Monday, June 4, 2012

MORE INTERVIEWS: this time it's ME in MRR!

So! A few months ago my friend Aaron interviewed me for MRR and they published it! This was a real deal realization of many childhood dreams on many levels. For one thing, I grew up reading MRR and always daydreamed about doing something worth being featured in the pages. I kind of lost touch with the magazine for a few years in my 20s, but in the past couple, mostly due to the editorial decisions of the recent coordinators, MRR really speaks to me again and I am doubly proud to be worthy of inclusion in this particular iteration. Anyway, I'll save the mushy gushy talk for later. You can buy the actual issue here. It also features a great interview with my friends Neon Piss. Their drummer Greg Harvester is the guy who's zine this whole website is named after so there's something weirdly appropriate about us both being included in the same issue.

Slice Harvester 
Interview by Aaron Cometbus

You can tell this is the East Coast and not Berkeley because you can have a tape recorder out in a public place without everybody freaking out on you.


COINTELPRO?

Yeah, totally. Let’s start with where we are and who we are.


I’m Colin “the Slice Harvester” Hagendorf. We’re at Ben’s Best Delicatessen, in Rego Park Queens, my favorite delicatessen in all of New York City, eating some knishes and pastrami sandwiches, drinking some coffee, and talking about a zine about pizza.


First of all, where are you from?


I’m from New Rochelle, NY, a suburb of New York City five or ten miles north of the Bronx. Or to quote the semi-famous conscious rap group, Brand Nubian, “straight outta Now Rule.” I grew up in the New York punk scene, I guess. I came to the city every weekend...

Which New York punk scene? 
Oh! The New York street punk scene of the late 90s and the New York peace punk scene of the late 90s. There was a nice juxtaposition of going to see Blanks 77 at Coney Island High on a Saturday night, having just seen Anti-Product at ABC No Rio that afternoon.
I grew up in the suburbs. My parents are both from the boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens. Neither one of them would say they were from New York City because to them, growing up in the outer boroughs in the 60s and 70s, “The City” was just Manhattan. My grandmother was still living in Queens until she passed away a few years ago, which is why we’re at Ben’s Best. My mother and I used to take her out to eat here all the time.
And when did you start doing fanzines? 
When I was fourteen years old, I did a zine called Atrophy Zine. It was like any one of those goofy scene report/”funny article” zines that I think many adolescents in the mid-to-late 90s put together, at least around where I was.

I mostly felt this intense and urgent impulse to contribute something to the scene. I wasn’t quite sure what “the scene” was yet, but I knew that I needed to be part of it, and that it couldn’t be as just a spectator or a consumer. In order to be a valid and viable part of this community that I had found, but didn’t feel a part of, I had to contribute something. I didn’t think I could be in a band for some reason, so I started doing zines.


I talk to friends of mine about their early fanzines, and they’re like, “You still have the first issue of Life Is Trying? I only made thirty copies of that.” The first issue of Atrophy Zine, I made two hundred copies right off the bat and I tried to sell them to people outside of the A&P in New Rochelle. No one wanted them.

You were always a little more ambitious than your peers.


And a little less...

A little less shy.

Yeah. It wasn’t ambition necessarily. I feel like doing the zine at all was the ambition, but once it was done I felt like, “Well now everybody has this obligation to read this thing that I made.”

Is Slice Harvester so different than a magazine of scene reports and funny articles?


No, not really. The thing is, I’m not a very capable record reviewer, I’m not a very capable reviewer of shows, but I tried to do both of those things, because I thought, “this is what goes in a zine.” Eventually I aspired to have some columns. I solicited advertisements from whoever, and I thought that’s what a zine was supposed to be.

But all of the response to the zine... it wasn’t like, “Oh that was a very insightful review you had of the Death Penis 7”...” 
(Laughs)

That was a real 7”! I’ve been looking for it. They had a song called "Smurf Up My Butt." They mailed me three copies. I gave two of them away and lost the third. If anyone wants to mail me a copy I’ll name my next pet after you.

Anyway, people weren’t like, “Oh I really felt like I was sitting in my house listening to Death Penis when I read that stunning review.” All that resonated with people was, “I like how in that Fishbone show review, you didn’t talk about Fishbone for more than a few sentences, but you did talk about your friend Juan smashing the toilet at CBGB's with a sledge hammer because he was mad you got kicked out of the show for drinking.” And that was really what I felt compelled to write about, anyway.


Similarly, I’ve got this pizza project, where I’ve eaten at and reviewed almost every pizzeria on the island of Manhattan, but what’s really resonated with people, what people have really responded to has been, “oh me and my friend Aaron are going to eat this pizza and here’s a little anecdote about him.” Or “here’s a story about my friend Caroline...” That’s what people tend to like, but also what I’ve gotten the most out of writing. More so than, “this pizza tastes like sucking God’s dick” or whatever I say about pizza.


To back it up for a second, explain to the readers what Slice Harvester is, what your mission is, why you took it on and how you possibly came to live to regret that decision.
 
Slice Harvester is this project in which I decided to eat a slice of pizza, initially at every pizza parlor in all five boroughs of New York City, and about halfway through Manhattan, a year and a half into it, I decided I would just end it at Manhattan.

When I was first starting, my friend Milo, my best friend since I was thirteen, said to me, “Well how long do you think it’ll take to eat all this pizza?” and I said, “I dunno, about seven years.” We were double riding a bike down a rainy hill and almost careened into traffic and he screamed, “YOU COULD BECOME A DOCTOR IN THAT AMOUNT OF TIME!!” and I said, “Yeah but I don’t wanna be a doctor, I wanna eat all this pizza.”


Was it always planned to be a fanzine?
 
Absolutely.

Had you stopped doing fanzines for a while? Was it a way of returning to fanzines?
 
That was probably the biggest motivation for doing this project. That I’d have something fun to make a worthwhile zine out of. I first did zines as a very happy-go-lucky and idealistic young guy, and I loved it, and it was so fun, but after a while I started to say, “What’s the point of this? What am I offering people? Why am I spending all this time and energy photocopying my diary, essentially? I don’t even care about this, why should anybody else?”

And I’m not saying people shouldn’t publish fanzines. I think people should photocopy their diary, ad infinitum, forever. I just felt like I needed to up the stakes a little bit. I felt like I had done these kind of formless zines for a long time, and that was no longer compelling to me. So through Slice Harvester I created this more rigid form to fit into so that I could become reinvigorated and interested in the medium and in writing in general.

I don’t know if you’ve figured out after two and a half years what the point of all of this was, if the point is pizza, if the point is New York, trying to uphold the things you love about it, defend the things you feel are under attack, or if you’re trying to capture the spirit of the times...

For me, it’s kind of like a Ethics of Ambiguity thing, that Simone De Beauvoir book where she’s building on the Myth of Sisyphus. There is no point, really. But the fact that I can take this thing that ultimately doesn’t serve any incredibly magnificent purpose and instill it with this meaning that I’ve ascribed to it and say, “this is important to me and I’m gonna do it like it’s important and I’m gonna treat it like it’s important.”


I think I fell into a kind of gross nihilism in my mid-20s where I was like, “Nothing is really that meaningful, the things that I’ve invested all my time and energy in seem to be falling apart around me, people I know seem to be dying in droves, how do I keep getting up in the morning?”


And I had to trick myself for a while and say, “Okay pizza! This pizza project. That’s why I get up in the morning.” Selfishly, what this did for me was, it reminded me why it’s worth it to be alive. And I know that might sound lofty for a fanzine, but it really was this incredibly meaningful thing for me.


It seems like it was meaningful partly because it resonated with other people, that other people found it exciting, so it was not just some self-imposed, obsessive-compulsive plan.


Yeah, you’re right. That was also necessary for me to feel good about the project, that it would be successful in some arbitrary way. But successful in MY arbitrary way. I looked at my analytics and 250,000 people have seen my website. Okay, that’s really cool, but like, Tobi Vail told me she liked my fanzine. That’s the success that I was looking for. The other stuff was kind of incidental. I appreciate it and I don’t want to sound ungrateful that all these people have responded to this thing I’ve done, but that’s not the success I was trying to achieve.
What’s important to me is that I did achieve that kind of success that I was trying for. People I’ve admired since I was a teenager have said to me, “Hey, nice job.”

Plus you have the framed review on the wall at Pizza Suprema.
 
And at Carmine’s Original! I made a list of goals when I was fifteen that was totally ridiculous. I wanted to have my childhood home turned into a historic landmark, I wanted to be on a stamp before I died, I wanted to have a way to cook eggs named after me, and I wanted to have my picture be one of those ubiquitous framed pictures on the wall at pizzerias. Like Giuliani or Steven Seagal. Rudy Giuliani, Steven Seagal, Colin Hagendorf.

The reason bands give for signing to a major label is that they’re somehow going to reach “the everyman,” the other people that aren’t punks. But Slice Harvester, without discussing punk explicitly, you’re using a punk format, punk economics--it’s cheap and looks cool and crappy and friendly--but it also works for other people and they respond to it. Obviously they’re also responding to the blog and the press you get, but I think without that fanzine no one would’ve cared quite the same way. And part of the obsessive fan “we don’t give a fuck” attitude definitely came from what you grew up with. It’s like, an actual successful crossover endeavor, without compromise.

I don’t feel like I’ve compromised at all. At one point Vice magazine expressed interest in syndicating Slice Harvester. And they were gonna pay me. That’s dangling a pretty big carrot in front of my face, but I didn’t have to think too hard to say no. The idea of having what I’m doing underneath this... I don’t care if it had been the New Yorker or Mother Jones or something not vile, I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable handing over any of the reins of this project.


You were a little cagey when I was trying to hone in on what the point of Slice Harvester might be, so we won’t look at exactly what the point is. But it does seem to me that with the pizzerias, part of it is aesthetics, but part of it is also ethics. You know, with each one you’re talking about the way the pizza tastes, but it seems, particularly with pizzerias, that it’s about the legitimacy, the genuineness of it. And I think that’s why people are so proud if you like their pizza. Bodegas don’t care if they’re “legitimate bodegas.”

Yeah, there’s no need for authenticity with a bodega. I think something that a lot of New York cultures share with punk as a culture is this real intense valorization of authenticity as being incredibly important. One of the places I include in my top five list, whenever I’m asked, is this place Pizza Palace on Dykeman Ave in Inwood. And it’s not anywhere near one of the five best slices of pizza I’ve had, but that pizzeria is the Perfect Pizzeria. The actual space itself, the role it seems to play in the neighborhood. Everything about it is so incredibly ideal. And the thing that pizzerias have in common with fanzines is that the pizzerias that create a successful result are usually the product of one obsessive person.

Did you get any threats from bad reviews?
 
I haven’t yet. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to do pizza in Brooklyn. There’s two pizza shops in my neighborhood where they would know who I was. One of them, they serve a great slice, but the guy is a creep to women and he’s a racist and I don’t eat pizza there anymore even though it’s the best pizza in my neighborhood because the guy is such a shithead and I don’t want to give him money. He’s also definitely "connected" and a terrifying man. I couldn’t in good conscience write a review of that place and not mention those things, but I also was scared to. The other place right by my house, they serve a terrible slice, and it’s full of cops all the time, and it’s awful, and I was afraid to review that slice badly because it’s down the street from where I live. I was honestly scared I’d get beat up by the mob or the cops.

Which leads to the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate. Not that we need to make any overarching judgment, but is pizza more historically a Brooklyn thing?
 
What do I know from historically?

Is it even American? Did you wrestle with how much pizza as we know it is a New York creation?
 
Well, pizza as I know it is entirely a New York creation. They wrote this article about me in the Daily News when I first started, and it got translated into Italian and published in a couple of Italian newspapers. And for a week I got a dozen emails in broken English or in Italian every day, from angry Sicilians and Neapolitans. “How dare you even call this crap in New York pizza? If you wanna know about pizza you should come to Italy where the pizza is real pizza.” A New York slice is distinctly a different food.

It seemed like earlier on in the magazine you were more on your own, then you started to include more friends, family, visiting friends, and touring bands. There started to be a side story or subtext that was about your community, how you knew all these different people. I don’t know if that was just because you were so busy eating pizza, it was the only time you’d ever see your friends, or if it was an excuse to include and showcase them.

From the very beginning Slice Harvester was supposed to be about camaraderie and companionship. The first time I went out eating pizza, I was supposed to meet Sweet Tooth. But Tooth lost his glasses at Rockaway Beach and then there was a fire in the train tunnel, all these awful things happened and he ended up not finding me until the second to last slice. So if at the beginning it seemed solitary, that was by accident. I actually only deliberately went out eating pizza alone once. I only ate at eight or nine of the almost four hundred by myself.



I think part of it was that I had started trying to quit drinking about halfway through the project. One of the really hard parts was learning how to socialize and spend time with my friends without booze. Forget going to a show! You know, Snuggle comes to town and I take Robert to a cool pier and we drink 40s. That’s how you hang out with your friends. At this point I wasn’t trying to quit drinking forever, but I did feel like all of my social interactions were intertwined with drinking and I wanted to create some space between the two, so that there could be an option for me to live without drinking if I wanted to.
And Slice Harvester, I had already started it, and it turned into this thing where it was like... touring friends would come to town, and I wouldn’t want to go to their show because I didn’t want to drink. I was afraid to be at a show and not drink, but I still wanted to see them. So I invited them to come eat pizza with me. It was really about crafting these ways of interacting and hanging out without booze.

What about missed opportunities of people you wanted to eat pizza with?
 
Some people I didn’t even try for. Like, I wanted to get Ed Sanders or Tuli from the Fugs to come eat pizza with me, and I didn’t even try for it, and that was so stupid. There’s this lineage of weird, politically engaged, Jewish male artists who I feel like I’ve taken up the mantle of. Like, maybe it starts with Lenny Bruce, travels to the Fugs, crosses the country and lands on you in the Bay. I do feel like there’s this history that I’m trying to uphold and I don’t even know if it’s real.

Oh, it’s real.


So yeah, getting Ed Sanders to eat pizza with me would’ve been a real coup.

I told you I ran into him at B&H?

No, that’s awesome. I just recently wrote him a letter asking him to be my friend. “I said, hey Ed Sanders, my name is Colin. I’d really like you to be my friend. You don’t have to do anything, but it would be nice if from now on instead of saying ‘Ed Sanders from the Fugs’ I could say ‘my friend Ed Sanders from the Fugs’ and I’d like your permission to do that.”

I know you tried to get Samuel Delany...
 
Yeah! Sam Delany! He is probably the preeminent historian of cruising culture in New York City and also my favorite science fiction writer. He wrote this incredible two-part essay, Times Square Red/Times Square Blue. He grew up in an African American community in the Bronx, and he hung out in the West Village in the 60s during the burgeoning folk scene, and so he was privy to a lot of different demographics and cultural institutions. And in the essay he says the most genuine and guileless interracial and cross-class contact he ever saw in New York City was cruising in the porno theaters. He said downtown he was always acutely aware of his blackness, in the Bronx he was hyper-cognizant of his queerness, but in the theaters he didn’t have to think about either.

I feel like to a lesser extent a good pizzeria serves the same social function, it’s the great leveller. That’s why Palace Pizza is so good. Because you walk in there, and it doesn’t matter if you just slamdunked the Henderson Account or if you just got off work shoveling shit for the Department of Sanitation, you’re just sitting down to get a slice of pizza and the pizza man is gonna be kind of a dick to you. Unless you’re me, in which case you get treated like a king.


But Sam Delaney, I really wanted to get him to come eat pizza in Times Square with me. It never worked out, though not for lack of trying on my part.

Just to go back to the idea of having guests along with you, whether they were the experts you would’ve wished or the touring band from nowhere. In the reviews the sense of friendship is palpable, but often there’s a wariness or a realization that they don’t really know what they’re talking about when it comes to pizza.

Part of what was fun for me in doing this was making up fake controversies and regional stereotypes. So like, coincidentally the first five times I went to eat pizza with people from Florida, it was pouring rain. Something was weird about that, so their opinions about pizza became suspect. And I had a similar thing with the Bay Area and people from California in general, I would pretend that the way those people thought about pizza was just inherently wrong. I would make these little jabs that were like, “okay, Nate Stark says that this pizza was delicious but he’s from the Bay so what would he know?” But honestly, Nate worked in pizzerias as a teenager so he probably knows more about pizza than I do.

But it was nice to create these little fake beefs. I grew up listening to hip hop in New York in the 90s, and rap beefs were part of the fun, like in professional wrestling. When we were teenagers me and my friend Ella had a zine beef. These not-so-serious conflicts that are more theatrical than anything else, I think they really help move the story along. 


One thing I wanna talk about too is that, growing up playing in punk bands, I was also really into the whole Rawkus Records underground rap scene that was developing in New York in the late 90s. Doing rap stuff as well as punk stuff was very galvanizing to me as a young dude. I felt this intense jealousy that the creation of a hip hop album or song was more... Well, a band is this cohesive unit. But with a rap crew, it’s these individuals who come together. They all have their solo albums and they’re all on each other’s solo albums and I always wished there was some way I could like, do a posse track. I always wanted to have all my friends be on my album or whatever. It doesn’t work so well in the punk band format. Rancid tried to do that a lot and NYHC bands tried to do that, but it doesn’t work. Having Tim Armstrong sing half a verse on an Agnostic Front song is stupid.

But doing this zine was kind of a long form posse cut where I was like, “now I’m gonna get Ben Trogdon to come do a verse, now I’m gonna get my girl Christina, Ella is gonna show up, Kever is gonna ride up on his bike.” And I could talk about all my friends who I was proud of, and I could talk about all the cool things they were doing, in a way that felt seamless in terms of the overall narrative of one guy eating pizza. It wasn’t ham-fisted. It was part of the story.

So you’ve gone to every place, you’ve covered Manhattan, the fanzine in the form its been is starting to wind down, and you’re starting to look towards doing a book, but it’s not going to be a collection of just the reviews?

I’m hoping for a kind of cross between Rats by Robert Sullivan and How To Talk Dirty And Influence People, Lenny Bruce’s memoir. I hesitate to talk about whatever book I’m gonna write as a memoir, I think of it as more of a long-form fanzine, but I want to make a cohesive document come out of this project besides just the reviews. There are insights that I began to touch on in writing some of these reviews that could stand to be elaborated upon, and I’m gonna take the book as an opportunity to stretch some of that out and have room for some of the stuff that I always wanted to talk about but maybe held myself back for the sake of brevity.

And the fanzine’s are available.... 

For $3 well concealed cash to Slice Harvester / 442-D Lorimer St #230 / Brooklyn NY 11206. I have five issues out now and at least two more forthcoming, so if you don’t specify I’ll just send the most recent one. You can also buy them on sliceharvester.com, the website.

Where you can look at the blog if you’re so inclined. 

If you’re a poser and you use the internet. 

5 comments:

  1. ha! awesome stuff. :)

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  2. But the true question is: thoughts on Saccone's?

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  3. If memory serves, Saccone's was easily the best slice in New Rochelle.

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  4. Can I just slip three dollars under your door?

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  5. Hey!

    <<
    But all of the response to the zine... it wasn’t like, “Oh that was a very insightful review you had of the Death Penis 7”...”
    (Laughs)

    That was a real 7”! I’ve been looking for it. They had a song called "Smurf Up My Butt." They mailed me three copies. I gave two of them away and lost the third. If anyone wants to mail me a copy I’ll name my next pet after you.
    >>

    That's my old band! :-)

    ReplyDelete