Clumsy 'Zine #1 Interview with Joseph A. Gervasi
Joseph A Gervasi and the Cabbage Collective played an intricate role in shaping the Philadelphia punk/hardcore scene into what it is today. They booked DIY shows throughout the 90’s at a number of venues including the First Unitarian Church on 22nd and Chestnut, a place that would become the most important D.I.Y. venue in this city’s history. Nowadays, Joseph has his hands in a lot of really cool things. He is co-founder of Exhumed Films and Diabolik DVD and currently documenting Philadelphia’s hardcore punk history one interview at a time with Loud! Fast! Philly!.
Check out www.loudfastphilly.com for audio interviews, upcoming events and more.
Tell me about Loud! Fast! Philly!...
Part of the idea for the project came from action. That is, I wanted to give voice to people with compelling, fascinating life stories and give them the freedom to speak at length and without being edited to suit the needs of me or anyone else. The other compelling factor was reaction. I had seen other punk documentaries, read the books on the scene, and heard about forthcoming documentaries. At best, they'd capture some bits and bobs of the experiences of the individuals interviewed, but they could never afford the space to encompass more of the true lives of the interview subjects. In these documentaries and books, everything is edited to suit a thesis the writer/director came into the project with. Another documentary with a talking head saying a sentence or two, followed by a flash of stock footage, then on to something else was exactly the sort of shit that reduced passion and beauty down to a digestible (and ultimately disposable) nugget. Add the fact that they often have a "it was great back then, but that's all over now" subtext and it all amounts to a moribund exercise in nostalgia. Lame. Boring. Not punk.
Who are some of the interviews you’ve done and is there anyone you’re hoping to interview in the future?
I've spoken to a few dozen people so far and that amounts to about 36 hours (and counting!) of unedited, audio-only interviews that may be listened to for free. I've spoken to Will McAndrew, 20 years old at the time of the interview, and Bobbi Startup, 70+ years old when we spoke. Between, them I've talked to a wide variety of men and women who've contributed to the scene in many ways. Some have but a thin thread of a connection to "the scene," but may have contributed activism, art, and/or ideas (all essential components in a scene that aspires to be "more than music"). A full list of the participants can be found on the site. I have a massive list of folks I'd like to speak to going forward and I will try to get to as many of them as possible before either I die or they die (hoping it's not me).
What is your personal history with punk rock and hardcore music?
I was introduced to punk in early 1987 by a penpal I had acquired from a horror films magazine (Fangoria). At the time I was listening to mostly '60s psychedelia and '70s prog rock (two forms of music I still love) and I was searching for something that spoke to the tumult in my teenage brain. Rock and pop music dealt with utter bullshit I couldn't relate to. It could be fun, but I didn't care about songs about Satan, drinking, drugs, hot girls, whatever. I wanted politics and ideas and...I wasn't sure. Hearing the Sex Pistols shortly before I turned 16 clued me into a whole chaotic but inspired world I didn't know was out there. It was far from my life in working class NJ. My brother Bull, three years my junior, immediately joined me for the ride and we began looking for whatever punk band records we could find and afford with the limited funds we acquired from our paper routes. It wasn't long before we wanted to see our rather utopian (or at least egalitarian) vision of punk in action. It couldn't be found through violence, drugs, or drinking. It could only be found through friends making a scene that reflected their values and progressive ideas. By 1988/89 we were putting on hardcore shows at the Harwan Theatre in Mt. Ephraim, NJ (later the future first home of Exhumed Films) as Orgasmic Productions. Around that time, I started a 'zine, NO LONGER A FANzine from the ashes of Philly Zine. By the start of the 1990s, we began moving to the Philadelphia area and started booking shows at the Calvary Church at 48th and Baltimore as the Cabbage Collective. The core members of the Cabbage Collective were Chris Fry, my aforementioned brother Bull, Sean Gustilo, Jen Langum, and me. Countless other people contributed. We hosted shows from the early 1990s to about 2000, though the bulk of them were up to 1997. In those years we brought some of the most thrilling bands in the world to Philadelphia and it was a truly inspiring experience to be a part of the group and connect to the other DIY spaces around the country we were inspired by (like ABC NO RIO in NYC; the Positive Force crew in the Washington, DC area; and the Gilman Street Project in Berkeley, CA). Towards the end of our time doing shows, we had worked with several spaces including Stalag 13, the Fake Haus, the Nowhere House, Drexel University, the ACT-UP Space, and we wound up "discovering" the First Unitarian Church now used by R5 Productions. This was our time carrying the torch of grassroots DIY shows and we were happy to turn it over to others when we went on to work on other projects.
You are also a founder of Exhumed Films, what is the idea behind this and how has it grown since it first started in 1997?
We were four fellows (Dan Fraga, Jesse Nelson, Harry Guerro, and me) who wanted to show horror movies on film and on the big screen and we hoped some people would come out to see them. Over 16 years later, the gamble wound up working. The Cabbage Collective was winding down for me in 1997 after the Spazz/His Hero Is Gone/Brutal Truth/Atom and His Package show at Stalag 13, so it was time to move on to a new project. My interest in HC punk hadn't faded, but I had other interests I wanted to indulge. Exhumed Films came together at just the right time and it begat my business, Diabolik DVD. I like to think that I've managed to imbue some of the attributes and ethics I learned in punk and, especially, the Cabbage Collective, into my contribution to Exhumed Films. At larger events, I like to invite out vegan/vegetarian DIY food vendors and I endeavor to foster a sense of community among the attendees. I think it's that sense of community that's kept Exhumed going through all these years and the demanding changes of technology. What's kept me interested in any underground movement is forward momentum, not just looking back over past achievements.