Agnostic Front

Trenton’s City Gardens Celebrated in New Book

Photos by Ken Salerno

If you grew up in the “big city,” and involved yourself in underground music during the ’80s and ’90s, you might have taken a lot for granted. Bands want to gig in your town, and there are spots for them to play, so it’s pretty easy to keep up on the new, hot shit. However, if you grew up near the almost Philly/sort of Jersey armpit called Trenton, NJ, you may have relied on a fine gentleman named Randy “Now” Ellis who found himself an abandoned car dealership, and created a home-away-from-home for next-level punk, ska, hardcore, metal, hip hop, reggae and alternative music (when there still was such a thing) called City Gardens. Oh – they had 90 cent dance nights, too.

What authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico bring forth in the thoroughly researched “No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes” that makes this tome so very vibrant and interesting, is an understanding that a venue off the beaten path such as CG, lives almost exclusively off the passions of the community surrounding it. They accomplish this via the voices of nearly each and every person who made City Gardens tick, including many of the artists who took to its stage on numerous occasions over its years of operation, which includes onetime Trentonite Henry Rollins (Black Flag/Rollins Band), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order) and even former City Gardens drink-slinger, and current Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, among so many others.


“In 1979, I was deejaying new wave music any place that would have me, but all anyone wanted to hear back then was ZZ Top” offers the club’s chief curator, Randy Now. “I would play the Talking Heads, Ramones and Blondie, and one night, they simply said ‘GET OUT! You’re not the DJ we want.'” So what’s a motivated music geek to do? Find himself four walls, within which he can represent ‘The Other Side,’ which on one hand happened to be the name of Randy’s popular college radio show. On the other, it was the breadth of underground sounds and the people that craved them that needed a clubhouse somewhere between NYC and Illadelphia to live. Oh, and naturally, it was in the fucking GHETTO – Calhoun Street to be more specific, which often made for tumultuous times with the locals.

“No Slam Dancing” spotlights many a great tale of the club’s countless gatherings; some of which border on legendary status. There was the night white power skinheads took up a Nationalist beef with UK punk icons The Exploited over their tune “Fuck the U.S.A.” Those same skins somehow took offense to… well, something, with theatrical weirdoes GWAR. Public Enemy showed up to the club mad late, and sans Flavor Flav – to pretty much stink the joint up for a whopping half-hour. Suicidal Tendencies had their vehicle trashed thanks to some kind of bullshit. And then there’s the naked, fiery mess that is the Butthole Surfers. Oh, and the everlasting cat-and-mouse game between the punters and City Gardens’ management over their nearly impossible to police policies, which make up the title of the fine book. Definitely worth a serious peep for any fan of pretty much anything musically crucial that went down in a club between the 8-0, and the 0-0. If you weren’t there, you’ll sure as hell feel like you were.

Out March 1, you can pre-order the book now at Infinite Merch.

HR Bad brains

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