JERSEY BEAT #58
Letter to the Editor
by Dave Powell
Dear Jim Testa and JERSEY BEAT,
In 10 years of on and off fanzine reading, I have always resisted the temptation of sending in letters and feeding the fires of mostly irrelevant inner-scene bullshit. It is with issue 56 of JERSEY BEAT that I finally break down. Specifically I am writing concerning your "report" on ABC No Rio. I feel like I should say "thanks" for the publicity or something, but it seems that every time we turn around there's another rag doing their obligatory ABC article and almost without fail, none of them seem to get it straight (assuming that "straight" is a word you could ever use in association with ABC). I'm not trying to sell ABC to anyone or to "defend our reputation"--as I'm actually one of our biggest critics--but I just needed to state some facts, point some shit out, and say my piece. I'll warn you now: what started out as a simple letter has turned into a fucking novel and a bunch of things I ended up going into were not even mentioned in the initial JERSEY BEAT article. In many ways I'm taking this time to vent and to include some crucial issues I thought were missing from that piece. I guess ultimately I'm so sick to fuck of hearing people's rumor mill versions about what we do here and why we do it, that I took this opportunity to explain some things that have gone unanswered in the past. I hope that people who care will read this and I hope that in the future, some people will direct their comments and questions towards us rather than those who have nothing to do with us. Also I know I'm like 5 months late with this but that's par for me so fuck it!
First of all, the cover headline read "Behind the Scenes" at ABC, but really your article was a short and inevitably incomplete history lesson. For one thing most of the people you chose to focus on have not been going to shows at ABC on a regular basis for a couple of years (yourself included). Of those that you did speak to who are still involved here (Amanda and Esneider), I feel that you quoted them somewhat out of context--but I'll leave them to speak on that if they feel the need. I do agree with a lot of what you said about the vitality and importance of that early scene and of those early bands. They certainly left their mark on me and I'm probably guilty of romanticizing those times as much as anybody else. But I think it's exactly that kind of "good ol' days" hero-worship shit which guarantees that something as cool won't happen again and I think engaging in it is really pointless. As for the whole "where are they now," "what went wrong at ABC" questions (cue dramatic music now), these are bound to yield answers which are a bit one-sided and vary from person to person. I have no doubts that the reasons people have for giving up on ABC are real--if I had a nickel for every time I nearly left this shithole for good, I'd have many nickels. But I think it's a little stupid to leave somewhere and then assume that everything (including the things that drove you away) will remain frozen in the spot that you left it. I think it's safe to say that this place goes through cycles and whether you think things are "good" or "bad" at ABC largely depends on where you stand.
For example: I sometimes hear people say "Oh, ABC was so much better a year or two ago" and I know that from the point of view of many of the kids coming down here, that WAS a great period because there were a lot of shows happening and a lot more bands coming through. But I know that for me as a volunteer, I was pretty miserable during this time because the running of the space was really haphazard and the communication between those that booked and those that ran the shows (and those that did both) was pretty scattered. This, incidentally, was AFTER Neil stopped being the sole booker and a group of us attempted to book the shows collectively. Personally I didn't like it because there was no mechanism in place to respect peoples work i.e., you could be working on a show, write it down on the calendar, and come back days later to find it changed, co-opted, or canceled without your input. This would also happen with the physical space: You could spend all day cleaning the kitchen, doing repairs, assembling shelves, building lofts, storing artwork (etc.) and the next day--BOOM--the fruits of your labor trashed. And even though we maintained the pretense of deciding things "collectively," the fact was that all types of decision often got made when a group of people were hanging out and decided to move on something. If you weren't part of this cool group--tough shit--you'd find out soon enough. We also had problems with: people booking shows and leaving town (and making no arrangements); people outside of the collective booking shows/bands; people canceling their own shows but neglecting to tell the bands; people claiming to represent bands they didn't and "booking" them anyway; and people having shows and leaving without cleaning up or dispersing the crowd that had formed out front (these 2 fun jobs would then fall on the people squatting upstairs). And because we often had more than one show a week during this period, people started picking which show they'd volunteer at, flyer for, etc. If yours was the least cool show for that week, you ran it alone, for the six people who showed up to see the 4 bands who'd traveled across America to play the great ABC No Rio.
All of this happened often enough to make every last one of us tired, pissed, bitter and burnt. For all of these reasons it was decided that the booking would be centralized and that people who kept "booking hours" at ABC would be the channels through which shows would be booked. Since Esneider and I had been doing that for a little while, it was decided unanimously, at a meeting of the "show" people, that we would become the calendar fascists. Our responsiblities included (and still include):
-making sure every show has volunteers
-making sure every band intends on showing up and can be contacted by phone
-making sure the shows are self-sufficient and that the work is done by the volunteers not the house squatters (unless they offer)
-preventing volunteer burnout by not booking a zillion shows a month
-booking lesser known touring/local bands with better known touring/local bands and
-paying the bands we book proportionate to the distance they've traveled while securing enough money to keep ABC going (usually 35% of the door--although our legal fees sometimes force us to take more and poorly attended shows sometimes make us take less. In either scenario we usually tell the bands why they got paid the amount they did).
Because of all this it is now slightly harder/easier (depending on your "scene status") to get a show here. Where as being friends of a volunteer, being an ex-member of a cool band, or having spent X amount of time on the scene might have been good enough to get booked in the past, we now pretty much require a tape and lyric sheet from every band who has not played here before. Bands who want shows here also have to call us during our booking hours. Although these sound like two simple requests, you would not BELIEVE how many bands/people think this is an oppressive policy or (we've heard) feel we owe THEM a phone call. We also--as said--get a lot of kids bitching about how there aren't as many shows anymore. But when we tell them that the number of shows we do relates to the volunteer power we have, and ask them "would you like to volunteer"--SHIT! the silence is DEAFENING.
Back to your article, Jim: not everyone who comes here is a "road warrior" crusty type and not everyone who used to come here was a "clean cut suburban kid" (Mike B.S. was from Queens, Freddy Alva too, half of Citizen's Arrest were "borough" kids as are me and Esneider as were many who came to shows here in the early '90s. And realize of course, that at least as many "crusties" as hardcore kids, come from the 'burbs--if not more). I will admit though, that in the last couple of years there has been a real increase in fraternity style "punk" (?!), drinking, and sadly, a decrease in more political/movement-oriented hardcore punk. It seems there are less people that come to shows here doing labels and 'zines and out of those that are, many of them seem obsessed with regurgitating cartoon-like stereotypes of past punk scenes. And of course (as mentioned twice previously) there is a serious drop in the number of people coming to shows who are motivated to volunteer. Why is this? Well I've got my own little theories...
1. Many of the kids coming down to the shows nowadays are younger. While THAT (age) of itself means absolutely nothing, things have obviously changed and it has affected the "new generation." Ten years ago punk/hardcore and other since-popularized dissenting music forms were GENUINELY HARD TO FIND. The whole Green Day/Rancid set present punk (and the scenes that spawned them) completely out of context on MTV to a push-button audience. In this new vision, shows, labels, bands, 'zines, MOVEMENTS don't come after shit-work and pain, they just...happen, in a ready-made, soft-edged, consumer-friendly environment. All evidence of this labor that created these things is erased (and mostly upper-middle class kids--who can't relate to doing shitwork--don't see anything wrong with this picture). This has happened on a national level and believe you me, we see it's repercussions on Rivington Street (I'm not saying that ALL the teenagers who come here are like that, mind you. The majority of our volunteers are testimony to the backlash against this stupid trend, but they are definitely in the minority.)
2. A similar thing has also happened on a more local level: I completely agree with what Joe said about ABC being a refuge: I was a scrawny, loud-mouthed, political punk kid from Brooklyn who went to high school in Manhattan from '86 to '89. I knew some kids who were part of the whole CB's matinee thing. For the most part they were real ignorant, nationalist shitheads who would gang up on you if they thought it would impress somebody in that scene. During those 3 years I think I went to less than half a dozen hardcore/punk shows--mainly because I didn't want to deal with being fucked with for being myself. When I went to my first show at ABC (8/25/90--GO! Citizen's Arrest, Rorschach and No Empathy) I was stunned. It was like all the political/geek/freak/and activist kids that had been expelled from the established hardcore and punk scenes, had gone and built their own. In fact that is EXACTLY what had happened. I was so overjoyed that I had to fight the compulsion to hug all these strangers. I decided almost immediately that I HAD TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE EXISTENCE OF THIS PLACE IN SOME SMALL WAY. THAT, I think, is the big difference between then and now. Gilman Street and ABC No Rio type places have spoiled people--they're INSTITUTIONS whose existence people take for granted. I think it's safe to say that NO ONE expected shows at ABC to last one year (much less seven)--but you now have kids who have started and stopped coming to shows without ever knowing what it's like to be without a place like ABC. We fucking LOVED ABC. It was a revelation to us that you could have a non-violent scene based on friendship and ideas rather than who could kick the shit out of who in the pit. But nowadays, when we enforce our no racist, sexist, homophobic assholes/bands policy, kids call us the "P.C. police." When we tell them about Mike being hospitalized twice for (being gay and) speaking his mind and explain that THIS is the type of shit you feared at most CB's shows--they just can't relate.
Another thing you have to remember when talking about our "decline" is that some bands that have been around for a while choose not to play ABC anymore. If this is because we suck--then fine--but more often than not we find that these same bands aren't seeking out alternative D.I.Y. spaces or trying to build new ones. Instead they are putting their resources behind bars and bullshit clubs and playing shows with other established bands. OF COURSE the result is going to be an increase in the musical ghetto. Even flipping through the pages of JERSEY BEAT, I see that 95% of the focus is on hardcore/punk/noise bands who already have large followings. I see very few names I don't recognize, which is bad. It's THAT type of shit that plays a huge role in the death of a healthy underground and in the "decline" of places like ABC: Many people who carried the flag for years don't seem to think it's worth it anymore. I figure some of the reasons for this are...
-they're older now and they can get into bars/clubs
-hardcore/punk/noise is marketable now and their bands can play in bars and clubs
-they're bored with hardcore/punk/D.I.Y. shows and people (which is funny 'cause nothing bores me shitless more than the "music as wallpaper" atmosphere at places like Continental,. Brownies, etc)
-they got fucked over by or had fights with D.I.Y. people/spaces/bands they trusted and figure that in-fighting is the inevitable result of all attempts at sub-cultural independence
-they generally just don't give a fuck anymroe
-who knows? the end result is the same regardless
A couple of things on Donny's piece. First he says that we're too hierarchical with our band order, then he says that often enough we put the "best" bands on too early (!!??). The Suspects had "been billed 2nd out of 5 bands." I wasn't at that show, but I've never known us to preset a "billing order" and I can only guess where Donny got one from (maybe he saw it on one of those flyers we never hand out). Usually we decide the order of the bands on the spot, in accordance with each band's needs (and according to who shows up when). OF COURSE we try and put the "draw bands" on last--not because we are trying to foster a "hierarchical order"--but because if you put the popular band on first all their open-minded fans will leave without seeing the lesser knowns. Secondly--and I know this might be hard to believe--we HAVE turned down bands for reasons other than bigoted lyrics. Admittedly a crappy sounding demo is low on our list of singular reasons why not to book a band, but it has happened (with me, anyway). Interestingly enough though, we tend to find that the shittiest sounding music also "just happens' to come from people who are bigoted, uninspired, arrogant, stupid, rude or looking to turn a buck on our backs (funny how that seems to work...). Finally a big thanks but no thanks to Donny and anyone else who feels in their "head but not their heart" the knee-jerk compulsion to say nice things about a place they don't like. We need honest communication and sweat. Save that guilt shit for church. If ABC No Rio is already dead to you then let it go, stop your bitching and put your extra energy into starting up something else--we'd all be a lot better for it. Perhaps what needs closer examination here is why 95% of the people in this so-called punk scene are so unwilling to use their hands as much as their mouths.
Jim, if you do print this fully, let me say thank you. In closing I want to give you ten reasons why I STILL volunteer at ABC: YANKEE WUSS (OR), ONE NATURE (NJ), 7 YEARS WAR (VT), VORHEES (UK), FEDAYKIN (MA, R.I.P.), MUNG (MA), THE SKIZMATICS (NY), COERCION (NY), LIFE (NY) and NO COMPLY (NJ). These are all bands that played at ABC for the first time between January and May. I recommend them all, and inceidentally, they sound nothing alike. Also, if anyone out there wants to write an article about ABC, I suggest they interview the VOLUNTEERS who currently run the shows. Some of their names are/were Tamara, Alex, Melinda, Helen, Jen, Greg, Sean, Alex N., Jamie, Erica and Christian. I'm sure they can give anyone interested a good idea of what's going on here. And yes, new volunteers are still always needed.
d. powell, ABC No Rio volunteer
P.S. Between the time I first wrote this and finally printed it, Donny died. At first I was going to cut out the part that mentioned his editorial because I think it's not cool to speak about people who have passed way and thus can't respond. Later, I came to figure that what I wrote related to issues Donny raised via what he wrote (which I thought was inaccurate) and is not a personal attack on Donny. So in it stayed. R.I.P. Big Don.
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