Here’s a fanzine we might occasionally see out on the US west coast, but one that mostly eluded me before it ran its course in 1986. I’ve now got a few issues of Washington DC’s Truly Needy, and it strikes me as a sort of junior league Forced Exposure; focused heavily on the breadth of the US and UK underground (leaning heavier into hardcore and goth/wave than mid-80s FE) but doing itself no favors by attempting to review every single piece of vinyl that came into the office, a la Flipside. I mean, if no one there’s going to get all hopped-up about the latest godawful Mystic Records albums, what’s the point in going all-out in torpedoing them? At the same time, you can read an issue like this #10 from 1985, thirty-eight years later, and have a pretty fantastic sense of the contours and seams of America’s still bursting underground, and the passion of the contributors to go all-in to knowing about and seeing everything going on, live or recorded or written, is just astonishing to witness.
But here’s where Truly Needy really gets interesting: it was run and mostly written by a woman, Barbara Rice. Rice is the thrust, the warp and the woof of this entire packed, 80-page issue, as well as other issues; it’s clearly her baby. In doing a bit of research on the mag – there’s really not much out there – I came up with this late 90s article about her turn toward being a landlord’s attorney, and being bestowed with the sobriquet “The Queen of Mean”. Well, she’s pretty charming in #10 as she attempts to magnanimously grapple with modern SST bands like SWA and Tom Troccoli’s Dog; as she reviewed several dozen fanzines in just this issue alone; as she interviews pre-Racer X Big Black and tries to call Steve Albini onto the carpet for various transgressions; and more. There are plenty of other contributors in here, some of whom can even write a little, but Rice pretty much lords over this thing.
Many years ago I wrote something about Truly Needy on an old blog and received a terrific email from Bill Wort, who started this magazine with Rice. Wort is listed as “Art Director” in this issue, but I gather from the correspondence below that he was pretty essential to the whole endeavor. I tried writing him back this week to ask permission to publish his thoughts, but it bounced back….I mean, his email to me was from 15 years ago. I think it’s fitting that he get the last word anyway. Here’s what he told me:
From Bill Wort:
As memory serves, we pubbed 13 issues. The first was published in either late ’81 or early ’82. The name, “Truly Needy,” was taken from a line in a Reagan State of the Union speech (something like, “…we want to help the truly needy, not the greedy”). Until that speech the leading contender for a title was “The Ninth Circle.” The last issue erupted sometime around 1985-1986.
Speaking for myself, I think the two biggest fanzine influences were “Flipside” and “The Offense” (from out of Columbus, Ohio). Although I contributed a few cartoons to TN, my main job was editing (which explains a lot about all the typos and misspells) and layout. I always felt that most of the zines, though they might contain good reviews and interviews, were unreadable because of their “found-object,” cut-and-paste, official punk look. Flipside (and I hope, TN) presented information in a more straight-forward and readable way (OK, I know we had the tiniest font imaginable, but we did have lots of content). The Offense was an inspiration for both its encyclopedic nature (lots of pages to read), and its diversity of subject matter.
In terms of Truly Needy’s approach to content, all of our contributors loved music, and our tastes were eclectic. My concept was, TN should mainly be about “alternative” music, but not limited to that. I also felt that, when doling out the promos that we received, we should give them to the writer who might best appreciate them. We had one person on our staff who favored the more approachable “new wave” bands like “The Cure,” or “Echo and the Bunnymen,” another who favored hardcore, etc. I think that overall, we bent more towards the harder, noisier bands (especially since there were so many “harDCore,” DisChord bands to have access to), but we were open to printing reviews (from favorable to scathing) of any bands that fell into that vast, undefined category of “alternative.” For the record, Barb — who probably contributed about 50% of TN’s content, had a vast and diverse listening interest.
I referenced the layout process earlier, and I want to elaborate on that just a bit. We started this in the days when not many had personal computers. In fact, all but maybe the last three issues were typed on a typewriter. The typed pages were then taken to a copy shop where they were reduced — I think 30% — these reduced pages were then cut, and hot-wax pasted onto pages into their final layout. What I wouldn’t have given for a program as simple as “Word” to put TN together! (For the record, I did acquire a PC towards the end, and the last 3 or 4 issues were typed, though not laid out, on the computer). This laborious process explains the sporadic nature of our printing, since I had a regular 40 hours a week job, and could only work on the typing and layout a little each night. It also explains why we dropped live show reviews at the end, since, by the time we would go to press, the reviews would be so stale as to be meaningless (not to mention that many of the bands would have already broken up by the time we published). One more publishing note: Most of the issues were either Xeroxed or offset and side stapled. The last few were printed at the Carroll County Times printing facility (Carroll County, home base of Half Japanese) on newsprint.
One other thing I’d like to note that, like Mad Magazine (well, in those days) after the first issue or two, we never sold the back cover as ad space, but used it for a cartoon.