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Last week I had the chance to see Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, a new horror-thriller rooted in punk rock ft. Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and Patrick Stewart (!!!) which is INSANE in the best possible way. To help promote the film, its creators have ingeniously launched a radio show (entitled Green Room Radio) ft. a mix of interviews, tunes and history surrounding the hardcore scene, and I had the opportunity to talk with host Tony Rettman (author of NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990) a few days ago to get the lowdown on ALL OF THE THINGS! Internet-eavesdrop on our conversation below, and give a listen to the latest episode of GRR which launched mere hours ago RIGHT NOW:

So I think the radio show is a really great tie-in to the movie! Do you have a lot of flexibility in terms of curating the episodes?

Yeah, a lot of the interviews were just just done with me calling or texting or emailing someone. I’ve had a lot of room with this. It’s cool, it’s a great project to be involved with.

And I know you’ve been involved in the hardcore scene in some capacity for a while, like, since you were twelve, so can you tell me a little bit about that trajectory and kind of how it’s evolved for you, and where you stand with it now?

I’ve got an older brother who’s twelve years older than me, and he’s sort of a Peter Bagge Buddy Bradley figure, you know? A lot of acne, a lot of Led Zeppelin, a lot of Cream Magazine, and I was his younger brother. He went to college in the late-seventies, early-eighties and got into punk rock, turned me on to it and started taking me to shows when I was about twelve, and that was major; it totally rewired my brain. Around his mid-twenties, like everybody else he kind of got out of hardcore and started listening to Sonic Youth and Swans and things like that (the natural evolution to proto-indie rock), and I was kind of left to my own accord there. So even though my brother got me into it, that was when it kind of became my own. That’s when I started to do fan zines and get involved in the hardcore scene that way.

Then I moved on around the early-nineties and started getting into other music; the same way my brother got me into hardcore, he got me into a lot of stuff like free jazz and musique concrète, a lot of hoity-toity stuff like that and improvised music that I actually saw in total connection with hardcore, just because it was real, it was from the heart, there was no bullshit involved. I remember him playing me a lot of stuff in his house he rented at the time, and I was almost mad at him, like, “Why didn’t you play me this in the first place? This is more punk than punk!” So that was kind of where my head went in the nineties, and then a lot of psychedelic music (definitely not straightedge anymore), so just exploring that kind of stuff.

I’d say somewhere in the early 2000s I got back into hardcore; I had a neighbor who ran a hardcore label in Brooklyn who started to turn me on to some of this music, and it had finally caught up to where I’d wanted it to be in the eighties, because there was this total appreciation of history that wasn’t necessarily nostalgic. I still think it’s cool, I still think it’s vital, and as cliche as it is, it’s timeless; there’s always going to be a pissed off kid and he’s always going to have a guitar. So my involvement now is documenting the history and paying attention to what people do.

So having had all this involvement throughout the years, then, would you say that the movie (despite the fact that it is kind of this larger than life portrayal in some ways) gets the vibe right re: the hardcore and punk scene?

I was only in one band, and we didn’t do much, but I toured with a lot of other bands, and I think it does sort of capture that feeling. Even though it’s in the present-day, they really do capture that feeling of going from show to show and being like, “Well, what’s this gonna be like?” You don’t know, you’re just stepping into a bear trap sometimes. So they really nailed that feeling of every day being a complete mystery and a surprise.

Absolutely. And again, clearly it’s an extreme case of a show gone wrong, but I do like how on the radio show’s website you guys have started documenting people’s nightmare gigs. I mean, having been to tons of shows in your life, do you have any that stick out in your mind as being totally horrible for one reason or another?

Oh yeah. There’s a few. It’s funny, because I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, and there was a place called City Gardens that’s now a well-known punk club, and my brother was the DJ there for all the punk and hardcore shows. I went with him all the time (I got to see three a week while I was in high school), and there’s two that stick out to me. One is pretty well-documented in the book that came out maybe a year or two ago about City Gardens (“No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes”), but the band that opened up for The Exploited (a Scottish punk rock / hardcore band) one night was kind of the local skinhead / pro-USA band, so that was kind of a dumb mix, but to me, I was like, “Well, these guys are skinheads and want to be British, so it makes sense!” But it didn’t. So the skinhead band sort of came on stage and put up an American flag over The Exploited’s banner, and The Exploited set up all their equipment on the stage and left it there so the opening band had to work around it, which was kind of a dick rock star move, and so it was just adding fuel to the fire. They got more and more pissed off, and they kept saying shit like, “Oh, don’t worry about us, we’re just from this country,” and shit like that, and then The Exploited came on, and everybody has a different story for what happened, but my memory of it is that I was watching from a balcony area above the stage, and the skinheads were waving the American flag and spitting and giving the finger. The main reason they didn’t like The Exploited was that they had a song called “Fuck the USA” (which is more about how corrupt the system is than, you know, fuck this country, but…), so they had a problem with that (and I think the band even opened up with that song, which was a dumb move), and they got about three songs in before some brave skinhead jumped on stage and punched the singer in the face. And that was it. Then it was over. Later on, I guess the band waited it out inside while these kids trashed their van, knocked over the U-Haul attached to the van and upended it, wrote swastikas and white power and all this shit all over it and smashed out all the windows on the van and all that stuff. And to this day, I always wonder how they returned that U-Haul, you know? Like, how’d they explain that? So that was pretty bad.

Oh shit!

And then another time at that same club this band Sham 69 played, and they were the first sort of UK skinheads / proto-punk band; by the time they came to Trenton to play it was 1988 and they were way over that, and they had a synth player and a sax player, and as you would imagine, all the skinheads that showed up thinking it was going to be 1980 weren’t into that. They started to taunt them, and as I mentioned before, my brother was a DJ, and I guess since this was a ’77 British punk rock band, my brother was just playing old punk rock, and the singer for Sham 69 (Jimmy Pursey) ran over to the DJ booth and knocked the needle off the record, like “Fuck this,” and announced it was 1988, not 1977, “Get with the present!” or something. So my brother was just like, “Hey, I’m just doing my job!” That started the night on a bad note, and they started to play with the saxophone player and the synth player, and the skinheads didn’t like that, and a little riot started.

So those are the two that stick out in my head right now, but, you know, that era of going to punk and hardcore shows in the mid-to-late-eighties was in the influx of this nationalistic / racist skinhead thing, and that happened a lot, just a bunch of knuckleheads ruining it for everybody.

Right, right. Now, finally, in the movie there’s that whole “who would your desert island band be” question (and I think it’s funny that most of them end up changing their answers to like, totally non-hardcore acts when shit starts to get seriously bad), so I was wondering who your desert island band would be…have you thought about this at all?

You know, I have kind of thought about it, because do you really want a band that you know backwards and forwards? If you’re going to be stuck on a desert island, don’t you want a band with a huge discography that you don’t know so you can sit there and discover it? So I’d actually go non-punk rock, because most punk rock bands only made like, four records (if they were lucky, and if they made it past that mark they kind of stink). So I don’t know, I know it’s not very punk rock, but I’m a huge prog-rock fan, so I’d say probably a band like Soft Machine, because I don’t know any of their records after 1973. And again, those songs are long! You can sit with them! So I’d say a prog-rock band that I like but only know a few records of. I’d say Soft Machine or Yes. Because even if I listen to some bad reunion record past like, 1985, I’ve never heard it before, and if you’re stuck on a desert island, you’re going to make that good, you know what I mean? [Laughs] So yeah, I’d pick that over any kind of punk rock stuff.