Surrender #5

For most of the 1990s and 2000s I fashioned myself as a small-l “libertarian”, politically. As such, my magazine of choice was Reason, and I read it with the zeal of the recent convert, which I was, until I wasn’t. Occasionally my punk rock & underground music world would overlap with the political libertarian world, like at the 1992 party I once attended with my “rock friends” where I somehow connected with an LA-based kook who (like me) idolized Reason editor Virginia Postrel, and whom I ended up talking “free minds and free markets” with for like two hours – then never saw the guy again.

Brian Doherty was one of the editors at Reason back then, and he still is (!). He was also the editor of a mostly-music, Los Angeles-based fanzine called Surrender (“A Journal of Ethics”). I personally exited the libertarian fold completely maybe 10-12 years ago, as I (finally) developed a much bigger appreciation for government-provided safety nets and a greater, less heartless appreciation for my fellow man and his/her basic needs that hadn’t been well-served by an approach that mostly valued capitalism over that of humanism. Doherty – well, I’m not really sure where he stands overall these days, and his take on “the issues” is fine by me regardless. He’s always been a strong thinker, writer and has long had just enough of the “whiff of the weirdo” to make him a truly interesting dude. 

Surrender #5 proves this in spades, although it’s a bit impenetrable in parts. The core of the issue is an astronomically long conversation between Doherty and Gregg Turkington, at the time the proprietor of Amarillo Records, a member of the high-concept band Faxed Head and a guy just getting his alternate-world comedy career underway as Neil Hamburger. I say “conversation”, rather than interview, because that’s exactly what it is – two guys breaking bread over a meal, discussing The Beach Boys, Richard Nixon, prank phone calls, Paul McCartney and of course Turkington’s cornucopia of surreal projects. 

“Neil Hamburger” at this point was just a character in a series of goofy fake stand-up comedy 45s. Turkington is asked if he’s ever done a live performance as Neil Hamburger, and replies “No. ‘Cause it wouldn’t be the same….if you did a show, all these people would come out who liked the records and they’re just gonna bait me, they’re gonna scream for favorite hits…it’s just gonna ruin it, ruin it completely, y’know?”. As it turned out, that’s pretty much exactly what happened when he eventually did perform the character live (and then built a career out of it in the process), before he figured out how to turn the crowd’s bleatings into an on-stage weapon. If you’ve never heard Hot February Night, I highly recommend it.

Surrender #5 also has a “Review Essay” on Turkington’s works on vinyl, along with a separate essay on Teen Beat Records. Doherty went to college in Gainesville, FL and reminisces about “the music scene” there, the same sort of watery-eyed nostalgia BS I’ve reserved for Isla Vista, CA, circa 1985-89. Best years of our lives and all that. What really sets Surrender apart from its, um, competitors of the era is Doherty’s extensive book reviews, which are erudite and strange, and that document an omnivorous appetite for the offbeat and the unorthodox. By this I don’t mean he’s reviewing stuff from “Re/Search” or whatever, thank god, but science fiction, Borges, Gore Vidal and a whole bunch of Milton Friedman books. We learn that Doherty’s currently reading all this stuff from “Uncle Miltie” – as my conservative dad calls him – because he’s writing a book, a book which eventually became Radicals For Capitalism, a book that I would myself eventually read and enjoy.

This strangely compelling read closes with an inexplicable back cover photograph of the journalist James Fallows, just because. That’s the sort of fanzine Surrender was. I’d love to find copies of his other issues.

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