Agony Shorthand

Friday, August 19, 2005
1980s-90s FANZINES REVISITED ENTIRELY FROM MEMORY, VOL. 1......The days of taking an armload of cheaply-xeroxed fanzines to the can with you are just about over, folks. There was a very recent time when even a corporate behemoth like Tower Records had overflowing stacks of homegrown music ‘zines, but now the few that they & others carry sit pretty forlornly looking for buyers, as the majority of music freaks, myself included, have turned to the far more easy and far less expensive endeavor of “blogging”, or to creating HTML-based sites like Blastitude and Terminal Boredom. I used to buy heaping helpings of fanzines from about 1983-on, and lately I’ve even thought about digging some of them out of cold storage for revisitation. Most are under lock & key deep in the garage, and I am too lazy to climb over piles of detritus to get to them. Instead, I thought I’d conjur up a few obscure fanzines I used to buy or trade for completely from memory, paragraph by paragraph, and maybe revisit 4 or 5 at a time. You might remember some of these. Here’s batch #1.

MATTER – I seem to recall MATTER employing some pretty heavy hitters in the mid-80s, with Byron Coley penning a piece here and there, and Steve Albini writing a regular column in which he ranted about his favorite & least-favorite records (I remember him going bananas in a positive way over SOUL ASYLUM – really). This one was actually really good, though a bit “indie”, before we called magazines with this sort of musical breadth “indie” (usually it was college rock or punk & all the microscenia variations in between). It had a glossy cover & was usually packed fat with interviews, columns & a whole mess of reviews. My pal Jackie gave me a nice stack of these and a bunch of CONFLICTs to read over Xmas break, 1985, and I came out of the experience a lot smarter & ready for 1986 because of it. It kind of just “died” around that time, and I’ve rarely heard anyone mention it since.

NOTHING DOINGBrandan Kearney, the magazine’s publisher, was sort of a folk hero of mine in the early 90s for his exceptionally off-beat approach & views on modern life and music. He had this knowing glumness and ennui (despite being incredibly active) that could have come off as cynical & practiced, but instead had me either laughing or instantly questioning my own deeply-held biases by force of his personality. Anyway, Kearney put this mostly non-music fanzine out in either 1 or 2 issues (I can only picture one in my head), and it’s a riot. It’s weirdly possessive of a sort of anti-humor that’s more humorous than humor itself. There were these great cartoons of Family Circus- or New Yorker-style scenes of mirth and merriment, only with new captions like “I feel tumors growing inside of me”, or “I have found to my eternal regret that Jesus Christ is a fraud”, that sort of thing, just better. The sort of thing you might expect out of the weird early 90s San Francisco oddball underground, in which Kearney (World of Pooh, Caroliner, Nuf Sed records) was a major player.

THE POPE – Does anyone remember this one? Tim Adams was the guy who ultimately ran Ajax Mailorder; in the late 80s he put out this fanzine that was very much of its time, in the Conflict or Disaster mold, just not as good. Tim was a young fella, maybe barely in college at the time, and he tried hard to mock the hot bands of the day while reviewing just about everything possible within the confines of a stapled 4x6” zine. Homestead, SST, Touch & Go etc. -- this was what fanzine nation got riled up about around 1987-88, “The Pope” included, but I seem to remember that he also got excited about pop stuff, 45s mostly, that most folks wouldn’t touch. (He subsequently put out the Mountain Goats......). I’m sure he’d disown this now, just as I’d like to disown the early issues of my own fanzine. Ultimately it was a readable ‘zine but not one that engendered enough credibility to make me go out and buy something.

TEEN LOOCH – The guy who put this out in the early 90s, Brian Turner, has disowned his contribution to the fanzine canon, but I’m not sure why. Teen Looch was part of a crop of excellent limited-run fanzines during the final ‘zine boom period, and was well-written, funny without being overly sarcastic, and spanned a great range of rock musics – from garage punk to pop to out-n-out extreme noise. Turner came off like a guy who was just flat-out gonzo-excited about all the new bands he was discovering & who wanted to share them with you. He’s now the head honcho at WFMU music department and is a great American to boot. Last time I saw one of these on eBay it changed hands for $872.59. But Turner won’t sell you one, no way.

FLESH AND BONES – Outside of Forced Exposure, Motorbooty and Conflict, this is probably the one I enjoyed the most during the time period in request. They covered “grunge” before it was grunge, and also took the best potshots at ’81-’82 hardcore punk and at metal wasteoids I’ve ever seen. A lot of the live reviews were just made up fantasies of getting in fistfights at gigs with people like Thurston Moore or Glen Danzig; stagediving to mellow acts like Salem 66; and heckling multiple bands “with a Big Stick wig on” (remember BIG STICK?). The graphics were all hilarious cut & pasted items from other magazines, many of them from the hippie 1960s, as well as a few homegrown comics that were usually quite OK. They also had a few staff photographers who took excellent band shots, usually of the modern acts with the longest, filthiest hair and the lamest clothes (RAGING SLAB seemed to be a favorite). This was not a mag I read as a consumer’s guide, it was one I read because it was always laugh-out-loud funny. Their REDD KROSS interview from 1985 or so still might be my all-time favorite interview, ever.