Starting the New Year Off with a Bang

An Oral History of January 1, 1989: Circle Jerks Vs. Skinheads

Greg Hetson (guitar, Circle Jerks/Bad Religion): Recently my daughter asked me if any skinheads ever came to Circle Jerks shows. When I told her yes she said, “Don’t they know you’re Jews?” I guess they did, and so I told her this story…Photographs by Ken Salerno.

Stephen Ernest Saputelli (bass, Deadspot): I remember how scared we were just driving through Trenton – that in itself was a rush. We were opening for the Circle Jerks and I had just joined the band.

Carl Humenik (bouncer): I prefer to call them the boneheads rather than the skinheads.  They were just a group of morons.

Randy Now (promoter): We put the word out on the punkcards and flyers that no Doc Martins were allowed in the club to deter skinheads from coming.  The thing is, a cool person who wore Docs would understand and say, “I’ll just wear sneakers instead.”  I even had a slogan – “Wear your Chucks and save two bucks.” That ban on Docs went on for a little while; it was stupid rule but it worked.  It sent the message: No more fucking Nazi skinheads.

Tony Rettman (patron): I don’t know if all the skins had been partying all day or what, but they were ready for the Circle Jerks.

Steven DiLodovico (patron): In ’89 I was a total skin – except when I went to City Gardens. I always dressed down mostly because you couldn’t get in if you were wearing the skinhead “uniform” but also because the locals were pretty rough. I tried to be as invisible as possible when we went to Trenton because it wasn’t our home turf. The day of the Circles Jerks show, I knew it was going to be rough. I had been to City Gardens enough times to know what the crowds were like and the Circle Jerks were the kind of band that would totally inspire vociferous reaction from the crowd. I also knew the locals were going to give Deadspot a real hard time. Which they did.

Stephen Ernest Saputelli (bass, Deadspot): So we’re just up there rocking out and I didn’t even notice I was getting spit on right away. And then I saw Mike looking at me and we were like, “What the hell is this?” I didn’t know what to do, and it was funny because the other guys in the band were apologizing to me in between songs; telling me to hang in there and stuff. I mean, what was I gonna’ do? Jump off the stage and start kicking ass? It wasn’t like I was a tough guy or anything. It was cool, we hung in there and just did our thing. I didn’t realize how scary it was going to get.

Carl Humenik (bouncer): I was very good friends with all the members of The Family, although I didn’t actually see the point to the Family; just never understood it.  But they were a group of tough guys, and they were actually way tougher than the skinheads. The Family and skinheads were two different things, although a few people were both.

Stephen Brown (patron, member of “The Family”): Randy kept saying: “No stage diving, no stage diving.” And it was like, “Wait a minute. No stage diving? What’s gonna happen, you just gonna walk away you fucking wimp?” So we dove, you know?

Tony Rettman (patron): I don’t think Deadspot even got to finish their set. The regulars were knocking over their mic stands and acting like retards.

Stephen Ernest Saputelli (bass, Deadspot): We got a really angry reaction from the crowd that night. I don’t know what was up with the audience. They really hated us! I’ve seen opening bands get rough treatment before but we had these like young skinhead kids hassling us the whole time and we probably could have beaten the crap out of them if we had to, but their back-up was really scary. They didn’t even bother coming to the front to mess with us and it was more humiliating because we had these little kids abusing us while we were rocking out. I mean they were spitting on us, calling us “Baldspot.” They were pretty fucking rough.

Steven DiLodovico (patron): Man, they were fucking brutal. I actually liked Deadspot and I just felt so bad for them. But, at the same time, it was really fucking funny. “Baldspot” was cracking me up…

Nancy DeSimone (patron): I usually hung out in the back because I didn’t feel like getting my face kicked in. There was a lot going on that night and there were rumblings like, “Oh shit, something’s going on.”

Greg Hetson (guitar, Circle Jerks/Bad Religion): There was a group of skinhead gentleman who decided to come to the show and take over the pit and dominate and not let people near the stage. They were doing their seig-heiling and that kind of stuff. They were just causing problems: fighting with the kids five on one, beating little kids up.

Randy Now (promoter): The “wall of death” was when skinheads would link arms forming a giant steamroller, and then they would run full steam at the stage – and over anyone who was in the way.

Alex Franklin (patron): The wall of death… everybody did that. Murphy’s Law wrote a song about it. It’s just how it was: it was awesome.

Carl Humenik (bouncer): I, along with the other bouncers who worked there, would try to stop the Wall of Death from happening, but you just couldn’t.  You could try, but they were going to come at you no matter what.

Keith Morris (vocals, Circle Jerks): This wall of death is as stupid as it gets, and we’ve seen a lot of really ridiculous things because we are dealing with a ridiculous art form to begin with. City Gardens was the only place I had ever seen it. I’ve seen a lot of knucklehead dances. There’s the one dance where they kick and they punch and it looks like a fucking spastic monkey or a gorilla with a fucking M-80 shoved up its ass or whatever.

Steven DiLodovico (patron): The wall of death was something you knew was coming at just about every show. You knew to keep your head on a swivel because it was real spontaneous and could happen at any moment. You could really get fucked up if you weren’t paying attention and they caught you unaware.

Keith Morris (vocals, Circle Jerks): The room at City Gardens has the dancefloor that goes all the way back to the bar.

Alex Franklin (patron): Kids were dancing and doing their thing. The thing is, Keith Morris is a west coast guy. At west coast punk shows they still chase their tails: they still “circle pit” out there – even to this day. We stopped doing that in 1986. So we were beyond it by then. We were all punks and skins and hardcore kids and we moshed it up. We didn’t do the circle pit, that was for the old dudes. That’s what people did at shows in the tri-state area. I don’t think Keith got that.

Greg Hetson (guitar, Circle Jerks/Bad Religion): At one point Keith told everybody to mellow out and I guess they weren’t having any of it.

Keith Morris (vocals, Circle Jerks): What was happening was these skinheads, and there was a group of maybe 25 of them, they decided they were going to show everybody who was in charge. It wasn’t about the music and it wasn’t about everybody having a good time; it was about them letting people know how tough they were and all of the crap that goes along with their whole scene.

Alex Franklin (patron): I never took it as a malicious thing at all, like we were trying to hurt people. You did it to clear the pit out and it was just a good time.

Carl Humenik (bouncer): When the Wall of Death started to form, I usually just scooted over to the side and watched to see if anyone was actually being malicious and if they were I’d throw them out.

Amy Yates Wuelfing has been a music journalist since 1985 when she helped publish the punk ‘zine Hard Times. Since that time she has written for other music publications including B-Side and HITS. She is a graduate of Temple University and is currently Vice President of Marketing at business consulting firm. Steven DiLodovico spent his formative years going to punk and heavy metal shows, as well as booking show, in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and is an experienced music journalist who grew up in the underground scene of the 1980s. Steven has worked for several indie and major labels in various positions and has been a freelance writer for 15 years writing liner notes and bios for groups such as Jedi Mind Tricks. He has freelanced for CMJ, Subversive and Elemental, among others. More from this author →