There was almost always some dude associated with the fanzines I regularly read in the early 1990s, and now it’s somewhat gratifying to see some of those dudes, like Crank’s Marc Masters and Butt Rag’s Peter Margasak, now serving as institutionalized, expert music writers across a variety of forward-looking publications. I continue to see Margasak covering jazz, classical, outré rock and other such topics in places like We Jazz, Bandcamp and elsewhere, and I even subscribe to the man’s Substack. And to think we were all merely record-obsessed, fanzine-producing young idiots at one point (caveat: I still am, just not young).
Unfortunate name aside, Butt Rag was one of the early 90s’ omnivorous musical gourmand’s bibles. You just needed to be on Margasak’s expansive wavelength, because he was certainly pretty forthright in telling you what was & wasn’t worth paying attention to. By the time I caught up to this Chicago fanzine on issue #6, it had been coming out for a few years, and I only have just that one, as well as the one from 1993 we’re talking about today, Butt Rag #8.
First off, it’s absolutely enormous: 100% newsprint, 144 pages, and – get this – it has a couple hundred (long and detailed) record reviews, all written by Margasak. It’s a staggering amount of opining; I know what this particular individual probably spent the bulk of his 1992 and early 1993 evenings doing, when not going to shows. Everything from mediocre Homestead releases (I forgot all about “Bodeco” until re-reading this) to wild NYC and Chicago free jazz to experimental/20th century classical and then, every single independent release on virtually every US, UK, NZ and international label that had come out the previous six months – as well as a couple dozen reissues. It’s incredible. And naturally, Margasak’s enthusiasm for it all ranges greatly from “godhead” to “derivative twaddle”. I was paying pretty robotic attention to things of this ilk around this time, and I truly haven’t heard half of what he reviewed here.
There’s also a sort of strangely forced familiarity with various underground scene denizens, in which jokes are made about them and their first or last names are tossed off as asides within a review. I personally tried as best I could to stay the course within my own 80s-90s blatherings and remember that, when discussing a Thurston Moore, Gerard Cosloy, Byron Coley or Steve Albini: We don’t actually know these people, and they are not our friends (unless of course you did know them; then you were running the additional risk of overt name-dropping/piggybacking). But that’s young people for ya. When your world, social life, inner life, outer life etc. revolves around underground rock music, sometimes it’s hard to gather the sort of perspective that might even out the humanity and general worth of its primary players with that of the next-door neighbor, the girl at the cafe and one’s brother-in-law. I’ve been there.
Butt Rag #8 spends a good amount of time grilling Jack Brewer, ex-Saccharine Trust, in a manner that very few in the 1990s did, so I really like that piece. Brewer was definitely a trip, and I don’t feel like people talked to him about his own inner world enough. The guys from Claw Hammer told me a great story once about the “Jack Brewer Band” touring the US, and accidentally ditching a band member at a rest stop in Texas somewhere, then driving all the way to their ultimate destination six hours away (New Orleans, Albuquerque, something like that) before realizing the guy wasn’t in the van, then having to cancel their show to go back to pick him up. A time before cellular telephony, and a nice testimonial to the power of not paying attention.
There are also big features on David Mitchell from the 3Ds (saw them around this time, they were great!); Charles Hayward from This Heat; John Corbett on The Ex; and – a fanzine obsession I never quite understood at the time nor now – the “Shrimper” label from California’s Inland Empire. You can absolutely see the seeds of where Margasak’s tastes and writing would eventually take him; it wasn’t long after this that he was regularly writing for the Chicago Reader, and then on from there. I daresay you ought to check out back issues of the ‘Rag should you ever stumble upon the chance.