Carpazine: Thanks for doing the interview, Jeffrey Wengrofsky. It's an honor to have you in Carpazine.
Thanks so much for your time and interest.
JW: Thank you! Getting the word out about a book in the 21st Century ain’t easy, particularly if you publish with a small, indie press, like Far West Press (my beloved publisher).
Carpazine: How was writing your memoir The Wolfboy of Rego Park?
JW: I had NO INTENTION to write this book, but I surely couldn’t stop it from happening. It all started during the lockdown. Eugene Robinson (Whipping Boy, OxBow) was then an editor at Ozy. He liked “The Beat Down at CBGB,” an article I wrote about the hardcore scene of the 1980s, and invited me to write first person narratives for Ozy. While initially reluctant, the world was under house arrest, so there was nothing else to do. I submitted what became the Wolfboy chapter about getting hung out a window in 8th grade English class, which Eugene loved and immediately published. I also got a nice little bounce in my checking account. He then asked, “How often can you churn these out?” As it was during lockdown, I pledged to submitting once a week. The next story I sent him – the story about the wolfboy – he also liked as well. Though I didn’t get paid for it and it didn’t appear on the Ozy site. While waiting for him to get back to me with a link and payment, I wrote what became another chapter – the stories about vampires – but he ghosted me. Six months later, he re-emerged to explain that Ozy’s editors, greedy bastards, owed a lot of people money. They ended up going to federal prison for trying to defraud Goldman Sachs out of $30 million or so. Check this out: one of their editors called in to an investor meeting with Goldman, impersonating someone from Google and attesting that Ozy was attracting enough web traffic to make it a very sound investment. While intrigued, such a sum was a bit much, even for Goldman, who decided to take some time to think it over. About a week later, they reached out directly to the person at Google who, of course, had no idea what they were on about. The FBI picked them up, Ozy dissolved, and the site closed. Almost two years later, when I got the offer from Far West Press to write a little book, I was given six months to write the book. Fortunately, I already had these four stories completed or in draft form. I wrote primarily during Friday and Sunday afternoons in a variety of NYC’s “finest” cafes. Writing in cafés is one of my life’s great pleasures, and writing Wolfboy was no exception. Giving birth to it was a profound joy.
Carpazine: How does your experience as an author inform your approach to storytelling in filmmaking, and vice versa? Are there specific narrative elements that you find unique to each medium?
JW: Yes, of course, making films has influenced my writing and, as you say, vice versa, but the tail and the dog were initially in reverse order. As mentioned in Wolfboy, I wrote my first stories when I was around 13, although I’ve always had a strong visual imagination: my childhood was largely haunted by my dreamlife.
I was more into creating characters and backstories than I was into playing sports.
Despite an interest in storytelling – perhaps as an alternative reality, an imaginary refuge from reality – public school and the ubiquity of television in my parent’s home left me illiterate at age 17. It wasn’t until punk rock – which, in the early 1980s, was sometimes very intellectual – that I began to really read and, with it, my writing abilities developed. By graduate school, my writing was often lauded by faculty, and I was, eventually, hired to edit Constellations, an academic journal, which I did for its first five years. Soon after, I was hired by Aperture Magazine as assistant to its editor and by Michael Bamberger to help him with the book that became Reckless Legislation. In the years since, I have nearly 70 publications to my credit and now, thankfully, a book of my own: The Wolfboy of Rego Park.
It wasn’t until the death of my mother and five other family members over an 18-month span from 2003-5, that I decided to take up filmmaking, despite having no background in it or access to gear. And it wasn’t until 2009 that, by strange dint of fate, I was able to, and began to, actually make films.
As a filmmaker, I’ve studied the craft of storytelling – finding the moment of inception, controlling the speed and quality of information, and playing tricks on the audience - all of which I attempted to do in this book. I think that the story and characters in Wolfboy are actually very cinematic and I hope that someone takes notice.
Carpazine: Can you share some of the key influences or experiences that shaped your perspective on punk rock culture, both as a participant and an observer?
JW: Well, I got into punk and hardcore as a teen in the early 1980s, when it was all very underground and unpopular. The experience of trying to unearth this hidden knowledge was part of its allure, and engaging a subculture that valorized the outsider was invigorating. The first acts I saw were The Cramps and TSOL, then The Heartbreakers and a ton of hardcore acts. I later told Kid Congo that seeing The Cramps ruined my life. The old New York acts constantly bantered with the audience, which made it more spontaneous and participatory, not just a bunch of songs.
The film festival that I run – the Secrets series – includes live music and theater, among other things, to come at the audience from a few directions.
Carpazine: Punk rock has often been associated with DIY (do-it-yourself) ethics. How have these principles influenced your creative process, and how do you see them manifest in the punk community you document?
JW: Punk’s sense that culture is something to be made, and not simply received, is a major personal influence. I hate popular culture – the consumer aspect – preferring personally to be both cultural consumer and producer. To this end, I’ve purposively avoided living in a home with television – with the exception of the time when I was with my grandma – since leaving home in 1982.
In regard to film, I’ve self-financed all of my short films – ten in all – and I’ve been curating Secrets of the Dead, a short film festival in New York City, a showcase for indie filmmakers, for the past twelve years. As far as my creative process, I decided to make and showcase short films simply because they are the easiest to make, the most accessible format. To put it simply, they are “do-able.” In contrast, I’ve been also laboring over a feature film for a decade, which is something I’d not recommend.
As for writing, as a teenager, I put out Vehement Renaissance, the Official Fanzine of the Apocalypse. I’d sell them at shows and via Maximumrocknroll. More recently, I just wrote a book – of all unsellable things! - for an indie publisher with a story that doesn’t match any socially-sanctioned narrative. That seems punk to me. The book has received praise from such punk luminaries as Exene Cervenka (X), Jeff Bale (Maximumrocknroll), and Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds). And esteemed post-punkers, Colin Newman (Wire) and Malka Spiegel-Newman (Minimal Compact), are now reading Wolfboy !
Carpazine: Are there particular venues, neighborhoods, or landmarks in New York City that hold special significance for you, and how do you incorporate these into your narratives?
JW: My family has lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan since escaping looming extermination in Europe a hundred years ago. Life has always brought me back here. The two square miles of the L.E.S. have taught me punk, No Wave and dissonant art, Beat poetry, and Judaism, all of which I draw from in Wolfboy. One chapter – “The Beatdown at CBGB” – is set, of course, at that historic location, which I try to vividly describe. Other resonant locations include the A7 Club (birthplace of NYHC), the S.I.N. Club, Neither Nor (a café and a club), ABCNORIO (still undergoing complete renovation), and Alt.coffee (a café in the East Village through the 1990s that was a constant hangout).
Carpazine: Collaboration is often crucial in filmmaking. How do you approach collaboration compared to the solitary nature of writing, and how does it enhance or challenge your creative process?
JW: Yes, the creative and productive processes of my filmmaking and writing diverge. Whereas I write alone, although surrounded by people in a café, I need to, and rather like, hiring people to perform the technical aspects of filmmaking: shooting and editing. As director, however, I’m a bit of an auteur in that I direct the cameraperson and I sit beside my editors telling them what to do. Well then, why do I bother to hire other people at all? Well, it saves me the cost and trouble of trying to stay atop the technological treadmill – technology is constantly changing and its very expensive to buy the latest camera or a subscription to an editing package. Also, by nature, I’m not a technical person, so having someone beside me who can make something happen – something I can visualize and describe - is simply necessary. After a while, good editors will get a sense of what I’m driving at and will chime in with helpful suggestions that make it more than just a technical collaboration, but I’m always the idea person because it’s my film. It’s technically my vision.
Carpazine: Could you discuss any notable individuals or bands within the punk rock underground scene that have particularly influenced your work, and why?
JW: In general, I try to write and make films in ways that are direct, energetic, and unpredictable. Two of the few truly brave people to come out of that world are Nick Cave and John Lydon. Cave has emerged as a person of unusual thoughtfulness and compassion, and Lydon has been a genuine provocateur and innovator since 1975. Both of them continue to surprise and delight, as cultural producers and as individuals.
Carpazine: What kind of music do you listen to today?
JW: While there is a lot to dislike about the internet, youtube has allowed me to scope out music from across time, including some rare stuff I’d otherwise never be able to access. So, what do I check out? Aside from the occasional foray into bizarre cabaret from the 1920s-30s, I generally graze on obscure rock from the 1960s-80s, as there is SO MUCH great stuff that I hadn’t (and haven’t) yet heard. Some recent discoveries for me include DogFeet (heavy psych), Tank (Algy Ward’s metal band after The Saints and The Damned), Brigandage (UK post-punk), Gandalf (more psych), and so many more. Another personal discovery is Bulletproof Stockings, an all-female Hasidic rock band whose music is transcendent. Pity they broke up. I also listen to a fair bit of black metal and dungeon synth – like Tartaros, or Casket of Dreams, who contributed a musical score to one of my films. Some acts in continuous rotation include: Black Sabbath, Nick Cave (with Bad Seeds and in The Birthday party), Stiffs Inc., Beaut, Hawkwind, and Motorhead, etc. Anticipating the new LP by X.
I’ve also been listening a lot to Valhallah, Definitely, the final World/Inferno Friendship Society LP, which just came out. Jack Terricloth and I were pals and collaborators for thirty years. Miss that bastard! The LP includes a “ghost track” – an answering machine message I left for Jack a million years ago. World/Inferno fans will learn a lot about him – as a person and as an artist - from reading chapter nine of Wolfboy.
In terms of film, I just watched The Fabulous Baron Munchasen by Czech director, Karel Zeman. It’s a seemless blend of animation, live action, just masterful.
Carpazine: As a storyteller based in New York City, do you find that the city itself becomes a character in your narratives? If so, how do you explore and develop this dynamic in your work?
JW: Yes, the City of New York intrudes repeatedly throughout Wolfboy, Jack Sergeant suggests that it emerges in the text like a character in itself. Some – like Adam Sexton and at Yale and Thane Rosenbaum at Touro College – see the book as a bit of a time-capsule into the “old New York.” For those here, New York City is no mere passive backdrop, but an active force in our lives – for good and ill. The city is in such obvious decline nowadays, which is deliberate. The future will be trouble all around.
Carpazine: Are there any untold stories or hidden gems within the New York City underground scene that you feel are essential to bring to light through your writing and filmmaking?
JW: If allowable, I’d like to simply tell your readership that, yes, indeed, Wolfboy discloses some of the secrets of the New York downtown underground. As for the secrets themselves, I will leave such buried treasures to those who traverse its pages.
Carpazine: What upcoming projects are you working on?
JW: Five years ago, I finished cobbling together a book by the late Professor Yitzchok Block about Aristotle and Maimonides on perception and mysticism, which is (finally) slated for publication by the University of Toronto Press in the spring of 2024. As for work in the pipeline, I also just finished “Roaches I Have Known - an essay for a 2024 Far West Press anthology - and I’ve got a few others on the launching pad. I’d like to write a new book, and I have ideas for five books, but will have to see what opportunities present themselves.
Film-wise, I’m going to make a short – perhaps a bit mystical – film featuring Sid Kaplan, one of the last living masters of black and white photography. I’ve also got a feature film about the American counterculture that I’ve been working on with Steven Blush (American Hardcore) in the works for 2025.
Carpazine: Can you give the readers your Website and Facebook addresses so they can check you out...
JW: Best way to stay on top of my film output is: www.humansyndicate.com On facebook, one may add the Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers.
For Secrets of the Dead, the film festival I’ve been running for 12 years, folks can submit their own short (less 20 minutes) horror film for an opportunity to screen in NYC (sometimes elsewhere as well): https://filmfreeway.com/SecretsoftheDeadNewYorkCityShortHorrorFilm. Secrets of the Dead is also on facebook as well as Instagram.
Also, if anyone reads the book and wants to friend me on facebook, they should just send me a request indicating that they are a friend of Wolfboy.
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Carpazine Art Magazine Issue Number 39 Featuring Lana Gentry! More: Jeffrey Wengrofsky, Abdul Vas, Danny Licul, Akira Usagi, Ductape "Echo Drama", Fear at Brooklyn Monarch, Interview with Dar Stellabota, Perfect 10 at The Long Island Museum , 14th Annual Figurative Art Exhibition at Lore Degensten Gallery, and more!