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City Gardens

If you were a punk or metal fan in the 80's and you lived in Phila, PA or in NJ chances are you went to this club and a book is coming about the club and I went there many times and in 1986 at a Slayer concert their reign in blood tour during "Chemical Warfare" I dove off the stage, everybody and I couldn't walk for 3 days ha ha...here is is..


MC: How did the idea of writing a book about a club in Trenton, NJ that hosted all kinds of shows, but was known mainly as a punk/hardcore venue, with some underground metal shows sprinkle in?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: The funny thing is, that is how some people think of City Gardens.  Other people remember it as a new wave club, others a dance club, others a social club. City Gardens was many different things to people, which I think is what makes it unique. While most people who are into alternative music know CBGBs and 930 Club, I think City Gardens is significant because it wasn't located in a big city.  It was a big club in the Trenton ghetto, in the middle of nowhere, yet enough people went to support it for 15+ years. The promoter booked dozens of bands who later on went to be huge: R.E.M., Nirvana, Soundgarden. But more than that, it was a place for misfits from the suburbs to come together. Before social media, people who felt like outcasts had nothing. City Gardens was a place where you go and be yourself. Some people went to the club for show, others went for dance nights, but it was a great diverse crowd.


MC: Now for those who don’t know, please tell my readers actually what City Gardens was and around how many shows did you attend there?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: City Gardens started in 1979, hosting dance nights, local bands and up and coming national acts like Romeo Void.  The club then started booking more shows and towards the last 5-7 years, was known mainly for hardcore shows.  The club stopped booking major acts in 1994 and closed for good in 1999.


MC: Now there are 2 of you that wrote this book. Amy Wuelfing and Steven Dilodovico. How did you come to know each other tell my readers some of the other things you have written prior to this book coming out? Did either of you attend shows together or were at the same shows as strangers?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: I have been working on this book off and on for about 15 years. Doing an oral history is a very daunting process, as you have to track down and interview many people, you can't just write a narrative. It's very exhausting meeting with people, transcribing interviews, trying to make sense of certain events. I had pretty much given up on the whole thing until I met Steven. We met over  the internet, of course. At the time, he was living in the South, and thinking about writing a book about City Gardens. I suggested we join forces and he got me energized about the project again. What's great is that he went to the club steadily in the early '90s, when my attendence started to trail off.  Our time there covers almost the entire span of the club - and his perspective is entirely different than mine.  It's a great combination. And I am really thankful that Steve and I met - he really made this possible.


MC: I know you reached out to over a 100 of people over the making of the book. Was there many bands that flat out wanted nothing to do with book and was there any anybody that you tried to reach out to, but could not find them anywhere on planet earth? Out of all the people you interviewed, what are some of your favorite quotes you got from them?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: Danzig is a big one who has (or at least his people have) flat our said no. He’s “too busy.”  Other than him, people have been very receptive!  Jon Stewart – one of the biggest celebrities out there – took time out to talk to us.  We have a couple more we are trying to reel in, but overall we got a lot of great people.  Most people are easy to find, but sometimes it’s hard to get through the layers of people.  We’d still love to talk to Dave Grohl or Dave Navarro if anyone knows how to get a message to them. 

One interview that stands out in my mind is GWAR.  I was literally in tears I was laughing so hard. They have great stories about smoking crack and scandalizing Tesco Vee. Al Jourgensen from Ministry also had some amazing crack smoking stories.


MC: What year did City Gardens open and what year did it close. Did “Randy” know the 1st show he booked there as well as the last show and what led to the opening of the club and what lead to it closing? I am sure the building is long gone, do you know what it is there now?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: Opened in 1979, closed for good 1999. The first big international act Randy booked was 999, the last band he booked to play there was WEEN, which was December 2, 1994. Randy and club’s owner Frank Nalbone got worn down by lawsuits from kids hurting themselves and insurance premiums went sky-high – it was just not feasible to do shows anymore.  The building was another club for a while, until it was shut down by the police in 2003 or so. It has stood vacant ever since.


MC: Did you have to do a lot research with the book and I saw that a lot of bands and “Randy Now” helped with quotes of the book. For those who have no idea who is, he was the booker of the club. I see from the excerpts that you sent me that some of the quotes and stuff from 2009 and now we are in 2013. Why did it take you so long to do this or was it that fact that some bands were harder to find than others and since you were doing a book with your name attached to it, it was a case of I am doing it right, or I am not doing it at all?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: A book like this is extremely time consuming.  I’ve been working on it for a long, long time.  Finding people, setting up interviews, transcribing the interviews - all while working a day job – takes a long-ass time.  To get the gig calendar together, I spent two solid days in the archives of the EC Rocker going through EVERY issue from 1979 to 1994 to find the City Gardens ad and cobble together the timeline. It all takes time and for the bulk of it I was working alone.  


MC: How in the heck did you find “Randy Now” and is he still living in the Trenton, NJ area. From the excerpts I read, there is only a few bands quoted in it. Around how many bands, fans, or workers helped contribute to the book?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: I have stayed in touch with Randy over the years – he never left the area. We did over 100 interviews. We talked to many, many bands.  The excerpts we have putout are just a few pages from a book that will probably be 350 pages.  We got bands galore – trust me.


MC: When you contacted or approached “Randy”, did he think you were nuts or was he totally into the idea? I am sure you spent hours with him recounting his days at the club.


Amy Yates Wuelfing: This whole book was his idea!  In retrospect, I should ran for the hills! This book has been an ordeal in a lot of ways. I can’t wait to put it out and have it be done.


MC:  Around how many shows did you see there and what are some shows that totally stick out in your mind and did any of the bands that you saw there disappoint you due to the fact that they sucked?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: My heyday was 1983 to about 1990 or so.  My co-author went doing the later years, so between us we have it covered. 


MC: I never had my car broken into or any problems there over the years, did “Randy” have any crazy stories to tell you in that regards and how about police showing up to shut down shows?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: The whole club was shut down by The Man in 1981 for code violations. The thing with the police is that they wouldn’t come!!  The club sat on a dividing line between Trenton and Ewing, and neither PD wanted to deal with it. Usually the police wouldn’t come even when they were needed – that was more the problem. It was lawless, in a way.


MC: In the book, did “Randy” mention some of his favorite shows and/or some bands that totally gave him a hard time?


Amy Yates Wuelfing:  Oh yes – and Randy was also road manager for several bands during that time: Rancid, Suicidal Tendencies, GWAR, Meatmen and the Mentors, to name a few. Think about those bands!  Plenty of wild stories.  


 MC: Were there a number of things in the making of the book that surprised the shit out of you so to speak?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: Being a woman, I was somehow spared a lot of the violence that went on there in the later years. It was mostly guy-on-guy. A lot of nasty, violent things went on that I had no idea about.


 MC: Now some of the bands I have read quoted from and that includes, Deadspot, Circle Jerks, etc. How easy was it to find those 2 bands?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: Most bands are pretty easy to find. Getting them to talk, is another question, but they’re easy.


MC: Did any of you 2 personally ever get in the “mosh pit” or ever dived off the stage at any point of going to shows there?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: Hell, no.

Steven DiLodovico:  Oh my GOD, yes! I lived for that shit. City Gardens had some of the hardest, most violent pits I've ever experienced in over 25 years of going to shows. You ever been in a Cro Mags pit circa 1987? There was NOTHING like it!! Since the size of the club itself was so big you would have these Hardcore shows where multiple pits would break out and you never knew from which direction the bodies would be flying. And, of course, you had the Wall of Death which could happen at any moment. And, yes, even though it was highly frowned upon, I dove several times off that stage (sorry Randy!). You would wait til the headlining band would be doing their last encore, and that's when you would rush the stage because you KNEW you were getting thrown out! I'm quite sure Gentleman Jim Norton (of Crucial Youth fame) "gently" walked me to the side doors may times in the '80s!


MC: Steven, how many hours and research did you have to do in finding bands, bouncers, etc? I know there is a Facebook page on the group, which I am a member of, did that make it a bit easier to helping you find people for the book?


Steven DiLodovico:   I can't even count how many hours of research I personally did. It was a LOT, and however many hours I spent you can double that to realize how many hours Amy put into this before I came along. She had done most of the research on the older days. By the time I came along I was lucky enough to have social media at my disposal to track people down, which was a god-send. If not for Facebook this book would take another 10 years just trying to track people down. For me it made this whole process a lot easier. And, on a side note, for me, being able to find the people in all the hardcore bands I looked up to in my younger days was the best part. I still get excited to interview bands whose records I listened to religiously in my teenage years. I still get all fan-boy about it!


MC: I would kinda call City Gardens, the Lamour’s (legendary metal club in Brooklyn, NY in the 80’s) of NJ. Do you agree or disagree and why?


Steven DiLodovico:  I see your point, L'Amours was a GREAT place, but I would have to say that City Gardens was very unique in regards to the various genres of music it showcased. A lot of legendary metal bands came through there, off the top of my head the best had to be Slayer during the "Reign in Blood" tour. City Gardens was also bold enough to book a bill with Black Flag opening for Venom. You didn't see a lot of crossover like that back then. While there was a lot of Punk, Hardcore, New Wave, Alternative and whatnot to come through there, a lot of the great thrash/meatl acts of the early-mid '80s often get overlooked. Dark Angel, Overkill, Nuclear Assault... Randy would book all these bands right along with Ska, Funk, Reggae, etc. I think, more than anything, what set City Gardens apart from other clubs was the variety of music it supported.


Amy Yates Wuelfing: Most clubs specialized in one genre of music – City Gardens did EVERYTHING.  As a result, people were exposed to things that they never would have heard otherwise.


MC: Did any of you attend any of the dance nights they had or any non metal/hardcore shows that were there over the years?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: Oh yes. That’s a whole chapter unto itself.  That’s what is special about the place, it meant different things to different people. It wasn’t just “punk” or “hardcore” – it was basically a place for misfits of every stripe and persuasion to go.


MC: Did you reach out to the actual owner of the club and if you, which imagine you did, was into the idea or has passed away or were not able to contact him?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: He is alive and very politely said no. I did interview the owner’s daughter, Nikki Nailbomb, who is in a Trenton-based punk rock band called Molly Rhythm.  I remember when her mother was pregnant with her!  She grew in the club and had some interesting insights.


MC: Favorite memory from the club and the worst memory and did you have any fear of ever getting hurt at a show over the years?


Amy Yates Wuelfing:  The only fear I ever had was a t over-packed shows – like The Ramones or Dead Kennedys – and I feared getting crushed or trampled. Or a Great White-type accident. My momma always told me in cases like that – stand near a door! So that’s what I always did.  But one time I stood upfront to see Ministry and before I knew it, the place was packed and I was “trapped.” That was a bad memory.  

Being around punk bands at City Gardens taught me many life lessons, but I remember one in particular. In 1984, I was interviewing many punk and hardcore bands for the magazine Hard Times. Never had a problem, except for the Butthole Surfers, who were tripping so hard they could barely talk. Even so, they were still nice about it. And then, I met Flipper.

 Even among fellow punks, they had the reputation for being a bunch of assholes, and on this night they lived up to it. They were accused of trying to steal the opening band, Scornflakes', equipment, which they denied.  After the show, another woman and I were sent to the dressing room to do the interview. The band seemed nice enough, if not totally drunk, but then something set them off. I believe we asked them, in a joking way, about the alleged equipment stealing. The next thing I know I’m in a shoving match with Bruce from Flipper. It ended when he grabbed me by my hair and attempted to throw me down a flight of stairs. I punched him the balls, which seemed to have shockingly little effect, but it was enough for him to let me go. My friend and I got out of there, went to car and looked at each other like, what the hell just happened? It was like petting a friendly dog who all of the sudden snaps at you for no reason.

Hard Times editor Ron Gregorio saw them at Maxwell’s in Hoboken two nights later. The band said that they had no memory of anything that happened. Surprise, surprise. Even weirder than the fight with the band was the lack of commiseration I got from everyone about it. My own mother told me I should have known better then go to drunk band’s dressing room—which was probably true—and the magazine’s editor told me to toughen up. I learned there’s no whining in punk rock.


 MC: Around how many flyers did you manage to obtain for the book and how about any fanzine articles or reviews of shows?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: From Randy, I got most of the old “punkcards” he used to send out.  Plus the magazine I used to write for – Hard Times – documented some of the earlier shows at City Gardens and I still had those issues.


MC: If you know, at what point did ‘Randy” start to book metal shows or did that get a mention in the book. One show that stands out in my mind was the Venom/Black Flag/Overkill show as Lamour’s had been bragging about them playing there, but they never did, but they played City Gardens and I remember Henry Rollins coming out with a pentagram on his hand and chanting “satan, satan” obviously making fun of Venom. Were either of you at that show?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: I went for Black Flag and then left! Steve was too young for that show. We talk to Henry Rollins about that show. 


MC: Out of all the shows you remember, what would say, was the weirdest show as far as line-up of bands go?


Amy Yates Wuelfing:  The Swans, and the open act was Living Colour.  That too me is the weirdest bill of them all.  


 MC: I am sure you had seen many fights over the years between the “skinheads” and punks and “metalheads” and punks/skinheads. What was the craziest fight you ever saw?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: A fight between the Exploited and a group of skinheads.  You can read it here: http://www.citygardensnj.com/exploited.htm


 MC: I know City Gardens had a rule about no stage diving, which went on all time. What was the craziest show you saw as far as stage diving and also slam dancing? For those who don’t explain what the 2 terms mean.

Amy Yates Wuelfing: I think “slam dancing” was an early punk thing, like pogoing. Slam was more just jumping up and down, banging into your friends.   It then morphed into moshing and stage diving.  Moshing was more like a vortex with everyone going in the same direction forming the “pit.”


MC: Do you know who the name City Gardens came to be or was that the name that was there before Randy started booking shows there and speaking that, how did Randy come up with idea of booking shows there?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: The club’s owner came up with that name before he met Randy. I have never gotten explanation of where it came from.


 MC; Did either of you at any time, near the end of the club being closed, did you kinda know the end was near and was there ever a “farewell” concert that you know of and do you know the last band ever to play there and did Randy know that there was gonna be a last concert there or did the owner drop the bomb on him so to speak?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: It ended with a whimper, not a bang.  Randy stopped booking shows. The club went on doing dance nights and local acts.  Then one day, it closed its door.  This was 1999 – so no internet, no Facebook, no grand proclamations like CBGB or Maxwell’s.  It just closed. Sadly, most people had moved on by then.


 MC: Did Randy in the book tell either one of you what he did after the club closed and what is he doing with himself these days?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: Randy owns a store in Bordentown NJ called the Mancave. https://www.facebook.com/groups/345228882187951/


 MC: The 2 excerpts I read did not contain much metal, is there much metal stuff in the book?


Amy Yates Wuelfing: The is some metal, but it’s a lot of hardcore and punk. Back then – punks and metalheads didn’t really get along. Strange to think about now – but they were two different camps.  One great “metal” story has to do with Motorhead canceling their gig there mere HOURS before it was supposed to happen.


MC: Do you know if Randy was a fan of most of the bands he booked and if there were many bands he did not book?


 Amy Yates Wuelfing: He would book anyone unless he found them offensive, so bands like Skrewdriver were out.  He liked some bands more than others – mostly he liked making things happen.


 MC: When can we expect the book out and how will people be able to publish it once it is out?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: It will be out in November and available through Amazon.


MC: How did you come up with the name of the book and were any other names considered?

 Amy Yates Wuelfing: From the iconic sign that hung at the entrance of the club.

 MC: Plug any websites that you currently have up.




MC: Any last words and I can’t wait to read the book from cover to cover?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: We have done well over 100 interviews and along the way have talked to Henry Rollins (a onetime Trenton resident), Daily Show host and former City Gardens bartender Jon Stewart, Dean Ween, Ian MacKaye, GWAR, Al Jourgenson (Ministry),Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers), Harley from the Cro-Mags, City Gardens promoter Randy Now, plus a lot of the people who went there.

Besides all the music, what so many people remember is how City Gardens changed their lives; it made many lives better and may have even saved a few. Attending those shows and dance nights made a lot of outsiders and odd socks feel like they were part of a community -  accepted and free to express themselves. Over the years, patrons had different perceptions of, and relationships to, the club and what went on there. People who went there in the beginning saw things differently than those who started going in later years. We worked hard to document it all.

No Slam Dancing is different from other punk history books, in that the story of ‘80s and ‘90s punk is told through the lens of one club and the experiences of those who worked, played and gigged there. Other books compile already-completed interviews or give “history” from one person’s point of view; this book will be an oral history from the people who created a sub-culture, supported the bands and the club and made those shows happen—and all the drama and gossip that entails.