Iran-Contra

image

After 20 years, the CIA has finally released Iran-Contra documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Better late than never, I suppose. See docs and analysis here.

It?

Written by Jason Louv | Discussion
Jello Biafra: Open Letter to Barack Obama
07.22.2009
08:42 am

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
Barack Obama
Jello Biafra

image

 

From one of our most astute (and hilarious) political observers (and a personal hero). I can’t believe I missed this when it was posted, but I hardly think it matters as it’s still entirely relevant today:

Other countries prefer a healthy workforce and are willing to pay for it. Here we stick our workforce with fat, greedy insurance companies who serve no purpose but to act as a tollbooth or a gatekeeper and charge exorbitant fees before a person can even see a doctor. The result, of course, is the most expensive healthcare system with the least benefit for the buck of any in the industrialized world. You say the big insurance companies “should have a place at the table.” Aren’t these companies the problem?

Other counties want their workforce to be as well-educated as possible to better care for themselves and compete in the global economy. So they are willing to pay to make sure this happens, instead of kicking them in the face with back-breaking student loans and cutting school funding to the bone.

Other countries want their children to grow up well-nourished and loved instead of dysfunctional. They are happy to pay welfare for single parents to stay home with their little ones, and for 12-18 months maternity leave with 80-90% pay for either parent to make sure no child is left behind.

Traveling overseas it is not hard to notice that many European countries, and not just Scandinavia, have a higher standard of living than we do, and the gap is widening. The reason is they are willing to pay for it.

OPEN LETTER TO BARACK OBAMA from Jello Biafra

 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion