Matter #10

Matter, at least in its final two years of existence (1984-86), served as sort of a way station for quite a few of the best sub-underground writers of the era (Byron Coley, Gerard Cosloy, Ira Kaplan, Howard Wuelfing etc.) as well as a place to flex for newer writers (particularly Steve Albini, who has far more content in Matter #10 than any other writer). And yet there’s almost nothing to be found about Matter online, aside from this batch of cover scans. So forgive me if my stats are a little compromised here. I wasn’t buying it myself in real time, but caught up to it in a big way in early ‘86 as it was fizzling out, thanks to a pal who loaned me her stack of them.

So the first enigma wrapped in a mystery is editor Elizabeth Phillip of Weehawken NJ. In this September/October 1984 issue, virtually all of the ads are for Chicago-area local stuff; record stores and labels and recording studios and whatnot. I’ve gathered that the magazine was once published in Evanston, IL; Liz then left for college or career near NYC, yet pretty much kept the magazine humming as a Chicago-based endeavor. So how did she recruit such heavy hitters for this thing? Where did Phillip go when Matter was no longer? Would she like to do a Q&A with the navel-gazers behind Fanzine Hemorrhage blog?

Her magazine is full gloss, B&W with a color cover, and I’d have to imagine it was easily found at Tower Records and most fanzine-stocking independent record stores of the era for the big price of $1.25 per issue. Though the general lean-in is toward harder, louder, post-hardcore rocknroll music, there is a bit of mersh straddling going on, with some half-hearted nods to mainstream acts, to the British and toward what you might have called wimpy college rock. Phillip herself wrings a quality interview out of Nick Cave, after spending a period of trepidation pre-talk imagining how this feral junkie might rip her to shreds. There’s also a sloppy Cramps interview from that long, strange period in which they hadn’t released a true album in many years except the live throwaway Smell of Female.

Zen Arcade and Double Nickels on the Dime have just come out, and their titanic impact permeates this entire issue, from the letters section to reviews of bands who are neither Husker Du nor The Minutemen. I sometimes used to listen to local San Jose, CA college station KSJS around this time, when I was a senior in high school, and they were boring college rock to a T. Even they went ballistic over these two albums and The Meat PuppetsUp On The Sun, which triggered an evolution in the station’s playlists to the point where it became a very listenable station in 1984-85. Steve Albini gets to pen full pieces on Breaking Circus and Man-Sized Action, as well as “The Moron’s Guide to Making a Record”. Albini also provides his personal phone number to any Matter readers who might have any questions (312-864-1173 if you want to give him a jingle; perhaps he’s ported this to his 2023 smartphone if you have any current questions about making a record).

Ira Kaplan, clearly a Soft Boys partisan, writes about Katrina and The Waves, who’re mere days away from their big US hit “Walking on Sunshine”, yet get hassled at Maxwell’s in Hoboken when Ira goes to see them. That song is now a Safeway and Whole Foods favorite ‘round where I live! There are other interviews with Curtiss A, Psychic TV and The The, and a round-robin reviews format in which writers like Cosloy, Phillip and Albini get to “grade” new releases from A-F just like Christgau did. Everyone loves Soul Asylum. A topic for another day on Fanzine Hemorrhage. 

PS – I was able to procure this issue from a Great American named Jon Hope, as you can likely see from the label on the cover scan. Matter subscriber! ($7 for six issues – seriously). I don’t think I sent him a whole lot of value in return, so thanks, Jon. You can read his very active music blog Jonderblog here.

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