May 6th, 2015 by Grace Ambrose
As punks, we’ve got to take documenting our histories into our own hands. Joseph A. Gervasi discusses his oral history project Loud! Fast! Philly! in MRR #385. Joseph and Stacey Finney have built a significant resource about the history of Philadelphia punk, right up to the present, told in the participants’ own words. I’ve spent hours delving into the audio interviews online—here, Joseph chooses some worthy points of entry. Read Stacey’s picks in part 2.
Looking over a list of nearly 60 interviews (as of the time of this writing) and deciding where to take the plunge — or even the tentative dip of a tiny toe — is a daunting prospect. With many of these interviews clocking in at over an hour (and some at well over two hours), the act of listening can be a formidable time investment. And yet, if they are to be considered successful, they will serve to be both informative and entertaining. There is something about the immediacy and intimacy of the regionally-flavored human voice nestling into one’s ear canal and speeding on a collision course with one’s brain that I find to be ceaselessly appealing. When individuals ask me what they should listen to, I always point them toward those who move or have moved through a different era of punk than the listener. There is a certain comfort and reassurance in surrounding oneself with one’s contemporaries, but it is from those who came before or after that one can potentially learn the most from. This experience also allows one to make connections between one’s life and those of others many years and possibly hundreds of miles away from the listener.
I’ve been asked to direct the new listener to ten interviews to start with. Since I’ve worked with Stacey Finney on some of these interviews and she’s one of few people I know who’s listened to every damn one of them, I’m going to defer to her to contribute five of the ten recommendations. We’re going to exclude anyone associated with this interview or involved with the L!F!P! project. This includes Grace Ambrose (though her interview with the DIY PHL folks is very well worth listening to), Yoni Kroll (I love his interview with John Paul Golaski about Philly’s WKDU radio station), Stacey Finney, and those that I appear in as an interview subject. We’re also excluding the interviews featuring my brother Bull, since punks hate nepotism even though their fathers run corporations and give them cushy summer jobs. As well, we’re excluding some of the most popular interviews (Elizabeth and Allen Fiend, the members of the Dead Milkmen, Dan Yemin, Sean Agnew of R5 Productions) because we’ll assume most prospective listeners are familiar with these people and because they’ve received the lion’s share of the attention thus far.
In looking back over two years of interviews, I am struck by a collection of moments that I will forever treasure. Nearly every interview had for me, as the interviewer, several ah-ha! revelations or tidbits of related experience that quickened my pulse. It’s been such an honor to find myself in the company of the people who were kind enough to sit and talk with me. Choosing just a few to highlight is an agony, but providing some direction to the curious is essential. Quick, then, before I change my mind:
While Mark is best known for playing in one of Philly’s most iconic hardcore bands, The Pagan Babies, what most appealed to me about talking to him was that he was a “punk’s punk.” That is, when Mark discovered punk he wholly immersed himself into it and took part in many aspects of it. Mark played in a band, made flyers, did a ‘zine, released records, traded tapes, booked shows, and more. It was Mark’s enthusiasm for the world punk showed him outside his NE Philly neighborhood (and the fact that this enthusiasm still appears to be a coruscating presence in his life) that made listening to him such a joy. Listen to the interview.
Pete Tridish and Kate Wendland Duncan
Pete and Kate fall into a category of interview that I love: how people did neat shit. While neither Pete nor Kate are strongly associated with the punk scene, they both struck me as people who took the DIY ethos out into the world and managed to do tremendously impressive things with it. Their work with Radio Mutiny (and later, for Pete, the Prometheus Radio Project) and the Rebellious Nursing activism of Kate can not only inspire others to action, but also detail how they did it so the listener can perhaps use Pete and Kate’s experiences as a guide to their own engagement. Listen to the interview.
Elizabeth’s interview has two things in common with the Pete Tridish/Kate Wendland Duncan interview: Elizabeth is better known outside the punk scene than within it and it serves as a guide to active engagement with social/political issues. Elizabeth’s interview is one of the most popular on the site, but I believe it’s largely listened to by people outside of punk. Since she’s very well known in the community of anti-fracking activists, many look to Elizabeth as an insightful and impassioned voice on the issue. They may not know Elizabeth’s goofier side, some of which she allows out in the interview. Mostly, however, I hope the listener will come from this interview inspired to fight for the causes that matter to them, whatever they may be. Listen to the interview.
I can honestly say I’ve never listened to Joey’s band, the Blessed Muthas, but I love Stacey’s interview with him, especially the first half where he details growing up in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia and moving through a young life of crime and drugs. There are some who think that the story of punk is only that of middle class white males. Phooey! This has never been the story of Philly’s HC punk scene, and listening to Joey’s interview is a reminder that inner-city kids could be drawn to punk, too, and it wasn’t always a popular — or even safe — choice in their neighborhood or among their non-punk friends. To mention some of Joey’s antics would be to spoil the fun of listening to him recount his tales. This interview also serves to illustrate why I’ve been so happy with Stacey’s guest interviews: her warmth, empathy, and good cheer. These qualities, which she employs in her professional life, allow for interview subjects to loosen up and speak freely. What she’s achieved in her interviews is pure audio gold. Listen to the interview.
Tim is known here in Philly as the “Mayor of Baltimore Avenue.” (Note to non-Philadelphians: Baltimore Avenue is a street in West Philly that is best known for being the home of the A-Space, Books Through Bars, Mariposa Co-op, and a diverse collection of funky-smelling people.) Tim has been a beloved fixture in this city for decades, and every accolade and profession of admiration and adoration he’s been given has been earned. Tim’s generous humanity makes me feel like a small toad enjoying a steady diet of bugs. Tim’s interview is not as long as some others, so it’s ideal to start with for an introduction to the city of Philadelphia, a personal history of its early HC scene, years of activism on behalf of those often overlooked, and the story of a man who’s made a positive difference in the lives of so many people. I don’t care if it’s corny, I just have to say it: I love Tim Dunn. Listen to the interview.
Next week, Stacey Finney shares her L!F!P! highlights.