There’s really nothing that’s ever been like Los Angeles’ illustrious No Mag, before or since. Sired into this world by Bruce Kalberg, the magazine lived in defiant, outright violation of whatever common standards of “decency” were during its 1978-85 run, a run which happened to overlap beautifully with the flowering of the great Los Angeles punk rock underground. Some issues of No Magazine or No Mag may index heavier on music than this one – the local scene, if you will – but #10 is a great entrée into Kalberg’s crazed world of art, sex, blood, photography, violence, excretory functions, glamor and punk rock. I’d buy every single copy of this fantastic magazine’s fourteen-issue run if I could afford to – they’re quite “dear” and hard to find! – but thankfully they’re easily read online, thanks to the titanic efforts of Ryan Richardson and his Circulation Zero site. I’ve got three of them, and No Mag #10 is the one we’ll take a peek at.
You may have seen an episode or two of Peter Ivers’ early 80s late-night LA TV show New Wave Theater, right? No Mag was of that absurd, demented world, just with crisper execution and far better taste in music. This issue really does lean heavy on juxtaposing modern out-there art and photography with hammering home just how open-mindedly “free” Kalberg and his pals are about all things sexual, even going so far as to aggressively and obnoxiously try and get Kat Arthur of Legal Weapon to admit she’s gay. The cover you see here previews a couple of vixens whose “sex poetry”, I suppose you’d call it, is inside – one of the two women is a 22-year-old Suzanne Gardner, who’d later go to play guitar and sing for L7. I’m going to assume on the evidence presented herein she’d had a bit of a rough life up to that point.
Musically, we get interviews with Savage Republic; Michelle from Twisted Roots; Saccharine Trust; Voodoo Church; 3 of the 4 guys from Social Distortion (total boneheads) and Kat from Legal Weapon. There are no “serious” record reviews nor hot band alerts – but other issues do have these; this one has some long extrapolations on photographers and artists who are unknown to me, all told in Kalberg’s surreal style and paranoid prose. At times I get the sense that he is really tempting the censors as much as possible; this was the Reagan era and the backlash was fierce. Kalberg, like any grown adult who waddled & wallowed in excrement and filth and sexuality, comes off less as a truth-telling rebel forty years down the road, and more of a provocateur whose antics reflected a nihilism that seems pretty stunted & juvenile, rather than bold and powerful. I wonder if that’s how he felt about it all when he hit his fifties.
That said, the best piece in here is The Mentors reviewing and grading all of the 1982-83’s newest, hottest punk rock and local new wave records from the likes of X, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, the Go-Gos, TSOL and so on. Everything gets either an “F” or an “F-Minus-Minus”, except for Fear, who get a D. The photo shoot accompanying their reviews shows the members of the Mentors either setting fire to, taking a dump on, knifing or otherwise defiling every one of the records in question. A real class act from a classy magazine!
If you’d like to get a sense of how Bruce Kalberg’s life ultimately turned out, you could do worse than to take a gander at this 2009 piece from the LA Weekly; slightly more forgiving is this obituary from 2011. Me, I’ll be happily wallowing in the No Mag mire as long as I live, especially if I can ever find those 11 issues of it I don’t own.