Trenton, New Jersey in the 90s had very little to say for itself, which was itself not unusual. Trenton had little to say for itself for most of the decades that came before.
Though the middle of the three bridges over the Delaware proclaimed Trenton Makes, the World Takes, nothing had been made in Trenton for ages. The Roebling Steel plant — the one that made the cable for the Brooklyn Bridge — closed in the 50s. There was a GM parts plant on the outskirts, but that closed up shop in the 80s. Even Champale, the largely undrinkable malt liquor that tried to pass itself off as champagne that Trenton claimed as its own, closed the factory and fled for the relatively greener grass of Milwaukee.
By the 90s, all that was left in Trenton were the drug dealers and street prostitutes that seemed to own the neighborhoods along Perry Street, and a lone punk club called City Gardens.
To call City Gardens a dive is to be charitable. Graffiti covered every wall. Dirt and sweat and blood and beer stains called the floor home. The men’s room consisted of one filthy urinal and one hole in the floor. Thankfully the sink worked, because handfuls of tap water out of the bathroom might be preferable to whatever they might have at the bar.
Bon Jovi gripped New Jersey in the early 90s, and while hair metal fans had five or six clubs to choose from, punks, skinheads, rudeboys, and hardcore fans only had City Gardens. With nowhere else to turn, all the groups descended on the Gardens every night. We would skank to Fugazi and mosh to Fishbone.
Packed into the space, always oversold, a writhing sweaty mass moving in unison with hardcore hivemind. I stood behind a young woman with a pixie cut and Doc Martens. Swaying to the music we never stopped touching, my front to her back, unintentional frottage neither of us could do anything about with so little room. She turned around to smile at me when she felt my erection through my jeans. I was embarrassed to have been found out, and aroused all the more.
I was 20 — fat, self-loathing, and virginal. It was my first taste of sex, fully dressed yet covered in sweat.
I cannot remember the band that played. I never saw her again.
I saw Sonic Youth on a Saturday. My ears rang until Thursday, easily the loudest show I had ever attended — until the Ramones exactly three days later. Sound waves bounced off the concrete walls of the club and focused the energy back into the center where I stood, moshing and pogoing and doing whatever. Vibrations shook my body, or perhaps my body just shook sympathetically.
The energy in that room. 1,000 people screaming and dancing and shouting, pledging allegiance to none but themselves.
I needed a rest but I also needed to feel that energy. Crude bleachers lined the wall — to get both my rest and the energy, I walked right past the speaker column, and stood with my head in the tweeter.
My ears ring to this day. I cannot rule out the possibility that I may go deaf in my old age.
I never thought I would make it to old age back then. I was in my early 20s. Nothing could kill me.