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CBGB / A hardcore-fanatic’s guide – Part VII.

Originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5. (Click the picture for bigger size.) Pics by Randall S Underwood, Brendan Rafferty, Bri Hurley, Ken Salerno, KT Tobin.

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Hilly Kristal, a trained violinist, opened CBGB music club in 1973 with the intention to book country, Irish, jazz and bluegrass music bands. CBs is located on the Bowery, an infamous skid-row area that back in the 80s was lined with flophouses where derilect alcoholics and crackheads could rent a room for 5 bucks a night. The full name of the club was CBGB & OMFUG, which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.” But in late summer of 1974 a new wave of musical rebels made the venue their home and punk rock luminaries such as The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Patti Smith Group, Talking Heads and Blondie got their start there. By the summer of 1975, the club was the epicenter of what was then considered avant-garde rock’n’roll. Kristal’s former wife Karen Kristal worked at the club and was legal owner of the venue’s parent company due to Hilly going bankrupt on a past business. She was the constant caretaker and stern protector of CBGB, whose logo she designed. CBGB wasn’t doing hardcore shows in the beginning. From the early 1980s until its later years, it would mainly become known for hardcore punk, Youth of Today, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits, Underdog, Sick Of It All becoming synonymous with the club. They’ve all shared the glory of tearing up that stage, and played their hearts out. Up to this time most of the hardcore shows were mostly happening at clubs and bars that lasted late into the night.

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Around late 1982, CBGB started booking Saturday afternoons so younger fans of hardcore could catch all the latest bands coming through NYC. Hilly kind of gave the hardcore kids a permanent weekend home and daytime hangout spot, the CBGB hardcore matinee was born. Later it was moved to Sundays so Saturday night shows would not be affected by the matinees running late. Sunday afternoons at CBs became a weekly ritual for years to come. Upon entry, the area where you paid was on the right, a small desk where you were interrogated about your age. By that time CBGB’s was hard line about the 16 year old age limit. In late 1985, New York state changed the drinking age from nineteen to twenty-one. Before the law changed, CBGB was allowed to let in all ages, with ID for nineteen to drink. When the law changed, CBGB was forced to change to sixteen to enter, twenty-one to drink. In front of the stage there was a hole worn into the floor from people demonstrating their mosh styles, it was a small place where hardcore kids would slam dance into each other. The stage was the perfect height for a dive onto the crowd.

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One storefront beside CBGB became the “CBGB Record Canteen”, a record shop and café. In the late 1980s, “CBGB Record Canteen” was converted into an art gallery and second performance space, “CB’s 313 Gallery”. CBGB closed in September of 2006 after 33 years of live music. The old East Village mainstay is now a John Varvatos store which combines stylish, shitty rock’n’roll costumes, expensive clothes. Today the Lower East Side has a Whole Foods market. Today you have to make a lot of money to live on the Lower East Side. Today’s Lower East Side is filled with some of the best restaurants and eateries in New York. Today buses filled with tourists drive slowly past the John Varvatos store that used to be CBGB…

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– The CBGB is the place where Dennis Dunn, Big Charlie worked. Dennis was a bouncer with a mustache, sleeveless shirts, and he operated the stage lights too. Sometimes he’d stop the kids, grab the microphone from the band’s singer and tell them what they did wrong. “Listen up people, if the stagediving continues the sets gonna be cut alright? It’s up to you… there is no stagediving!” He is the guy on Agnostic Front’s “Live at CBGB” record that gets up on stage and threatens to kill the audience if they don’t quit fighting. “A lot of you people ain’t gonna live to see tomorrow if you don’t stop fucking around this way! “Big Charlie (one of the first black skinheads in the New York hardcore scene) was a bouncer too, he was a very tall and well built guy, always in army fatigues. In the summer of 1986, there was a Guillotine fanzine benefit show and the infamous riot. Straight Ahead, Warzone, Rest In Pieces, Ludichrist were on the bill. Right when Straight Ahead finished their set, Big Charlie grabs the microphone and let’s everybody know that there is a big riot going on outside. “You guys all talk about unity! It’s time to prove it because those guys out there have bats!”

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– The CBGB is the place where Tommy Victor (the lead singer and guitarist for the heavy metal band Prong) worked as a sound engineer, he did the hardcore matinees from 1986 to 1990. “Just Can’t Hate Enough” album (by Sheer Terror) was recorded at the CBGB’s and engineered by Tommy Victor, and “Free For All” compilation was recorded by him too. This classic compilation was a four-way split (Token Entry, Wrecking Crew, Rest in Pieces and No For An Answer), all songs recorded live at CBGB on April 9, 1989. The sound system at CBGB’s was probably the best one around. – CBGB is the place where Agnostic Front recorded three live albums.

– CBGB is the place where Walter Schriefels played bass for Outburst. This was their first CBGB gig.

– CBGB is the place where Agnostic Front did their “Victim In Pain” record release party in 1984.

– CBGB is the place where Youth of Today played their infamous “Shutdown” show with Side By Side, Gorilla Biscuits, Pagan Babies in 1987. Before one of the last songs, Ray Cappo made his famous comment, “You know, this club has their policies. They are going to tell you what to do but I’m not going to. Do what you want!” with that about more than 100 hardcore kids jumped up on the stage during “Youth Crew” and nobody could do anything. The band was banned for encouraging stage diving, which was against the club policy. It was also the last time Youth Of Today would set foot on the stage of CBGB, they never played there again.

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– Project X “Shutdown” was written about this specific October 18, 1987 CBGB show. The back cover of the Project X EP features the band standing in front of CBGB, appearing to have been shut out.

– CBGB is the place where Agnostic Front did a benefit to raise money for recording “Victim In Pain”, Roger Miret and bassist Rob Kabula, drummer Dave Jones, and founder/guitarist Vinnie Stigma recorded “Victim In Pain” in a matter of hours.

– A scene in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” involving Allen and Dianne Wiest watching 39 Steps was filmed at CBGB. 39 Steps were a Canadian alternative rock/punk rock band.

– The Simpsons’ episode “Love, Springfieldian Style” shows a CBGB named “Comic Book Guy’s Bar”.

– The first time Youth Of Today played there, Johnny Stiff the promoter told them “watch your back, no one in this city is straight edge and they just might kill you if you push that shit.”

– CBGB is the place where Murphy’s Law’s “Bong Blast” demo tape was recorded live by Jerry Williams back in 1983, and has the earliest lineup of the band with Harley Flanagan on drums. The cover of the cassette was made by Alex “Uncle Al” Morris, founding member of Murphy’s Law as well as playing on their 1986 classic debut album.
– Mrs. Kristal made life and death decisions at the club. Lots of underage fans tried to get into CBGB’s numerous times but there was this old lady who checked their fake ID cards, grab them by the collars and throw them out. She was standing next to the desk where you paid with her giant pocketbook, checking ID cards, and calling hardcore kids’ parents when she sniffed a false one. Crippled Youth played their first show in 1986 with Youth of Today, Warzone, and Rest In pieces. Matt Warnke (the singer of the band) was able to play because Karen called his parents to verify his age. Matt’s parents lied for their son that day, he was only 15.

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– CBGB is the place where Gorilla Biscuits did their first show with JFA, Token Entry, the NY Hoods on August 31, 1986. There is an incredible photo, where Ernie Parada is wearing a prehistoric homemade Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt before the first gig was even played. Probably many people don’t know that he was the drummer of Gorilla Biscuits at their first show.

– CBGB is the place where Cro-Mags did the “Age of Quarrel” record release show in 1986. They were serving Krishna cookies, vegan foods and some iced tea. Cause For Alarm was one of the opening bands.

– There were three different awnings during the life of CBGB at 315 Bowery. The first one was up from 1973 to 1987, another from 1987 to 2000 and the last until the club closed in 2006. The second and third awnings were very similar to the original, but with cleaner lines and an arched logo—the biggest difference seen in the numbers “315,” which were no longer hand painted. The most recent awning is at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Museum in Cleveland. The original awning was allegedly in the possession of JFA (Jodie Foster’s Army), who may have borrowed it after a show in the mid 1980s. The awning that hung above the legendary New York City punk club CBGB between 1987 and the early 2000s has sold at auction for $30,000.

Interview with DJ Spermicide – Part II.

DJ Spermicide (Marlene Goldman) interview originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 4. (You can read the first part of the interview here: Part I.)

CTM – Please tell me a bit about the early history of Crucial Chaos. When did you join the station? How did you start your radio program? How was the first broadcast? Who was the first guest/band in the studio?

DJ Spermicide – I was a journalism major and went up to the newspaper to see about joining. It looked dreadfully boring and across the hall was the radio station, which looked a lot more fun, so I decided to pursue that instead. When I joined the radio station there was nothing in the way of a punk or hardcore show. I joined the radio station as a volunteer in 1985. To get a time slot back then you had to start on the AM station, which was only broadcast to the NYU dorms. You had to make tapes of yourself as air checks for the program director to review. I wanted to host the New Afternoon Show, but it was faster to get on FM if you had a specialty show. I proposed Crucial Chaos and since there was a void at the station, I was given the Thursday night time slot for the show. My first broadcast was hectic and nerve wracking, but it was a lot of fun. Murphy’s Law came up to the show and brought pizza and beer and their then new album release, which we had played on the New Afternoon Show, as well. Green vinyl, I remember, so it was hard to see where to cue up the songs.

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CTM – Why did you choose this name for the radio program?

DJ Spermicide – Back then the word Chaos was being used a lot by bands as was the word Crucial. I thought the two words together would perfectly describe the idea of the show—crucial to a music scene that didn’t have a radio voice in NYC at the time and chaos because I knew playing one-minute or shorter songs would be just that.

CTM – Freddy Alva told me that your sidekick on air was Johnny Stiff, an old school Punk Rock dude who’d been around since the beginning and booked some legendary shows. He was famous for being cranky to people calling in to the show. Please tell me about him!

DJ Spermicide – Stiff! He was just as you are describing, a cranky old-school punk rock guy who had booked shows and drove vans for bands and had tons of contacts in the scene. When I first started Chaos I went down to the CBs hardcore matinee every Sunday with promotional flyers about who was going to be on the air the next week and when the show was, etc… Stiff had heard about the show and asked if I needed any help answering phones, putting away records and all that. I really did need tons of help on those fronts and once he started getting involved he was key in getting a lot of the bands to come up for interviews and live sets. He was also good at helping keep order in the studio when there were a dozen kids or whatever cramming in the tiny space.

CTM – As far as I know it was an important concept that you had a kind of anti-mainstream, outsider mentality, the “if you’ve heard it somewhere else, you won’t hear it here” stance that keeps noncommercial stations around. What was your approach to putting together a setlist, a radio show? How did you choose the bands that are playing?

DJ Spermicide – I really wanted it to be a mix of old-school punk, which I still love, and the new hardcore music, not just New York, but of course helping local bands as much as possible. I used to get to the studio early and pull out which records I wanted to play, along with some local cassettes. Those were always a challenge since the quality was often pretty poor. I would go to Venus Records day of my show and Some Records on a regular basis and try to find what was brand new, plus Stiff would sometimes come up with new releases to play. But I really wanted to keep that generational component, mixing 70s and 80s punk in with the hardcore music. I tried to vary the bands played so it wasn’t the same show every week. We also took a lot of requests from listeners. Phones were always ringing off the hook.

CTM – I read somewhere that the main DJ area was pretty typical looking for a college radio station, and a large window separated that from the small room where the bands played. How should we imagine the wall of the studio? Posters, tags, stickers, graffiti on the wall?

DJ Spermicide – The studio was used for all the shows, so there were stickers and posters, but not just punk and hardcore. No graffiti on the walls since it was on university property. The radio station office had file cabinets covered in stickers. Both the studio and room for live bands were pretty small. I had to put people’s names on a sign-in list with the security guard downstairs. There were always extra guests that needed to be signed in. Fortunately the guard was really nice and sometimes asleep.

CTM – What was your unique calling card – whether that’s a catchphrase, intro, or style?

DJ Spermicide – Hmmmm. I suppose just the name I used on the show, Spermicide, with all variations of nicknames. I don’t know that I had a style except trying to keep order amidst the chaos.

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CTM – Some Records was one of the catalyst for the hardcore movement too. This record store (operated by Duane) was a great place to hang out, it was a great meeting place for hardcore bands and folks, fanzine editors and people that would help launch that second wave of New York hardcore. Duane was like a big brother to every hardcore kid who stepped into his store, kids heard every record before it came out. If I am not mistaken Some Records was one of the sponsors of Crucial Chaos for a while. Could you talk about this, and would you mind sharing some memories about Some Records?

DJ Spermicide – Some Records was one of the sponsors. There was always a small scene down at the store though I didn’t hang out there as much as some of the kids. I got a lot of 7-inch records there from smaller, local bands for the show.

CTM – It was really interesting that Outburst put the word out that they were looking for a bass player on Crucial Chaos. Turns out Mike Welles just happened to be home that night listening to Crucial Chaos make the announcement and he responded. They rehearsed a handful of songs at his place one night, then they tore up his kitchen and he was pretty much in the band after that. Would you mind sharing some funny stories about the radio sessions? Please tell me some backstage secrets, funny stories about the radio sessions!
There are some shows that are truly iconic. 01 The Warzone interview was really funny with the hyper active Raybeez and ‘zone guys. Interviewed the same day as Youth Of Today, both bands were promoting records they were about to release: “Break Down The Walls” for Youth Of Today and the “Lower East Side Crew” EP for Warzone. What about some of the personalities or characters in the scene at the time, like Raybeez? What are your memories of this interview? Do you still have that orange Lower East Side crew tee?

DJ Spermicide – That was definitely a memorable night. I didn’t think Warzone was going to make it on time, but they did. Ray Cappo was pretty easy going compared to a lot of the personalities I had on Chaos. Raybeez was always a great person to be around, so much positive energy. Not sure I have that t-shirt, but sadly did find recently the Raybeez memorial show t-shirt from CBs. I happened to be in town that weekend for that after I had moved away. The biggest challenge for interviews with some of the big talkers was keeping them on track talking about their music and getting to play tracks without running out of time.

CTM – 02 Supertouch played live on St. Patricks Day (03.17.1988.), the same day Murphy’s Law did a radioset. This live set has inspired an entire genre of bands playing hardcore today. Some of the tracks like “Strugglin’ To Communicate” and “A Death In the Family” were never recorded outside of the WNYU Studio. Any memories from this session?

DJ Spermicide – I do remember it sounding great. I didn’t realize that was the only time those were recorded. There was a record label at one point interested in putting out some of the live sets on vinyl and calling it the Sperm Sessions. I gave them the material, but it never happened, unfortunately. Looks like a lot of the live sets are up on Youtube or other sites, which is great.

CTM – 03 What are your memories of the Straight Ahead interview? They were known as a straight edge band, but the members labeled their band as a “unity band” in your Crucial Chaos interview. How did you interpret this response?

DJ Spermicide – I knew those guys pretty well. At the time there were so many micro-labels dividing the hardcore scene—skinhead, straight edge, peace punks. I think some of the divisions were causing schism in the scene, so the term unity band was in my opinion meant to distance Straight Ahead from all that. I also think some bands were taking the labels too seriously and all the rigid restrictions implied by being straight edge would be hard to uphold.

CTM – 04 One famous radio event was the Born Against versus Sick Of It All debate in 1990. How did/do you feel about the bands releasing records on larger labels? What are your memories about this debate?

DJ Spermicide – Ahhhh. The Debate. Yes, I remember that well. I remember it was more like being a referee than an interviewer, especially with the size of the studio and everyone crammed in there. I think I was on the other side of the glass if I remember correctly. I really didn’t really have a problem with bands signing to larger labels if the music stayed the same, which was the case with Sick of It All. Back then there was a fine line of bands just trying to get more exposure and bands selling out. Look how that all turned out. Sick of It All is still touring like crazy and bringing the NYHC scene to the world. I just saw their 30th anniversary show. They somehow found a way to make the music their life’s work without having to tone down their sound or make it more generic. Seems like such an ancient problem. Now the only way bands make money is from touring and selling their merch at shows.

CTM – What was your toughest interview and why? What were your funniest interviews and why?

DJ Spermicide – The toughest ones were always with the young bands just coming out who sometimes didn’t have much to say. I would mostly try to promote their shows in that case. Funniest, probably some of the characters like Murphy’s Law, Raybeez, oh and the Nihilistics who I was just trying to make sure didn’t curse on-air the whole interview. I had GBH up live once. They were pretty hilarious to be around.

CTM – I feel that most of your interviews are classics too, there are some choice quotes in there. Did you listen to your own shows after they aired? “White power, black power, yellow power….take a shower!”, “Everybody mosh it up, break everything in your house!”, “Public Enemy is just as bad as Skrewdriver.” What are some of your favourites?

DJ Spermicide – Sometimes I listened to the shows. Been so long I would have to listen back.

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CTM – Bands were incredibly exciting to play on the radio. Why didn’t these bands like Youth Of Today (only interview), BOLD, Raw Deal, Straight Ahead (only interview) etc. play a live set in the studio?

DJ Spermicide – I’m sure we asked at least some of those bands to play but it wasn’t always easy to coordinate. Also, at the beginning, we weren’t really set up that well for the live sets. But once that became a popular part of the show our amazing sound engineer got the sets to sound great.

CTM – Why did you quit WNYU? I heard that you went and lived in Australia…

DJ Spermicide – A few reasons. Yes, I left to live in Australia for a year, but also there was a rule that to be on the radio station you had to be enrolled as a student. I had been in grad school, but my time was running out and it was expensive to keep registering for even a credit or two just to stay at the station. I hosted a few guest shows after I got back from Australia in ’91 and ’92 but moved to San Francisco in 1993. The first time I ever spoke on KUSF, which was just to announce some ticket giveaway at around midnight on someone else’s show, someone called and recognized my voice—said he had taped my interview with the Adolescents. Then I kept having New York transplants calling to ask if it was me and I ended up using the name Spermicide since there were a lot of listeners who already knew me from my WNYU days.