Kate Bracaglia of WXPN's "The Key" Interviews Joseph A. Gervasi
Joseph A. Gervasi has been a mainstay in the Philly DIY scene for more than two and a half decades now, between his work with ’90s punk promotion agency the Cabbage Collective and DIY film companies Exhumed Films and Diabolik DVD (in addition to countless other forays). For his latest project, LOUD! FAST! PHILLY!, he combines his dual loves of music and film to explore and document Philly’s hardcore punk scene from the 1970′s to today. The result is a project presented in two parts: a screening of rare punk footage, which will be supplemented live with commentary from different members of the scene—and a still-growing audio archive of intimate, unedited interviews between Gervasi and myriad interviewees—discussing memorable shows, experiences and what the punk scene meant to them. Gervasi will post a new interview every day throughout the month of April; each interview will be accompanied by two portraits of the subject by photographer Karen Kirchhoff. The screening and live commentary will take place on Tuesday, April 23 at PhilaMOCA, as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival.
Though the project is retrospective in nature, Gervasi explains that it is not a documentary—a film that employs interviews and footage to prove a thesis. Rather, LOUD! FAST! PHILLY! aims instead to present simply the facts, while eschewing nostalgia and avoiding revisionist history. I caught up with Gervasi to find out more about the project’s evolution and goals—and where he thinks the Philly punk scene is headed in 2013. In keeping with Gervasi’s own conventions, I present the entire interview unedited.
The Key: When did you first have the idea for this project? Did you always conceive it as being in two parts: the screening and live interviews, and also the audio archives—or did this decision arise during the process?
Joseph Gervasi: When Eric Bresler of Cinedelphia told me he was planning to do a film festival some months ago, I knew whatever he came up with would reflect his unique personality. It would be eclectic and unlike any film festival this city has ever hosted. I was invited to present a movie screening with the group I’m a part of, Exhumed Films, and to do a “solo” event. My shows outside Exhumed better represent my personal interests and passions. There were prospective events that didn’t come together, but the one that stuck was assembling a collection of rare footage of Philly hardcore punk bands and having some participants speak during a screening of the footage. When faced with the ephemeral nature of a live event that would be screened to a finite number of individuals in a very particular location, I knew I wanted to contribute something more lasting to the documentation of Philly’s punk scene, which was a scene I’ve had an active engagement with since I was sixteen.
TK: How involved were you personally with the scene you describe? Why did you decide to focus on it?
JG: I was very involved with punk and, to a considerably lesser extent, I’ve always remained involved in the scene. I started going to shows in Philly in 1987 at Club Pizzazz and other venues. It wasn’t long after that that I wanted to become an active member of the scene and try to compel some small part of it to live up to the egalitarian ideals I was voraciously reading on lyric sheets. A couple years later, my brother Bull, Chris Fry, and I were doing shows at the Harwan Theatre in Mt. Ephraim, NJ. By the early 1990s, we created a group called the Cabbage Collective to host DIY shows in Philly that were inclusive of everyone and fun for attendees. The Cabbage Collective hosted shows regularly through the ’90s. Concurrently, I was editing a ‘zine, NO LONGER A FANzine, and traveling around with bands, friends, or solo and visiting different punk scenes in the U.S. and Canada. I saw North America from the perspective of Greyhound buses, filthy couches, dilapidated squats, and balanced precariously between heavy sound equipment in a wheezing van. Punk opened pretty much every door for me and invited me to step in. I’ve always kept that door open. I think at its best the scene nurtures creative people and encourages them to be their best. That aspect of punk is so tremendously important to so many people that I wanted to focus in on it in order to hopefully encourage others to gain inspiration from it even if they have little interest in the music or the scene itself.
TK: What do you hope to achieve with this project, in terms of the legacy of hardcore punk in Philly?
JG: I want to create a mosaic of voices that, when assembled as a whole, present some of the life experiences and thoughts of a diverse collection of individuals who have spent their lives in active engagement with their times. I want the people who listen to a few or all of the interviews to take away something of the unique perspectives of the folks I had the honor to talk to at length.
TK: How did you decide who to interview? Was it difficult to track anyone down? Is there anyone you wanted to interview but couldn’t?
JG: It was important to me that the interviews, when seen as a whole, reflected the diversity of both the punk scene and the city of Philadelphia as a whole. I interviewed men and women who were my peers when I came into the scene, those who were my contemporaries during the time of my most active involvement, and those who came into the scene after me and continue to uphold its ethos while adapting to the world of the present. There are some people I’ve not been able to track down because they’ve completely fallen off the radar. Some folks proved problematic to interview because they are dead. Some others have left the city but have agreed to sit down with me when they visit Philly or I happen to be wherever-the-hell they live now. A few people I asked to talk to expressed disinterest, but that was—fortunately—rare.
TK: How did you locate the video footage? How much overlap is there between the video footage and the audio archives?
JG: We put out a call for video footage a few months ago and got in a lot of amazing material. Much of what we’ll screen has never been seen by anyone other than the attendees at the shows that were filmed and the folks who shot the footage. Some of what we’ve assembled has been taken from ancient VHS tapes that could easily have been lost forever. In one case Eric [Bresler] had to digitize on-site at the More Fiends’ house while I conducted the interview in another room. We’ve digitized and edited the footage so it’s enjoyable for a seated audience not “blessed” with combat boots to the cranium, stinky human bodies in motion, cigarette smoke, and tinnitus-inducing sound barf. There’s a fair amount of crossover between the live footage and the audio interviews, but the video footage was largely limited to what we could amass in a short time, and what of that we felt would work for an audience. Those who grumble about certain bands missing from the live event will likely find better representation in the ever-expanding audio interviews series.
TK: What’s your favorite interview?
JG: Gah! That’s telling (and there are still so many more to come). A few highlights among the many were: the marvelous Fiends, Elizabeth and Allen, who are truly inspiring Philly eccentrics; the twin scene legends named Chuck (Treece of McRad and Meehan of himself); the Harvard educated and simultaneously cerebral and spiritual Glenn Wallis of Ruin, and so many more.
TK: Your goal with this project is to present the things unedited, without projecting a thesis. Is there anything you encountered, either in the interviews or the footage, that, looking back, you think might portray the scene in a way that is incongruent with your own personal definition?
JG: I’ve sometimes had a tough time keeping me out of the interviews and while there is no implicitly stated or clearly defined thesis, there is, in effect, something of a constant that I’ve seen in nearly every interview subject. That is, they seem to glow with an abiding enthusiasm and forward-thinking drive. These are the people who’ve done things, not just watched others do things, and it comes through in their daily lives (lives that are often far removed from the punk scene). I had the opportunity to talk to some people who I felt would represent the scene poorly and elected not to speak with them. There are parts of hardcore punk that I personally find uninteresting at best and repellent at worst. I’ve no desire to focus on big dumb dudes who look like they’d rather bench press the PA than read a book, or the lamely sexist trash culture strain of punk, or the drug- and alcohol-addled crusties or chaos punks. I want to talk to those who contribute something of value, not a refection of the more repugnant and destructive facets of our society.
TK: In your opinion, where is the Philly punk scene headed in 2013?
JG: After talking with some of the younger people I interviewed (the youngest of whom was 20 years old) and seeing the fine and principled work the DIY PHL folks are doing, I think that a certain segment of the scene—the segment that favors the DIY ethos over anachronistic punk fashions, empty sloganeering, or thuggish dudery—is moving ever forward. The one thing that I mentioned over and over again in assembling this project is that I have NO interest in nostalgia. The past was great when it was the present. From the past we in the present should learn. But when it comes to how to live life in the now, we should always be looking and moving ahead while making sure those we care about don’t fall behind.
TK: We couldn’t agree with you more.