Controversy Surrounds Punk Plaque Hanging in Niagra
An unlikely crowd of middle-aged punks gathered in the back room at Niagra (112 Avenue A) on October 9 as part of the CBGB's Festival. Now a bar that attracts a mainstream, post-college crowd, Niagra was, on that night, home to a misfit '80s reunion for NYC punks, complete with Jimmy G. of Murphy's Law as the party's DJ.
Jessica Bard/Courtesy of the New York Hardcore Chronicles Todd Youth with Agnostic Front in December 1983 at A7.
Maybe unknown to tourists who take iPhone pics of the Joe Strummer mural on the wall outside, Niagra's back room used to be called A7, a room with a kitchen-tiled floor that was the birthplace of New York's hardcore scene.
Officially there for the Bad Brains documentary, Bad Brains: A Band in D.C., the crowd also gathered to see the unveiling of a plaque marking the room's place in punk history. Thing is, a few bands were left off that plaque, which is inevitably the case when trying to celebrate or commemorate sprawling scenes.
As he looked at the faces in the room, some of which he hadn't seen in 30 years, Jesse Malin, part-owner of Niagra and former A7 regular, realized, "Oh shit, these people aren't on the plaque!"
What predictably happened afterward, especially among pugnacious old punks, was bitching on the Internet.
"Bobby Steele of the Undead said 'tear it off the wall,'" says Drew Stone (Antidote, The High and the Mighty), adding that the former Misfits' guitarist wasn't alone in his criticisms. A few other locals chimed in after the plaque was unveiled, mostly on The New York Hardcore Chronicles, 1979-2015, a community we recently called an "incredibly deep wellspring of New York City Hardcore treasures."
Stone goes on to say that New York's hardcore scene was and still is a different animal compared to the seemingly unified scenes in other cities. "It's fractured. It's not D.C. or Boston where there was a sense of unity around straight edge or whatever."
Phil In Phlash/Courtesy of the New York Hardcore Chronicles S.S. Decontrol play at A7 in 1982. In the audience you'll find MCA of the Beastie Boys, Jimmy G. of Murphy's Law and Dr. Know of the Bad Brains.
For his part, Malin, who played guitar and sang for early NYC hardcore band Heart Attack, says he feels bad about the whole thing: "I get the unhappiness, and as much as some people want to take it to some other level... that's fine. That wasn't the intention. I feel bad about it."
Above: An A7 show in '83
This sort of squabbling feels just about right to anyone who's spent even a few months of his or her youth going to hardcore shows, but the difference here is that the bands that played A7 get much of the credit for shaping the youthful sound of American punk after Richard Hell and Cheetah Chrome faded into the background.
The bands on the plaque bear that assertion out. In full, the plaque's list of bands reads:
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