My first acquaintance with Rich Stremme arose from the circumstance of his being very kind and reaching out after my last year’s entry on PROCESS OF ELIMINATION, his prehistoric hardcore band that he played along with Greg Bennick (TRIAL / BETWEEN EARTH & SKY). Rich is still doing his thing with THE DEACONS (est. 1997) from Brooklyn and M-13, and old schoold CT/NYC hardcore pack started in 2010. Both bands and all his outside-band activity have always upheld the DIY ethic. This buddy is well-oiled machine making not only music, but also pins/badges, independent chapbooks, zines (including his 80s offering “Socially Unaccepted”), t-shirts, engraving/pendants, scrimshaw and tattoo, art workshops for kids and dozens more! All underground and all independent – a perfect fit for IDIOTEQ magazine.
I am greatly honored to present you an interesting, engaging story of a true artist, provoking strong emotions and inspiring youth to create a better environment for creativity and self-development.
Hey Rich! What’s up man? There are sooo many things we should dive into in this interview, so let’s tackle the subjects slowly one at a time. Please introduce yourself to our readers tell us a bit about your geographical and musical background. Also, how are you and what interesting is going on at your end at the moment?
I had a crazy week/end. Woke up last Wed. 1AM with my face puffed out like the elephant man, cause I have some kind of infected jaw. (Gotta love punkrock teeth.) I go to a walk-in emergency dental place, and next thing I know, I meet this dentist guy who literally is the size of Hulk Hogan. No joke. So he breaks the news to me that I gotta get these 3 tooth canals yanked out cold turkey, because the infection’s so bad that novacaine is gonna feel like acid. It was a classic, because I’m all fevered out, and I got Thor in a white coat saying: “Hang in..this is gonna hurt like hell..”
Anyways, M-13 still pulled off two shows Friday and Saturday in the Nutmeg State, so mission accomplished at least. (I was complaining about my fckin jaw to a buddy of mine, JJ from Georgia before the show on Saturday, to which he replied: “Rub some dirt on it and remember you’re a Deacon.” That cracked me up, and I guess deserves a little further explanation.
So my name’s Rich Stremme, and I’m a hardcore punk lifer. My family and I moved from New Jersey to Connecticut when I was 11. Armed with one comp-tape that my cousin Dave made for me in 1981, the Nutmeg State was where my real introduction to DIY hardcore punk happened. Saw my first show at the old Anthrax, (AND coincidentally, in July THE DEACONS will be playing a show with LOST GENERATION…who were the first punk band I ever got to see live! THE REZILLOS are also playing that show btw, so it’s gonna be such a good time.), and the first band I ever played in that made it out of the garage was PROCESS OF ELIMINATION (with Al before he got PIST, and Greg before he went on TRIAL). I was: the guy screaming upfront for BRUTALLY FAMILIAR in the early 90s, the guy tryna sing a little bit in GODSQUAD (with Al on bass and nyc graf legend REVS on guitar), and finally when I got my own guitar and suffered through ten dozen attempts at “Puff the Magic Dragon”, I eventually began playin it in THE DEACONS (though we had to recruit Rich & Bill Owens from THOSE UNKNOWN as our ‘ringers’ to pull off the 7″!)
All that to say, THE DEACONS are still carrying on, and M-13 have been around for about 5 years now I guess.
Hell man, you’re a hardcore punk dad! Plus I just started feeling bad for bothering you while you’re in such severe pain!
Thanks a lot for the heads up on your projects though. Considering Greg Bennick’s participation, the PROCESS OF ELIMINATION project seems to be an interesting experience to ask about. How do you remember your early encounters and time spent together? Are you still in touch with Greg and the rest of the guys?
Ha! I’m not a dad though… “Cats not kids” is my credo, along with “Keep it rockin like a whore on pills.”
Haha, nice. I’m not sure what my daughter would say though ;)
Cool, P.O.E. is a good place to start. Ya know one of the alternate meanings for P.O.E. was PTERODACTYLS ON EGGS right?:)
Greg lived one town over from me in CT, and I believe the first time I met him was at a track meet at his school. There was some fathead wanna-be football jock from his school (named Bubba Banks possibly?) who was somehow being a jerk…I can’t remember the specifics, but Greg and I immediately united forces to basically bum this lunkhead bully-type out.
Al was actually the punk rock ‘go-between’ who started out at my school, and then moved and transferred to Greg’s, so it was like the ‘germ’ of punk rock, from my cousin Dave’s comp tape which started me off at age 11, got brought to the Nutmeg, eventually got shared, and then slowly began to seed a tiny group of kids who grooved on, and of course added to, the slim catalogue that we identified as hardcore punk etc.
There was a college radio station WXCI that did a hardcore punk radio show once a week late at night called, “The Adventure Jukebox.” The DJ was in a band called No Milk On Tuesday, and man, if you could tune in to that show, and the signal was coming in strong enough to put a cassette in and record it…that was like a new world of tunes every week.
Most of the time P.O.E. spent in our guitar player’s barn. Our 3 towns in CT were pretty rural at the time, and literally the barn was where we: practiced, recorded the first demo& played our first shows! I think in 3 years we only managed to pull off 10-12 shows total. We were kids, and geographically removed from the few city-spots in CT that did shows, so like the high light of P.O.E.’s show exploits was finally being able to play the Anthrax after SO MANY calls and call backs…to the point where we wrote a song about the dude who booked shows there. Here are the lyrics: “My name’s Brian, I am weak, book my band, call you next week, 327 2625 hey!” It was a short song.
I’m still in touch with Greg, though when he moved to Seattle, that’s when we each forwarded different bands etc., again largely due to geography. Right before he split, we recorded the BRUTALLY FAMILIAR demo. with Greg on drums…that was maybe 1992-3? As I’m sure you well know, Greg’s a busy dude with a bunch of projects rolling at all times, and same is true on this end. So although we’ve been in touch, unfortunately we haven’t had the opportunity to collaborate on anything in a long while.
Al lives in CT with his wife and kitties, and I’m in Brooklyn, so we continue to do both THE DEACONS and M-13 together. And I’m grateful for it…seems the older you get, the harder it is to run across kindred spirits ya know?
What prompted your move to New York City? How would you describe your evolution as a NYC dweller and your perception of the Big Apple?
I moved to Midwood Brooklyn at the end of summer in 1993. Originally, I had always wanted to live in the NYC area, and my excuse was that I was going to grad school at Brooklyn College. At the time, my neighborhood was a sort of dead zone, about half way to Coney Island on the D train. In the early 2000’s it was called “Little Pakistan” by Brooklyn Bridge magazine, and today, as with many Brooklyn neighborhoods, it is slowly but surely being infiltrated by the privileged, white, 20 something ‘hipster’ class.
I don’t mean to sound negative, but when I moved to Brooklyn, Brooklyn itself was for the most part viewed as a “satellite of Manhattan (or NYC proper)”, but nowadays, thanks to real estate moguls and corporate amerikkkan greed, Brooklyn’s been re-imagined:
Coney Island is slated to become a corporate Disneyland, but currently stands half-rotting while big business (Joey Sittz/Thor Industries vs former billionaire mayor Bloomberg) hold an economic standoff for the last remaining plots of land. (If you wanna check out a great documentary about the bullshit politics and corruption surrounding Coney Island, check out the documentary: The Zipper. It’s about one of the last independent rides at Coney, as of a few summer’s ago.)
I have my own theory on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint side of Brooklyn by the way. I believe a corporate scientist created a liquid concentrate of NYC’s East VIllage’s “St. Mark’s Place”, and injected it into the ground somewhere around Bedford Ave. and North 7th Street, and what grew from it is whatcha see today whenever you ride the L train to Bklyn.
Either way, in my 20 plus years here, I’ve seen Manhattan evolve into a corporate la la-land…with cameras EVERYWHERE. Times Square turned from sleaze and old vaudeville theaters, porn shops, bars, luncheonettes, peepshows…to The Hardrock Café, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, The Gap etc. It’s cleaner, it’s safer and it sucks. My advice to anybody who wants to get an idea of what NYC’s really all about: buy an old SONY Walkman, make a comp tape with FEAR’s “New York’s Alright/I Love Livin in the City“, and take a walk BEHIND the Port Authority bus terminal, 9th Ave and 42nd St.S it yourself down on the sidewalk, turn up the tunes and pull out a bottle of Richard’s Wild Rose Wine, and be prepared to stay the night & share.
Ha! Sounds like a plan. Haha, will you show me and my wife round when we hit NYC sometime?
Rich, are you like Vinnie Stigma pissed off because of the invaders, posers and yuppies changing the old Brooklyn? Wasn’t it inevitable? Maybe it’s time to relocate to Bronx, like Billy Graziadei, huh? ;)
Would totally love to show you around NYC whenever you’re around! (And I won’t charge a ‘walking tour’ fee…like some of the harder-than-me-core-celebrities either. :) Just teasing…one of my favorite places to bring people in Manhattan is down in Chinatown: old Chatham Square area (where the first electric tattoo parlour in NYC used to be), and Five Points (of Gangs of NY fame)…New York doesn’t deliberately preserve much of its underbelly history, but there are some classic spots still around here and there. (And just some great ironies, like the NY Dept of Ed partially housed in the Tweed building… historic corruption to contemporary corruption: amen.)
Hold it right there.. I’m old, but Vinnie Stigma’s ancient. There’s a difference. To him, I’m probably just a Nutmeg ‘transplant’ even though I’ve lived in the same attic in Bklyn for 20+ years, and he’s right…It’s all perspective. I remember being a kid and going to see THE FUGS and getting to interview Tuli Kupferberg. He said to me, “You think punk rock is new? There were kids in basements in the Lower East Side sticking safety pins through their cheeks and slashing their speakers to make their guitar sound static in the 1950’s. I know, I was there.” To me, he hits it on the head: if you weren’t there, then you don’t really know. That’s true of everything really.
Honestly, I got more issues with BIOHAZARD or any/every other ‘hardcore’ contract-guarantee-deli-tray-manager-band, than I do with privileged hipster kids. Hipster kids are just like little germs to me really… they fester, grow, multiply and spread, especially in the summer months, but then seem to die-back in the winter. So not exactly germs, but a cross between little germs and expensive, invasive, weeds really. Either way, I have a pretty decent immune system generally, so they don’t bug me too terribly.
Everything changes, and I know it’s usually bound to change more rapidly in a more urban area, but seriously if you compared the percent of independently operated businesses in NYC vs. corporate backed businesses every 5 years from 1995-2015, I bet you’d see a continuously huge drop-off in independents, in every borough…but especially in Manhattan. (Adolf Ghouliana’s “Quality of Life” campaign really initiated that particular decline to me anyways.)
When I close down my Underground Attic one man sweatshop, I will NOT be moving to the Bronx… that’s a promise.
My next stop will be Brooklyntowne, Maine or South Dakota or Newfoundland! :)
I remember being a kid and going to see THE FUGS and getting to interview Tuli Kupferberg. He said to me, “You think punk rock is new? There were kids in basements in the Lower East Side sticking safety pins through their cheeks and slashing their speakers to make their guitar sound static in the 1950’s. I know, I was there.”
I interviewed a punk band from Newfoundland once :)
Ok, sorry for the extensive question, but your answer brings two thoughts to my mind: What keeps you living in the city and how much do you miss the old times / how do you think American punk scene has evolved over the last 30 years and which direction do you think it’s taking?
That’s excellent! I’ve always wanted to see Newfoundland. Made it as close as Nova Scotia, but that’s it. So cool…I’d love to check out that interview & band! (I’m kinda weird about travel..I have never really been into ‘travel for travel’s sake’ partly I guess because i dislike being a tourist, and I’ve sort of always just wanted to go to places where I had a built in reason to be…make sense? :)
Wow that’s a good one. So, the first part of that question I have been struggling with for the past 5 years. On the positive side, I want to preserve my little place in Brooklyn because:
1. It’s still a huge enough city that I can remain pretty anonymous, and carry on my own underground attic enterprises under the system’s radar. I don’t advertise anything that I do online etc.; it has existed completely through word-of-mouth/in-the-know patronage..
2. I don’t want to give up any of the people I know & love who have balanced the scales in my head & heart over the past 20 years, and literally made this place livable for me.
3. Longevity sake. (Unincorporated & Underground in Brooklyntowne since 1993 only sounds better with age.)
On the flipside, I’m here because I’m Brooklyn-bound. I started out teaching mostly English classes for Brooklyn College, and began an ESL program for The People’s Firehouse in Williamsburg. (Sooo long ago, at that time Bedford and North 7th-N.1st was a predominantly 1st & 2nd generation Polish neighborhood, and folks were SO generous and kind. The classes were free, (3 levels of basic get-around English), but each class the men chipped in and brought flowers for their teachers, and the women brought food for everybody! It was really special.)
Nowadays, I still do educational outreach through Brooklyn College to high schools around Brooklyn, helping kids get the opportunity to accumulate transferable college credits for free before they leave high school. But from my perspective, US institutions of higher learning are SO thoroughly ‘corrupt with the corporate’ mindset/language/benchmarks that there’s barely anything liberal or artistic left for me to feel good about representing, let alone advertising to kids.
So to completely answer the first part of your question: I’m going to be splitting my time between working a bare minimum for The Man, just enough to maintain the fictional security of health care coverage, and working like hell to keep pushing the momentum of all underground endevours, while going on lots of roadtrips with my mom, her one eyed dog Patches and my cat Clover, until we find that cool spot in Maine (or Newfoundland) to set up shop. Once that’s accomplished, I will proudly hang a ‘gone fishin’ sign in the front window.
Part 2: I don’t think I miss old times, as much as I lament the limitations put upon the possibilities of good new times. For example, I have always loved hijinx. When I was 10 yrs old and my family was moving from NJ to CT, a couple friends and I managed to blow out all the fuses boxes in our grammar school, so on the last day of school before leaving, grades 1-5 got dimissed 3 hours early because the school had no lights. GODSQUAD’s most classic NYC mission was installing over a hundred 1′ to 4′ tall crosses to signposts from Houston St. to 14th Street/Bowery to Ave C one St Patty’s Day weekend in the early 90s. Nobody knew what to make of it. Try and pull off either thing today and you’ve got YAHOO news of the week: 10 Year Old Terrorist Aprehended, or, Cult of Vandals is Caught on Camera 158 times in 4 block area…Try putting a sticker onto one of the “Mobile Police Towers” that racially profile the borders of many Brooklyn neighborhoods. You’re fucked whether the sticker’s got a peace sign on it, or a pink bunnyrabbit…is it reminiscing to imagine an MDC sticker there? I just think it’s gotta be an incredibly difficult time to be an expressive ‘fuck-the-system’ type kid today. So few options and so many cops.
Last part: Well, first off, the division that has existed between the words “hardcore” & “punk” over the past 30 years in my mind has only broadened. And that blows. Steve Blush’s “American Hardcore” book is to print, what my cousin Dave’s comp. tape was to my lil kid brain: its the foundation of what I consider first generation hardcore punk bands. Hardcore punk means to me: adopting the raw soul of punk rock, minus the glitz&glam of any music industry influence, adding amerikkan speed & spiced with attitude, and applying it anywhere & everywhere in spite of the system: hardcore style. Hardcore punk is BLACK FLAG sharing a can of dog food in a van on a mission to spray paint towns before playing there. Hardcore punk is driving cross country in a truck labeled MILLIONS OF DEAD COPS. Playing shows in basements and squats and restaurants still happen; small groups of kids and lifers are still pulling off independent shows around the country. Sometimes they’re well attended. Lots of times they’re not because the allure of all-day festival extravaganzas and the current bonanza of ‘national act’ hardcore or punk bands all playing some variation of the manager/guarantee/delitray/presspack rock & roll bullshit game in larger venues wins most folks attention.
I’d be psyched to see more bands on that level join forces and impose a different game on the existing mid-level sized clubs in NYC. FUGAZI managed to be pretty huge and still pull it off on their terms. It’s not like it can’t or hasn’t been done, but in this day & age I believe it would take a deliberate & concerted effort to alter the current $$ multi-show a night venue racket in NY. (Which I now and then participate in…the other night I went to see THE WEIRDOS and THE ADOLESCENTS at the Grammercy in Manhattan, and boths bands rocked. Tickets cost 23 bucks, but to see two classics on tour from CA, that’s pretty fair to me. It was an enjoyable night, but it wasn’t really a hardcore punk show to me. It was a chance to check out two classic bands at a rock & roll venue on a big stage with a moat between the band and the audience. The show they played the Tuesday night prior at Cherry Street in CT for $5, (after an upstate NY venue canceled a show on them last minute for too few ticket sales) which fits at best I’d guess 150 people had high potentialto be a classic hardcore show. I’m jealous that I wasn’t be there.)
So, from my little window into the current state of affairs of American hardcore punk, there are still small pockets of people, young and old and even close to ancient, carrying the torch. I’d just like to see more physical evidence of hardcore punk folks of all ages creatively applying the principles we sing along to at the show in the basement, and in the $14 a beer venue, to the world we still live and work in during the rest of the time we’re alive and breathing.
US institutions of higher learning are SO thoroughly ‘corrupt with the corporate’ mindset/language/benchmarks that there’s barely anything liberal or artistic left.
Well said, Rich. We’ll get to that later on, but let’s capture more of your travel and socio-geography thoughts.
You mentioned road trips with your mom. What cool places in the US have you visited so far and (apart from the States) what’s the furthest you traveled?
I’ve traveled around the US a bunch with bands and cross country roadtrips with friends. I remember seeing the Badlands of South Dakota for the first time standing on the edge of this cliff in waist high snow in mid February with my friend Bill. He and I were on a scouting mission for the first BRUTALLY FAMILIAR / PIST tour in my Dad’s old red Nissan Sentra. We crossed the Rockies at night during a snow storm on a road that was ‘drive at your own risk’ if you didn’t have chains on the tires. We didn’t, so it was like us and a convoy of 18 -wheelers-with-chains slowly creeping through the mountains in a white out.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway& seeing the rocky coastline of N. CA/Oregon, after driving through the Redwood Forest’s giant trees and ferns…all in the same day, is incredible to me every single time I’ve been lucky enough to do it.
My favorite place in the US though is still New England, so many cool old seaside towns.
Standout place ever played: El Paso TX, we got to play outside in a dirt lot for a bunch of kids, half of whom had border hopped from Mexico to get to the show, while COPS filmed an episode and heliCOPters shined spotlights on our suspicious cloud of dirt and noise. By far one of the best shows ever, courtesy of Alex and Hector. Those guys are also responsible for introducing me to the furthest place (south) that I have ever traveled. The day after the show, we all walked across the border into El Cuidad Juarez and went to this big market place where everybody bought avocado& salsa sandwiches on fresh baked rolls for 50cts. It was the one day of the whole trip that everybody was stuffed.
The farthest (north) I’ve ever traveled is Canada… not much higher than Montreal I’m afraid. :)
How about Europe? Are you tempted to hit our shores sometime?
I’d totally like to have a reason to go to Europe! That would make it very tempting. I mean, there are lots of places I’d love to have the excuse to go check out, but the ‘process’ involved in getting there I’m not good with. I’ve never had a passport, and though I’ve flown domestically a bunch of times, I really dislike how much you have to submit to be a passenger these days. Pay a bunch of $ to get myself and all my stuff xrayed and inspected, long list of rules, no amount of control, the possibility of people puking all around me, AND I gotta pay for all that stress…:)
What’s your first association with Europe? Also, how do you see our hardcore scene? Do you have any friends or favorite bands from the Old Continent?
My first association with Europe was through my Grandma, who spent her childhood in Germany and England. My Grandma lived with my Mom & Dad (and me), so I grew up with my Grandma’s stories of her childhood overseas. My favorite story was about how all the rich kids who went to her school (in England) wore these elaborate Easter bonnets with flowers etc., so one time on her way to school for the Easter pageant, my Grandma stopped off at a pond and scooped up big frogs eggs to decorate her hat! It didn’t go over well.
I never met my Grandfather because he died before I was born, but the older I get, the more connection that I find that I share with him. I use a wooden table that he made by hand in the 1940s, for tattooing, and actually one of the tattoos I gave myself are “clasped hands” which my Mom remembers my Grandfather having on his shoulder. Evidently, he had issues with authority as well, as one of the stories I remember my Mom telling me about him was the reason his hearing was poor. This was due to the fact that his grade school teachers in Germany would routinely lift him up BY HIS EARS when they thought he wasn’t paying attention in class.
Honestly, I have little awareness what the hardcore punk scene is like in Europe. Experiencing firsthand the differences between scenes and shows and bands here in the US from place to place, I can only imagine it must be wild to experience the differences between scenes in diff. countries. Hmm…favorite overseas bands would be: THE JAM, STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, THE EQUALS, BURNING SPEAR (tho now they’re domestic I believe!), THE SEX PISTOLS, MUTABARUKA, THE BLOOD, THE CLASH…the usual suspects I guess, but I’m not big into reunion shows etc., so I’d prefer access to a time machine, so I could see them each in their own early heyday. Otherwise I’m content to listen to records…
Ok Rich. I’ve just received your cool package you sent me via postal mail, including some pins, records and a zine. You mentioned you’re into making such things: badges, books, tees, etc. Do you support your bands via such merch items or do you produce them on a bigger scale?
Glad the package arrived in one piece! Well, I started out making a zine when I was a little kid, before I connected with other punk rock kids and was able to start a band. P.O.E. and BRUTALLY FAMILIAR both started out making cassette demo tapes, and then as soon as possible, we’d put out our own 7″ records. Later bands skipped the demo tape, and went right for a 7″ or CD comp etc. to start. I have always considered doing music a labor of love and something which should always be independent, so yeah, we’ve always put out stuff ourselves and/or only with independent small labels. The same is true of my approach to writing…the DogCity chapbook I sent your way was printed independently, years ago here in Bklyn, and actually the original drummer for THE DEACONS, Rich Owens, does independent letterpress printing in Maine now. He runs “Punch Press/ Damn the Ceasars” and as you can see, he’s put out some really beautiful books and broadsides etc.
Everything I do, I do on small scale, and whenever possible, I prefer to do custom work. That’s true of tattooing… (was apprenticed by Pat Sinatra, as a custom tattooer), scrimshaw, engraving, matchbox dioramas etc. For example the first M-13 7″, we did a run of 200, and they all have hand-stamped labels with spray painted covers. I think the smaller the run, the more attention and individuality can go into the making.
My favorite thing about playing in hardcore punk bands still remains: bringing it to new and sometimes inappropriate places and seeing how folks respond. So that’s what I try and do with the seemingly dissimilar things I participate in. (Like this week I am heading to Connecticut to do a ‘marble show’ for 3 days. Basically, a bunch of people who collect, make, buy, sell and trade new and old marbles spend a few days at a hotel, first doing in-room swapping etc. and then all setting up on Saturday in a conference room at the hotel for the general public to check out. I always bring pins, music and shirts with me. Even though those things have little to do with collecting marbles, to me they help fill-in the full picture of what I’m about and what I participate in during the rest of the year.)
Amazing! You mentioned zines. Are there some decent, still active publications you’d like to promote here? Do you believe zines are still relevant in the digital age?
I’m not really up on any current independent zines still regularly printing hard copies. I think the allure of the limitless audience in digital medium has got most folks only participating in that arena. Along with the ease, and comparatively minimal cost of doing things online, it’s tough to beat.
However, I think it’s literally VITAL for folks to reinvigorate mediums of communication that are not solely digital. Here in the US. even the US Postal system is in dire straits because of the lack of use of US mail. To me there are two really basic reasons that it’s a necessary thing to keep communicating, creating, sharing etc. in mediums other than those digital. 1. Privacy. (You can’t really be sure who’s monitoring digital communication, especially when it becomes an “issue of national security etc” to suddenly examine and confiscate digital communications: emails texts blogs etc.) 2. Tangible objects still beat digital images in my world. Like the M-13 7″ I sent your way: I could have sent digital download files along with photos of the record and you’d get the idea of the thing, and you’d get to appreciate (or not lol) the tunes, but handling the actual object still allows the possibility of connecting with that object, and potentially being inspired in ways that just can’t happen digitally. I bet if you sniff the cover, it still smells faintly like spray paint right? It makes a connection that just isn’t there digitally. (Take it to the extreme: I NEVER wanted to EVER see a G.G. show because I’ve got a weak stomach for grand displays of bodily excretions..but I’ve definitely checked out video clips on youtube of old G.G. shows. It provides a window in, but still can’t replace the actual experience. To me the danger in that is (especially for younger kids who’ve grown up entirely in the digital age) if you have a tricked-out giant computer screen and great headphones etc., you can be easily duped into thinking that you are ‘participating’ in something. And that’s just sad and very misleading.
My biggest worry: if, for whatever reason, the internet (oh no say it ain’t so) gets ‘turned off’ for our own good, will people, especially young people, still know how to communicate in other mediums? Sounds silly or conspiratorial, but for real, I share the streets, subways and space in general with a LOT of other folks here in NY, and I’d say 7 out of 10 on average are tuned out to their surroundings, and exclusively tuned into a mass produced corporate gadget of choice. Scary.
Is this one of the reasons why you’ve decided to run art workshops for kids? That sounds really exciting, so please drop me more lines on that art of your operation. Why have you chosen to support these young souls and show ’em a different sphere and territories of interests?
Well, I have to back up a little to explain. I originally moved to Midwood Brooklyn in 1994, to attend Brooklyn College’s MFA program, where at the time, Allen Ginsberg was teaching. My intent was to investigate trying to do some writing workshops at Rikers Island, but I ended up getting to teach Remedial English classes at BC, and soon discovered that most of the kids (and adults) stuck in remediation weren’t such a privileged group of folks. I developed some really grassroots ways of communicating grammar& structural writing techniques to this population of students, and it was successful. So I continued teaching at BC, as well as through early college credit high school English programs attached to BC for the past 20 years.
However, there’s been a major trend toward ‘the corporate’ in the CUNY system, which to me only echoes the same ‘one road’ to success that everyone is droning out on everywhere, in all main stream arenas, in Amerikka. So, basically, instead of teaching, my job’s gradually become more and more administrative, and less and less kid focussed and kid driven. Teaching English has become almost as incidental as music and art. So, I figured before stepping completely out of the educational system, whenever I am presented with an opportunity to teach, it will include some aspect of DIY/ independent writing, art & music.
In May, I visited a college credit Political Science class happening at EBC high school in Bushwick Bklyn. The topic of the class was: The Politics of Punk, and prior to the class meeting, students were asked to watch “American Hardcore.” During the class itself, we began by talking about what was most memorable and/or surprising about the documentary. Then we discussed some excerpts from the book, listened to BLACK FLAG “Police Story” and BRUTALLY FAMILIAR “Cops Get Away with Murder” & talked about the ‘mobile police towers’ that now appear on the borders of some neighbourhoods and not others. And finally, kids got into groups and designed their own symbols/logos and we all made 1″ custom pinbacks/buttons.
The most memorable moment of that class for me was when a number of kids all said that the most surprising thing about watching “American Hardcore” was how many KIDS were involved in bands and shows and zines etc…and to me, that hit’s it on the head. That’s my reason for being there. It’s vital, now more than ever, to show and share what’s been done, to hopefully inspire some kids’ to really scheme on what’s possible…
But isn’t this involvement on the rise now? I’ve been talking to so many band members and promoters and the bottom line is that there are literally thousands of youth driven centers and undertakings that gather all the young kids and engage them in various projects and activities. Is it about powering the punk movement with yet another source of rebel and creative souls?
Well, I’ve been including aspects of hardcore punk/DIY mentality into every class/workshop that I’ve done for the past 20 years, so I’ve done a bunch of them. I try to make each experience a little bit different, so last spring was actually the first time that I introduced pin/badge making into a workshop. Pins are great because they satisfy that need to create, coupled with a sense of immediate accomplishment. You have an idea, you create a symbol of that idea, and within a few minutes, you have a ‘badge’ to wear that quietly communicates that idea to the world.
Independent folks can write, email or call me for sure, and I’d be glad to pass on any info. on ideas & projects to potentially spark the interest of local youth. (I’m not inclined to assist people with developing programs already associated or sponsored by large corporate entities, banks, universities etc. because in my experience there’s usually too much $motive/manipulation$ already built in.) And I’d gladly entertain invites from far-away-from-me places, as long as they are considerate of the independent expenses involved in getting to them! (Like in the punk rock arena, M-13 was asked to play out in Western PA a few summer’s ago when we did a 4 day road trip down to DC. We book everything ourselves, and ask no standard guarantee etc., so when some dude told us: come play Charleroi Pa, we’ll feed you some veggies and definitely get 100 bucks gas money together, I believed him. Fast-forward: we get there, and there’s a fat guy selling hotdogs and hamburgers on a grill out front, but no free food, no gas money at all, and dude’s apartment is over-run with starving cats and fleas, so consequently, no place to crash either. We still played the show, but honestly, if it was me, by myself, rolling up on that sketchy scene, I’d end up getting into trouble. Dude would have ended up with a broken nose and I would have either: A. Been locked up for assault or B. Drove home with 2 new skinny kitty friends & some unwanted fleas.)
Haha, an adventure is always just around the corner.
Have you ever had to deal with overprotective parents who only know the negative connotations associated with punk rock, hardcore and independent youth culture in general?
Well, it’s funny that you mention that because I never officially had to rebel against my parents, though I definitely tested & stretched the boundaries of parental support while trying to figure my own deal out. People see me now and just assume that I had extra liberal parents, but the fact is, my Mom and Dad just really tried to trust and believe in (most) of the choices I was making, while growing up.
The punkrock argument that I lost, bigtime, was with my Mom. I had just gotten the “In God We Trust” Dk’s album, and I opened it up in my bedroom to give it the first spin on my turntable. (I already knew Nazi Punks Fuck Off was on it, so I was sure NOT to show off the purchase to my Mom…I had to be about 11 or 12 yrs old at the time.) Anyway, after playing the first side, I flipped it, and damn if the 2nd side wasn’t the same thing as the first side. I couldn’t believe it; I got the defective DK’s album! So instead of shutting my mouth, enjoying the 3 songs I could listen to, and waiting 30 years for the double-sided record to be a collector’s item, I told my Mom that I had to return the record cause it was defective. Naturally she couldn’t believe it, and before she was gonna drive back to Record Town, she gave it a spin on HER turntable. Trying to make a case for “Religious Vomit” being righteous at age 12 proved way too tough for me. I remember whining about how “It’s not stupid heavy metal fake Satan stuff Mom…the Dead Kennedy’s are making a point about church and..” My Mom had heard enough. The record got returned, and I didn’t have my own copy of “In God We Trust” until I was in my mid 20s. (But like I said, I didn’t really ever rebel. My Mom and Dad didn’t ban punk records or anything after that experience. My Mom just never asked to preview any of my other records on my folks’ stereo, and I made sure to not introduce my parents to certain bands, umm like FEAR. :)
I haven’t really run across overprotective parents, where I’ve had to really explain and defend my DIY approach to education. I think that’s partly true because a lot of the kids who identify with me the most, are the ones who’ve already objected to some of the conventions of society, school etc. in ways that have already gotten them into trouble. My focus has always been to channel anger & rebellion into something creative &/or “positive”. (Though my definition of the latter is likely more broad than most.) Plus I’m always very honest about who I am and what I am about, and I think just that little bit of down-to-earth honesty goes a long way, especially to people who are used to be ‘advertised at’ on every occasion possible.
My Mom and Dad just really tried to trust and believe in (most) of the choices I was making.
Well, the one way we completely overlapped up until a few minutes ago, was that I believe she and I were both happily ignorant of one another. She still is, but now I’ve got somebody new to dislike. :) Ok so to be honest, I haven’t seen the movie. I’m not big into movies, cept old ones on free-tv. (I knew a kid in high school who liked to get drunk in the back row and piss down the slanted floor, to bum unsuspecting movie-goers who’d kicked off their shoes to relax. Consequently, I’m not a big movie goer in general. :)
So I checked out a clip of LouAnne speaking, and read her bio thingy, and the single defining difference between she and I became cystal clear: she has a dog. I live with a kitty named Clover. Other than that, we’re practically soulmates. We even sort of look alike in the right light.
Haha, awesome! Ok, so apart from music, what are some of your other passions, hobbies, distractions and guilty pleasures?
I am passionately in love with my 2 year old kitty, Clover. :) We met on Foster Avenue two August’s ago and decided to shack up together immediately. We live in an attic apartment of a 2 family house, so it gets brutally hot this time of year. My summertime top guilty pleasure is crankin up the AC in my bedroom, so it cools down to a sultry 80 degrees (the rest of the apt stays at about 95-100 most nights, unless we get a late day rain to cool down the roof.), and cuddling up with Clover to watch 70s TV. Mostly, we watch Sanford & Son, Good Times, Kung Fu, Twilight Zone etc. with some classic old movies mixed in too..ya know, she still only a kitten really, so she can’t really handle the intense drama of The Walking Dead yet.
Ok Rich, so let’s end it up romantically :) What is your strategy for fighting weak moments in your life and what is your recipe for finding happiness? Do you have any advice for our readers?
Romance still stumps me, as does life a lot of the time. So far it’s turned out to be a lot longer than i thought it’d be back when i was a kid. Whoever said that life starts at 40, to me is fulla shit and/or filthy rich& far removed. The down side of 44 has been: balancing the loss of so many loved ones (2 legged & 4 legged), along with tryna slow down the deterioration of my health etc. Lots of opportunity to feel weak. The upside: “Life. Life is the only thing worth living for.”
Happiness comes and goes, and it’s too much of an Amerikkan con to focus on. Make every day count for something. Slow down enough to know who you are, and what you’re about, and if in doubt: refer back to the snot-nosed little kid you were, before you matured into whoever the hell you think you’re supposed to be. Demonstrate and give back whatever it is that you appreciate most about the ones you are fortunate enough to love in life. My Grandma used to say: “Cry more. You pee less.”
Smile, in spite of the cameras, and live life.
Cry more. You pee less.
If you could change something in this world what would it be?
I’d change the height of all human beings to 1′ 10″ tops. (56 centimeters ta-daa!) The change would occur simultaneously all around the world, without any advanced warning. I’d happily spend the rest of my days handing out business cards that read: I’d like to thank all the little people.
Haha, what a noble goal. Ok Rich, so let’s leave the now dumbfounded readers with this intriguing thought :)
Thanks so much for your time and lots of interesting stories. It’s very cool that we made a record of some of your experiences. Feel free to wrap it up with your final words. Thanks so much!
Just want to thank you for taking the time out of your life to ask some really thoughtful questions about mine and sharing them on IDIOTEQ. I was impressed with the heart, focus & fun of IDIOTEQ when first visiting the site, and feel the same way about being an interviewee. Thank you for an all around enjoyable digital experience, for real. :)