Lucas Mangum of Biff Bam Pow! Interviews Joseph A. Gervasi
I am thrilled to have Joseph A. Gervasi as a guest today here at Biff Bam Pop! Joseph is one fourth of Exhumed Films and the curator of the project, Loud! Fast! Philly!, a video history that examines the world of Philadelphia Hardcore Punk. He was nice enough to stop by and talk a little bit about that aforementioned project, the rich culture of Hardcore, and what makes Philly’s scene unique.
Lucas Mangum: First tell us about Loud! Fast! Philly! Mainly, what is it and how did the project come about?
Joseph A. Gervasi: The idea came from the ashes of another event I had hoped to present at the 2013 Cinedelphia Film Festival. When that didn’t pan out, Eric Bresler and I came up with the idea of showing a series of rare clips of Philly hardcore (HC) punk bands performing in Philly venues from the early 1980s – the present. In the process of assembling the footage (much of which was donated by kind folks), I came to realize that this would be a one-time (or so I thought at the time) presentation and, thus, it could only be seen by a very finite number of people. That’s when I came up the idea of interviewing men and women who’ve actively contributed to Philly’s punk scene from its beginnings in the late 1970s to its present incarnation. From the start I wanted these to be audio-only interviews so the interview subjects would feel comfortable sitting down with me, as I was a stranger to many of the people I interviewed (and continue to interview). With just a tiny digital recorder, no prepared questions, and a comfortable environment, I hoped subjects would open up to me. Along with personal stories, I wanted to try to get as many facts, dates, and names as the memory of each interviewee would permit. I assured them their interview would go up complete, unedited, and in perpetuity. This was their chance to tell their story as they lived it, not an opportunity for me to edit or otherwise reconfigure their words to suit my project. I was thrilled when Karen Kirchhoff came aboard as the official photographer for the first few months of the project. I had long admired her work and the portraits she came up with are beautiful and beloved by everyone, most crucially by the interview subjects themselves.
We did the live event on April 23, 2013 at the Cinedelphia Film Festival and sold out two shows. Now I’m bringing it on the road to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon on July 17, 2013 and I hope to the San Francisco Bay area this autumn.
There is now a website dedicated to my audio interviews and Karen’s (and now my) photographs at LoudFastPhilly.com. That will be the lasting legacy of this project and I’m adding interviews all the time.
Lucas Mangum: As the documentary covers several decades of Philadelphia hardcore punk, there have obviously been some changes in the scene. What do you think some of the biggest changes have been and do you feel these shifts are evident in the footage that was chosen?
Joseph A. Gervasi: I should say that L!F!P! is not a documentary and has never been conceived as one. It’s meant to be a live presentation of video footage with a discussion of the footage between segments mostly by me, but sometimes with the addition of attendees who played or currently play a role in the scene. There’s no real thesis behind the live event other than a celebration of the DIY ethos and all the amazing and creative people who’ve come out of the Philly punk scene.
The early punk scene was often centered around bars and clubs. As we moved into the early 1980s, the DIY ethos really came into play (especially as the more hardcore and politicized strains of punk became more prominent) and the locations shifted to wherever young people could find spaces to host bands (basements, squats, abandoned buildings, rec centers, VFW halls, churches, etc.). I think taking punk out of the hands of profit-minded promoters and making it something for all ages to engage in gave it a life for beyond what the mainstream media presented. While the media was on about new wave and the new romantics and how punks were all running about with needles in their arms and spray paint cans in their hands, the real punks were engaging in creating alternative spaces and lifestyles. I think this can be seen in the footage I present and the story is told in great detail in many of the audio interviews.
Lucas Mangum: What makes punk, particularly the Philadelphia scene so special? I think some people don’t realize or they forget that there’s a lot more to it than music.
Joseph A. Gervasi: Philadelphia has never had a “sound.” While there is much more to cities like New York and DC (and internationally like Sweden, Finland, or Japan), they are known for their sounds in certain eras. Philly bands never had a sound, and this both worked against them (somewhat less attention to the city as a factory for particular types of bands) and to its advantage (no two bands sounded the same). Being sandwiched between DC and NYC has helped the city because touring bands would often stop here and hurt the city because it’s easier to overlook considering the mythic status of so many DC and NYC HC records. We’re a hard-edged town with fairly reasonable rent for a major East Coast city and a population of folks who love Philly with a fierce pride. Sometimes that pride breaks down along the lines of certain neighborhoods, but it will encompass the entire city if outsiders decide to talk any shit on Philly. Philadelphia now has a great reputation as a city with a strong underground music scene because its residents support and nurture this scene.
Lucas Mangum: So, I have to confess that I wasn’t part of the scene portrayed in the documentary. Despite that, when I was at the PhilaMOCA screening, it was hard not to get into the energy that fueled the music. From the tape cassette giveaways, to the vegan food, to the footage itself, it was clear you were going for something very specific. What was your intention with the documentary? Did you expect to draw in new converts or was it a labor of nostalgia by a fan for the fans? Or was it something else?
Joseph A. Gervasi: For that live event I wanted it to come over a party in honor of this amazing, vibrant thing called punk that despite being nearly forty years old, still draws in young people and shows them that they can put on events, tour the country/world, release music, and live a rewarding life that’s likely very different from most folks around them. I like the progressive in punk, so my focus tends to be on DIY and responsible social engagement rather than the darker side of punk, namely the violence and substance abuse that’s certainly a part of the scene for some people, but has never been for me and I don’t wish to draw too much attention to, as I don’t want to glorify self- or scene-destructive behavior. Vegan food was a big part of the Cabbage Collective shows I was a part of throughout the 1990s and those tapes belonged to my brother and me. I do say quite often that I wish to avoid nostalgia in all facets of the the LOUD! FAST! PHILLY! project. I never want to give the impression that things were better at some other time or that what’s happening now is in any way less valid than what was happening in the past. That’s bullshit. Total bullshit. The past is to be learned from and those who participated in and contributed to the scene in a constructive way should be respected but never venerated to the point where their contributions overshadow what folks of any age are doing today.
Lucas Mangum: From what I understand, the scene is still very much alive in Philly. What do you think has kept this following so strong? Do you think it will remain strong in the years to come?
Joseph A. Gervasi: This is a question that I’ve asked the younger people whom I’ve interviewed. Punk was about ten years old when I came into it in 1987 and its hardcore incarnation about seven years in. Now we’re talking decades after it began, long after the stupid haircuts and “outrageous” clothes have been subsumed into the mainstream and shit back out again. None of that matters, though. What matters and keeps drawing people into punk is its intensity, the raw emotion of it, the chance to do things on your own without an expensive piece of paper that “certifies” you can do it. Punk in one form or another will be around for some time to come because it never fails to thrill successive generations of people. It’s a middle-finger stripped of its flesh and standing decidedly erect and gnarly. It’s also really, really fun!
Lucas Mangum: Quick one: how many hardcore punk shows have you been to?
Joseph A. Gervasi: Too many/not enough.
Lucas Mangum: What’s next for Loud! Fast! Philly!? How do non-Philadelphians get to see it?
Joseph A. Gervasi: Portlandians can see it at the aforementioned show at the Hollywood Theatre. SF Bay Area-ians will hopefully be able to catch it in the fall. What matters the most to me in terms of being a lasting and ever-expanding mosaic is the website and all of its interviews. These are the voices of people who’ve done and do amazing things and they will stand to inspire others for years to come.
Thanks for dropping by, Joseph!
For more information, as well as a chance to hear the audio interviews Joseph conducted, head over to the Official Site, or feel free to contact Joseph via email: DeadStare4Life[at]hotmail[dot]com