Wiring Dept. #3

I’m labeling this 1985 issue as Wiring Dept.’s third, but if you want to know the truth, I truly have no idea. I do know that the magazine put out a total of six issues between 1984 and 1986; that I possess four of them; and that the ones that came after this issue were three larger-format tabloids – so therefore my numerical guess is probably as good as any. I bought them in real time, and have somehow managed to hang onto them 37-38 years later.

Wiring Dept. is very much a San Francisco fanzine, for good and for ill (as we discussed here). In a few short weeks I’ll receive my pre-ordered copy of Will York’s forthcoming Who Cares Anyway: Post Punk San Francisco and the End of the Analog Age, and I know that York covers this strange musical interregnum in post-punk, pre-90s San Francisco quite extensively, a time and scene that was somewhat part of my lived experience. Before York’s book, and likely after it, the single best documented representation of the deep post-1985 SF sub-underground was probably Wiring Dept. fanzine, a magazine that is a note-perfect tribute to an ephemeral time and place that truly doesn’t exist in any of its original form any longer. 

In reading it, I can absorb all of the fantastically arty, chaotic, boundary-pushing, dirty, DIY, alcohol-drenched spirit that attracted me like a magnet to San Francisco in the first place. It’s a great picture of the margins of a city I moved to in 1989 the very first chance I got and spent as much time in as possible while away from college in Southern California during the years 1985-89. The magazine was self-published by Eric Cope, a guy who was concurrently in the band called Glorious Din and who ran Insight Records, who put out his own records as well as this very interesting compilation that I bought in the late 80s.

Now I didn’t know a whole lot about this story until it was told to me, but Cope later put out an influential hip-hop magazine called Murder Dog – I vaguely remember it – and by then was going by the name of “Black Dog Bone”. When Sam Lefebvre wrote this piece in Pitchfork about him a few years ago, he borrowed my copies of Wiring Dept. as source material. The Cope/Black Dog Bone story is quite a wild one, and you ought to read it. The intense, insular weirdo described in the piece is very much ever-present in the page of Wiring Dept. Cope liked to take snippets of lyrics, often from Joy Division and even some of his own, and drop them on a page to fill space, while conducting bizarre “interviews” that might take two or three sentences from a chat with a band, and then drop them into his own strange ramblings, non-sequiturs, clipped sentences and half-baked thoughts cooked up in his head that were then instantly typed onto the page and left, unedited. 

Which is an exercise in patience, to be sure. But still! Wiring Dept. transcends its odd format and paints an impressionistic picture of tiny clubs, starving artists, dirty punks and poets and everything that made San Francisco so weirdly wonderful at the time. There are probably 30+ bands profiled in here, some of whom seem to have been formed a week ago; my guess is that Cope was going to loads of shows, and would therefore interview anyone he found halfway interesting. Maybe he taped them; maybe he wrote down answers in “shorthand”, and maybe he just transcribed them from memory the next morning. A partial role call of #3’s interviewees reveals the sound of young San Francisco in 1985: World of Pooh, DRI, Glorious Din, Caroliner Rainbow, The Morlocks, the Fuck-Ups, Faith. No More, Tripod Jimmie, Frightwig, Short Dogs Grow and many, many more. Holding much of this together from a distribution standpoint is Steve Tupper of Subterranean Records, and he is also interviewed.

The impression is that the San Francisco underground has been left to wilt on the vine a bit by record labels, media and everyone else, and it is into this vacuum that Wiring Dept. is attempting to step in and document in its own exceptionally unique manner. I’m therefore very willing to forgive a great deal, because the lump sum of Wiring Dept. #3 is far greater than its parts.

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