Do you remember City Gardens, the alternative music club in Trenton? Amy Yates Wuelfing does, and she has written a book about its long and storied history.
Amy, a lifelong resident of Morrisville, frequented City Gardens while it existed from 1980 to 1994. She and co-author Steven Lodovico spent more than a decade researching the club, the bands that played there, its patrons, and those who made it all work. They conducted over 100 interviews to create this book, entitled “No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens.” They spoke with people such as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show who once bartended at the club, “Gentleman” (and comedian) Jim Norton who worked there as a bouncer, Black Flag frontman and onetime Trenton resident Henry Rollins, and many others who came together to create a haven for underground music and the outsiders and misfits who loved it.
Back in the days before the Internet, fans found new music by listening to college radio stations and searching through record stores like Third Street Jazz where Amy once worked. Clubs like City Gardens gave new bands a place to play and audiences a way to see them. There was also a weekly dance night where, for only 90 cents, kids could dance the night away to new wave music. Those who felt that they were different from everyone else found others like themselves and were accepted for who they were. After the club closed, people were so sentimental about it that there were even reunions held from time to time.
While researching for the book, the new owners of the building let Amy go in to look around. She was surprised by what bad shape it was in. “Chunks of the roof are missing and you can see daylight and rain coming in.”
City Gardens was an anomaly. Not in New York, not in Philadelphia, it popped up in a blighted urban area and promoter Randy Now managed to book some rather well-known acts such as Iggy Pop and Ween. Amy notes that The Ramones used to play there on a very regular basis, to the point where audiences took them for granted and expected that they would always be there. Now they are an iconic band of their time period. Randy’s promoting skills earned City Gardens a permanent place in the history of underground music.
Amy is now working on a book about record stores across the country. She wants to document a time period before people could download music at home, when there was more personal interaction around music. She has remained friends with City Gardens promoter Randy Now, who owns The Man Cave in Bordentown, NJ where people can still buy albums, CDs, and even videotapes. She has also traveled to Cleveland to interview one of the founders of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who also happened to be one of the creators of the Philadelphia Record Exchange. She is interested in documenting Americana and things that are “unique to our culture.”
Just across the bridge from Morrisville at 1701 Calhoun Street, City Gardens was a musical Mecca in an unlikely place. Amy says her book is the story of a time and a place that will never come again and it just needed to be captured.
Amy will be signing her new book, “No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens” at Randy Now’s Man Cave in Bordentown, NJ on Saturday and Sunday, March 8th and 9th, and at Siren Records in Doylestown on Friday, March 14th. You can also find her at the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market on Sunday, March 30th, and in Philadelphia at Serrano/Tin Angel on Thursday, April 3rd. Just remember, there is no slam dancing at these signing events!
PHOTO CAP: Amy Wuelfing