Book: No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens

No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens

No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens

Through numerous interviews and entertaining details, Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steve DiLodovico have brought to life the history of the storied music club City Gardens, which existed in the ‘middle of nowhere’ in New Jersey in the 1980s to mid-1990s.  This “cement box” (description courtesy of Mickey Ween) located in Trenton hosted a veritable Who’s Who of indie/alternative/punk/hardcore/rock performers over its years, from The Ramones to Henry Rollins, The Dead Kennedys to Green Day, GWAR to DEVO, NIN to WOW (that would be Wendy O. Williams), Sinead O’Connor to Joan Jett, Jane’s Addiction to Bad Religion, Ministry to Public Enemy to Iggy Pop to Nirvana to…the list goes on and on! Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show) even bartended at the venue in the mid-1980s and adds his two cents to the book.

Over a lengthy time period, Amy and Steve have tenaciously tracked down and interviewed many of the performers who played at City Gardens, as well as Randy Now, the promoter extraordinaire of the club, and members of the security detail and audience to get their first-hand accounts of what made City Gardens so special.  All of the unfiltered fun, unbridled wildness, unhinged craziness, unique artist rundown, universal musical appreciation, and (mostly) unifying communal vibe of City Gardens is documented through the transcribed interviews that make up the bulk of the book. 

No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens is broken down in mostly chronological order, with chapters that cover specific time periods.  Each chapter opens with a Top Ten Songs list from the era and it’s highly amusing to see a chart-topper like “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John listed and then followed by an account of a Ministry gig.  Within each chapter, a multitude of performances are successively covered, with artists’, bouncers, audience members, and/or Randy Now’s views juxtaposed in a compelling and compulsively readable flow.

In the Forward, Mickey Ween sets the stage, so to speak, for the rest of the book, where he relates his teenage musical experiences and enthusiasm and the magical moment when you come into your own.  The introduction about City Gardens was written mainly by Amy, with Steve’s input, and there are several passages throughout the book that Amy wrote to keep a cohesive, historically chronological format.

Black Flag - Page 2, Photo 4

Black Flag – Page 2, Photo 4

The book kicks off with a wham-bang recounting of the notorious Butthole Surfers gig and keeps up the pace with coverage of selected shows where many people chime in with their recollections.  The book is jam-packed with juicy bits on MTV VJ Martha Quinn (as told by Jon Stewart), Iggy Pop, Nico, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joan Jett, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, Gibby Haynes, The Ramones, and Ministry, just to name a few… The pictorial run through is also a blast, with great shots of certain performers in action.

The enjoyably direct tone of the book can be conveyed in a nutshell by the following brief interview exchange, where a taciturn Peter Murphy was contacted about his March 13, 1981 Bauhaus gig.  He tersely divulges “I only remember ripping out the foam tiles of the stage ceiling.”  This is countered by tireless City Gardens promoter, Randy Now, who matter-of-factly states “Bands were always hanging from the ceiling and ripping shit out of it back then.”

In a universal sense, No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens is a recollection of the good old days of thriving music clubs, college radio, indie record stores, and DIY fanzines.  It celebrates the good, the bad, and the wild ‘n’ crazy that existed within the walls of City Gardens, from musical euphoria to violent aggression, from off-beat antics to riveting performances.  Craig Wedren of Shudder To Think sums up the City Gardens experience best, describing it as having a “…special and unique communal vibe…” that is still remembered and appreciated to this day.

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