Monday, July 18, 2011

Those Were The Days

Like so many of you, music has always been an extremely important part of my life. Whenever I discover a new band or song that just speaks to me, it’s like I’ve come home.

It’s been over twenty years since I saw my first live band (Grateful Dead, Giants Stadium). From stadium shows to VFW Halls to basements to bars, I’ve been to countless venues across the country and have seen hundreds of bands since that first time and it will never, ever get old for me. There is just something so thrilling about seeing a live band and the more intimate the setting, the better.

Of all the shows I’ve seen and the places I’ve been, there really is only one place that I truly remember with any sort of fondness and clarity. Whenever I wax poetic about the shows I’ve seen, it almost always starts and ends with that one venue – City Gardens.

(image from here)

City Gardens was a warehouse-esque venue smack dab in the middle of one of the shittiest parts of Trenton, NJ and between 1991 and 1994, I spent as much time there as I possibly could (which really wasn't enough). I still remember how nervous I was the first time I convinced my father to take me there alone and saw a line of kids wrapped around building--just a hodge podge of people who looked like they didn’t give a fuck about anything but getting inside that shithole and listening to some really fucking great music. It was one thing to go with a group of friends but I was just a mousy fourteen-year-old girl who had heard through word-of-mouth at high school that City Gardens was the place I could go to see the bands I liked that didn’t really play anywhere else.

 (Image found here - also check out the article!)

It was dark and dingy and if you weren't careful you would find yourself in the midst of a mosh pit the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else. I was hooked from the get-go. For the next few years, I saw countless bands there – Fugazi, Sick of it All, Shelter, Black Train Jack, Rancid, Leeway, 7 Seconds, Henry Rollins, Green Day, Bad Religion… and so many more that I can no longer remember. A lot of well known bands passed through those doors in the 80's and 90's, as well - The Ramones, Nine Inch Nails (I will forever be jealous of my girlfriend who saw NIN at City Gardens), Nirvana (click here for a video - sound is rough but hey - it was the nineties), etc.

Shelter, 1991 (found here)

I was devastated when it closed down. I could never really find another venue like it. I don’t know if it was because I was a teenager at the time--or maybe the time itself--but City Gardens was truly an amazing place, despite the danger and dirt and fights. It was raw and rough and just had that something that made those years of my life that much more memorable. Even today, when I run into people I knew back then, City Gardens is almost always brought up when we venture through nostalgia.

That’s why, when Snarkier Than You recently sent me a link to Riot on the Dance Floor, I was happier than a fat kid with cake. Riot on the Dance Floor is a documentary about City Gardens—a club that changed the lives of so many kids who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else and the man who organized it all – Randy Now.


I'm really excited about this documentary and am looking forward to its completion. For more information (and if you want to throw a few bucks toward the cause on Kickstarter, which is an amazing thing in and of itself) go HERE.

I’m sure many of you had similar venues growing up (and please feel free to share in the comments!); the kind of place where you could just let loose and be yourself, no matter what. I hope there are still venues like this, somewhere, where there are a bunch of fourteen-year-olds experiencing their first hardcore or punk show and suddenly realizing they've found their home.

Okay, that last paragraph was so sappy I just want to punch myself in the vagina. Later days - I'm going to go dig out my old cassette tapes and listen to Mouthpiece or something.


  1. I was the youngest of four immigrant kids with the overbearing parents who left me with the strange idea that going to such a place would.. just.. never happen.. :(. But a kid in hs turned me on to punk by filling up the remainder (he provided me w a copy of the soundtrack to Hair for an English report - awes and whole other story!) of a good ol' tdk with little jewels like "Too Drunk to F*ck" by the Dead Kennedys and "For You" by the Anti Nowhere League, and from then on, circa 1985, I could have given my left nut to go to the punk mecca. I'm glad you went for me JJ!!! ;) Can't wait to see this doc..

  2. Sometimes I can't decide if my father was absolutely insane for driving me there and leaving me to my own devices (he did hang out in the station wagon in the parking lot) or if he was the coolest old man ever.

    For the most part I go with the latter.

    It was a great place. Sorry you were never able to get out there.

  3. I saw a lot of great bands [that later became famous] up close & personal at a place known as Park Center in Charlotte back in the early '70's. I've destroyed a lot of brain cells since then, so I'm having a hard time right now remembering exactly who I saw. Probably doesn't matter - even if I named them you young twits won't recognize - waaaay before your time!

  4. Such an awesome documentary clip! I loved it! I can't say we had any places we went to see bands locally when I was growing up. It was a rarity that anyone came to Shreveport that wasn't a country singer/band. Yeah, my first concert was Wynona Judd. Don't judge me. We always drove the 4 hours to Dallas to see bigger bands. I guess that's why it doesn't bother me to drive there now to see a great show. One of my favorite venues there is The Palladium/The Loft. They have some awesome bands play there and it's like my own slice of SXSW when I go there.

  5. So reminds me of how much I miss Philly. Specifically, North Star Bar, The Troc(adero), Electric Factory, and even the fucking TLA. Damn good venues.

    And I don't wanna be all cliche...but The Stone Pony is and will always be one of the best true rock and roll venues ever. I've spent many a dollar there.

    Since most of my good music sense was borne of my college days, all of my fave places are in South Jersey and Philly. Anything I could reach in 2hrs or less...Don't let anyone tell you there aren't redeeming qualities seeping from NJ! There's killer music and booze to be had!

  6. @TheRugnymom - Hey! You might be surprised. I have some amazing albums that I love that came out way before the 70's. ;)

    @Shoewhoreninja - One of these days I'm going to take you to Asbury Lanes, or the Court Tavern or some other awesome dive-y venue in NJ. One day.

    @LindsayRae - I'm going to see Man Man at the Troc August 5th!! I'll do a shot in your honor.

  7. As much as I love music, I was never one to go to places like this. I was more "let's go to the Civic Center and see AC/DC for the 3rd time!" I'll admit -- I'm a big fan of mainstream music but I think it's mostly because I never had an outlet like City Gardens. Or the ballz to go someplace like that...LOL!

  8. I knew of City Gardens back in the day, but was too intimidated to go (plus I'll admit that my taste in music then was not what it is today - lol). Knowing how much amazing music I missed out on bums me out now, but it's great that I can get the next best thing (-ish) to being there through projects like Riot on the Dance Floor.

  9. As a teen I was way too reserved to go somewhere like this. I was completely out of the loop until my junior/senior year anyways. That's when I started going to any type of concert. I love all kinds of music but when I was younger I mostly listened to Country music & just a little bit of punk rock because all of my friends liked it. LOL!

  10. My husband actually saw quite a few punk bands back in his day being he's from Orange County, Ca (Orange County had quite a punk scene and straight edge scene going on). I, unfortunately didn't get to check out many bands when I was young but I did take the bus to Hollywood quite a bit with my friends dreaming about it and stealing posters off telephone polls. My first poster was the band Missing Persons. Funny, huh? I think it was when they were on their way out, but I was still stoked.
    Anyway, great post JJ! I LOVE when you talk music!

  11. I wish I had a place like this growing up. I'm so jealous you get to have these kinds of memories.

  12. Hey! I practically lived in CG from 1985 until maybe 1992 or 1993. I spent my mispent youth there. You only live once and if you do it right, that is enough! Saw everybody, met everybody, had a blast, was in the mosh pit, was hurled repeatedly thru the air out of the mosh pit because I was a girl, did it again, was friends with a punk rock legend due to CG and did not buy the tshirt because they did not sell them. All the best!

  13. Also spent a lot of time at city gardens in the late 80's. I hope this documentary gets funded. I enjoyed seeing myself during the time we ruled the pit through Ken Salerno's lens. My teenagers were blown away seeing me during that time. Give on kickstarter if you are able!

  14. @Amers425 - It's never to late to check it out. I brought my girlfriend to her first basement show when she was in her forties. :)

    @Honolulu Girl-Suz - California did have a pretty big scene and it's great your hubs got to see a lot of amazing bands.

    @Anonymous and Chris d - Loved the comments, thank you. It was a great time and I wish I had had a little longer to enjoy it.

  15. Reading your post brings back so many memories! Growing up in Chicago in the early nineties we had Medusa's. An all ages club with a fierce mix of house and industrial music. I too can remember being 16 and waiting outside to get in (even in our subzero winter). Good times!

  16. My God, City Gardens was right in my backyard (I'm born & raised Trenton but am in Hamilton now) but I never went. I too am "mainstream" rock; never went for punk or whatever. Besides, when CG was big, I was already a "responsible adult", LOL! Just not my scene I guess...

  17. holy crap. i have so much to say about this.

    1. i didn't realize that the grateful dead show was your first concert. good thing my mom was there to chaperone.

    2. CITY FUCKING GARDENS!!!! ruled my world. I cant wait to watch this documentary. i saw so many bands there (you listed most of them). it was an amazing place, gwar blood stain on the ceiling and all! sometimes i do miss that time in my life, even though it was full of pain and hatred. i can romanticize it now and try and remember the good things!

  18. All I ever had was the radio and a tape cassette player. I can still remember though the first time I heard U2 and I couldn't believe there was music like that out there.

    I liked reading this piece of your life JJ.


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