Interview: Nancy Barile
One guy even said I couldn't possibly have been at the shows I said I was at because there were no women at shows back then. I was sick of the mansplaining. As a woman, I felt the voices of women were being erased from the narrative, and I wanted to set the record straight.
Nancy Barile had just brought out her book I’m Not Holding Your Coat through Bazillion Points and it is a great insight into the 1980s punk and hardcore scenes in America by someone who loved it and most importantly, lived it. Packed full of anecdotes featuring the likes of Minor Threat, Black Flag, SSD, Dead Kennedys and more, it’s a very informative book for anyone with even a passing interest in punk and hardcore. We had a chat with Nancy to hear all about the book and her life in punk and hardcore as well as listing her favourite ever shows.
E&D: Your new book about your life in the US punk and hardcore scene, I’m Not Holding Your Coat is out now. Can you tell us a bit about it and what we can expect from it?
Nancy: The book chronicles my journey from disaffected Catholic schoolgirl and 1970s music fanatic to taking part in Philadelphia’s punk and hardcore scene, falling in love, and moving to Boston. I tell the story of finding a like-minded group of punks in Philly, embracing the do-it-yourself work ethos, putting on some great all-ages show, and experiencing some of the most incredible bands of the time. Along the way, there’s quite a few adventures like riots and bombs and run-ins with the police. It was a really fun time. In my family, storytelling was a very valued skill, so I enjoy putting the listener/reader into the experience.
E&D: How long have you had the idea for doing the book?
Nancy: The book was originally supposed to be about how punk rock made me a better teacher, but when I got an agent, he discovered that people either liked the punk rock story or the teacher story — they didn’t like both together. So I decided to focus on the punk part of the tale. A big reason for that was because I belonged to several punk/hardcore groups on Facebook, and I’d frequently post about a show I was at, and some dude born in like 1985, would contradict, correct, or attempt to refute what I was saying. One guy even said I couldn’t possibly have been at the shows I said I was at because there were no women at shows back then. I was sick of the mansplaining. As a woman, I felt the voices of women were being erased from the narrative, and I wanted to set the record straight.
E&D: You go into vivid depth with your stories, is it all still fresh in your mind as it was so vibrant back then and looking back even now?
Nancy: Well, when someone throws a bomb at you or you take a punch in a face from a skinhead or a cop sets a dog on you, those things tend to be etched in your brain. But I also depended on a lot of the people who were there to help flesh out stories for me and share perspectives: people like Sheva Golkow, Frank Blank Moriarty, Chuck Meehan, Mike Condi, Bryan Lathrop, Lisa Haun, and a ton of others.
E&D: There was a real sense of danger with a lot of the shows back then, how exciting was it to be part of it all?
Nancy: You know, I think I was really lucky. Even at the time, I realized that I was experiencing something groundbreaking and special. It was the time in my life when I was most present, experiencing every single feeling, completely and totally living in the moment. It was VERY exhilarating, and I craved that excitement.
E&D: You and your husband Al from SSD have so much history within the scene. Was it fun reminiscing with him when you were writing the book?
Nancy: Oh, Al. He wouldn’t even read what I wrote because he was afraid he’d influence it or change my perspective. He was afraid of critiquing it too much but we do reminisce about those times, and about our first phone call, first meeting, and first date, as well as those shared experiences. We just do it in our private conversations.
E&D: Do you have a favourite story from the book or are they all as memorable as each other?
Nancy: The insanity of the Buff Hall show — including Ian getting hit by a car, Al’s van getting smashed, the Ghetto Riders bikers providing security — all led up to one of the most incredible shows I ever witnessed with Flag of Democracy, Crib Death, Agnostic Front, SS Decontrol, and Minor Threat playing their hearts out. You cannot imagine the energy in the room at that time, and the power of those bands. It was There’s video out that captures a bit of it. All my friends from those areas were there, so it was really great sharing in the moment with them. My parents also met Al for the first time that night, which was hilarious. So I’d have to go with that as a favorite.
E&D: Did you think back then that bands like SSD, Minor Threat and Bad Brains would be so revered so many years later?
Nancy: No, I don’t think I did. I’m always surprised by that fact. I remember being really shocked when members of bands in like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc. wore SSD shirts on stage. It blows my mind to see words like “mosh” and “straight edge” in the mainstream lexicon. I teach a high school course on the tv series The Walking Dead. My low-income, urban school kids always identify with the character Daryl Dixon. I have been DYING to get him to Zoom with us. I found out he was a Minor Threat fan and that just blew me away. I sent him an email saying I’d introduce him to Ian if he Zoomed with my class. I haven’t heard back yet haha.
E&D: How much fun was it looking back at the shows you have seen?
Nancy: It was huge fun. I mean, I had to examine why, at my age, and after so many years, I was still talking about punk rock and hardcore. The first reason, of course, is the music — all those incredibly powerful bands. But it was also because punk and hardcore empowered me as a woman, taught me about the world, made me strong, and introduced me to some of the wonderful friends I still have to this day.
E&D: Being from Philadelphia, was there ever an issue or rivalry in the beginning with other scenes on the East Coast like Boston and New York and did you try your best to bring them all together?
Nancy: Philly always got along with New York and Boston. I’d heard the stories of some rivalries between Boston and New York, but when Minor Threat, SS Decontrol, and MDC played at Irving Plaza in November of 1982, those rivalries were settled on the stage and in the pit in a fun, physical time for everyone. After the SOA/Black Flag riot in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, where I took a punch to the face, I wasn’t nuts about the DC kids. But that’s why we did the Buff Hall show with bands from up and down the East Coast. We wanted to heal those schisms and bring everyone together in a hardcore love fest.
E&D: Did you travel all across the US with SSD and others and what are some of the highlights you can tell us about?
Nancy: Al and the band and crew drove out to California, and I flew out with Christine Elise. I tell a lot of those stories in the upcoming SS Decontrol book. It was really fun to see the huge crowds in California, and they were very welcoming to SSD. I watched the Santa Monica Civic Center show when SSD played with GBH and the Effigies from on stage, in the back. It was mind-blowing watching all those California kids get into it. When SSD played San Francisco, we stayed with Tim Yohannon of Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll. He was a really nice, intelligent guy, and I loved listening to him talk with Al about music and politics. There were more on the same page than not.
E&D: Did you ever make it over to the UK and Europe at any point for shows?
Nancy: No, going to the U.K. was always a dream of mine, especially when I first moved to Philly. My then boyfriend, Bryan, and I had a piggy bank with our savings for a trip to England in it. Then we’d raid it for food or beers lol.
E&D: When push comes to shove, what are some of your favourite hardcore and punk shows that you have ever seen and what made them so memorable?
If I were to rank them:
1. Philly Punk Festival I – this was just 4 local bands from Philly, but it was a show we did ourselves to reach an all ages audience at the time. It was pretty groundbreaking, and for me, one of the happiest days of my life.
2. Buff Hall with Minor Threat, SS Decontrol, Agnositic Front, Crib Death and Flag of Democracy, 11/82 – for all the reasons I stated above.
3. Bad Brains with Autistic Behavior at the Elks Center in Philly 1/82. That was the first time I saw the Bad Brains, so enough said.
4 & 5 – Tie between that Minor Threat, MDC, SSD show at Irving Plaza I talked about above, and the Bad Brains, SSD, Antidote show at CBGBs in December 1982. That show was the last time I saw the Bad Brains’ signature explosiveness, and SSD were intense and savage, and the whole night was such so much fun.
E&D: Were there any memorable ones that you had to leave out of the book at all?
Nancy: I think I covered them all. I’m sure there’s details that I missed that people will tell me about once they read the book. It was almost 40 years ago, so I tried to remember as best as I could. We were really lucky to come of age at such a fun, exciting time.
E&D: What has the reaction to the book been like so far?
Nancy: Well, we just announced pre-orders on Friday, and today is Sunday, but I am blown away at the number of people who said they bought a copy and who have shared the book’s release, and who have sent me well wishes. The punk/hardcore community is really incredibly supportive, and the Philly punk community specifically is INSANELY supportive.
E&D: How did you get into punk and hardcore in the first place?
Nancy: I grew up on glam rock bands and the music of Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Queen, and Cheap Trick. In 1977, I saw Iggy Pop, Blondie, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. That took me straight into punk rock. And then, as the hardcore genre developed within it, I gravitated towards its energy and physicality. I always had a physical response to music, and bands like the Bad Brains, SSD, Minor Threat, Black Flag, MDC, TSOL, DKs definitely provided it.
E&D: Aside from the music, was it the culture and lifestyle that drew you into punk?
Nancy: I was always a non-conformist, so I’m sure that drew me to punk. I liked the clothing like boots and Nikes and leather jackets and black jeans. As I said in my book, back in the day dressing like that sent a clear message: Don’t fuck with me. As a young woman at that time, I felt that was a message I often felt needed to be convey. The punks I came up with were smart, and they were hysterically funny. They were multicultural. They were fearless. They were open-minded, pioneering, and fun to be around.
E&D: Are you a fan of any of the newer punk and hardcore band and do you still keep up to date with that’s happening today?
Nancy: No, I have to say I haven’t kept up with it. The last band that I really liked that was even closely related to punk were the Deftones. I liked a lot of ‘90s bands like Soundgarden and Alice and Chains. These days I just listen to old stuff. I STILL listen to the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, SSD, Blondie, Stiff Little Fingers, and the Damned.
E&D: What was the first gig that you ever went to and what effect did it have on you?
Nancy: The first gig I ever went to was Sonny and Cher when I was in 6th grade. I ran up to Sonny and grabbed his hand haha. Then, in high school I saw Rod Stewart. He was an incredible performer, and I that got me hooked on live music experience. I grew up pretty sheltered in a suburban community, my dad was a Marine, and I went to Catholic school. Music was a huge escape for me. I’d say Iggy Pop was the first punk show I went to. It was a pretty transformative experience, as was seeing Patti Smith and Blondie. Seeing women on stage was always empowering. Even if I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, I wanted to be part of it.
E&D: Have you any plans for a follow up to the book at any point in the future?
Nancy: I am currently working on photo essay book with PHILIN PHLASH and Al. After that, I want to shop my teacher book around. I’ve had some incredible experiences with my students who’ve taught me as much as I taught them. I’ve still got some stories to tell.