Back in the late ’80s, when I was prone to wearing an oversized hoodie with even larger camouflage cutoffs, my bridge-and-tunnel brethren thought it was pretty badass to make the trek from the 14th Street PATH station all the way down to the Bowery for a CBGB’s hardcore matinee. We usually wound up dodging balloons full of piss thrown from apartment windows, and, once we arrived, our fellow patrons (dudes nicknamed “Psycho,” etc.) thoroughly unnerved our lily-white suburban asses. And yet you’d always hear some old-schooler mutter, “This place is a fuckin’ romper room compared to A7.”
Located on the corner of Avenue A and East 7th up until its demise in 1984, A7 was—and still is—a place of legend. Agnostic Front, Heart Attack, the Beastie Boys, Urban Waste, the Abused, the Misguided, and countless others regaled the moshing masses at this shoebox-sized spot long before CBGB ever accepted them. And now that the entire Lower East Side is a fuckin’ romper room, it’s time for a reunion.
Lending a hand on an idea hatched by Guillotine zine’s Wendy Eager, co-promoter Bryan Swirsky considers Saturday night’s event (subtitled “One Big Crowd,” after an early NYHC compilation) both a celebration and a tribute to the “action-first” style prominent in the East Village underground at the time. “These weren’t soft-handed kids from Iowa putting on a show in the most horrible neighborhood in Brooklyn to call it ‘authentic,’ ” he says. “These were runaways involved in bad activity mixing with hardcore punks who were also rubbing elbows with curious suburban kids coming in for the shows. There was no irony dripping from the fangs of cultural vampires. There was no time to be a culture vampire back then. You just did it.”
Jack Rabid, longtime editor of The Big Takeover and drummer for A7 mainstay Even Worse, will swear to you that every night down there was a late-night/early-morning séance of grimy magic. An extended afternoon phone conversation with the man careens from tales of jam sessions with members of the Sex Pistols and the Circle Jerks to chicken-fighting in the pit with Iggy Pop on his shoulders during a Bad Brains set, and much more. Much like Swirsky, Rabid believes these things could’ve happened only in the East Village of the early ’80s: “This was not the chain-store New York that we know today. Places like A7 could have only existed in a city that was broke and didn’t care about people squatting or paying cheap rent. The days for things like that to happen in this city are long gone.”
A7 was also the only place where a kid from Queens could get a job as a bouncer/DJ at the ripe old age of 15. Jimmy Gestapo, proprietor of New York Hardcore Tattoos and frontman for the celebrated “party-core” band Murphy’s Law, got the call after his pal Dougie Holland (guitarist for Kraut and, later, the Cro-Mags) landed the bartending gig. “I was flipping records and flipping people out the door at the same time,” Gestapo recalls. “Every now and then, the cops would come to the door and raid the place. They would take all the booze, all the money, and leave. It was sort of a blessing in disguise, because the cops would feel sorry for me and throw me $100. It would take me two weeks of working at A7 to make that much money.”
Asked to name his favorite bands from those days, Gestapo immediately shouts out Urban Waste, certainly the most primal unit to come out of that scene, and one of this reunion’s star attractions. Three out of their four surviving members will be there—guitarist John Kelly (a/k/a Johnny Waste) seems pretty keen on showing both young and old how it was done back in 1982. The bizarre nature of this show doesn’t faze him: “We didn’t really spend too much time worrying or wondering back then,” he says. “Everything just sort of happened on its own. I’m going to treat this show the same way and hope everyone will just have a good time.”
Most of the bands re-forming for this show (the bill is appropriately huge, featuring everyone from Jerry’s Kids to No Thanks to False Prophets) are missing at least a few core members: Jersey punks Mental Abuse, for example, will be represented solely by drummer Dave Jones, performing such MA classics as “Jock Sex” and “Sock Woman” (a very loving tribute to a resourceful wannabe hermaphrodite) with just a drum machine and a guitar. If that’s not surreal enough, the reunion is taking place in Soho, at the Knitting Factory. Something tells me no one will need a chain to fight off the neighborhood street gangs like back in “the old days”—but, hey, you never know.
One Big Crowd, the A7 reunion show, happens December 6 at the Knitting Factory, starting at 6 p.m.