Frenchie, a roadie for the hardcore band Agnostic Front.
Photo: Brooke Smith
Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Warzone, Murphy’s Law, Bad Brains. Ancient band names, at this point as legendary and distant as Ozymandias. But in the early 1980s, when the smoke cleared from the remnants of first-wave New York City punk rock, another self-made scene evolved: New York hardcore (or NYHC, as its adherents referred to it). Once again, the kids who didn’t fit in flocked to the East Village.
Best known for its Sunday afternoon all-ages matinee shows, NYHC was part of a continuation of the original art form that exploded out of CBGB with its own ethos, work ethic, and “take no fucks and give no quarter” attitude. If you walked the block on a weekend afternoon and saw this motley crew of fans and bands (who were often one and the same) hanging outside, you’d probably cross the street. But the reality was much different. Unlike in the U.K. and Europe, American hardcore punks weren’t racist, and most didn’t tolerate those who were. The mosh pits were expressions of enthusiasm and freedom and only later got coopted as an excuse for gratuitous violence.
Brooke Smith — best known as Dr. Erica Hahn on Grey’s Anatomy and as the Tom Petty–loving kidnapping victim in Silence of the Lambs — was one of those misfits who found her people on the Bowery. Before she became an actress, she was part of a loose collection of die-hard fans known as the Warzone Women, named after one of the legendary groups that built, contributed to, and upheld the sound and culture of NYHC. The Warzone Women were known for periodically taking over the pit during their shows. But Smith never joined them. Instead, she’d carefully grab a spot on the edge of the mayhem and take photos. She shot the bands, she shot the fans, she shot her friends and the people she knew — couples and goofballs and even some babies.
But people grow up, scenes fade out, and Smith stashed the photos, moving on with her life and into her acting career. Decades later, these memories have been curated into a book from Radio Raheem Records, a small label that specializes in vintage punk and hardcore. Appropriately titled Sunday Matinee, it is both a tribute and a body of work. “I was a sad, overweight teen girl growing up in Rockland County, New York, in the 1980s,” Smith writes in the book’s intro. “Everyone in my high school and my hometown thought I was a freak.” The photographs that follow are kinetic, joyful, and affectionate. Shot in both color and black and white with whatever available light was available, they are the visual manifestation of doing what you could with the things you had. Most notably, the Warzone Women and other female hardcore fans are present; in Sunday Matinee, their place in the scene isn’t overlooked.
“I think there is something to the fact that a lot of these bands were just people who said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna start a band even if I can’t play,’” Smith tells Vulture. She was too timid to get onstage herself, so she found her spot in the scene behind the lens of her Minolta SLR. “I think I really wanted to perform. So I guess the camera was kind of an instrument for me; in a way, it gave me a role to play. There’s the drummer, singer, guitarist, bassist, and there’s Brooke on the camera.”
“Clearly, the crimper should come back. The sweater is a whole thing because I’m still friends with the girl, Joie, who stole it soon after this picture was taken and literally kept it for, I don’t know, 30 years. She doesn’t have it anymore. But she finally admitted that she took it because I knew she did. It was my favorite sweater. I wore it all the time. And it almost looked like it was alive.”
“That’s Terry, who was with Billy Psycho, who was in the band the Psychos! I love this photo. I love her face. I read a story in Roger’s book the other day. I wasn’t there when it happened, but I guess Terry became a nurse. And somebody got very seriously injured — I believe their neck was cut with a knife — and apparently Terry saved his life. They threw him in a van and took him to the hospital. And she put pressure on the wound until they got there.”
“English Mark was the sweetest guy. He’s gone now. This is when we were squat hunting. So we’re on the roof of the building that we were looking at on 2nd and C. We broke into this building and looked at it, and Mark was the guy who sort of knew if it was going to be salvageable. He said no, but I did find a beautiful blue bottle there, which I have in my kitchen.”
“The guy with the long hair, that’s Roger. He’s the dad. I think he was basically saying, ‘Can you hold the kid while I go in and play?’ And then the one on the far left with the arm sticking out, that’s the mom, Amy. This was the first hardcore baby.”
“The T-shirt that Madonna’s wearing, Whole Wide World, it used to be Modern Clix; she was in the band. Madonna was always, dare I say, a mother to everyone in a way. She still lives in Staten Island. I remember somebody in the elevator at Danceteria overheard that her name was Madonna and mistakenly thought that this was probably the woman who had had an affair with her boyfriend. And I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, this is not that same Madonna.’”
“The book caption says, ‘Frank and Mike from New Jersey in line to enter CBGB,’ but I am taking that back now because I believe that they’re in the doorway to the Palace Hotel, which means they were lining up to get into the Great Gildersleeves. I can’t remember who was playing. I kind of want to say it was Jerry’s Kids.”
“Djinji was the only Black fan there. And he was the lead singer of Absolution; his dad was Marion Brown, the jazz musician. I know he came from the Bronx. He’s got his arm around Carl. And I believe Carl is singing for Underdog here. And then that’s Gavin on the left.”
“That’s James Drescher from Murphy’s Law being flipped off the stage. And the guy who’s doing it is John ‘Wrecking Machine’ Goldin. He was one of the two bouncers who would stand on the side. One time, I got knocked down, and the second bouncer, Big Charlie, picked me up. I remember these arms came down and just made sure that I was all right.”
“That’s Tommy Carroll. He was singing that day for Straight Ahead, a straight-edge band. And that’s Alexa Poli, my roommate and one of my best friends.”
“This was a gig in New Jersey. It wasn’t far out. I guess, nowadays, you’d put earphones on the baby. She was always with her kid unless she was onstage. It’s not like she had a babysitter. Sometimes I would hang with him downstairs and miss the show.”
“The guy in the middle, Petey Hines, was in Murphy’s Law, and I know he was in the Cro-Mags at a certain point. He was a fantastic drummer. And the guy on the left — for the life of me, although I remember his face well, I can’t remember who that is. On the right, you have Brad “Batmite” Davis; he’s no longer with us. Isn’t everyone so young. It’s always hilarious to see everybody with hardly any tattoos in the book because most of them are covered now.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this blurb incorrectly ID’d Petey Hines and Brad Davis. It’s since been updated.
“I just loved Carl. He was one of my closest friends. And he was such a great dancer. I was so glad that this photo came out … I started a band with Carl, and I would try to play bass and sing a little bit, but I was just too scared.”
“People talk about CBGBs, but it’s hard to explain to someone exactly what it felt like. It was hot; it was sweaty. Once the show would start, it was kind of this whirlwind of — I don’t know, I felt somehow freed from my body because my body always felt like this big, clumsy thing. It feels like the closest experience I would have to sports or church.”
Photographs by Brooke Smith