Trouser Press #36

I happened to have been a teenaged Trouser Press subscriber in the early 1980s, yet had never purchased an issue during their 70s heyday as an Anglophilic rock magazine whose subhead was “America’s Only British Rock Magazine”, and who were actually originally known as the Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press. Theirs was a good niche to mine in the 1970s, but starting in 1978 with a Todd Rundgren cover, the magazine started backing away from the UK in favor of the domestic.

I think my subscription started with Issue #69 here (wooo!) and ended with their final issue, #96, here. That’s a tremendous amount of new wave, ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t even keep them and abandoned them when I became far too cool a few years later. The magazine’s Flock of Seagulls and Culture Club covers, at least, were a far cry from their roots and even at the time felt like a marketing-driven cry for help, and/or subscribers. I remember the actual contents not being so cut and dried; it’s where I learned about Los Angeles’ paisley underground, for instance, and it hipped me to the Dream Syndicate and the Three O’Clock for the first time. I believe I came to understand what no wave had been through this magazine as well.

While clearly not a fanzine, Trouser Press had that long 1970s backstory that I didn’t really know much about, so recently I found a few cheap copies, one of them being this one, #36, with Lou Reed on the cover. Now wait a minute, how come no one told me that Lou Reed was a total asshole? He gives perhaps the most abrasive, entitled, paranoid, mean-spirited interview I’ve ever read to Scott Isler in this one, and I now think even less of Reed the human being, as opposed to Reed the musician, than I even did the day before yesterday. To Isler, by means of introduction, he says, “I know your type…a typical downtrodden Jew….A make-believe hippie….This is the worst nightmare. I’ve dreamed of this on the subway….If you weren’t a journalist you’d never be invited to anything hip”. And he’s only just getting started. Just an angry, disgusting human being and yeah, I was kidding above – of course I knew that he was a prick, but seeing it laid out so clearly in an interview just makes me a bit, um, well, “sad”, I reckon.

Now you want to know who the goldmine interview is in Trouser Press #36? It’s Elton John! Yes, Elton John in early 1979 is sitting at his absolute low point of popularity across his entire career, and spends most of his interview bemusedly acknowledging this. More importantly, in early 1979 he has recognized the importance of punk rock music, and Elton John – he likes it! A lot! He talks up the Sex Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees (he just calls ‘em “The Banshees”), Rezillos, Sham 69 and more, often wistfully, and as if he were on a therapist’s couch, acknowledging the stone cold truth that a much more exciting and relevant style of rock n roll has just overtaken and made irrelevant (I wish) his own creations. I know that Elton was a fanatical record collector who had been given carte blanche to raid Tower Records on LA’s Sunset Blvd for whatever records he wanted, and he did so often. So I salute him for his breadth of taste, and for his introspective ability to assess where he stood in the whole rock n roll edifice in 1979. “I get annoyed when radio plays ‘Your Song’ but no Stranglers”. Elton John said that!

Trouser Press may have covered the underground somewhat, but they really tried to laser in on the rock music omnivore, who was perhaps a person (male, no question) just approaching his thirties who’d buy Elton John and Pat Travers records but whose sweet spot in 1979 was probably Elvis Costello and maybe some American power pop. I like Cole Springer’s comprehensive piece on Captain Beefheart, as he comes to terms with music he once dismissed as too daffy and abrasive and now, at the end of the decade, is starting to recognize the genius therein. Stiff Records’ latest output gets raked over the coals. And The Pork Dukes are mentioned more than once in this issue. Go put that in your pipe and smoke it. 

It’s a far better magazine, journalistically, than the one I remembered from when I was subscribing to it, and even if I don’t or didn’t cotton to 65% of what they’re talking about in #36, I’ll probably wanna pick up any other cheap copies of the magazine I find down the road that date from this pre-new wave era. And look, no one really ever comments in Fanzine Hemorrhage’s comments section so far….did you read Trouser Press? What was your take on it? Did Lou Reed ever redeem himself as a human being, or is this just who he was? Tell us!

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