[In Jukebox Jury, we play a series of songs for an artist, and they share their reactions. The artists have no knowledge of the songs we've selected beforehand.]
“There’s a print out of a [New York] Daily News article of me that has a tiny thumbnail of my face on every table [in Midtown Manhattan's Pizza Suprema],” Colin Hagendorf, known on the internet as pizza expert Slice Harvester tells me. “Joe, who owns the place, he had the review I did and the drawing [my friend] Joe Porter did laser-engraved into sheets of metal and a wood fucking panel. It’s fucking crazy.”
Hagendorf has eaten and reviewed just about every single plain slice of pizza in Manhattan. For those unfamiliar with his work, he started this quest in 2009, traversing to the tippy-top of the borough in Inwood, surveying the island neighborhood by neighborhood, before finishing at Da Vinci Pizza Restaurant in the Financial District in November of 2011.
The compelling part of his journey was not just that he was taking on a gargantuan and almost grotesque task of consuming so much cheese and bread, but it was the narrative he weaved into each post on Slice Harvester. It’s also a rich document about growing up in your late 20s and punk history in New York City. Each review was compiled into a popular zine of the same name and landed Hagendorf a book deal. His memoir about New York City, pizza and recovery is due out in 2015.
His traipse around Manhattan has been reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News and on Good Day New York. Check out the Great Slices section of his blog for his highest-rated plain pieces in NYC.
For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve known Hagendorf since 1999, when we would hang out at the same local punk shows in our home county of Westchester, New York, and have been friends since 2002. This informs some of the following conversation.
How does it make you feel to be tantamount to a photo of The Sopranos?
I love it! I got my picture up on Carmine’s Original on Norman [Avenue in Brooklyn]. I got my picture up at Siena Pizza across from Port Authority [in Manhattan]. I got my picture up in Pizza Suprema. I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I die when I was a kid. It was really absurd — it was like, I want to have my childhood home turned into a historic landmark. I want to have a way to cook eggs after me, like eggs Benedict. All of these goals were absurd to me. I was like, “You are not going to accomplish these.” And the other thing was, I want to have my picture up at pizza places. It’s so weird. But I’m stoked on it. I’m trying to undo the years of self-deprecation that punk taught me and just be proud of myself.
Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
I love this song! This song came out when I was in the middle of doing my last hurrah of being a weird alcoholic. I was traveling, I was on tour [with] Shotwell, this kind of amazing, kind of awful band from the Bay Area. I think I was in Chattanooga when this song came out and I was haggard. I was on so many drugs, just super strung out. I had stockpiled my Oogle-sack this rot-gut whiskey that they only have in the Bay Area, that is the best cheap whiskey I ever had. I remember this song was out and “Birthday Sex.” Chattanooga punks have a good balance of being punk as fuck and filling up bags with gold spray paint and being weird and drinking moonshine and also getting into the dirty sex jams on the radio. I think it’s because the American South accommodates that more and there’s less rigidity than the Northeast, kinda-puritan B.S.
Don’t worry, I’m not only playing rap songs with references to pizza in them.
I was just gonna ask, but this fucking record is amazing. Before I had interesting stories to tell, I would co-opt the stories of other people. This guy Jordan that I knew, he’s from Tampa, [he's] this really serious gothic industrial dude and he told me he took seven hits of acid and went to see Gravediggaz. He was clearly lying, so it’s almost OK [that I stole the story]. 14-year olds definitely do drugs, but I don’t know any 14-year olds that can take seven hits of acid…There’s a song about moshing on this record and it was a big deal because there was moshing at the rap concert. This record is so cool. It’s super dark, but it’s really funny, and I feel like it’s keyed into this weird thing, kind of the same cultural zeitgeist that made Aaliyah a vampire in Queen of the Damned, which has been on my Amazon Prime queue for weeks, but I am afraid of rewatching things I once loved.
The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”
I have a weird idea for a collection of sci-fi stories that are based on [lyrics from] girl-group songs taken out of context. It’s based on that Chiffons song ["See You in September"]: “There is danger in the summer moon above.” I have the whole story mapped out in my head. I love this shit. My first-ever show — that my parents didn’t take me to — was the Ramones’ final tour. I saw weird shows with my parents. But cool-weird. The second show was Electric Frankenstein at 7 Willow Street. But, like, my fourth or fifth show was Joey Ramone and Ronnie Spector singing Christmas songs together, also at 7 Willow Street. I went with Juan, my best friend in high school. The Independents opened. They were a ska band that dressed like Danzig and had pyrotechnics and that was so weird. The singer wore weird furs and looked like a barbarian, but they played straight up ska music. The second notable was that Joey Ramone walked by me and Juan and we did the “We’re not worthy” Wayne’s World thing. We were 15, both in way-too-big leather jackets and we’re on our hands and knees bowing to Joey Ramone saying, “We’re not worthy.” He leaned over and lifted us each up by one of our hands like a debutante and he goes, “Don’t ever bow to anybody ever again.” Then he turned and walked away.
You don’t necessarily think of the Ramones as having an antiauthoritarian, genuine politick. I mean, there’s politics to romanticizing schlubby shit and that’s cool, but they’re party guys. But hearing Joey Ramone say to me, “Don’t ever bow to anyone ever again” — not, “Don’t bow to me, I’m no one special,” but “Don’t ever bow to anyone ever again.” That was like an order. That was one of the most galvanizing, political moments in my life, looking back. Like, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to do that. Not even to Joey Ramone.”
Jay Electronica, “Exhibit C”
Do you know what the sample is? Billy Stewart — big fat guy, so jolly — and he sings this song called “Fat Boy” where the chorus goes, “She’s says I’m in looove with a fat boy.” And it’s all about how his girlfriend loves him. He’s the cutest. He wrote “Sitting in the Park,” which is covered by Quix*o*tic. That’s why I bought his record and I realized he’s the best singer. [Starts rapping, "When I was sleepin' on the train/ Sleepin' on Meserole Ave in the rain/ Without even a single slice of pizza to my name."] Uhn. I love this fucking song. Where is this guy from? He’s so confusing to me. Because he has the fucking establishment, the rap establishment talks about Jay Electronica. Weird underground dudes that we hang out with are talking about Jay Electronica and maybe even know him. But is there a Meserole Avenue [outside of Brooklyn]?
Then why is he eating pizza there? Do you ever think about which pizza place it was?
Don’t you think it would be Danny’s [on Meserole and Bushwick avenues in Brooklyn]?
It’s gotta be Danny’s! That’s the only pizzeria there. But then I wonder, what year? What year was Jay Electronica sleeping on Meserole Ave? Was I living down the street?
This song came out in 2007? It had to be before he dated Erykah Badu.
You never know! This song is funny because I feel like white people that are not from New York get really weird about race and it makes them uncomfortable. I remember getting so stoked on this song and playing it for some of my punk friends and we’d get to the “Call me Jay Electronica, fuck that/ Call me Jay Elecyarmulke, Jay Elechanukkah.” They would get really noticeably antsy, like, “I don’t know about this. Colin, you’re Jewish, so I guess it’s OK. But is he Jewish?” I don’t even know what the fuck he means by that, so I’m not offended by it. As a cultural Jew, I don’t give a shit. It’s just weird to me sometimes, people who come from a fairly white place who get nervous talking about other types of people because they don’t wanna step on toes, yadda yadda. I 100 percent get that. But talking non-racistly about people of other races is OK.
Bow Wow featuring Ciara, “Like You”
I am wondering if this is the first song I won’t know.
No, you definitely know this song. I remember back in 2005, we were on the same message board and one time you posted something about this song like, “If I had a crush on a girl right now, I’d put this on a mixtape for her.”
Whoa, cool. Who is this?
Bow Wow and Ciara, from when they were together.
See, this is proof that I’m a poseur because I have a Ciara T-shirt. [Hunx] from Gravy Train!!!! has that Wacky Wacko shop online and he has that T-shirt with the Crass logo that says “Ciara.” I bought the shirt, but I actually hardly know any Ciara songs. [But] this song is adorable. Bow Wow came into [the diner I work in] Jimmy’s one time and [my best friend and coworker] Sal was really rude to him. He and his boy came in and the two of the sat next to each other at two two-tops. That’s a big pet peeve. It was Friday at lunch, and it gets busy. It wasn’t busy yet, but Sal was like, “Listen guys, you’re fuckin’ grownups. You can share a table and nobody’s gonna think you’re gay. So share a fuckin’ table or get out.” And I said to him [whispers], “That’s Bow Wow. Tell him I loved him in Roll Bounce.” That’s one of my top three movies. I like this song a lot. I like the kind of R&B that’s a little flat, that’s kind of boring, there’s nothing really stand-out about it but it’s cute.
Adina Howard, “Freak Like Me”
Oh, I love this. If you want to wreck karaoke and you are a cis-male-presenting human, sing this fucking song at karaoke. Everybody goes apeshit.
I know you sang it once at Home Depot. How did that happen?
Sal, my right-hand man, was there for that, too. I was in Home Depot in Queens. It was Customer Appreciation Day. I got a free cup of coffee and I got a cookie. I was so stoked. There was a radio playing music and we checked out. [But] when someone works in a job where they have to wear an apron, it can highlight how fly their style is because they find ways to work around their weird uniformity. [There was this] lady [who worked there], she just looked so dope, and she was singing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston. We checked out and the song was ending. So I said to Sal, “Can you videotape this real quick?” And then I went over and I was like, “Hey, excuse me, can anyone do that?” And she and her friend were like, “Yeah, it’s Customer Appreciation Day. Do you want to sing something?” I asked, “Do you got ‘Freak Like Me’ by Adina Howard?” I was the only customer to take them up on customer karaoke. They were so stoked and I was so stoked and everybody had a good time. There should be karaoke in every place that grim capitalism exists. It’s palliative.
Janet Jackson, “Again”
There was this unfortunate time in punk music where everyone wore a neck bandana and it was super cute. I liked the gender-fuck aspects of the super cute phase [where there were twee aspects in the punk scene] but it was just kinda dumb and embarrassing. During that time, I did solo folk-punk performances where I would play popular music on ukulele and I’d sing. [Mocking voice] It was so cute! I had a little neck bandana! And homemade T-shirts! Just a picaresque, dirty, adorable little Dickensian orphan. It was dumb on a number of levels. It was mostly relatively privileged white kids doing play-acting on the aesthetic aspects of poverty. That’s stupid. That’s objectively stupid. But I always thought this song would really resonate with some of those punks, out of context, because it’s totally about your “travel boo” that you run into and you’re not sure if you like each other still. There was a person that I used to crisscross the country with and we’d run into each other sometimes. We’d run into each other and be like, “Oh, hey. Wanna drink a beer at this bridge? Are you dating anyone?” If the answer was no or non-monogamous, we’d smooch or bone down in the woods. This one time we ran into each other and we were both available, we were about to get busy in the dirt in the woods. She was like, “Do you have a condom?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course.” So I reached into the front pocket of my bag that had condoms in it, but I wasn’t looking and it also had a tea bag in it. The wrappers for a tea bag and a condom feel kind of similar. I just pulled it out and she pulled it out of my hand and says, “I don’t know what the fuck you read in what the fuck zine, but I am not putting this tea bag in my pussy. There’s a staple on there. You need to find a real condom.” I took out a real condom and it was cool, but I just think it’s such a testament to the punk-Oogle community that it was viable that I might have been suggesting a tea bag for birth control because that’s kinda how everybody rolls. Everybody uses weird fake medicine or real medicine that is not Western. We both, afterwards, thought it was the funniest thing that that could have been an option.
Paris Hilton, “Stars are Blind”
This is another song that I used to do in my unfortunate cover sets. I just love this song. 100 percent of the time I am at the beach, since this song came out, I have spent a portion of my time rolling seductively in the low tide pretending to be Paris Hilton in my head. If you go to the beach and you don’t do that — if you try and you don’t like it, that’s fine. No judgments. But if you go to the beach and you don’t try it to find out if you like it, you’re missing on a potentially really fun experience. This was another song that I felt was easy to turn into travel punks, we’re all free and easy punk-sluts. It’s all about communication, straightforward communication. I don’t necessarily, but I don’t know, think of Paris Hilton as an example of ethical non-monogamy. I also used to cover “Like Glue” by Sean Paul. I had kind of re-worked it to be about being a male feminist-ally.
Noooooooooooo. No, no, no, no.
“Cuz I got to stick to my girls like glue.” That is fucking dumb as fuck.