Tony Rettman on his new book, ‘NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990’
Posted on December 18, 2014
December 18, 2014
by Nick Spacek
Author Tony Rettman may not have set out to eclipse Steve Blush in his documentation of the American hardcore scene, but it’s looking like that may be what happens. His 2010 book for Revelation Records, Why Be Something That You’re Not, covered the Detroit hardcore scene in detail no one else had ever attempted, combining research with first-person interviews to create an amazing oral history of a tragically-ignored scene. His new book, out now from Bazillion Points, is entitled simply NYHC, and the massive tome covers New York’s hardcore scene from 1980 to 1990. It’s chockablock with interviews – everyone from scene titans still standing today to simple show-goers get a chance to speak their piece. It’s a fascinating book, and we spoke with Rettman by phone about the way he went about writing it.
The Runout: What struck me most, having read both Why Be Something That You’re Not and NYHC, is how much NYHC sticks to New York itself. Your previous book had touched on the road between Detroit and DC, and interviewed people from DC’s scene, as well as Detroit, but NYHC seems to be much more contained.
Tony Rettman: I think that, in the first book, there were roads of communication between DC and the midwest. I think that, with New York, they were kind of on their own, in a way. There weren’t many other scenes at that time that were sovereign scenes to theirs. People can rewrite the history all that they want, but it seems that, to the people in DC, and to people in the midwest that I’ve talked to – New York seemed corny or whatever. They thought that it was too “punk.”
Punk rock was supposed to be this slate-cleaning thing, you know? We’re starting new, we’re getting rid of all of these dinosaur rock stars, and then hardcore was like wiping the slate clean to the point where even punk rock was lame. That was considered dinosaur music to the dudes in the Necros or Negative Approach: “The Ramones? That’s old people music.”
So, I think for New York to try to come out and have hardcore, when they kind of invented punk rock? I think a lot of kids turned their nose up to it: “Who the hell are you to have hardcore? You invented punk rock. You invented this crap that’s corny now.”
New York was on its own for a very long time. They didn’t have that connection that the midwest had with DC, or that DC had with Boston, or anything like that. I think that it was really of its own. I think that, at most, it was a place where guys from Boston or DC came to go to shows. I don’t think that they were trying to be pals with anybody there.
It seems that in a lot of the interviews, they talk a lot about that. Like, why would they want to go anywhere else, when they can go see all those amazing bands play in their neighborhood?
Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s New York. It wasn’t like Ohio, where it’s like, “Black Flag are playing 400 miles away – let’s get in a car and go!” Everything was going on right there. I think Sean Taggart has a great quote in the book. He was a guy who did a lot of art for a bunch of bands like the Cro-Mags, and he had a good point when he said, “We didn’t need to leave New York to get any accolades.”
It wasn’t like a band coming to New York from some small town and being like, “Great! They liked us!” Nobody in New York gives a fuck whether anybody likes them or not: “We’re from New York. You either like us or you don’t.” They didn’t need to get in a van and drive down south or to the midwest for anyone to make them feel like they were important. They were in New York, they were rocking it there, it was good enough.
They probably weren’t the best neighborhoods to be walking around in, but you could probably see two or three great shows in one night – not even counting hardcore stuff. There was so much stuff going on in New York at that time.
At certain points in the book, it seems that certain people – Vinnie Stigma, most notably – seem like they’re playing a character.
No. No, that’s Vinnie Stigma. I’m trying to avoid cliches here, but they really broke the mold with Stigma. He’s not a character. That is him, that is the way he’s always been, and always will be. He’s a weird enigma in what he is. He’s just an amazing individual. He’s not playing a role. That’s him, and that’s the thing with all these guys: they’re not playing any role. That’s really what they are.
That’s what’s really fantastic about reading this: nobody’s holding anything close to the vest. Of all the oral histories I’ve read of any subject, this one appears to the one where nobody brooks any bullshit: “This is how it happened, this is how I saw it, done.”
Yeah. It’s kind of funny that you say that, because in my mind, it could’ve been a million times more … not controversial, but –
Yeah, it could’ve been. I think people are going to be surprised, because they’re going to pick up this book and expect page upon page of people going back and forth, shit-talking on one another. I’m kind of proud of the fact that this book has very little shit-talking, he-said / she-said between certain members of bands or anything like that. It’s pretty straightforward, and I actually got people to be pretty nice about each other, which is very shocking sometimes in New York hardcore.
But, no – I think it’s pretty straightforward in terms of telling the story of the scene and the people that were there. Like, there’s stuff that was peripheral that others might think should’ve been in there, but whatever. This is about the music. This is about the scene and the people involved.
I also think that they know what they were a part of and respect it. They’re not going to cheapen it by talking a bunch of garbage.
Yeah, because someone like John Joseph gets to say his part, and other people talk about how they perceive his actions, but it’s more of differing perspectives, rather than – as you said – a he-said / she-said thing.
It’s something I really did mull on. I don’t think that anybody’s going to have a problem with the book. I mean, they might have a “Hey, why didn’t you add more of ‘fill-in-the-blank’?” or “Why didn’t you put in more of this band or that band?” But, I don’t think that anybody’s going to have a problem with me taking one side over another. I’d like to think that everything is an even spread.
The only thing I can see, having gone over it the 90 million times that I have, is that maybe the youth crew guys have a little bit more to say. But, I think that’s because, basically, they just have more to say. They’re really open to talk about this stuff and the trajectory of when they came in and when they sort of checked out.
Tony Rettman’s NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 is out now. The first printing’s already sold out, but a second will ship in mid-January.