This interview originally appeared in issue one of my zine Not Like You (now out of print) With the NYHC book out now I figured it would be a good time for people to check this out, and if you haven’t yet, to check out the book too.
I’ve known Tony going on 20+ years. I say this not because of our friendship but because it’s the goddamn, fucking truth (to quote Roger AF)….the dude can write about music. He’s been going to shows since many of you were probably just a concept. He’s been in bands, done zines, put out records and, as an author he has been documenting some of the most important underground scenes in the country. First with Why Be Something That You’re Not , about the early Detroit HC scene, and coming up with his next book about NYHC. I’ve had the pleasure of checking out some of the early edits of this book and all I can say is , get ready, you will want to buy it AS SOON as it hits shelves. It’s going to be that good. For now, I give you Tony Rettman……..
DR: You grew up in Trenton, a punk rock mecca for NJ. How did you first get into hardcore?
My older brother is the person who turned me onto Hardcore. He was (and still is) always the guy who knew what was going to happen in music six steps before anybody else.
He was the program director at his college radio station in the late 70’s/very early 80’s. One of the DJ’s on the station, who was a buddy of his, moved out to Southern California after graduation. I forget if he was originally from there or not, but there’s where he ended up. SoCal in ‘80? Can you imagine?!?
He started sending my brother mix tapes of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Agent Orange, etc. and tapes of the Rodney on the ROQ radio show. Somehow, my brother got an actual copy of ‘Nervous Breakdown’ or maybe ‘Jealous Again’ and wrote SST for records for the station. Next thing you know, he was getting unsolicited copies in the mail of the first records on Dischord, Touch & Go, etc. I guess Chuck, or someone at SST, told them there was some guy in Jersey at a radio station who was interested in the stuff. So, that’s how I became aware of Hardcore. Did I mention I was nine years old? Pretty crazy!
DR: Crazy, to say the least, but what great exposure too. What was your first show?
My mind gets foggy as I get older, but it was either Black Flag/Saccharine Trust/October Faction at New York South in Florence, NJ or JFA/Sun City Girls/Death Before Dishonor/Cynamid plus about eight more NJHC bands at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ. I was just about to turn twelve.
For some reason I’m thinking the Black Flag show was first because I remember going to that and seeing Henry in shorty shorts with his long hair and being all ‘What the fuck is this?’ and then I went to the JFA show and saw skins from both NJ and NY moshing it up for DBD and the other bands and thought ‘Alright, this is what I was looking for!’ Not to say seeing Black Flag at twelve wasn’t a revelatory experience, but I had been sitting there in my room, staring for hours on end at the lyric sheet for the Negative Approach 7”, pretty much thinking every Hardcore show had a ton of bald headed, crazy people going nuts.
DR: While you were going to shows with your brother, I was in North Jersey, somehow trying to convince my parents it would be a good idea to drive to Trenton so I could see Black Flag…..they didn’t bite. Having City Gardens as your backyard must’ve been amazing. What are some of the stand out shows you remember seeing there?
Every time Black Flag played there, it was special. Not just for the fact they were such an amazing band, but they brought the whole party. They brought their own PA, their own roadies, their own merch people, etc. It was just like ‘Get the fuck out of the way, we’re taking over’. In some twisted way, they were the equivalent of the carnival coming to town for me as a kid. I’d go down to the worst part of my town to see the freaks travel through! Seeing Warzone open up for the Ramones to a crowd of confused old punks was pretty great. They got zero response except from me and a few other kids there. In regards to just simply fun shows with great bands it would be Chain of Strength, Marginal Man, Dag Nasty, Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Sick of it All, Justice League, 7 Seconds, Murphys Law, Agnostic Front, Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers and too many more (Not all those bands were on the same bill of course!) As far as non-Hardcore shows go, I’d say Mudhoney, Steelepole Bathtub, The Fluid, Ride, and again, many others I’m probably forgetting in my old age.
And of course there were the crazy shows like the Butthole Surfers shows with the naked lady dancers, The Exploited riot and the Sham 69 show where Pursey smacked a record off a turntable while my brother was DJ’ing. Real weird times that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
DR: I remember some of those shows fondly (Marginal Man, Justice League, and 7 Seconds to name a few). I also remember being away with my family when The Exploited show happened. I was bummed I missed it yet at the same time knowing how insane CG could get, I kinda thought I might’ve missed the right show. Over the years, you’ve been involved in so many parts of the scene. You’ve done zines, labels, and been in bands. Can you give us a run down of your projects?
Oh boy…we might be here awhile………
When I was 14, I did my first zine named ‘I4NI’. Get it? Hey, I thought it was clever at that age. Nonetheless, I did manage to pull off 10 issues. Please, if you see any of these anywhere, promptly burn them. They are filled with crappy writing, done by a kid who didn’t know shit. When you do things like that as a kid, you don’t think, ‘Hey, in 30 years someone is going hold me to this record review I did when I was 15’. I wish I could just ‘Stalinize’ the entire run. Somewhere in ‘88 or so, my neighborhood friend, Tim McMahon and I got real into fanzines like xXx, Schism, Boiling Point, Open Your Eyes, etc. We really got swept up in the Straight Edge scene going on in the east coast, as well as the rest of the country at the time. We joined forces and did a zine named Common Sense. For a couple of kids, I’d say that zine came out great, especially in the graphics sense. That’s all Tim’s handy work. We only managed 2 full issues, but I guess since Tim went on to front Mouthpiece, Hands Tied, etc. the zine has gotten some legendary status among some folks. I sang in a band in the early 90’s named Chain to Thread. We did a demo, a split 7” with a band from Pennsylvania named Bleed, and played local shows with the standard New Jersey bands of the day (Lifetime, Dead Guy, etc.) It was fun, I guess. Oh yeah, sometime in there, I did a label for a while named Consequence (after the Ignition song of the same name.) I did a compilation 12” named ‘It’s For Life’ and a 7” by a band from Pennsylvania named Flagman. I don’t know…the less said about my life in that era of Hardcore, the better. That was pretty much where I was losing interest in ‘the scene’ and most of the music for that matter. I wasn’t down with sitting on the floor and crying and I wasn’t into chugga chugga stuff or how serious people became about their beliefs and diets. I still loved what I loved as far as the music went, but I was definitely burning out on the ‘scene’ aspect of it. I did a fanzine throughout the 90’s named ‘The 200 Pound Underground’ that dealt with more outsider/psychedelic music, but the spirit of the zine was definitely rooted in Hardcore, for sure. And I was still listening to Hardcore at that point. I was working in record stores the whole decade and if anything made my ears prick up, I would buy it. You yourself can attest I went to some Hardcore shows when I was living in Albuquerque. I distinctly remember seeing a Deathreat show out there in strip mall that gave me goose bumps. I still had the vibe in me. Sometime in the early 2000’s, I got re-introduced into the scene by a neighbor in Brooklyn. I dove right back in. Bands like Fucked Up, Violent Minds, Sex Vid, Dry Rot, Mind Eraser and Government Warning sounded great to me. It seemed like everyone had finally caught up with the history of the music and perfected it in some way. I almost felt like I had missed my time! Almost like this was the time I should have been going to shows. I would have never walked into a show in 1987 and seen someone wearing a CCM or Koro shirt! Through this neighbor, I hooked up with the editor of a magazine out of L.A named Swindle. I pitched the idea of doing an oral history of the early 80’s Midwest Hardcore scene and he went for it! The article ran in the Fall ‘08 issue of the mag. People kept telling me it would make a great book, and stupidly, I listened to them! The book version of the article came out in the summer of ‘10 on Revelation Records Publishing. I am currently working on an oral history of the New York Hardcore scene from 1980 to 1990. It has a proposed release date of Spring ‘15 on the totally freakin’ awesome Bazillion Points Publishing group out of Brooklyn.
Jesus…that took up too much time!
DR: How did you make the jump from doing zines to deciding to write a book?
Like I said above, people read the Midwest piece in Swindle and told me it would make a good book. Someone showed me how to put together a book proposal and I just decided to go for it. It seemed like the next step.
DR: Why Detroit? As someone who was an “outsider”, did you meet much resistance or, as someone taking on the task of documenting something important, were people just excited it was happening?
Since I was a kid, I was always really fascinated by that early 80’s scene that revolved around the Touch & Go label with bands like Negative Approach, Necros and The Meatmen. The look of the Touch & Go ‘zine, the juvenile humor tied to it and the sheer ferocity of the music stuck with me throughout my life. I guess it stuck because there was still something mysterious about it to me. It happened a few years before I got involved in Hardcore and the shitty quality of the printing in the zine added something arcane to the documentation of the scene. When I touched back into the Hardcore scene and saw there were kids in there half my age who wanted the same questions answered, I was determined! So when the opportunity came to delve into it with the Swindle interest, I jumped at it. When it came to doing interviews, I got nothing but love Midwest style. No resistance whatsoever. They were psyched some weirdo wanted to document what they did as kids. I made some great friends from doing the book. Have you ever been to Kalamazoo, Michigan? It’s a great town with genuine people and great fuckin’ drinkers. Dick Bowser is God!!!
DR: How did you hook up with Revelation as a publisher?
I was sending proposals to ‘real’ publishers and getting no response. Around that time, Revelation was working on the Mouthpiece discography, and I think Tim told me that Jordan Cooper was aware of me and the Detroit article in Swindle and maybe I should hit him up. He was totally into it and dealing with them was great. I didn’t have to explain why it was important this scene was documented. Jordan totally understood.
DR: Once it was released, how was the general reaction to WBSTYN? Were you happy with how it turned out?
The response seemed pretty positive across the board. Everyone from Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll to the Wire gave it the thumbs up; which is kind of crazy when you think about it. There were some comments made about the book by pussies on message boards, but that shit fell silent all of a sudden when I got the main commenters’ phone number and gave them a talking to. But that’s another story (NLY: Jersey Style!)… I’m very happy with the way it came out. Chris Alpino did a great job with the design. The intermingling of the story with the fliers and pictures in the layout adds so much more.
Tony & Springa SSD discuss WBSTYN
DR: I’d imagine an internet cowboy getting called out was a wonderful event, I only wish I could have witnessed firsthand. Who are your influences as a writer and why?
I didn’t really come into the realization of who my influences were until way later in life. As a kid, I just liked fanzines. I appreciated them as artifacts and wasn’t really paying attention to anyone’s writing style consciously. But when the Schism book came out through Bridge Nine awhile back, I picked it up, started reading and was like ‘Holy crap, I stole my whole writing style from Al Brown!’ Here I was thinking my shit came from the lofty peaks of Bangs, Meltzer or Coley and it comes back to Al freakin’ Brown! The whole generation of snarky, opinionated writers from Vice and every other know-it-all blog owes Kid Hard a round. Of course, Tesco Vee has to be thrown under the bus. The article he wrote for MRR about record collecting is a classic I’ve been returning to since my early teens. Also, there was Combat Stance zine out of New Jersey in the late 80’s. They were sort of like Schism, but on the other side of the fence. Pro-meat eating, pro-pornography, pro-fighting and pro-anything to fuck with you. As lousy as it might sound, I still love the story about how they wanted to beat up some kid who talked shit about them in his zine, but ended up beating up the wrong guy. Classic! I really liked Giovanni Dadomo’s stuff in Sounds. That’s one guy that doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. And when I think of 70’s UK, my mind cracks up to too many names of writers I really admire like Pete Frame, Charles Shaar Murray, and Nick Kent. Dudes totally not a part of the Hardcore scene, but important to me nonetheless. Seriously, I could go on and on with this stuff, so let’s move on.
DR: Your next book is one that hits close to home for me. I know you had been tossing around a few ideas about band bios you wanted to do. How did that progress into a book about NYHC?
In ‘08, I was asked to write an article for the Village Voice about the A7 Reunion show that was being put on by Wendy Eager of Guillotine Fanzine fame and Bryan Swirsky of Complete Control booking. The piece was only supposed to be about 900 words, but I ended up interviewing about 10 to 15 people in a few weeks time; just for the simple fact that it gave me an excuse to find out more about those times in the early NYHC scene. After I was done and had way more information than I needed, I thought ‘Shit, this oughta be the next book!’ But just then is when things started to come together with the Detroit book being published by Revelation, so that idea got put on the back burner. After the Detroit book was released and the hoopla died down, I went back to the tapes and listened to them and came to the realization that this was just the tip of the iceberg. For every Stimulators or Even Worse there was a Cro-Mags or Agnostic Front. But what about No Thanks or Nausea? And for every Youth of Today or Bold there was a Stillborn or Sheer Terror. It seemed like too much of a multi-headed beast. It wasn’t something I could enter into casually. I certainly didn’t want to give up on it, but again, I put it on the back burner with the intention of coming back to it when I thought I could get my head wrapped around it properly. Every once in a while, I’d sit down and take some notes, but that was as far as it went. Ian over at Bazillion Points was keen on working with me since he saw the hustle I put into promoting the Detroit book and we were kicking around ideas for books and I think he said ‘Well, what about NYHC?’ I guess, since I always would end up talking about it with him. I said back something like ‘Funny you should say that…’ and forwarded him over all the stuff I’d been dicking around with for the past few years. And that was it. He whipped a contract out of his cloak and I signed my life away. I’m happy I finally got to take on the project. I knew if I didn’t, the regret would have haunted me for my whole life! I know I’m doing my best with it and I certainly wouldn’t come out and say it will be the ultimate book on the subject, but I’m hoping people will be happy with the end result.
DR: With the NY scene being a big extended family, how did you first approach this project? Who did you get involved with first to get this project started?
I reached out to people in the chronological order of the story. First interviews were with Jack Rabid of Big Takeover Mag and Even Worse, Peter Crowley who booked Max’s Kansas City, Jack Flanagan from The Mob, Jesse Malin of Heart Attack, Ron Rancid from the Nihilistics and people like that. I just continued to contact people as the story moved on in my mind. It was a daunting task and I am still awaiting sit downs with people as the deadline looms.
DR: Much like the first book, was it easy to contact people and get them on board or did you meet much resistance?
Since I am an east coaster, I knew it would be a different experience than the Detroit book. Midwesterners are open and friendly. New Yorkers and other east coast dwellers are skeptical of strangers and their interest in their business. I know because I am the same way! There were some who raised an eyebrow at me. I was at shows all throughout the 80’s, but I was sort of a background dweller. I wasn’t a stage diving moshaholic. So maybe since I was sort of a ‘back of the room’ kind of guy, some were like ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’ The other thing is, I’m not a pushy dude. If you don’t want to talk, you don’t want to talk. There’s some people who I would have loved to get in the book, but they didn’t seem too interested and that’s fine. I ended up with almost one hundred interviews and the stuff I got out of them works great, so, I’m cool with it.
DR: One Hundred interviews is no joke but when you think about the NYHC family, almost necessary. Was it hard to find a publisher willing to back a book about NYHC or was there interest in the idea?
Like I said above, Ian was interested in doing the book right off the bat. He presented the idea to me, I’m pretty sure. I’ve been very lucky that the two publishers I have worked with thus far are custom made for the stuff I wanted to write about. And thank god for that because I am not a salesman and I’m definitely bad at selling myself! The few times I have tried to sell ideas in the mainstream realm of publishing has been very awkward. I had an agent for a while and the whole ordeal was really weird to me coming from the DIY background of Hardcore.
DR: How many hours of interviews did you do? What were some of your favorite moments?
Every interview was illuminating, don’t get me wrong. But the interviews that I was most proud of were the ones with people that don’t speak much these days. Duane from Some provided some amazing insight. Ron Rancid from the Nihilistics….my hero! I’d stare at the back cover of their LP for hours when I was like 11 and 12 and to have him be a 20 minute drive from me is amazing. Stigma is as honest as they come. Wendy from Guillotine Fanzine was an inspiration for years, so it’ was nice to speak with her a few times. Jack Rabid as well. Seriously, I did almost 80 interviews in a year’s time frame. It’s been a whirlwind, so I’m sure I forgot something. Let’s just say it was a honor to speak to each and every person.
DR: What era(s) will the book cover? Was there anything you had to cut out due to space/time constraints? Anything/anyone you wish you could have included that you didnt get to?
The book will cover from 1980 to 1990. In regards to space or time constraints, that’s up the editor. Honestly, I wish I could give full chapters to personal favorites like Krakdown, Y.D.L, Beyond, etc. but you have to be realistic. But that’s what second editions are for.
DR: When can we expect this one to hit shelves?
The book is proposed to hit the shelves in late Spring 2015. (Ed Note: it was released early and is available now!)
DR: You have been involved in documenting 2 of the most important underground music scenes in the US. How does that feel?
It feels great. I live in a cardboard box and put my Juicy Fruit on layaway while everyone thinks I’m banking off Hardcore.
DR: Next project(s), future plans?
Let’s see where this goes. Ask me when the book is finally finished. In all honesty, the idea of retiring to Northern New Mexico and listening to 80’s era Grateful Dead sets until my corneas explode sounds great.
DR: Given the chance what 5 books would you want to write?
‘Renegade Nuns on Wheels’
‘I’ll Take The Alphabet’
‘The Apple Pie Hub Bub’
‘Don Rettman – Man or Myth?’
‘The Gimps’ Dirty Body’
Tony along with Richie Birkenhead, Mike Judge, and Paul Bearer
at one of the events for the NYHC Book release
Be sure to check out Tony’s new online column http://noisey.vice.com/blog/roger-miret-interview-no-one-rules