Fresh from her appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, music journalist and author Amy Yates Wuelfing sat down with little old me, of all people, to talk about her new book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens. What was she thinking?
For the unfamiliar, City Gardens was among the country’s most notorious punk rock clubs of the 1980s and ‘90s, and everyone from the Ramones to the Dead Kennedys to Green Day graced (?) its rickety stage. The stories told in this book are quite literally insane, the mayhem on stage frequently surpassed by the lunacy playing out on the dance floor and in the parking lot. It’s a must-read for music lovers, psychology majors, and people dangerously obsessed with fire.
EJB: Why write a book about a punk-rock club in New Jersey?
Amy Yates Wuelfing: 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 or New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.
EJB: People will be shocked by some of the stories recounted in the book. What are some of your favorites?
Amy Yates Wuelfing: I like it best when people have completely different recollections of the same event. It is left up to the reader to decide who, if anyone, has the story straight. The one story that people seem to gravitate
to is the riot at an Exploited show. Some people say that the band’s van was completely ransacked and set on fire, other people say, no, just a broken window or two. Which is correct? You have to decide. There is a similar story about the one time the Beastie Boys played there. Was it the best show ever – or the worst show ever? That’s why I love oral histories so much; you get every side.
EJB: You talked to members of The Ramones, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and other big punk acts as well as plenty of pop, metal, and rock bands from the era. How receptive were these musicians to being interviewed? Did anybody give you a hard time?
Amy Yates Wuelfing: No one gave us a hard time, but some people just didn’t take part in the project and that’s fine. In the end, the book turned out exactly like it was supposed to. Anyone who passed on talking to us isn’t missed.
EJB: You told me a lot of publishers were iffy on your plan to interview “normal” people (as if City Gardens’ patrons could be qualified as normal) along with the bands, believing readers wouldn’t care what they had to say. However, I found that to be the most fascinating aspect of the book. I’m convinced a sociology course on disaffected youth could be built around this thing. What it your plan all along to paint that kind of picture, or did the theme and direction of the book evolve as you compiled and transcribed the interviews?
Amy Yates Wuelfing: The book started out as a project to write the memoirs of City Gardens promoter Randy Now, then it just kept expanding in scope. Early on, I realized that the club was so important to so many people, that I felt it was essential to include those viewpoints as well. The normal, not-famous people had great stories. And you are not the first person to recognize the sociology angle! It is a total case study in how misfits found each other before the internet. As we began interviewing people, it all just came together. The book became what it was meant to be, not to get too “new age” on you. The book had a force of its own.
EJB: This title is selling out all over the place. Someone stole mine before I could resell it on eBay for a profit!
Amy Yates Wuelfing: Dude, that’s so punk rock.
Where can people get a copy?
Amy Yates Wuelfing: The first pressing, which was 2000 books, sold out in less than a month. If anyone had told me this a month ago, I would have laughed and bought them a drink. We are doing a second pressing right now. To get a copy of the book, head to infinitemerch.com. They are the first people we will restock with books when they come in, mainly because they are really close to my house, which is where the books will be delivered. This whole thing is DIY, just like the old days. No publisher wanted to touch this, so we have to do the grunt work, but we don’t mind. The book was a labor of love and to it see it get this much attention makes me so happy. At every signing we do, people thank [co-author] Steve and I for putting it together. That alone makes it worth the time and effort.