Throat Culture #2

I had some vague sense of a “gonzo” rocknroll writer named Lester Bangs when I was growing up and becoming rock-savvy, yet I’d really never read anything by him until the 1987 publication of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of his writings in Creem and elsewhere. I was excited to, though – by that time I knew he’d loudly championed both The Stooges and The Velvet Underground when exceptionally few were doing so, and I figured it’d be great to see what real-time early 70s writing about both bands might look like. I totally loved the book, as many did, and the cult of Bangs grew rapidly and much further from that point onward.

In 1990 this “collectors’ edition” of a New Jersey fanzine called Throat Culture showed up on the racks, and was a no-brainer purchase at the then-normal price of $3.50. Editor Rob O’Connor and his fellow co-editors were pretty smitten with Bangs as well, and as they tell it, Throat Culture #2 was supposed to be a “normal” indie-rock fanzine until the Bangs mania totally took over, and they just decided to go all-Bangs this time around, for what ended up being their 2nd and final issue. 

I gobbled it up once I bought it, and until last night, I hadn’t read it again. Since then I guess we had the Almost Famous film and Jim DeRogatis’ biography Let It Blurt, which I have read and very much enjoyed. But this Throat Culture mag has proved to be a key link in the Bangs chain! The editors’ mania ensured that they went down a number of Bangs-related rabbit holes, included talking to DeRogatis about his teenage meeting w/ the man (O’Connor’s piece even says “Jim DeRogatis, myself and no doubt less than a handful of others entertain the idea of writing Lester’s biography but that seems like a longshot, Who would care?”). 

I guess at the time I totally bought into the “Lester Bangs was such a great writer that his pieces are more like literature than rock criticism” thing. I guess I still do today. I remember how eye-wateringly hilarious those Carburetor Dung things on The Godz, The Troggs and his Lou Reed interviews were. I also was a bit saddened, if chagrined, by the fact that this highly self-destructive, probably utterly depressed young-ish man medicated himself by guzzling cough syrup and alcohol by the bucket. There are numerous essays to that point in Throat Culture #2 from the folks that knew him best; childhood friend Roger Anderson; MC5 singer Rob Tyner; Joe Nick Patoski, Richard Reigel, Voidoids guitarist Ivan Julian; Creem co-founder Jaan Uhelszki and more. 

The real killer, though, the pièce de résistance, is actually two pieces, both with Richard Meltzer involved. The first is Throat Culture’s reprint of his 1984 essay “Lester Bangs Recollected in Tranquility”, written two years after Bangs’ death. The San Diego Reader reprinted it later when the internet came along, so you can read it here, right now. Even better is a piece commissioned just for this fanzine, in which Meltzer and Nick Tosches turn on a tape recorder and start talking about Bangs – their memories, his shortcomings, his frailties, his incredible lust for life and encyclopedic knowledge of rock (and jazz), and much more. Many have been the times that I have found Meltzer to be quite absurd, pedantic, and/or too pleased with himself to consider him readable at all. These two fantastic pieces are not those times.

It would also be foolish not to note that this magazine prints, for the first time, a “rejected” Bangs piece that the NY Rocker wouldn’t take, written about Sid Vicious’ death. I wonder, knowing what we all know now, just how much attention anyone would have paid to Vicious’ antics. I sometimes find it difficult to read about the Sex Pistols at all. So much of my so-called musical education was formed with them as the dominant example of “punk”, the band that had changed the world and so on – it’s hard to even contextualize those guys now due to over-familiarity. I’m also not all that hopped-up on their music, and never really have been. Anyway, it was a nice score by Throat Culture, and it was later reprinted in the second Bangs collection, Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader in 2003. Man, I need to read that again too. 

When I published my own Dynamite Hemorrhage #8 fanzine and made it all about Slash Magazine, I absolutely took my cues from this particular issue of Throat Culture. If they could subvert the dominant fanzine paradigm, so could I! I’m glad to have engorged my brain with the thing again last night. Keep an eye peeled for it if it turns up on resale sites, as it’s definitely a gem worth having.

Teen Looch #8

Look up “Great American” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Brian Turner right there in the definition. Try it now! Brian Turner is known to many far and wide as a radio “disc jockey” who spent many years leading music programming at WFMU, and who now hosts The Brian Turner Show through the medium of podcasting. He’s also a frequent writer of liner notes and magazine pieces, most recently in Creem and absolutely on any Fall reissues of note from the last decade. So of course it’s exciting for Fanzine Hemorrhage to embarrass him greatly by calling discrete attention to his early 1990s music fanzine Teen Looch #8.

Now I haven’t seen any of the other seven issues of the ‘Looch, so all impressions of his fanzine are taken from perusing this one over the years. It came out in 1995 and I’ve had it ever since. Brian and I were clearly corresponding at the time – “letters”, we called them – because I submitted a Best of 1994 list for a collection of such lists in this issue. I wouldn’t come to break physical bread with Turner for another 8-9 more years after that, when he had left this issue’s publishing locale of Hudson, PA and was firmly ensconced in New York City. I actually had a pretty good job doing a big project for ESPN in the early/mid 2000s and was in the Big Apple pretty frequently, so that’s where we finally clinked glasses together and when I got to frantically rifle through his record collection.

Teen Looch #8 has the same breadth and general eclecticism that has characterized the Brian Turner radio shows over the years; everything’s almost always picked with an eye either to the supremely off-beat (Harvey Sid Fisher, Esquivel, even Alan Licht) or the canonical (Moe Tucker and I suppose Stereolab). He actually interviews Mo! I suppose that was something you could easily do at one time; perhaps one still can. I’m personally partial to his Giant Sand interview, as that’s a band I was totally bananas for at the time and who were accurately characterized as an “acquired taste” by most folks. Turner finds out that he and band frontman & founder Howe Gelb have similar roots in Wilkes-Barre, PA and is therefore able to coax more natural, loose and normal conversation out of Gelb than I think I’ve seen in any other interview elsewhere. Giant Sand had just that year put out what I consider to be their masterpiece, Glum, so I was more than happy to give this interview another read-through to try and telepathically get on Gelb’s sonic wavelength from that time.

I learned later on down the road that Turner also has a big diving/swimming/aquatics jones, and sure enough, he wasn’t afraid to document and explain it all in a piece included here called “For The Love of Aquatics”. Around this era the only time I’d allow any non-music portion of myself to be shared with the world in my own fanzine, I’d usually be yakking it up about how much I was drinking or maybe just what a rad libertarian I was – so it’s pretty refreshing to see someone of the same age and general elitist musical temperament writing about, “here’s how much I love to go swimming” instead. 

Now the whole “Gyros!” thing on the cover – I truly have no idea what that’s about. I’ll wait for the eventual Teen Looch “book of books” to come out with Turner’s (or Byron Coley’s) explanatory intro.

We Jazz #6

Just a couple of years ago, a Finnish jazz label called We Jazz ambitiously decided to start a journal-sized quarterly publication about – you guessed it – jazz. They packed it from day one with a breadth, depth and visual style unseen before in a jazz publication, to my knowledge, very much non-fusty, of our times and “jazz in the 21st century”, while absolutely trussed to jazz history, especially 60s avant-jazz and beyond.

I ordered the second one, which they called Pursuance, a year or two back, and instantly knew this was going to have to be a regular – albeit an expensive – purchase. I’m still something of a neophyte jazz listener; I certainly know what I like, and I even do an irregular jazz podcast called Jazz Libertines – but there are loads of missing gaps in my knowledge that this publication is helping to fill, including what’s happening currently. I really have only regularly followed the Clean Feed, Astral Spirits and Rune Grammofon labels, and any jazz Soul Jazz puts out, and even those I can’t keep up with at all. Too many hobbies, always my cross to bear.

So I’m looking for guidance and shepherding and right now the We Jazz journals are just that. They’re up to 8 editions of this as of this writing, and it’s enough of a professional concern that the label is now offering subscriptions. This issue I just finished reading last night is the 6th, and it came out in Winter 2022 and has the title Revelation

So you indie rockers and fanzine heads will know the names Peter Margasak and Bill Meyer, both last talked about in our pages here and here, respectively. They’re heavy contributors of both features and reviews; Daniel Spicer, who writes for The Wire and many other places, is as well. Mostly it’s Scandinavians, so there’s a strong Scandinavian slant to the jazz that’s covered – which is great, because my exceptionally uninformed opinion says that most of the wildest and most interesting stuff happening in jazz the last 10/15 years has been happening there. While there are exceptions, the jazz that’s covered generally starts with stuff that’s a little “out” or moderately experimental, and carries on to music that’s 100% free and improvisational. Nothing smooth or fushiony here, far as I can tell, although no question I’ve followed some of the trails they’ve painted for me on Bandcamp or Spotify or whatever and found them lacking – but as we say in the business – that’s jazz, baby

We Jazz is a beautiful and tactile magazine: thick paper, color photographs and artwork, professional photographers and an overall sense of care & feeding, while still capturing enough of the fanzine ethos by being written by true jazz heads, casually and almost entirely free of dictat and dogma. #6 has terrific pieces on Pharoah Sanders, 60s/70s label Black Jazz Records and this amazing Sun Ra: Art on Saturn book that I just reserved at my local library. That’s the stuff I personally knew a little bit about; Francis Gooding also writes one of my absolute favorite record reviews in ages about the Horace Tapscott The Quintet release, very much questioning its provenance and motives for multiple paragraphs, while boiling down whether it’s any good or not to the final sentences (note: it is).

Then there’s a plethora of deeper dives both visual and journalistic into other realms – and it’s important to note, it’s not always jazz they cover here; for instance, the Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda, put together by these guys. It’s otherworldly, raw electronica for the most part. And this issue continues the photographic exploration of “Tokyo jazz joints” and record collector haunts across the city, though I think they’re running out of material here – the first one was amazing and had me Googling flights, but now, four installations in, I reckon it’s run its course.

Listen, I’m leaving out way more than I’m telling you about We Jazz magazine. As long as you’re willing and able to “pay the freight” for these, as it were, I think they’re pretty fantastic and likely exceptionally collectable in their own right. Not that we’d ever buy something like this for that reason, though, right?

Slush #2

I’d truly fashioned myself as about as much of a ‘77-’83 Los Angeles punk/underground collector, snob and scholar as one who wasn’t there might possibly be, but somehow I’d not been told the news that Masque founder & proprietor and Scottish punk gadfly Brendan Mullen had his own outstanding early 80s fanzine, Slush (!). If it weren’t for the online fanzine store ZNZ I still wouldn’t know about it, yet when I spied Slush #2 sitting on their digital racks and got a gander at what it was all about – Mullen’s semi-ridiculous Slash magazine “parody”-cum-scandal sheet-cum-straight-up, punk-reverent fanzine, well, I did what anyone as weirdly obsessed as I am about this era might do. I pounced.

And it’s even better than I expected, this Slush #2. I thought it might be short on content and long on snark, but it’s actually long on both. Better still, it’s good enough to be respectively deemed a worthy LA extension of the godlike Slash, and nearly as informative, opinionated and certainly as on-the-ground and in the center of the maelstrom as Slash was. I mean, Mullen’s the guy that gave the first-wave LA punks their playhouse. He didn’t slink away after it was shut down; in fact, he was a drummer in multiple bands himself: Geza X and The Mommymen; Arthur J and The Gold Cups and Hal Negro and the Satin Tones. He even famously – and it’s referenced here – served as Black Flag’s singer for a gig or two between Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena, though I’d have to check the record on that again to confirm that it was more of an in-joke than a tryout. 

On the cover is a high school photo of Eddie Joseph, later of Eddie & The Subtitles and someone lionized here as an all-around great guy. Inside we have a promise that the magazine “can only come out every two months (realistically) instead of monthly as had originally been hoped”. The magazine, I’m afraid to say, never came out again, but not before promising a third issue that would feature The Urinals, Vox Pop, East LA “punk in the barrio”, “The Screamers movie”, Russel Mael, Don Bolles and much more. If I’m wrong, like I was ignorant of this fanzine’s entire existence, and this did come out, can someone please let me know?

There’s a big essay up front called “Is There, Isn’t There Punk Rock Violence?????”. I was absolutely prepared for an anti-LA Times piece (it is that) and lots of “I swear, I hate cops, to the max” equivocating, but no – Mullen pulls a surprise rabbit out of his punk rock hat and basically says, yeah, it’s pretty out of control right now, and he sets his target straight at Huntington Beach, or the “Aitch Bees” as he calls them. It’s actually a fairly responsible essay, written by an adult, a man who’s very much excited for punk’s continued evolution but who sees the seeds of its eventual destruction already germinating. 

But Mullen celebrates Orange County two pages later with a very excited piece called “Orange County….California Screamin’…The Fourth Wave”; Mike Patton, truly of the OC (and also of The Middle Class), gets in his long own Fullerton/Anaheim scene report, with mini-features on pretty much every band that calls themselves a punk band and who maybe played a gig in a garage.   

The Bags have broken up. There’s another nail in the first wave, and Mullen provides the obituary. Craig Lee of said band – weren’t we just talking about him? – provides the world’s first look at brand-new band Castration Squad with his ex-bandmate Alice, and (sigh) Tracy Lea, referred to here as “Little Tracy”. Lee also provides another intro to The Gun Club, “a brand new band who’ve maybe played only six or seven gigs and as yet have not established any audience”. Germs have broken up, too – Darby’s working on establishing The Darby Crash Band, and would, alas, be dead within 3 months. AND we get to see who that new Black Flag singer is who’s not Mullen!

So yeah, it’s all very exciting and another glimpse into something I’d have given my proverbial eye teeth to have taken part in. Maybe I could’ve saved Slush when Mullen put out that call for contributors….maybe I could’ve saved Brendan….maybe I could’ve saved the scene itself….

Slash, Vol. 3 No. 1 (January/February 1980)

Ringing in a new decade with Lee Ving’s “salute to the 80s” on the cover, the first issue of a new year of Slash is absolutely phenomenal. It would, alas, be Slash magazine’s final year. Now I’ve said this before, and said before that I’ve said it before, but this is my all-time favorite fanzine. I put together an entire tribute issue of my own fanzine dedicated to Slash, which you can download here – just so you know where I stand and all. At some point we might talk about each issue in these digital pages.

Let’s start with editor Claude Bessy, aka Kickboy Face. Kickboy was so artful in his bon mots in response to letters to the editor, and often even humble and friendly to Slash’s analog correspondents if he felt they’d made a particularly insightful point about the magazine, the punk scene or a particular band or club. However, sometimes he was less than charitable, and those were the best. See the scan at the bottom of this post.

By this time, Slash was not as solely focused on Los Angeles as it was punk and underground rock writ large – what we now call “post-punk”, you might say. They were not calling it that then, if you can imagine. If someone interesting came to town, they were getting interviewed. This issue brings Joy Division and Psychedelic Furs interviews; I think we can all agree that the latter, on their first album, were quite alright! Slash says “Their music sounds like a fight between The Velvet Underground and The Stooges against Roxy Music and X-Ray Spex”, which may be a bit of hyperbole, I’m afraid, but try listening to “Dumb Waiters” and tell me you don’t dig this era of the band. Slash were also really into the Two-Tone UK ska bands at the time – there’s an interview with Madness here – and I have no beef with that either, not in the least. I nearly sobbed with joy when I saw The Specials do this in 1980 on Saturday Night Live on a rare night my parents let me stay up, so don’t let me hear you talking down to the rude boys and girls. 

For a moderately underground publication, the roll call of acts interviewed in this issue alone who are now on t-shirts worn by millions is pretty stupendous. Bob Marley talks with Kickboy. I told you about Madness, Psychedelic Furs and Joy Division already. The Buzzcocks. The Fall. And thankfully, LA stuff too – “Catching up with The Bags”, a band who’d been around for over two big years by that point. There’s an interview with beach punks The Crowd, as “beach punk” was becoming quite the thing.

And oh my, were there some crazy bills the previous month in LA: The Fall / X / The Germs / Suburban Lawns one night; Black Flag / Fear / The Urinals / The Last the next. This issue also includes long reviews of brand-new records out that month: London Calling. Metal Box. 20 Jazz Funk Greats. New Picnic Time. Kickboy does a very admirable job with The Clash record in particular, neither knocking them down too far nor buying into what they were trying to sell by that point – mostly he makes fun of the praise that he knew would be heaped on this 2xLP by folks who couldn’t even whisper the word “punk” eighteen months earlier. He was spot-on. And loads of these fine reviews were by Craig Lee of The Bags, whose stint as a lead writer at Slash didn’t really last all that long, but he did go on to write about music for the LA Times before leaving us too early in 1991.

I mean, every issue of Slash is this good, not merely for the immense envy it provokes in me for those of you who were going to these gigs and buying these records in the immediate moment, but for it being what someone called “a towering giant of literate, eye-popping, on-the-ground Los Angeles punk rock reportage and graphic design.”

This same scribe says,

“These weren’t merely Hollywood party people who were getting drunk and puking on the cops – though they were that! – this was a loosely-assembled collection of exceptionally talented writers, photographers and graphic designers who saw the opportunities this subculture provided them to cleave off entirely from the dominant Los Angeles narratives of the day (sun, cocaine, easy vibes, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steve Garvey, tennis, Hollywood filmmaking) and create something dark & exciting, something that truly subverted the proverbial “dominant paradigm”. 

So we’ll go with that as a summation for this one, and see what we can come up with next time we bring one of these around the ‘Hemorrhage.

Caught In Flux #6

Mike Applestein’s a “lifer” in the wild world of music fanzines, straddling multiple decades of deep indie/insider fandom with Writer’s Block, Caught in Flux and the very recent Silent Command. (We talked about the latter here). Like a great many insular scribes, Applestein turned his attention to online writing as one century gave way to another, only returning himself to the glory of print in 2022. Because his focus was so heavily lasered-in on deeply obscure pop music and mine wasn’t, I’d really only skirted his stuff for most of the 90s, until getting to know him a little better as an “internet” writer later on.

Seasons change, people change and all that, and now, reading Caught in Flux #6 from 1997, I get the sense that Mike could make me one hell of a mixtape from all the weird nooks & crannies of the sub-underground pop world from that time, and now I’d probably like it. But so much of it is greek to me: Beanpole, The Cat’s Miaow, Honeybunch, The Softies, The Three Peeps. Singles and LPs that I rapidly flicked past because they were pink, or had cartoons, or the band were wearing dopey sweaters or whatnot. Or maybe they had names like this issue’s The I Live The Life Of A Movie Star Secret Hideout. And hey, I’m not saying I’d necessarily like any of it now. Sometimes I’ll do a deeper online dive into the indiepop world and come up with nothing but kelp and crud; and yet sometimes I’ll pull up a Jeanines or something equally wonderful.

Yet Mike and I definitely overlap on so much of the post-punk 80s stuff he’s been such a champ in championing: Young Marble Giants, which I already talked about here; but also this issue’s two jumbo Dolly Mixture interviews, which finally helped illuminate the mystery of why The Mo-dettes were consistently slagging them in their interviews, and just who the fetching Dolly Mixture track, “How Come You’re Such a Hit With The Boys, Jane?” was about. Among many other things, of course. Catching a band only 15 or so years after their time means memories are fresh enough to be recalled but also that wounds are distant enough to heal. And it’s really great to see an au courant 90s interview with mostly ignored Australians Small World Experience, whose Shelf-Life Siltbreeze reissued not that long ago.

There had been a really thriving set of fanzines tackling these worlds throughout the 1990s. I remember Maz from The Mummies had his pop magazine Four Letter Words; Tim Hinely plowed many of these fields with Dagger; there was (and still is) Chickfactor, of course, and I’m sure there were many, many, many others. All of them have much to teach us, but reading Caught In Flux #6, I think Applestein was really setting some of the terms for the scene here, and expanding it to encompass a pretty healthy variety of micro-genres. He’s still got a few available here. Guess where I got mine.

Chatterbox #4

September 1976. 10 cents. The word “punk” is already being used in earnest and we’re not in NY or LA, we’re in Seattle. Chatterbox #4 is truly an educational glimpse into a world in which educated rocknroll fans are yearning for something better, and very much realize that they’re on the cusp of it. Hence this newsprint mag’s balancing an “out with the old” approach (Neil Hubbard’s anti-stadium concert editorial, trashing the “animals” at recent Wings and Led Zeppelin shows) with a celebration of the typical crumbs offered up around this time – Patti Smith Group, Ramones, Roxy Music, Bowie and the like – even Television get a positive mention.

An unnamed writer relays that, “The other night on KZOK’s listener-programmed “Your Mother Won’t Like It” show, some little tart named Mary really did a show ‘mothers wouldn’t like:” Dictators, Stooges, Ramones, Eno, New York Dolls….wall to wall bizarropunk.” That must have been a mindblower for certain Northwesterners. FM Radio still did that sort of thing in 1976; that’s right around the time I started flipping my radio over from the AM dial, and where I lived, in Sacramento, we had two stations that still had some of this freeform feel: KZAP and KNDE. They called it “album rock”, meaning not singles, but I wasn’t quite ready for some of these heavy sounds at age 8, let alone wall to wall bizarropunk. (In fact, when I first heard The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” on the radio not long after this, it kinda scared me a little). 

There’s a gossip column (“Chatterbox Chitchat”, written by “Melba Toast”) in which Tomata Du Plenty of The Tupperwares details his trip to Los Angeles, which I’m certain was a warm-up that led him to leave Seattle mere months later to start up The Screamers in LA. There’s also talk about The Beatles getting back together in 1976 – I believe this was really a thing at the time – and much dropping of names about local Seattle acts and scenesters. What I’m pleased to learn here is that there was a robust original music scene in town at this point; it wasn’t just fern bar bands playing covers, and writers pissing and moaning about it. 

The best thing in here is a rollicking, long interview with Dave Hill of Slade, who’s a self-admitted total “yob” and a great sport, just totally open to gabbing with the fanzine writer about anything and everything. These guys were megawatt rock stars in the UK at the time, not in the US, which he acknowledges and seems pretty chagrined about. This part wasn’t too convincing on Dave’s part, though:


DH: Yeah.


DH: Yeah, the name I like. 

The interviewer then tries to bait him into badmouthing fellow UK travelers The Sweet, who were breaking in the US in a major way with “Fox on The Run” and “Ballroom Blitz”. The latter song was a very early Jay Hinman favorite; my mom once walked in on me in our Sacramento garage, dancing and shouting the lyrics at top volume to it as it played on my transistor. Dave Hill won’t take the bait about The Sweet! A true gentleman; now I’m sorry we Americans totally ignored Slade. 

I love everything about Chatterbox #4 and its writers’ enthusiasms and passions. It’s a relatively professional if homespun publication and I’m definitely going to see if any other copies might find their way into my hands in the near future. 

Flipside #32

It’s possible that overly judgmental folks like me have given Flipside the proverbial “short shrift” over the years. I didn’t even buy a copy until well into college, 1986 or so, mostly because they gave such energetic and frothing coverage to any & every punk rock lame-o band, differentiating not in the least and really just there to innocuously champion all of it. No one cared much about their prose, because (as I saw it) no one there could effectively convince you with any sort of engendered credibility to buy a record or see a particular band anyway. 

Yet when I read an issue like Flipside #32 from 1982 cover to cover, all it makes me do is wish I was there side-by-side with Al & Hud and the whole Flipside gang at every single show from South Orange County to the North San Fernando Valley, watching hardcore punk explode and share stages with creeping death rock bands (45 Grave, Christian Death), that next LA wave of over the-top art/performance acts (Johanna Went, Vox Pop) and those few rarified bands that were just miles ahead of everyone else (Minutemen, Dream Syndicate, 100 Flowers, Flesh Eaters). 

This was the thrill of reading a Flipside, well into the 1990s. These people really lived it. I’d always marvel at their live reviews. A typical Friday night would have Flipside correspondents jumping from show to show all over the greater LA area, trying to document every last jot & titter coming from the clubs. I got to sort of brush shoulders a few times with editor Al Flipside and a guy named Bob Cantu in the early 90s, and it was all very real: they would start the evening seeing a band in Hollywood, say, then hustle down to Long Beach for another show and then make their way to a 2am wind-down party afterward, drinking and reveling all the way, then file their broken and disjointed dispatches in the next Flipside (“we missed so-and-so but I heard they were good; then the cops came”). I thought I was personally going pretty hard in my 20s, but these folks had me licked – and Al was in his thirties, having started Flipside in 1977. (To say nothing of scene correspondent and “rock and roll bank robber” Shane WilliamsI’ve documented my direct encounters with him here). 

It was the same in 1982. You read this thing and you still can’t believe LA had so many amazing shows you’d have gone to yourself in June ‘82 alone. You too would be humping it to Canoga Park and Hollywood and Costa Mesa and San Pedro all month long. It’s quite the time capsule, this one. There is such a buzz of punk rock activity that there are “Southern California H.C.” scene reports from Northwest O.C., Palos Verdes, Riverside and “More O.C.” respectively, while the rest of the magazine reports many wild shows that took place in Los Angeles proper. 

There’s a priceless letter to the editor from teenager Mark Arm from Seattle, WA, exhorting punks to “think for themselves”; decrying the use of drugs in the scene, and relaying the fact that he had to talk his mom out of joining “Parents of Punkers” after punk rock music and fashions were featured on the Phil Donahue show. “She sees a counselor instead.” 

Name an active LA-area punk-adjacent band in 1982 and they’re in here somewhere, as you can see from the cover, but there’s also a Flesh Eaters interview; a Twisted Roots family tree; an interview with the hideous Jeff Dahl about his awful new band Powertrip (“Fuck it all. The only thing I’m into is speed, beer, rock & roll and young girls.”); Eddie and the Subtitles; The Big Boys; and lots of love in the live reviews for the totally-zonkers Meat Puppets (they played with The Cramps in San Pedro this summer; where were you?) and brand-new band the Dream Syndicate, who are said to “sound blatantly like the Velvet Underground, yet are so unselfconscious about it that their plagiarism can’t be held against them.”

About 18 months later, in my estimation, it all started to go sideways in LA, music-wise. By 1984 the city and its nether regions still held more good bands per capita then most anywhere else, but it was a fast fade through the rest of the 80s. Of course my years of living in Southern California happened to be 1985-1989, and so I’d look at Flipside at record stores, then compare it to the vitality, breadth and craft of a Forced Exposure or Conflict and find it all quite “lacking”. Thus my attitude about it over the years, save for my awe and immense admiration for the crazed show-going of their staffers. This issue’s making me a little more generous in my retroactive estimation for the thing. 

Bucketfull of Brains #13

With R.E.M. as its most famous global export, the rootsy American “college rock” of the mid-80s, alternately derided or celebrated in stateside fanzines as “jangle” – but most commonly as college rock – was applauded and lauded very enthusiastically across the pond. I used to buy those Sounds, NMEs and Melody Makers almost weekly when they’d turn up in SF Bay Area record stores around 1983-85, and sometimes it was the only place to actually learn and get more than a cursory paragraph about bands like True West, Green on Red, Thin White Rope, Naked Prey and so forth.

I’ll admit I wasn’t a big fan, except for what I’d hear from the “paisley underground” bands from LA: Dream Syndicate, Green on Red (especially this EP) the Three O’Clock (I wouldn’t hear their earlier Salvation Army stuff for a few more years) and the Bangs/Bangles. I did not, and still do not, care much for the Rain Parade – but wow, the UK press talked about them like they were the second coming. Just after high school I saw a show in Santa Cruz with R.E.M. headlining, and True West and the Three O’Clock opening. This would have been absolute “peak UK mania” for Americana rock. 

Unfortunately so much of that stuff got snapped up and corporatized by major labels pretty quickly, and I couldn’t really see that the UK press – and by that time, Spin and Rolling Stone – were making fine distinctions about what was truly interesting and mind-expanding, and what was just some lame rootsy retread. I’m thinking about bands like “Jason and The Scorchers” and The Del-Fuegos. No thanks. Bucketfull of Brains was a UK fanzine that did a little better, I guess, at pulling wheat from chaff, yet they were clearly all-in on anything with chiming guitars and a mythos, real or imagined, that circled around the desert, the west, California and so forth. Bands that wore cowboy boots on stage and played loud-ish guitars were right in the wheelhouse.

There’s a sense in reading Bucketfull of Brains, at least this particular issue, #13, that maybe punk never actually happened. Rocknroll progressed from The Byrds, Beatles and psychedelia to late 70s power pop and early 80s jangle, and there might have been this in-between period that’s perhaps better not spoken of. Certainly it’s an approach that few others were taking at the time, and it reads like a true fanzine, with somewhat primitive typesetting and clear, unadorned fandom taking the reins, as opposed to, say, an assignment from an editor.

So in this world, which would have been written right around the time I was gawking at that show in Santa Cruz, and which came out in October 1985, a record like the Hoodoo GurusMars Needs Guitars is a masterpiece. Thin White Rope are genius desert mystics (despite being from the college town of Davis, CA). And the aforementioned Del Fuegos “are probably the connecting link between garage rock and American ‘roots’ rock and roll”. Well, probably, right? 

Nigel Cross was no longer the editor (his last at the helm was BoB #10), but he relates a tale of visiting Los Angeles and being driven (poorly) by Falling James Moreland, with Kendra Smith in the car to see the Dan Stuart (Green on Red) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) side project Danny & Dusty play a rare live gig. He’s magnanimous for the most part in describing his evening until summarizing, in the sweet English manner, “I’d somehow expected more than was delivered tonight”. I like that. I’d have liked to have seen Danny & Dusty too, as I very much enjoy that album of theirs, which was overpressed on a major label to the point where at this writing there are 79 copies for sale on Discogs, starting at $3.79.

Jon Storey was the editor at this time, and I’ll say with honesty that his version of the magazine got better in the years to come. I have a few of them, and frankly this one doesn’t quite capture a breadth of taste and enthusiasm across the spectrum of white rocknroll the way later issues do. There’s a piece on LA’s Wednesday Week and an interview with Husker Du, who’ve just jumped about to a major label and are very much happy to leave SST behind. 

But the best is an overview of New Zealand’s underground by one Richard Langston, at the time the editor of Dunedin’s Garage fanzine, the issues of which just got a deluxe release in book form (!). It’s called “Legends of the Kiwi Beat”, and it introduces England to The Clean, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings, The Verlaines, Doublehappys, The Rip and Look Blue Go Purple, written in a “you won’t believe what’s going on down here since you can’t find these records, so let me tell you” style. Was this actually the first time this music was introduced to the UK? I can’t tell you – I was an American teenager. 

But the piece is worth the price of admission for this issue and then some, and thankfully, Bucketfull of Brains mags are fairly easy to come by on eBay for not too much money if you’re so inclined. It was quite well-distributed; we even got them at Morninglory Music in my college town of Isla Vista, CA, where I’d turn my nose up at it with all the musical confidence and knowledge I’d thus far accumulated at age 18. 

Paranoia #4

I don’t collect or gather too many hardcore punk fanzines, just the ones I bought “back then” like Ripper and/or stuff too ridiculously fun to ignore, like the We Got Power #4 we talked about here. Often these 1982-83 mags were written by teens, for teens, with all the mangled syntax, bungled graphics and party-or-go-home enthusiasms you’d expect of such efforts. This is most certainly the case with 1982’s Paranoia #4, from one of the USA’s exploding hardcore punk small-cities at the time, Reno NV! That’s right, the Skeeno HC scene totally lives and breathes right here.

Paranoia – you can read other issues here – appears to have been put out by Bessie Oakley and Jone Stebbins from the all-female band The Wrecks. Stebbins later went on to be in the band Imperial Teen and seems to be running a series of hair salons now. The Wrecks – well, you may know and love them from “Punk Is An Attitude” from Not So Quiet on the Western Front

Their magazine is a hoot, kind of like We Got Power was, full of party photos, inside jokes, show reviews, gossip, skateboarding action shots and some serious consternation about the state of the scene. This issue’s cover, I’d imagine, is quite tongue in cheek, but in case you were confused, please note that Bessie or Jone has scrawled “Ha Ha!” underneath the headline. Whew! What’s great is that while I was recently calling San Jose something of a cowtown back at this time, Reno truly was, and so the fact that a whole cadre of breakneck slammin’ bands came up out of this place at the same time was somewhat remarkable. I mean Urban Assault were from South Lake Tahoe, as unlikely a place as anywhere to have anything like a HC scene, and Paranoia really pulls off the all-for-one, one-for-all ethos by spotlighting every single hardcore band from Nevada and even Rebel Truth from nearby Sacramento, CA. This issue’s also got a strong Canadian tinge, with a Subhumans interview and lots of D.O.A. chatter.

San Francisco was and remains the nearest truly big city, and certainly the only one at the time with a network of clubs to play in, Alas, according to Paranoia #4, “The Mabuhay Gardens of San Francisco is no longer booking hardcore bands, just gay new wave ones”. Well, darn it all to hell! Paranoia was, I’d imagine, the house organ of the Skeeno scene, and no, I don’t know why they called it Skeeno and maybe they didn’t either. A goofy time capsule for sure.

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.

Popwatch #6

We were all seriously spoiled for choice when it came to underground fanzines in the early/mid 1990s, and didn’t even know it. Some, like Popwatch and even my own Superdope, weren’t even all that underground, and could be easily found in nationwide Tower Records stores and had print runs in the thousands (mine only actually hit those numbers once). Yet there was only so much that I could or would read back then, to say nothing of my limited-means income that only allowed just so much superfluous fanzine spending.

I actually passed on all of the Popwatch mags I saw then, with merely one exception – then only later wondered why I hadn’t accumulated them in the 90s. It may be that I incorrectly saw it more as a corporate-leaning magazine rather than as a fanzine per se; such were the very important distinctions that dictated the terms of my pocketbook.

What became retrospectively clear was just how strong a line Leslie Gaffney’s Popwatch had built to the incredibly fruitful New Zealand music scene of the time. Popwatch #6 arrived in 1994 when there was just one amazing NZ 45 after another coming out on US labels like Majora, Siltbreeze, New World of Sound, Ajax and Roof Bolt. Alastair Galbraith and Bill Direen each came and played shows in the US – I saw ‘em! – and this issue interviews both gentlemen. Galbraith actually contributed the glossy cover collage art you see here. I particularly like Bill Meyer’s “Who Is Bill Direen?” piece – honestly didn’t read this until after I’d interviewed Direen myself for Dynamite Hemorrhage #2, twenty years later, thinking that I’d finally cornered the US market.  

There’s a whole passel of top-tier contributors to Popwatch #6, including our old pal Brian Turner, then the publisher of Teen Looch fanzine (and don’t worry, Brian, if you’re reading this – we’ll be getting to the ‘Looch one of these days). Turner contributes a piece on Japanese noise; Tim Bugbee interviews Jim Shepard; Gaffney herself interviews Crawling With Tarts. Corporate magazine my ass.

It was a laff to see reviews by Les Scurry, a guy I used to DJ with on KFJC circa 1989-90 when he was the music director over there. The dude was a serious curmudgeon and seen-it-all nihilist before his time, and it comes out in his many dismissive reviews in this issue. He did the same thing when he’d stand in front of the entire KFJC stuff at our mandatory weekly meeting on Wednesdays and go through that week’s new releases that’d been mailed to the station – “this is garbage”, “this one’s a big pile of dumper”, “you can forget playing this on the air” and so on. 

The reviews section is really the only blot on the Popwatch record, as aside from Scurry, it’s relentlessly positive to a fault, and it attempts to review absolutely everything, as was the wont of many fanzines that styled themselves as comprehensive guides did at the time. I’ve written about these tendencies before; there were and remain irreconcilable pet peeves. 

I also magnanimously recognize that not everyone reads these things the same way that I do; I’m always looking for guidance as to what’s the next set of records to buy, while others might be looking for some larger context on the state of underground music in 1994, be it San Diego pop-punk, twee midwestern jangle or UK industrial noise. But it’s tough for me to really contextualize anything when reading a review of some indie-pop doofus that concludes, “This is what music should be”. Oh yeah? 

Or these choice sentences: from an Alastair Galbraith review: “Dedicated to Pip Proud, an English singer that no one’s ever heard of…” (three issues later this Australian singer would be featured in Popwatch); and from a Sleater-Kinney review: “Three hardcore girls from NYC”. Anyway, there’s stuff reviewed in here that is obviously pre-internet, and that has stayed that way for nearly 30 years, completely stuck in the analog world forever. I still want to hear that Spuyten Duyvil single Scurry praises in a very rare moment of favorableness.

The great thing about Popwatch is they were all pretty much like this: packed to the gills, full of New Zealand worship (they also documented Barbara Manning extensively, another huge favorite of mine during this era) and were bursting with highly educated, navel-gazing, record-collecting contributors. I’m stunned as to how nearly impossible it is to find anything about it online; it has stayed just as remotely analog as many of the long-tail bands it covered.

Unsound #1

There now exists an online store built to slake the vintage music fanzine accumulation cravings of any & all freaks who might be reading this – ZNZ. I stumbled upon their inventory just over a month ago and struck up a correspondence with the good folks over there, and as it happened, “they’ve” (actually “he’s”) been kind enough to execute a trade of sorts with me, which netted me today’s topic, Unsound #1 from 1983. I’ve already become a repeat paid customer at ZNZ and recommend that you start getting involved if you’re so inclined. 

I’ve never owned a copy of Unsound before, despite its San Francisco roots (where I’m from) and the fact that it’s mentioned in the sort of whispered tones and reverent language reserved for the quote-unquote greats. Maybe it’s because Unsound very pointedly turned its back on punk as it was morphing into hardcore, and started documenting the proto-industrial, noise and experimental west Coast sub-underground pretty much before most anyone else did. 

The fanzine was put out by William Davenport, who’s got an exceptionally informative Wikipedia entry if you wanna check it out. He gladly takes ads from punk and hardcore bands – it was 1983! – but he covers acts like Culturcide, Kommunity FK and minimalist radio weirdo Peter Meyer and his Night Exercise program. Davenport interviews Nick Cave of the Birthday Party and asks him if he listens to “radical” bands like P.I.L., which Cave kind of scoffs at and throws back in his face (!). There’s also a terrific overview of the 1983 Los Angeles Experimental/Electronic underground by Brad Laner, starting with the L.A.F.M.S. and a post-Nervous Gender band called Gobscheit. He concludes a deep list of interesting experimenters with, “Well, that’s about it for now. It’s a short list because there just plain isn’t that many people here that are interested in experimenting when they could be making money producing boring rehashes of the Velvet Underground.”. Touché, Brad Laner. The Dream Syndicate will be giving you a rotary-dial phone call shortly.  

I also learned about Brad Laner’s Los Angeles band Debt of Nature – via an article written by one Brad Laner! – and that their bass player was none other than John Trubee, whom we were last discussing here. Maybe the pick of the issue, though, was this story about Whitehouse and their aborted San Francisco show at the On Broadway, which is so good I’ve scanned it for you here.

Looks like Davenport reprinted a bunch of Unsounds and is now selling them on behemoth corporate deathkulture website!

New Wave Rock #3

The eternal question – “is it punk or is it new wave?” – has never seemed as urgent nor as befuddling as it does on the pages of New Wave Rock #3 from February 1979. Those were different times, were they not? I’m just old enough to remember how confused mainstream journalists and record companies were in trying to get ahead of it all. The latter did everything they could for a very short time to market anything that wasn’t nailed down as “the new wave” or as “modern music”. If you didn’t “catch the new wave”, right now, you were at serious risk of becoming dangerously out of date. You probably ought to buy this AC/DC or this Rachel Sweet album just to make sure that didn’t happen.

I remember Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” was commonly thought to be new wave, at least at my elementary school – but man, Tom Petty is a real stretch. Even the guy assigned to do this piece in New Wave Rock #3, Michael P. Liben, is a bit taken aback: “When I was asked to interview Tom Petty, I had one nagging thought: Is he new wave? Granted, the press has labeled him new wave (spelled p-u-n-k), but superficially I had my doubts.”

It follows that this magazine is very hung up on such questions – punk vs. new wave, or neither at all – and I swear it comes up in every single piece in one form or another, whether it’s an interview with Mink Deville or Howie Klein’s San Francisco scene report. Such was the tenor of the times in early 1979, at least in the offices of Whizbang Productions, the outfit that put this glossy magazine out (later in the magazine there are ads for some of their other fine creations – a King Elvis giant pictorial tribute to “The King”, and a KISS Meets The Phantom: Superscoops From The 1st KISS Movie! magazine.

I believe only three of these came out in total. #1 had Kiss on the cover; #2 had Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. I come here not to bury but rather to praise New Wave Rock #3 – it’s a fantastic artifact, even for real-deal punkers who were reading Slash and Damage at the time. Leaving aside the “Richard Meltzer’s poetry” two-page spread, there’s also a Lester Bangs piece about when punk really started; how he was on the front lines of it all from day one with The Stooges, Velvet Underground and MC5 (fair enough); and how this vaunted second wave of punk has a big whiff of deja vu for him. Again, fair enough. The 29-year-old Bangs also rips into the “young” editors of Punk magazine, Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom and whatnot, for their ultra-orthodox stance on what he should be allowed to listen to, i.e. nothing outside of their narrowed box of 1976-78 punk. This is Lester Bangs we’re talking about, kids!

Photos in this one are amazing, and many of them I’ve never seen elsewhere. Beautiful ones of Mark Perry, Peter Laughner, Only Ones, The Screamers, The Zippers and NY Scene report “Bowery Babylon” columnist Rusty Hamilton (holy smokes!) – as well as hideous ones of The Dead Boys and The Runaways, including a soft-focus centerfold of the latter, mere moments before they were about to break up. There are four big scene reports: SF, LA, NY and London – which I reckon makes some sort of sense. Paul Grant, a guy I used to see at every Lazy Cowgirls show in Los Angeles circa 1987-89 and who’d often be the one to do a big windup & intro of the band before they started playing, wrote the LA one. 

Howie Klein’s SF one has a few choice bits of gossip, erroneous and otherwise. First, there’s the lament about rock station KSAN basically banning new wave from the airwaves. I distinctly remember the howls of anguish a year later when this once-freeform station changed formats completely to country music in 1980 to try and ride the “Urban Cowboy” phenomenon. Klein also tells us that Jefferson Starship’s Paul Kantner went to see The Avengers to see if Penelope Houston might be a good candidate to replace Grace Slick in the band (oh come on). There’s a bit about the “Nix on Six – Save The Homos” punk benefit at the Mabuhay Gardens attended by Harvey Milk a mere two months before he was killed (his November 1978 assassination clearly happened before New Wave Rock #3 went to press, as he’s referred to in the present tense).

I could absolutely go on, as I tend to do. It’s a terrific time capsule that hovers somewhere between corporate rock mag and gritty fanzine. I googled New York’s Whizbang Productions and really came up with nothing at all – perhaps a reader can tell us what their deal was, beyond what I’ve discerned myself in this post? Our comments are always open for your input.

Forget It! #4

I spent age 10 to age nearly-18 as a resident of San Jose, California during the years 1978-1985, before leaving with extreme prejudice for college and never coming back (except to visit my beloved folks, of course). While it would be extreme hyperbole to call this city of 500,000 people when we moved there a “cowtown”, culturally the place was truly a backwater until the 1990s or so, forever in San Francisco’s and even Oakland’s shadow, even to this day – despite having the 10th largest population in the United States, well ahead of Austin, Seattle and Washington DC. When I was growing up there, it was a metal town, a burnout town, a stoner town. You can read my reminiscences here if you’d like

When punk rock hit, there were thankfully folks like Tim Tanooka and Verna Wilson in town to document its impact both across the suburban diaspora of the South Bay in South Bay Ripper – later Ripper – the first true fanzine I ever bought. But let’s not also pass by the chance to honor Howard Etc.and Billy Fallout from Forget It! – the other first-class San Jose punk fanzine, and one that existed in the pre-hardcore era. Forget It! #4 came out in November 1980 and straddles one world in which The Plugz, the Go-Gos and Mo-dettes are bands on the up-and-up and playing shows in San Jose and on the peninsula, and another in which Black Flag is opening for Stiff Little Fingers in San Francisco, and blowing everyone out of the water, changing lives, melting faces etc.

This is one of my favorite eras to read about in music, especially in US and UK fanzines that were not from the big cities. “Punk” and “new wave” have not divided and conquered yet in these places, and battle lines between them haven’t really been drawn in San Jose, a place where one Forget It! writer can express swelling admiration for Black Flag, the B-52s and XTC, as well as profess true love for “Margot of The Go-Gos”, with a center-spread of candids of her to boot. A place where contributing writers have names like Barb Ituate and Lisa House. Later – nine years later, to be exact – I’d get a radio show on landmark South Bay college radio station KFJC, and I’d join DJs there with names like Jim Shorts, Hell’n Hairspray and Mark Darms. I decided to go in the other direction, and made sure my crazy DJ name was “Jay”.

Favorite thing in Forget It! #4 is The Plugz interview, which goes on and on and was transcribed exactly as it happened. Some fanzines clearly reckoned that editing was something corporate media did. I sometimes forget that Tito Larriva and The Plugz carried on as long as they did; when this interview was done, their first LP Electrify Me was out, and Tito had come off his stint as a member of The Flesh Eaters the year before. He talks a bit about Chris Desjardins before taking the opportunity to mock his histrionic, yowling vocals on the song “Brain Time”, a Larriva-penned track that the Flesh Eaters also did, albeit never on vinyl. Bad, Tito, bad!

There’s also an advertisement for a long-gone San Jose store called The Dedicated Record Collector, the very store in which I procured my Mo-dettes “White Mice” 45 and The Story So Far LP when I was in high school. Did they once belong to Billy Fallout or Howard Etc. in previous years? We’ll never know!

“Who Cares Anyway? Post-Punk San Francisco and the End of the Analog Age” – by Will York

I recognize that writing about Will York’s engrossing new book on San Francisco’s 1977-94 “post-punk” sub-underground takes us off our chosen journalistic beat a bit. Clearly, this is a book, and my site focuses on fanzines, and yet I just devoured this 560-page tome in what was effectively three glued sittings, and I’d very much like to tell you about it. It’s one of the best rock books I’ve read in years, and I’ve read a few. And to wit: what is a book about music, if not a very large fanzine? I rest my case.

Let’s set the stage a bit for what Who Cares Anyway? is and isn’t. It is decidedly not a book about post-punk writ large, i.e. music with watery basslines, angular rhythms and whatnot. In fact several of its core bands in the early chapters, such as Negative Trend and The Sleepers, were very much concurrent with first-wave punk. It’s also not a place where you’re going to learn a whole lot about Chrome or The Residents, nor even really that much about Tuxedomoon, despite their the latter’s named presence on the cover.

Rather, the book takes a throughline through important and forgotten bands and quasi-”movements” that really haven’t received much play as of yet, with the biggest chunks of the book reserved for the stories of Flipper (the undisputed arrow leading out of first-wave, punk-adjacent tomfoolery and negation, who then greatly influenced the trajectories of so many of the oddballs who made up the late 80s/early 90s San Francisco underground); Ricky Willams and all he wrought upon The Sleepers and Toiling Midgets; the ramshackle DIY roots and eventual worldwide stardom of Faith No More (about which more later); the Caroliner saga; and everything & anything related to Gregg Turkington, who was clearly author Will York’s entree into the weird San Francisco alternative universe of bands that either didn’t care about their audiences and/or that sought to provoke them in the most oblique manner possible.

There are so, so many places the book could have gone wrong and didn’t. It resisted every temptation to bemoan the post-whatever-this-scene-was dot-com era, and push a de rigeur whiny “it was so much better then” narrative. It strayed far away from the political groupthink that strangled so much of the SF/Berkeley underground for decades, and indeed, it wasted no opportunities that arose to find ways to gently mock Tim Yohannan and/or Jello Biafra. It did not place an undue emphasis on the supposed “bleakness” of 1980s San Francisco (except for the all-too-real hardcore drug scene), and in fact solicited commentary from musicians who made downer or bleak music about how they’d moved to San Francisco because it’s such a beautiful city. Nor did York ignore the post-Flipper, pre-1990s music scene there, a time generally thought to be a creative low point, a point which I myself have argued and which I lived through, and which I’m now not 100% convinced was actually the case.

Oh, and Who Cares Anyway? is an oral history, for the most part – which, to me, is the absolute best way to capture a scene or an era that one was not a part of, or really even one you were immersed in. York is a journalist whose SF heyday was spent writing for The Bay Guardian in the early 2000s; I remember his writing well from those days, as well as that of Mike McGuirk and Kimberly Chun. 

Lots to talk about here! Let me first get my own biases and connections out of the way; as I’ve blathered on about here and elsewhere, I have lived in San Francisco since 1989, and was going to club shows here starting in 1984 – so yes, I suppose I’m an interested party, and I was reveling in many of these local bands on the radio before that (l can absolutely remember my utter delight and amusement the first time I heard both “Ha Ha Ha” and “Brainwash” from Flipper on KFJC, but I wouldn’t see them live until 1990). Unbeknownst to me until I read the book, York quoted from my 1990s fanzine Superdope twice; from my Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine once and even once from my long-dormant Detailed Twang blog. I’m happy that I had something to indirectly contribute to this thing in some way, as, truth be told, it’s a book I’d love to have written but would never have had the chops nor the patience to pull off.

York, like a handful of prominent rock writers, spends a lot of time on Ricky Williams, the erstwhile drug addict, drummer on Crime’s first 45, Sleepers singer and later Toiling Midgets singer (he even spent a very brief period fronting Flipper, and is the one who named the band). For years I’ve tried to understand the appeal of The Sleepers to so many whose taste I trust: I also find the Toiling Midgets’ 1982 Sea of Unrest mostly unlistenable, and it really all boils down to Williams. I can’t stand his vocals, and that’s that. While reading this book, I was so taken with these stories and the scene-setting that I did something I’ve probably done a dozen times already over the years; I listened to the complete Sleepers discography online to see if something would finally click, and it sort of did, just not when he was singing. Michael Belfer’s “raw prog” guitar playing is fantastic, however.

Taking this one step further, I learned a ton about the Toiling Midgets that I didn’t know from this book – most importantly, that their second album from 1985, Dead Beats, is phenomenal. I’d ignored it completely the past near-forty years, and checked it out last week, inspired by reading this book. It’s almost entirely instrumental, which is how the band started their life before Williams entered the picture – a dense, hard, totally enveloping wash of sound, only sullied by his vocals on two tracks. I saw them live, playing a short instrumental set in 1991, right when they first came back and just before their Matador Records album Son. All I really knew about them at the time was that they’d been “serious drug people”, and that I didn’t like Sea of Unrest, but even that short set let me know that there was something special there. I honestly just didn’t follow up on it until now. 

Who Cares Anyway? covers a ton of ground, deeply and authoritatively without overstaying on any one band or moment: Flipper, of course; but also Noh Mercy, Glorious Din, the Pop-O-Pies, Club Foot, Arkansas Man, Inflatable Boy Clams, Subterranean Records, Minimal Man, Factrix, Wiring Dept. magazine and much more. I would have wished for more stories of the Sound of Music club, but at least there’s this article here; I was too young for that place but I used to hear bands announced as playing there during KFJC’s nightly music listings. I’d also think that Frightwig would’ve been a good fit for this book, and am not entirely sure how they missed the cut.

Of course, my initial reaction to seeing Faith No More as part of this project was to blanch at the thought, but I also knew about their early sub-underground roots as a stranger sort of rock band (when they were Faith No Man and then Faith. No More). When York sort of puts their whole story in context, their ultimate global success offers a nice juxtaposition with the rest of the scene that barely left town. I recall Brandan Kearney (World of Pooh, Caroliner, Nuf Sed Records) telling me that those guys were longtime friends of his; clearly members of the band collaborated with Gregg Turkington in projects like Faxed Head; and even though I’ve deliberately never heard music by the related band “Mr. Bungle”, York makes the case for their self-sabotaging uniqueness, at any rate. If I’d been writing this book I think I can now see why Faith No More might merit inclusion as an anchor and/or a foil. 

As for all the bands I did get to see and experience in real time, well, I can’t believe someone wrote a book that actually calls out Beetleleg, Junglee, Archipelago Brewing Co, the Easy Goings, Job’s Daughters and even has multiple chapters on the Zip Code Rapists. There’s a picture from a World of Pooh show I attended and a description of the “Brandan bashes Barbara over the head with a fake beer bottle” show that I also attended. The Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 get much deserved play, and little did I know: they mostly got their start playing at the Maximum RocknRoll-affiliated Gilman Street Project in Berkeley. I’d completely forgotten that that club, in perhaps the lamest and most Soviet move ever, initially tried to prevent bands from flyering for their gigs there, in favor of a “We’re a community, just show up and pay to get in every night, and who knows what bands you might see?” approach. It didn’t last long. 

When it comes to the Amarillo Records bands and Turkington- and Kearney-related projects of the 1990s: I enjoy reading about them, I enjoy thinking about them, I truly enjoy reading others’ reactions to them, and mostly don’t enjoy listening to them all that much. Caroliner were a perfect case in point, though my antipathy to them runs deeper. “Grux”, the prime mover in this longtime conceptual project, was once introduced to a friend of mine, a “normie” and one of the nicest people I know. My friend proceeded to stick out his hand for a handshake, which was rejected with a sneer by “Grux”. Instant hate from me when I heard that story a day later. This book reveals that he was just as much of an asshole with everyone, even berating Turkington for being such a sell-out that he owned a car, while still asking Turkington to drive him places. I did not know the story of why Brandan Kearney ditched Caroliner and Grux, but good for him, and you’ll have to read Who Cares Anyway? to find out.

So excited to also read about the Zip Code Rapists’ phony “breakup” and the follow-up bands the Zip Code Revue and the Three Doctors Band. What an incredible piece of dada artistry that all was, and a terrific piece of minutia to cover in a book. York makes mention of a legendary piece in Portland’s Snipe Hunt newspaper in which the two members of the ‘Rapists are each allowed space to vent about their “acrimonious breakup”, a total knee-slapper (for real, I’m certain I slapped my knee while reading it) that I wished I’d saved. Apparently it was included in the Three Doctors Band’s Back To Basics – “Live” LP, a record that I’d heard was so godawful I never even thought to own one. 

I’ve certainly boared like an eabla enough over this book for you turkreys. Get your copy here if any of this sounds worth pursuing!

Damp #3

Part of the reason I started this endeavor up was to set a digital trail for quality, formative magazines like Damp that really possess no internet presence outside of what I myself have put up there, and especially what Tony P wrote during the years he was publishing Fuckin’ Record Reviews. Where I come from this shit matters, and besides, it gives me an opportunity to go back and re-educate myself about music I might not have been ready for when I first encountered it in the pages of, say, Kevin Kraynick’s Damp in the late 80s.

I know we’re not talking about it here, but his Beefheart issue, #5, came out when I, like so many, had heard Trout Mask Replica and said, nope, that’s definitely not for me. Maybe two years later after his mag came out, ‘92 or so, my “stance” had totally changed and I was singing the praises of the Captain wherever I could, and I got to revisit Damp #5 and really whet my palate that much more. I suppose I could do the same with this issue and The Fugs, but I already very much enjoy Tuli Kupferberg and The Fugs, perhaps more in spirit than in action. 

But what I’m getting at is that Kraynick, in 1988, was mixing his general “indie underground” (i.e. this issue’s Scrawl and Nice Strong Arm interviews) with oblique musical worlds that your average college radio 19-year-old (like me) hadn’t quite cottoned to, and placed it all on a beautiful continuum that’s rather obvious in hindsight. Kind of like Patrick Amory’s Too Fun Too Huge! that we talked about here. 

Kraynick wrote well, dug deep and used one of the worst fonts imaginable. I don’t know what you’d call it – “Dos command line”? That’s what it looked like, and it’s what word processors were built with at the time – so all is forgiven. This issue also has a great if rather sad interview with John Trubee, whom some of you may know from his album The Communists Are Coming To Kill Us!; his novelty hit “A Blind Man’s Penis”; his prank phone calls or for one of the all-time great song titles, “Satan Pukes on the High School Cheerleaders”. Trubee, in Damp #3, comes off as a misanthrope, sure, but a very self-hating misanthrope, whose bitterness and disgust at the world is only outweighed by that directed at himself. I’m glad to know, in 2023, that he’s still with us, because he’s given me a few good laffs and chortles over the years.

Meanwhile, there are a few more yuks to be had in Damp #3. Contributor Steve Erickson, whom we last discussed in our review of his Cut #11, gets his first exposure to Alex Chilton via his High Priest album and says, “I suppose someday I’ll pick up a Big Star album…why couldn’t he have covered The Fall’s “Hip Priest” or The Scientists’ “Bad Priest” instead of Carole King and “Volare”?” Oh for sure, I know how BUMMED people were around this time when they’d go see Chilton, and he’d do an earnest, not-kidding-at-all, full-blown version of “Volare”, usually with a shirt open to his navel. So good. For what it’s worth, I didn’t hear Big Star myself until 1993, and, suitably impressed, I told my friend JB about my new discovery and his riposte was, “Dude, that’s so high school”. Ouch.

Off topic again. Kraynick gets in a few zingers himself at the expense of Three Day Stubble, The Descendents, Tim Adams of The Pope fanzine (and later Ajax Mailorder) and not an insignificant amount of others. His contributors – New England/NYC fellow travelers – actually get more play than he does, especially with the features, so Damp #3 is more of a group effort than I’d remembered. The magazine would get even better from here; I have a bunch of them; and we shall be discussing them in this forum at some later date to be determined at whim.

Forced Exposure #9

(In my own fanzine Dynamite Hemorrhage #7, I did an issue-by-issue overview of Forced Exposure. Rather than write new, fresh material about this formative magazine here, this bit is taken from that. You can download a PDF of the issue where I wrote all the FE stuff here). 

The Winter 1986 issue of Forced Exposure had a sort of farewell/swan song to local Boston heroes Mission of Burma, who were retiring (we all know how that went), and it sets the tone for a mostly fantastic issue that continued to pull the magazine (and with it the entire scene) out of its hardcore roots.

What I liked best about this one besides the Burma article were the literal hundreds of reviews; every sub-underground LP and 45 coughed up around the world that quarter. These guys didn’t miss a thing, seriously. Private pressings, import 45s, EPs from deepest Buffalo and Tucson and Vancouver – they’re all in here. I also liked the fact that none of them were alphabetized and were sorted at random, and it’s almost certainly why I’ve been doing the same in the last several issues of this magazine – sort of a “you’ll just have to keep turning pages to find the one you’re looking for” attitude that fit in well with their general vibe.

Jimmy Johnson’s writing took a big leap forward in this issue, and while I always cottoned a bit more to Byron Coley’s taste, Jimmy really started to have a way with words, especially when those words were put in service of haranguing some of punk rock’s lesser lights. This was the start of the era when formerly punk and HC bands started to “tighten up”, stretch their songs out, “cross over” into metal and so forth – and Forced Exposure #9 was lying in wait for them. I loved it.

My future pal Kim Cooper – we wouldn’t actually meet for another three years – wrote in to the letters section to vent about how dopey the Lydia Lunch/Nick Cave plays in the previous issue were, and she totally nailed it:

“…It’s 1985, and any fanzine editor who chooses to publish this silly and dated material is making it quite obvious that s/he knows the history of the literary avant as poorly as the writers who are repeating the innovations of dead men. But the real crime in all this is that the young readers of the journals that feature these people are getting a skewed and sub-standard idea of what that sort of writing is capable of.” 

On the flip side, Byron Coley’s response to Dave “MDC” Dictor’s letter in the issue was one of the funniest things I’d read to that point, and was one of many recruitment tools he and the FE editors & writers used to sign me up for their righteously snotty cause.

Issue #9 featured pieces on White Boy; Couch Flambeau; Big Black; Afflicted Man; Roky Erickson and his mom interviewed by the Angry Samoans’ Gregg Turner; The Flaming Lips (a very different band in 1986 – one who were kind enough to try to sneak me and my fake ID into their Goleta, CA show as a “roadie” a year later….it didn’t work), Half Japanese tour diary, some hideous artwork by a guy I’ve never heard of since called “XNO”; Copernicus; more terrible Lunch/Cave plays; some Nick Blinko (Rudimentary Peni) artwork that only a child could love, and a combination of high art and low embarrassments. 

If Steve Albini’s horndog article about Patti Pezatti – a local fanzine editor and sister of Naked Raygun singer Jeff (ostensibly Albini’s friend?) – had been internet-available at any point in his production career, which I assume is ongoing, he’d have been blackballed and #Me-Too’ed out of a vocation entirely. It truly feels like a hundred years ago, in as many ways as one can count.

My Teeth Need Attention #1

With the exception of our peek into Silent Command #1 a couple of months ago, the Fanzine Hemorrhage story so far has been something of the proverbial “nostalgia trip”. It certainly doesn’t have to unfold that way, as long as new music ‘zines of a high caliber find their way into my hands, as happened with My Teeth Need Attention #1 just this very week. 

Actually I ordered this straight from the Carbon Records store as soon as I heard about it, as I’ve become quite acquainted in recent years with the wild world of Joe Tunis and his label and podcast. Carbon Records – which has been going since 1994, a fact that blew me away, since, given my pedestrian tastes and johnny-come-lately openness to the world of the often formless structure-shunning noise/”music” he releases, I only first heard a Carbon release in 2018, when the 2xLP guitar compilation Wound came out. Now I could be wrong about this, but I think Joe himself is in at least 20% of the bands on Carbon. From his perch in upstate New York – Rochester, the home of Kodak and Xerox! – he’s now launched a fanzine, a terrific compliment to the grounded yet outer-limits exploration of his podcast and label. 

He goes big on New Haven early, staking his reputation with interviews of two of that city’s heavyweights: Stefan Christensen and David Shapiro, the latter of whom you may know as solo guitarist Alexander. Both of them are among my very favorite musicians going right now; when they’re hitting their peaks, they respectively take “guitar playing” in some creatively bold and very exciting directions. Listen here for maybe my favorite example of Christensen’s layered, folk-rooted noise and here for a great taste of Alexander’s intricate, lo-fidelity fret-climbing. Both fellas play together in the band Headroom, another favorite here at the ‘Hemorrhage. 

So that’s the bulk of My Teeth Need Attention #1; there’s also a Tunis tour diary of a trip to Philadelphia; photos by Brian Blatt; a short piece of fiction by John Schoen and some reviews of more otherworldly psych, noise and freedom-seeking not-even-rock music. Personal, well-written and very “all in the family” – and make no mistake about it, it’s most assuredly for heads only. Hoping it becomes a thing I can count on a couple times a year.

Creep #2

Fantastic 1979 second issue from one of San Francisco’s more revered punk fanzines, Creep, which I’d long known was helmed & stewarded by one “Mickey Creep” (in actuality, Dean Sampson, sometimes known as Mickey Sampson). Sampson and his band of contributors capture the frenzied zeitgeist of 1979 punk and of San Francisco writ large better than nearly any other publication I’ve read, and unlike the jaded first-wave scenesters who were already crying punk-is-dead around this time, Creep #2 is very much about helping to document and further its vitality or rebirth, however it is you want to cut it. 

I really learned some things, too! First, all these years I thought the Maximum RocknRoll Radio show, which I used to listen to religiously on KPFA on Tuesday nights, started in 1980 or even 1981. It was started in 1977, folks – and was originally a combination of the new “punk rock sound” that was sprouting up and 50s rockabilly & oldies (!). There was even a dude named Al “Professor Pop” Ennis on the show who ran the 1950s portion; he was long gone by the time I started listening – a time of Jeff Bale, Ruth Schwartz, Tim Yohannan (of course), Ray Farrell and sometimes Jello Biafra (blah). Ennis can barely be found & connected with this show online at all, but hey, that’s why I accumulate these old fanzines, to get the real fuckin’ story.

I also learned via an advertisement about Portals to Music, a new wave record store at Stonestown Mall, now home of Target, Whole Foods and multiple Asian-themed restaurants and boba places – and a place two miles from my home that I find myself in weekly. Absolutely incongruous and baffling. Another world entirely. One final new thing I learned was that the worst bit of music writing I’d ever read had been hiding all along right here in Creep #2! One Thomas Sinclair, with his Freshman English classes surely barely in hand, writes about MX-80 Sound:

“As perchance this brisk July eve in the Bay Area, I was to experience a delightful musical and aesthetic encounter. As unpretentious and undistinguished as the visual accoutrement of the band may have been, the sound of MX-80 Sound was brilliantly polished and pulsated as rhythmically as could be expected for their indigenous brand of semi-eclecticism would allow…” – and it only gets worse from there. It’s truly mind-bending, and I’m glad to know where to find the worst piece of music writing of all time should I ever need it!

Creep #2 takes us on a tour of the state of it all, circa 1979. Jello Biafra is running for mayor. Punk violence is threatening to close down The Deaf Club, because some drunken knucklehead decided to take a chain to three parked cars outside of the club after a show. The Canadians have just come to town, and locals are hopped-up about D.O.A. and the Pointed Sticks. (D.O.A. were always hugely popular in the SF Bay Area; when I first started hearing punk for the first time, my perspective was that the biggest bands in the entire North American scene were the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and D.O.A. pretty much in that order). And there’s a terrific interview with Craig Lee from LA’s Bags. Lee wasn’t just a shredding punk guitarist; he was always one of the good guys, and a man who shuffled off this mortal coil far too early.

I think my favorite thing in Creep #2, though, is the respectful and just-enough-noose-to-hang-himself interview with Joel Selvin, who was then, and for a long time afterward, the chief rock music writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. I grew up reading Selvin, because I read the newspaper every day, and just like the old man that I am, I still do. It was definitely de rigeur for punks to hate the mainstream rock critic; Selvin got a ton of vitriol over the years; his counterpart Robert Hilburn at the LA Times got just as much if not more. I’ll say right now that I recently read Selvin’s book about early 1960s Los Angeles pop music, Hollywood Eden, and while no masterpiece, it’s quite entertaining and very effective at calling up an ephemeral time and special place in music’s history, with his Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” chapter at the end being especially well-put-together. 

But here, in Creep #2 – wow. This photo they ran is really the epitome of the late 70s, coked-out, record-industry sleazeball; I don’t think Selvin was really that guy, but I can only imagine what the sneering punks reading Creep in ‘79, the ones who had to suffer through his weekly writings about Journey, the Doobie Brothers, Elvin Bishop and Maria Muldaur, had to say about it. Selvin himself gets off some pretty self-damaging zingers; to wit:

“Over the past few years the quality music in the local clubs has plummeted. In 1975, the Longbranch – unbelievable. It was everything a nightclub should be….I haven’t seen a show at the Mabuhay that I thought was good. I’ve checked these places out. They’re just not happening the way a club should be happening.”

“One time the Eagles were really good. It was the time that they opened for the Doobie Brothers that they were spectacular.”

“However important or significant The Clash may be, it’s “Sultans of Swing” that’s gonna be remembered from 1979….I have no doubt the American public wants the Knack and not the Clash. And certainly the sales figures reflect that.”

I guess on that last point he’s not wrong; I mean, I disliked The Clash as much as he did. And I suppose it is “Sultans of Swing” that I hear inside of Safeway or Chipolte, not “Guns on the Roof”. But oh for those days at The Longbranch, watching Sammy Hagar, Earthquake, Eddie Money and Commander Cody! 

One final note, a thing that got a lot of hearts racing here in San Francisco: Penelope Houston of The Avengers works at the San Francisco Public Library, and she helped establish a “punk rock collection” there of zines, flyers, videos and other ephemera that I’ve had the good fortune to go check out, albeit only once, and albeit only in brief because her snotty co-worker was bogarting so much of the material on a day she wasn’t working. Here’s a 90-minute panel discussion the library put on with the folks who put out Search and Destroy, Ripper and Creep – including our boy Mickey! You can learn more about the library here.

Gold Soundz #4

Not a ton I can tell you about this 1999 noise/experimental/outer-limits-of-rock fanzine, except that it hailed from Norway’s “oil city” Stavanger, was put together by one Sindre Bjerga, and was about as no-frills as they came. Zero photographs nor drawings, outside of what was in the ads themselves – just typed interviews and reviews, all clinging to a late 1990s world of micro-labels and the “popularity”, such that it was, of wrecking-ball bands like Dead C, Harry Pussy and Shadow Ring. 

I really do have to applaud whatever anti-thought went into the cover art for this one. Inside, however, Gold Soundz #4 approaches its subjects with much more care and discernment. Bjerga’s big discovery this issue is Godspeed You! Black Emperor; actually it’s not 100% clear he’s just discovered them, but after seeing them in London and hearing their album <<*#/&#>> his fandom has at the very least been cranked up to new levels. This is a band whose music I have never heard. I’m aware I could rectify that within seconds, but as my favorite line in 2014 film When We’re Young stated, in reference to instantly looking something up on the internet, “Let’s just not know”. 

The interviews are with Pan Sonic and a US label/distributor Swill Radio, run by Scott Faust who was and perhaps still is part of Idea Fire Company. These are names that mostly exist on the periphery of things I know about, so it’s cool to see it all so maximally central to another person’s worldview, a Norwegian no less. Bjerga remains an experimental musician and has, at this writing, 174 (!) releases to his name. No seriously, check out his Discogs. Even Electric Frankenstein don’t have that many.

Butt Rag #8

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.

Great God Pan #12

(Originally written for Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine #9, which is still available for purchase here). 

In the 1990s a California-based music fanzine called Great God Pan started an issue-by-issue transition from being ostensibly about independent rock music to being entirely “The Journal of Californiana”. It was a fanzine that looked like and was put together like a fanzine – and which took advertisements from the indie labels of the day – and yet was pretty much wholly about California and Pacific West lore, tall tales, explorations, and California- themed artwork by the time they wrapped it up in 2000. Editors Mark Sundeen and Eric Bluhm were car campers, western history nerds and lovers of the offbeat, deranged and strange. It occurred to me often while reading it that music was truly becoming a bill-paying afterthought for them with each passing issue, and I was very much okay with that at the time.

I caught the magazine about halfway through their transition, in the mid-1990s, and likely bought and devoured them all because I was both a Californian just starting to take edifying personal road trips across every freeway in the state, and because I was an underground rocknroll fiend who’d scarf up every decent fanzine on the rack. Yet it was only in 2020 that I decided to again crack open my stack of Great God Pans to see how they held up a couple of decades later. You may recall that you yourself had many evenings spent at home during the year of our lord 2020.

Many wonders revealed themselves again, and some for the very first time. In two issues of the magazine, Great God Pan #12 and #13, there lived three pieces each by a writer named Michael Fessier Jr. These pieces had originally been published in the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine, West, during 1970 and 1971, as part of a 10-part exploration of the soul of an exceptionally impenetrable city called “L.A.: In Search of the City”. I got busy reading them, somewhat chagrined that unless my memory had totally failed me, I was doing so for the first time. I couldn’t believe how outstanding this guy’s prose was, nor how in-depth his travels to the far corners of this big, wide, unending city had taken him.

As he explained in the introduction to the as-then only partially underway series on February 22nd, 1970, “The author was not too sure of what he would do or who he would talk to, except that he would try very hard to avoid actors, hippies, noisy advocates of the Silent Majority and Timothy Leary. Certainly somebody else was out there.” He then explained to Great God Pan 28 years later that his actual target in doing the series was the Times itself: “the Times and my accumulated sense that outside movies, the Times, novels, and all the rest of it – there was this other L.A., totally unnoticed.”

This has also struck me about Los Angeles time and again. One turn off of a freeway, and you’re drifting through Pico Rivera, or Sylmar, or Altadena, or Montebello, or Lawndale. All of it Los Angeles, just as much as Wilshire Blvd. or Hollywood & Vine or Fairfax & Melrose. I’ve found myself in places like this for one reason or another, their own self- contained worlds off the 710 or 405 or 110, and just been like, “Wow….people live here.”. My pal Jerry used to take me around Los Angeles and Orange counties in the 1990s, and I was the gawking tourist who wanted to know about any & all regional differences between Buena Park and Santa Ana, between El Segundo and Hawthorne, between Orange and Anaheim.

Fessier’s writing about pockets of the city were absolutely revelatory to me, and I read and then re-read all six of the ten pieces that Great God Pan had been able to reprint. He doggedly interviewed hyper-local “characters” in each region he visited like a gumshoe detective, not to unravel a case but instead to make one: that this place, this Cudahy or Rustic Canyon or a skid row downtown street, this place is a place that matters to the people who live and work there.

The San Dimas piece in particular should have won a Pulitzer, such is the pathos and humor of the story. It’s the story of a 28-year-old man named Fred Blitstein who’s carpetbagged into the Inland Empire town to make a name for himself in civic improvement, with an eye toward transforming the decaying Bonita Avenue into an open- air “Early California” living museum. No one can quite figure out what “Early California” actually means, and can only point to older pictures of Bonita Avenue looking just as it does today by way of example. This disappoints Blitstein greatly, who desperately wants to do something exciting and memorable for San Dimas:

Blitstein was out showing me around in his trim, tangerine-colored Opel GT. “Southern California,” he was explaining, “is the land of the two-time loser. A pretty plastic facade. You push through it and there is nothing there.”

He had come to study in Southern California thinking it would be the nearest thing to his beloved Florida. The place of his imagination was the movie-poster one, all beach and sun and pretty girls. He was badly disappointed, and now believes that Southern California out-tinsels Florida five to one. He went to a conference of urban affairs people at the Hilton where the question of “What is Southern California?” was asked. Nobody had any answers. “Southern California is an abstraction,” said Blitstein. “You can’t tell what it is, even where it is.”

“Southern California is God’s test of man,” he said, whipping his car around corners so quickly I was feeling a little carsick.

Depending on how you look upon this time in Southern California, it’s either a far more innocent era than our own, or a part of post-Manson reckoning that was already ripping the city apart. The Manhattan Beach piece, about swingin’ mustachioed bachelors trying to party and get down with stewardesses, seems to split the difference. To me, 1970 seems, you know, like a long time ago, half a century even – and yet elements of Fessier Jr.’s Los Angeles are still instantly recognizable to this day.

The ten pieces in West were – by title and titular region:
●  “Growing Up in Cudahy” (Cudahy)
●  “In With The In  Crowd” (Manhattan Beach)
●  “Coming To The Canyon” (Rustic Canyon)
●  “The Pied Piper of San Dimas” (San Dimas)
●  “Portraits and People” (The Huntington Library in Pasadena)
●  “The Living End” (Downtown LA)
●  “The Gates of Rolling Hills” (Rolling Hills)
●  Title unknown – San Fernando Valley 1
●  Title unknown – San Fernando Valley 2
●  Title unknown – San Fernando Valley 3

“Title unknown” because I haven’t read them, nor found even references to them online, and not for lack of trying. Suitably impressed by what I did read (to say the least), I tracked down Great God Pan co- editor Mark Sundeen, whom I also learned subsequently went on to quite a writing and book-publishing career of his own. I let him know that my research uncovered that Fessier had passed away in Santa Barbara in 2014, at the age of 75, and I even had floated the idea of actually publishing these pieces in a book of my own, money permitting. Here’s what he told me:

Yeah, Fessier, wow. What a guy. I don’t think I knew he died. He was such a great writer, one of those Californians like John Fante or Leonard Gardner who had so much talent, such a unique West Coast way of seeing the world, but just didn’t figure out how to break through to a wide audience. I blame the fact that the publishing world sits on the East Coast but there were surely other factors. The way I remember meeting him is that he wrote a glowing review of Great God Pan in the LA Weekly, and we got in touch with him and he mentioned this piece he’d written decades earlier about Manhattan Beach, where we lived, and so of course we wanted to read it, and were blown away by it, and asked it we could reprint the series. I think we meant to keep publishing more, but we soon “retired.”

I personally would pitch in a few bucks to publish a book of his essays about LA from the early 70s. I think he really captured it better than say, Didion, because he really dove into the uncool places far from Hollywood. When I met him I was in grad school at USC and just discovering the New Journalists of the 70s like Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe and Didion and I thought/think he was as good as them.

I think he sent us old xeroxes of either his typed drafts or the West pages, and I typed them into the computer manually!

Michael Fessier, Jr.

What’s exceptionally frustrating in this always-connected, everything documented era we live in is just how tough it can be to dig up printed materials from the past – and even to find people, say, Fessier Jr.’s two sons – who haven’t really left much of an internet presence, except for the fact that they appear to be alive and about my age. I didn’t know what I was going to ask them when I did find them, to be fair, but it was probably permission to compile all ten of these pieces into a book on my not-quite- launched vanity private press. Maybe I’d call it “L.A.: In Search of the City”! I suppose that costs money, and anyway, I can’t track these guys down, and that’s probably just as well. It’s the Los Angeles Times that likely owns the rights to the ten pieces, and I’m not ready to slug it out with Otis Chandler just yet.

Until that time comes, I merely wanted to illuminate the fact that this amazing trove of urban spelunking and writing exists, as Great God Pan also did, even if I’m not actually reprinting it so you can compare notes with me and all your Dynamite Hemorrhage– reading chums. I’d do what I can to grab copies of Great God Pan #12 and #13 if you’re at all interested in checking this stuff out, and hey, if you figure out how to work the microfiche machine, maybe we can take this Fessier Jr. project a step further together. 

(Postscript: not only did I make contact in 2022 with one of Fessier Jr.’s sons, who basically told me godspeed and thank you, more or less, I was bestowed with a treasure trove of Fessier Jr. scans from SL, who did know how to work the machines at his local library. I got to read the three San Fernando Valley pieces, but also a ton more of Fessier Jr.’s work in New West, the LA Weekly and other journalistic venues. Fantastic stuff, and makes me even hungrier to finance and publish that book.)

Human Garbage Disposal #4

A terrifically robust fanzine subculture sprouted up around the great third wave of garage punk wave in the 1990s; you know, the one defined by bands like the Cheater Slicks, Supercharger and The Gories and by labels like In The Red, Crypt and Goner. Or, perhaps I should qualify and say that crew helped defined the first half of the nineties; there was also this additional berzerk blitzkrieg of loud-fast-raw garage punk in the decade’s second half that one might instead associate with an avalanche of Japanese bands; Rip Off Records, and some of the better material on labels like Estrus and Sympathy. 

The Europeans – they got in good during this latter stage, and were regularly importing American and Japanese bands over to tour, and were cranking out some of their own fine imitations & even a few moderately original variations. Everyone knows that if you’re a podunk North American band drawing 15 people a night in your own backyard, but you have Euro distribution and a small set of fans across the pond, you’ll be treated like pampered dukes & duchesses in places like Utrecht, Ghent, Madrid and Munich. 

It was also the Europeans who were producing the best garage punk fanzines of this era (aside from Eric Friedl’s Wipeout!, which we’ll come onto one of these days soon; Todd Killings’ Horizontal Action also made the grade) – well, at least I think so. Two Europeans, anyway. We already discussed Tom Arnaert’s Bazooka on this site. The other total ringer was Swede Henrik Olausson’s Human Garbage Disposal. I only have two issues, #4 and #5, and they’re small-batch, small-page-count, small-print expositions on the crude, feral and exciting world of garage-based punk sounds, 1960s-present. Not small-brained!

Olausson, like Arnaert, had a command of the English language that far outweighed that of most of my own countrymen, and unlike Arnaert, he was pretty fucking snotty and dismissive. Red lines were set and not crossed; the whole “turbo-charged” big rock sound of slobs like The Hellacopters and Turbonegro was verboten in this mag, except to mock mercilessly. No, Olausson had phenomenal taste, and even re-reading 1997’s Human Garbage Disposal #4 again last night, I was discovering stuff I missed back then, like a Spanish band with the dumb name Pretty Fuck Luck whom I then “googled” and found some ripping, underwater lo-fi garbage clang from. See, in ‘97 or ‘98 when I first had this magazine, you couldn’t just leap from print to digital to hear what you were reading about; even Napster and all that started later, and it took me a good four years to even try those services because I was petrified that I’d be served with a $20,000 cease-and-desist for downloading a Wire bootleg or something.

Human Garbage Disposal #4 is 12 pages of record, live and fanzine reviews, divided into “modern music” (with a great 1979 new wave font), 60s punk reissues and 70s punk/KBD stuff. There’s an explainer on Kinky Friedman (of Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jewboys), following up on something from the previous issue that I don’t own. So no – Olausson wasn’t necessarily bound by a commitment to rock at all costs. He praises the debut Demolition Doll Rods LP after saying “Their previous singles left a little more to desire”, one of which I actually helped put out (!). He and I actually part company there; I couldn’t find much to like about that band after their first single, and it all seems pretty stupid now, wouldn’t you agree? He does a great job eviscerating aspects of the Amphetamine Reptile label while laying it on thick for killer records by The Bassholes, Supercharger, the Murder Punk comps, the Urinals and then some. 

I don’t suppose that any of you out there know how I might get in touch with Henrik Olausson of Landskrona, Sweden, would you?

No Mag #10

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. 

BravEar #12

At more or less the same time that Wiring Dept. was publishing the 1985 issue we recently combed through, another San Francisco Bay Area fanzine, BravEar #12, was making a similar pass at underground eclecticism, though far more “indie/college” than “sub-underground/fringe”. You could read the same magazines, covering the same general scene within the same four-month period, and come away from BravEar feeling that maybe the overall jig was up, and from Wiring Dept. that perhaps it was just getting started. 

This early 1986 issue probably gave me the impression I’ve long carried with me that the greater San Francisco music scene of this time was pretty beat. The Cat Heads. Yo. Angst. Faith No More. Vomit Launch. Short Dogs Grow. The final fumes of the Dead Kennedys. – and so on. All contradicted by last week’s romp through Wiring Dept. #3.

BravEar ensured that their remit traveled further than the local, Northern California scene, however, which is why this issue has an interview with a touring Cocteau Twins, after their one & only San Francisco show in 1985 – a show I happened to attend as a high schooler driving up from San Jose (!) – as well as talks with The Meat Puppets and the UK’s Poison Girls. Such was the de rigeur dreariness of an 80s San Francisco fanzine, however, that the whole magazine basically kicks off with a brain-erasing discussion centered around preventing nuclear war. Please. There’s also a column that briefly and weakly attempts to take down the then-Boston fanzine Forced Exposure, which at this point was my absolute favorite fanzine on the planet, so between the “peace creeps” peddling their peace BS and the editors choosing to hang their hats on an anti-FE platform, well – I knew with certitude in 1986 which such of the divide I’d be standing on.

But listen, that hasn’t kept me from hanging on to this issue since the day I bought it, probably at Rough Trade on 6th Street, back in 1986. It’s all done at a pretty high level of quality, such as it is, and the recently-passed D. Boon was placed on the cover, a “quality move” as they say. Here’s the real revelation, after coming back to this issue for a re-read just now after many, many years spent away from it: this issue is, in many ways, a Seymour Glass project. Yes! Seymour Glass, Charles Nielson, Earl Kuck, the future editor of Bananafish, the proprietor of Stomach Ache and Butte County Free Music Society labels, performer in Idiot (The) and The Glands of External Secretion. That guy. 

No, this isn’t his magazine, but he contributes the most copy in BravEar #12 by a country mile, and many of the folks surrounding him in this Berkeley publication are other Chico, CA stalwarts, including half of the aforementioned Vomit Launch and managing editor Rory Lions. Greg Freeman, later of Pell Mell, SF Seals, Virginia Dare and production credit on a ton of terrific records, is also a heavy hitter in this issue. Because Glass’s tastes and persona were so preposterously impenetrable later on, when he was writing Bananafish and championing the most horrific noise or whacked-out experimentalisms, I settled on the idea that this guy arrived to his outre tastes fully-formed – as if that were even possible, right? Nah, here he’s reviewing the Dead Kennedys and Beefeater and pop bands like 54-40 and he likes it all. An indie rocker, as go we all. I saw the guy at a “Gas Huffer” show once in the mid-90s and was like, “Did he show up on the wrong night?”. (Frankly, I’m not sure what I was doing there myself). 

BravEar soldiered through three more issues after this and while I bought them all when I saw them, and probably even learned a thing or two, the overriding feeling even then after reading one was annoyance. You can look at all the covers here, and that’s probably good enough.

Sounds (November 7th, 1981)

Last time we talked about Sounds in this forum, we picked through an issue from exactly one year before this one, and admitted that no, this long-running weekly UK music tabloid was not a fanzine, but that it often read like one nonetheless. Sounds’ breadth was impressive and its tart & acidic writing quite entertaining as well, even if they sometimes read like a strange jumble of oi/UK82 punk, horrific mainstream acts, synth-pop, “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal”, gothy post-punk and homegrown reggae. 

A few brief things to say about this November 7th, 1981 issue. First of all, Clare Grogan was cute as a button. I don’t think you could pay me to listen to Altered Images again, but when I was 14 – i.e. when the cloying “Happy Birthday” was the #2 song in England, i.e. when this issue of Sounds came out and landed her band on the cover – well, I had a lot more patience for her baby voice and their bouncy, synthesized sounds.I stumbled upon an early 2000s TV documentary on Altered Images on YouTube and she was still bursting with charm and charisma, someone just made for pop music. John Peel sure thought so, and was the band’s #1 patron, the guy who basically took them from nowheresville, Scotland to where they’re residing at the time of this issue. Clare has much to say in the band’s interview about how she “just loves that man!”. 

Second, there is not a single journalistic byline anywhere in this issue. None. There’s no clue whatsoever which pundit wrote a 45 review, who did an interview, who savaged a Prince or Olivia Newton-John album, nothing. Why? All material was just by “Sounds”? It wasn’t always this way, for sure – I mean, I knew who Gary Bushell was in Sounds because he was the wound-up “oi” guy. British music journalists at this time often loved to put themselves at the center of any story. Perhaps it was because of this note found on Page 42, “Sounds apologies (sic) for the reduced size of this current edition and the omission of some regular features. These problems are due to industrial action by journalists.” Ah, the Thatcher era! I’ll bet that’s it. 

Well, really I bought this issue online a few years ago not because of Clare nor Depeche Mode nor Rod Stewart, but because there’s a full feature story on Chris D. and The Flesh Eaters – right before A Minute To Pray, a Second To Die has even come out. The Flesh Eaters really didn’t seem to translate overseas during their time, and until the reissues came out in the 21st century I had yet to met a European who really knew the band’s work – so really incongruous to see them here. The Flesh Eaters are actually called a “local celebrity supergroup barely known outside of LA county”. My guess: Slash Records wanted to get X and The Blasters heard in the UK. Part of some “deal”, perhaps brokered by Chris himself, was to get Sounds to feature The Flesh Eaters in a story. Who knows? The album still didn’t come out in England, but Chris tells the full saga of his band up through 1981, including the Tooth and Nail compilation, Upsetter Records, playing with Joe from The Eyes in his band and then some. If you can read it, I’ve got photos of it below here.

Z Gun #1

Z Gun #1 came out on glorious newsprint in 2007 as a stated counterpoint to “the Internet maw” that was, by the founders’ lights, aggressively swallowing up the analog world, and at the same time leading to the disappearance of great internet-based music writing due to belly-up ISPs, vanishing comment boxes and spam-choked Blogger accounts. The guys that put it together, Scott Soriano and Ryan Wells, had cut their musical teeth in a pre-internet era of fanzines and vinyl, so wanted to ensure that there was something of theirs that lived on after any sort of digital apocalypse. I know the feeling. 

I was pretty excited when Z Gun #1 came along that year, and by the evidence presented here, I was right to be. Fanzines – good ones – were pretty much extinct. I was doing my own blog called Agony Shorthand just before this, and reading back through this issue today, I even saw it referenced in a review. I came to personally know Wells and Soriano before this time. Ryan Wells in the 90s, mostly because he was a gadfly and record-collector-about-town here in San Francisco, and we’d clink glasses and slap backs, and talk about limited pressings and rad bands at shows. 

My introduction to Soriano, who lived in Sacramento, was a little more comic; I’d seen his band Los Huevos play at some dive bar in the Mission in 1997, and in reviewing the band’s record (on Wells’ “Cheap Date” label, as it turned out) in my fanzine Superdope #8, I made light of “the young vocalist’s affected Neanderthal act (diving into the crowd’s knees, knocking pint glasses from hands, etc.”). Well turned out “young” Soriano was easily as old as I am, perhaps older (just better-looking), and he wrote me a quite magnanimous and only moderately defensive email that pleaded his case. He and I then struck up a correspondence, and I’ll always be thankful to and ironically pissed at the guy for teaching me how to use eBay so I could sell off my vinyl collection.

He’d very soon go on to start S-S Records, one of the top-tier sub-underground weirdo/punk labels of the early 21st century. So he and Wells are cranking along, supporting the scene, helping unite the skins & the punks, running a killer garage punk blog called Static Party etc etc. They get the idea for a print fanzine, and Z Gun comes out in 2007. And it’s great! Wells wrote a terrific guide to San Francisco artpunk of the late 70s/early 80s (from Chrome to Flipper to Factrix to The Residents to Church Police and back again) – much the same world that existed just prior to that discussed in our Wiring Dept. review, and a world that’s covered in depth by the forthcoming Who Cares Anyway? book – and Min Yee of the A-Frames takes it one step further and writes about San Francisco’s completely forgotten Black Humor and their 1982 LP.

There’s also a symposium on The Brainbombs, with multiple contributors, and I suppose I’ll just say “folly of youth” – both theirs and my own. I put that band on the cover of my own Superdope #4 in 1992, and despite my undying and enduring love for their first two 45s, I’d very quickly aged out of their fuck/kill/destroy/rape/maim “comedy” by the end of that decade. Wah wah wah, aren’t I special, Mr. Grown Up etc. If you want to know more about the Brainbombs, and pick apart each of their releases in all their intellectual complexity, the single best place to do it is almost certainly in the pages of Z Gun #1.

Really, the rest of this excellent magazine, aside from the Pink Reason and Not Not Fun record label interviews, is given over to a heaping batch of reviews, most of them strong and well-written enough to actually trust. And how often can you say that about a print fanzine? Thankfully they did two more issues as well, and we’ll maybe get to those in time. It all brings back a lot of 2007/2008 “memories”: the Art For Spastics radio show; Terminal Boredom; Tom Lax’s Siltblog; Population Doug; and the whole sick underground crew. 

Soriano and Wells kept their Z Gun website, last updated in 2010, still active – and it’s still sitting there, unmolested. So who really needed a print fanzine anyway, right?

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.

Flesh and Bones #6

This is what we call an “all-timer”. No, not in the way that a Slash, a Forced Exposure, a Conflict or a No Mag might be, but an all-timer in the sense that if I were forced to hold on to only 25 of the fanzines in my collection, Flesh and Bones #6 just might make the cut; it made that much of a mark on me when I bought it in 1987. Its sensibilities were just goofy and mocking enough, and its tastes in modern sounds so aligned with mine at the time (Pussy Galore, Scratch Acid, Dinosaur et al), that I read, photocopied and shared wisdom from this issue as frequently and as far & wide as I could. Of course, its Tiger Beat/16 Magazine cover homage was well executed and really hit the spot for me at Age 19.

Editor “Jeffo” was coming out of hardcore, and as someone whose attention had been turned toward the long-haired punk and caustic underground noise of 1987, he mocked hardcore punk relentlessly, with frequent jokes about the Boston Crew, “Revolution Summer”, the Cro-Mags and Jodie Foster’s Army. He covered and reveled in “grunge” before it was grunge, while taking the best potshots at ’81-’82 HC and at heavy metal wasteoids I’ve ever seen. A lot of his live reviews were actually just made-up fantasies of getting in fistfights at gigs with people like Thurston Moore or Glen Danzig; stage-diving to mellow acts like Salem 66; and heckling multiple bands “with a Big Stick wig on” (remember Big Stick?). 

The graphics were all hilarious cut, pasted & jumbled items from other magazines, many of them from the hippie 1960s, as well as a few homegrown comics (mostly Jeffo’s) that were usually quite OK. An example of a typical graphics might have a lowbrow dildo advertisement placed on the left (“The Erecto”, “The Giant Bone”), with a strategically whited-out musical equipment ad saying “We’ll make that ___ of yours as big as Tommy Dorsey’s!” on the right.

Flesh and Bones also had a few staff photographers who took excellent band shots, usually of the modern acts with the longest, filthiest hair and the most thrift store-adjacent clothes (Raging Slab seemed to be a favorite, a band I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talk about since 1987). This was not a mag I really read as a consumer’s guide; it was one I celebrated because it was laugh-out-loud funny, and contrary to some quarters, I like to laff! The Redd Kross interview in Flesh and Bones #6 is right up there with my all-time favorite band interviews, ever, and the Dinosaur (Jr.) interview (beautifully hijacked by Thurston Moore, who also loves making fun of hardcore) is outstanding as well, considering how dour those guys typically were.

Jeffo also swelled with New Jersey pride, probably somewhat tongue-in-cheek, yet proud to represent the Garden State nonetheless. 1987-88 was an unusual time in the American underground, particularly when you look at the photos. Hair was long, metal wasn’t verboten and abrasiveness was a band’s ticket to ride, particularly if they wanted coverage in Flesh and Bones. I’ve searched in vain for copies of Flesh and Bones #1-#5 for years to no avail, getting only so far as photos here and here.

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!

Damage #7

Damage was an upper-pantheon San Francisco punk tabloid that ran from 1979 through 1981. I have a few issues from their 13-issue run, and I’m always game to add more, especially after hearing the terrific interview Rock Writ podcast did with editor Brad Lapin recently, which you can listen to here. It wouldn’t be a stretch in the least to call it San Francisco’s “answer” to Los Angeles’ Slash and New York’s NY Rocker; other newsprint/tabloid gems from this general era include LA’s No Mag and Boston’s Take It! and Boston Rock. We’ll get to frolicking in all of this stuff in time, promise.

I’m always sort of bedeviled and a little bothered when I read some of these San Francisco-focused magazines, even Search & Destroy at times, as I continually find the focus on social politics boring, the art-school aesthetic pompous and pretentious, and many of the local musical mediocrities to be dull as dishwater. Damage #7 exemplifies much of this, exceptionally more so than other issues which I’ve enjoyed far more than this one. I don’t know, maybe catching “the scene” as the calendar was rolling over from mid-1980 to late 1980 is catching it all in a bad stretch, but there’s a sense here in #7 that it’s all a bit globally played out, and baby, you and I know that wasn’t the case.

Maybe it’s just San Francisco itself. Crime have just released their awful third single, “Gangster Funk / Maserati”, and the key members of the band have changed their names to “Frankie Valentino” and “Johnny St. John”. Some of the “new wave” artwork in the magazine follows suit, looking like Nagel paintings and reeking of cocaine. There’s a piece in here about “Trends: Pop Music”, which spotlights some of the Bay Area’s weakest nu-wavers and skinny-tie power poppers (No Sisters, Rubinoos) as pretty much the hottest thing going. And honestly, when you spend three big pages covering the Public Image Ltd. press conference, things are looking grim. 

So Damage #7 does what I’d have done to mitigate, and sends Amy Linden to interview The Cramps, who’ve just released Songs The Lord Taught Us, and puts Bruce Conner on a plane to Tokyo to cover the scene there. Anything but the moribund local scene depicted here. The Flipper interview, which is terrible, is very much to the contrary – but you wouldn’t have known it by the meandering discussion of punk’s past and present & absolutely no context for who this incredible band were and what sort of music they were playing. 

The magazine’s overall quality control just seems off this time. Later-period garbage records by Stiff Little Fingers and The Members get total raves, and someone thought it would be a good idea to interview The Dead Boys in 1980, after all of the band save Stiv Bators & Jimmy Zero had quit. You don’t get this sort of malarky from Slash in 1980, and even though there’s a great Peter Urban review picking apart X’s Los Angeles whilst enumerating his disappointments, I’d have probably found myself having a hard time trusting Damage as a tastemaker. Then again, I was 12 years old and would have been too scared to spend my dollar on this anyway.

Take It! #5

(This piece is taken from a written overview I did on Take It! fanzine (1981-82) in the most recent Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine #10. You’re more than welcome to check out the full piece in the magazine if you’re so inclined).

From where I’m sitting today , trying to recall the environment I was marinating in at 14 years old in 1982, it’s sort of unsettling to see Take It! #5 cover stars The Dead Kennedys, and reckon with just how unimportant they ended up being. I mean, at San Jose’s John Muir Junior High School in 1982, the two bands on every burgeoning punk’s lips were the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. Even people who didn’t know who they were knew who they were. They were the big-deal punk bands, the scary punk bands that last year’s jocks and this year’s mohicans wrote in sharpie on their denim jackets and all over their pants & Pee-Chees. And everyone knew about “Holiday in Cambodia”, “California Uber Alles” and “Too Drunk To Fuck”. These were, as they say, the soundtrack to our lives. 

My first real “punk” show, in fact, was The Dead Kennedys, 7 Seconds and Whipping Boy at a sold-out Keystone Palo Alto. So yeah, pretty weird to see them pretty much persona non grata forty years later, a band barely remembered nor revered, yet mocked mercilessly by virtually everyone I know when they’re talked about at all. I blame Biafra – a self-aggrandizing turd who did everything possible to alienate 85% of the people who came in contact with him, then lawsuited his way into musical and historical oblivion. (I do suppose there’s a more charitable interpretation of the man and his career, and I’m open to hearing it). 

Anyway, Take It! #5 puts the Dead Kennedys on the cover – albeit a cartoon drawing of them – and on a flexi with the Angry Samoans and Flipper. Editor Michael Koenig talks about the six-month delay in getting this issue out, so now we’re definitely into 1982, finally. Highlight of the issue is – that’s right – Byron Coley with a big piece on Black Flag. This is right after “Henry Garfield” has joined the band, so there must have been a short period in LA in which he wasn’t called Rollins just yet. It’s a pretty exciting on-the-ground snapshot of a particularly important time in the band’s story – Garfield in; Damaged deemed an “anti-parent” record; LAPD taking over etc. 

Gerard Cosloy, who must’ve been all of 16 years old, contributes a list of his favorite tapes for the year, including NME C-81, Theater of Hate Live and The Future Looks Bright. He then goes on to write a paean to east coast hardcore, specifically fuckin’ SOA and Minor Threat. In fact, this is the first issue of Take It! that deals well with the onslaught of ‘core that was pouring out of all corners of the USA at this time. 

The Boston show reviews are broken out into single show reviews, rather than a column, and this time are by Koenig and Bill Tupper – but Tristam Lozaw thankfully still gets another full page to vent about Boston radio and everything wrong with it. Ira Kaplan does a nice takedown on Robert Christgau – a perennial article, written by many, that was all the rage for many years – and includes this nice quote comparing his obsessive grading compulsiveness with the scattershot gonzoid approach of Lester Bangs: “Not that they’re opposites – I plot Christgau and Bangs on a circle, one at 0° and the other at 360° – people who reach the same point by uniquely different routes.”

Other strong material: David Hild (The Girls) and Steve Stain, writing articles about each other. A short review of an Amos Poe film I’m not familiar with that stars Susan Tyrell from Fat City called Subway Riders – hey, sign me up! I dig Gregg Turner’s column this time, about fanzines and specifically Negative Army, put out by Mike Snider. (For what it’s worth, I could use any of your extra copies of this fanzine if you have them). I personally ran into Snider a few times at Lazy Cowgirls shows in LA later in this decade and we yukked it up together with Shane Williams, the now-deceased rocknroll bank robber of some repute. A story for another time (or, if you prefer, you can read my story about my encounters with Willams right here). 

There’s a sneering and pretty funny article about Nancy Spungen and a 1974 poem that she left behind, reprinted and showcasing her genius (I’ll spare you a second reprint). Peter Holsapple opines on the glory of the Go-Go’s, unaware, most likely, that they’d be the biggest band in the world a month or two from now. Tim Barry tongue-in-cheeks his way through a report on his trip to “Reggae Sunsplash” in Jamaica; Byron Coley writes on Bomp Records’ Battle of the Garages compilation with a prescient eye toward the 60s punk revival; Amy Linden takes on Flipper. And there’s just an incredible singles roundup from Coley, with reviews (among others) of The Cheifs, Panther Burns, Scritti Politti, Cordell Jackson, Glenn Danzig, Social Distortion, Kimberly Rew, The Meat Puppets and Fang. No, really!

Bazooka! #3

There’s something a little culturally demoralizing for Americans when we come across Europeans who can write, communicate and think better in our native tongue than we can. Folks like Matthias at Fŏrdämning, Henrik at Human Garbage Disposal and Tom Arnaert at Bazooka! are my jealously-looked-upon models in that regard. I mean, I personally took three years of high school Spanish, baby! I even know well enough to stay away from lengua and tripa burritos, so why can’t I craft an erudite, funny, Spanish-only music fanzine?

Well look, maybe erudite isn’t exactly the right word for Arnaert’s 1997 third issue of Bazooka!, but it was absolutely one of my favorite sources for garage punk & expansive roots/world music rock-turning in the late 90s. Arnaert and I traded “CD-Rs” in those days, and the guy sent me some of my favorite collections of obscure global 78s, down-home Americana and blues comps back in those frantic years when everything was coming out on CDs only, and I got the notion that I’d better sell all of my vinyl, and fast, because vinyl records were soon to be dead as a doornail. Clearly, we were trading fanzines as well; I put out my final issue of Superdope in 1998 and I reckon that was my coin of the realm which enabled me to procure this issue of Bazooka! and the two that followed it. 

From his perch in Ieper, Belgium, Arnaert surveyed all he saw in the worlds of low-class, lo-fi garage punk and other sundry forms. A great comparison fanzine both in content and layout for this magazine would be Eric Friedl’s Wipeout! – note the exclamation point. Both took as their starting point loud & raw rocknroll music both present and past, and as they dug deeper, they extended their remit to include loads of “black” music, i.e. the bedrock upon which all of their current passions rested. Arnaert in particular goes deep into fife & drum music on this one; you may recall this was the time of Othar Turner mania, powered by cultural appropriators Birdman Records’ Everybody Hollerin’ Goat CD.

 Bazooka #3 also surveys 1977-78 Belgian punk – why wouldn’t he? – while also interviewing New Orleans’ trash/rockabilly overlord King Louie (Royal Pendletons, Persuaders, King Louie & The Harahan Crack Combo) and penning a Mick Collins survey to boot. The mag is just bursting with reviews of both records and current fanzines, laid out haphazardly wherever space exists (this happens to be a great cheat for those of us who’ve created fanzines but don’t know a thing about true graphic design). In 1997, this is whom you’d find darting about the pages of Bazooka! as well as in the record collections of its fellow travelers: Bassholes, Thee Headcoatees, the Demolition Doll Rods, Billy Childish, Chrome Cranks, T-Model Ford, Splash Four and Junior Kimbrough. If that sounds like your kettle of tea, let me assure you that it probably is. I experienced those last three years of the 1990s as fairly grim ones, musically, and I know there are others who agree with that verdict – so it was great to have Arnaert’s Bazooka! out there to help illuminate the silver linings.

We Got Power #4

This early 80s Los Angeles hardcore fanzine’s been rightly exalted for its place in the times, but revisiting this issue struck me just how flat-out DUMB it all was. I mean, don’t get me wrong – We Got Power #4 was about as down-the-center, pitch-perfect, bandanna-wearing, fists-flying, slam-your-ass-off 1982 LA HC as it got or ever got – yet it’s also incredibly, surprisingly teenage and comes across as super, super stupid. Even dumber than Touch & Go, and Touch & Go was pretty goddamn juvenile. And hey – that makes sense – editor Jordan Schwartz and his We Got Power-contributing pals were high school kids, and god love ‘em for it. 

This magazine proudly stands out from its peers for a couple of reasons. First of all, where We Got Power is concerned, hardcore punk rock is a total nonstop party, as opposed to serious business. The very first page of this issue is a collage of various young LA punks drinking, goofing, laughing and is simply captioned “Fun”. Jordan Schwartz, Dave Markey, Jennifer Schwartz and other WGP contributors strike me as fabled “latch key kids”, growing up in Santa Monica with little-to-no parental supervision, drinking, skating and going apeshit at every Black Flag, Bad Religion, Circle One, Descendents, Youth Brigade et al show they can turn up at – which is pretty much all of them, by the evidence presented herein. Their energy and extreme dedication to the ‘core is infectious and almost cute in its innocence. To contrast the vitality and excitement of 1982 LA punk with, say, what was going on in deadened LA “punk” four years later, when Markey would tour as a member of Painted Willie with a running-on-fumes Black Flag, is to wish time stopped in its tracks and you too could be stagediving to Circle One’s “Destroy Exxon” with Schwartz and his pals. 

We Got Power #4 also xeroxes in color pages along with black & white ones, and while it’s incredibly crudely typeset, it just reads better overall that your standard ‘82 hardcore slop-job. And it’s pretty much hardcore- and hardcore-adjacent bands only, so yeah, they’ll praise Red Cross and The Minutemen (who both played mostly hardcore shows at this point), while keeping away from the heavy, ultra-serious English UK82 punk and “oi” that was polluting so many young ears around this time. A typical record review isn’t going to get you particularly far, and might be about as developed as this review of the compilation Life Is Ugly So Why Not Kill Yourself: “Holy Moly, what a record, if you don’t like something on this record youre fucked up in your head.”

There are dopey interviews with Black Flag, Husker Du, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Bad Religion and Suicidal Tendencies in this issue alone; quite possibly six of the ten most eventually beloved bands of this ilk of all time. Oh – and this is the exact magazine that started the rumor, still unconfirmed, that the Meat Puppets actually played a Phoenix gig in ‘82 in which they covered an entire side of The Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack, including the talking. (“That’s stupid, punk rock – I just think of it as rock and roll” and so on). I so, so want this to be true, and even better, for a tape to turn up. 

Perfect soundtrack for this issue would be Bad Religion’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse and/or the American Youth Report compilation that’d come out later that year. The following year, the We Got Power team would put this 40-song compilation out, one of the first HC records I ever bought and one that I helped form a “tribute band” for (full story here; photograph from our only gig here). And you can of course get this issue and all of their other issues in the deluxe We Got Power book for only twenty bucks here!

Brown Paper Sack #1

Some of my favorite record-collector nutballs are the 60s punk maniacs who organically coalesced in the 1980s to fanatically scream their allegiance to unheard, raw 1965-66 American teenage garage rockers, and to orgasmically scream their disallegiance to just about everything else. Their ranks were certainly best exemplified by Tim Warren, the Crypt Records impresario who started putting out the mind-blowing Back From The Grave compilation series in 1983, and who then tacitly started releasing the Garage Punk Unknowns records two years later. For what it’s worth, I interviewed Warren about all this in issue #2 of my own magazine, which you can download a PDF of here. Yet he was in no way alone, as an avalanche of illegitimate 60s punk compilations that flowed forth in the 80s very much proved.

For a certain class of these obsessives, it’s as though 1967 came around and music completely, totally, 100% was over. That’s pretty much the tack taken by issue #1 of Brown Paper Sack. It came out in 1997 and far as I can gather was the work of Andrew Brown, a Houston, TX gentleman who wouldn’t put out a 2nd issue of this thing. While 60s punk “scholarship” had advanced quite impressively over the previous fifteen years to that point, Brown is definitely working his angle, which is most definitively Texas and Louisiana-based garage punk music of the 60s. It just so happened that Texas probably gave the world the single best per-capita ratio of screaming 60s punk bands of any of the fifty states, and therefore there’s a ton to mine in this particular angle. Around the time of Brown Paper Sack #1, a German label was putting out reissue CDs of the early 80s Flashback compilation series, now called Texas Flashbacks, and this stuff was finally beginning to be heard by folks beyond 1966 Texas teens, including by me.

I happen to have an all-time favorite 60s punk song, and that favorite is “Born Loser” by Tyler, TX’s Murphy and The Mob. Aside from the kernels of information included in the Back From The Grave Volume Three insert, the only Murphy and The Mob information I know of is Brown Paper Sack’s single-page interview with Terry Murphy, the titular head of the band. Like many of the energized and bewildered teens that made these records, they aimed to make a “British Invasion”-style A-side that might be their hit 45, a la “Psychotic Reaction” or “Dirty Water”, and often would bang out some crude B-side in an hour or two as a throwaway. Those throwaways, of course, are often the stuff of legend, a la The Twilighters’ “Nothing Can Bring Me Down” or Murphy and The Mob’s “Born Loser”, confirmed in the latter instance by this interview.

Brown either feigns or genuinely adopts a pissed, dismissive tone toward anything & everything that stood in the way of these latent garage heroes, including promoters, radio people, and every other form of music, especially pop. It’s honestly what I totally love about these guys. The one true path was defined by The Roamin’ Togas, The Gaunga Dins, The Basement Wall and so on – and fuck everyone else.

Like Ugly Things, Brown ensures that his interviews don’t simply scratch the surface but rather get down into every friggin’ detail imaginable; I mean, while most of the participants in mid-60s punk would have only been in their late forties by the time Brown caught up with them, their availability and recollections were likely deemed to have been extremely elusive, so best to catch everything now and not wait for someone else to fail to do it later. 26 years later, i.e. when I’m writing this, those still alive are now in their mid-70s – so if you ever personally wanted to grill an American 60s garage punk original mover, now would be the time. Brown Paper Sack #1 is absolutely upper-echelon 60s punk scholarship, and I’d love to know if Andrew Brown kept up his mania in print elsewhere anytime after this.

Drunken Fish #1

That’s Drunken Fish #1 and only, as far as I’ve ever known. It’s one of the greats, especially if you really like records….and I do. This relatively small and limited magazine included a split 45 by Splintered and The Back Off Cupids, the latter of whom I believe were affiliated with “Rocket From The Crypt”. Yet if I ever had that record, I must have sold it decades ago, and I’ve thereby been left with a fantastic collector/accumulator/navel-gazer-centric sort of fanzine that I delightedly take for a personal spin every ten years or so. Today I’d like to tell you why.

Drunken Fish was published by Darren Mock in 1992. Those of you who were sentient and rooting around the underground in the 1990s know that he quickly turned his passions into a fine label that put out records & CDs by Bardo Pond, Roy Montgomery, Truman’s Water, Doo Rag, Lee Renaldo and all manner of other heavy hitters throughout that decade. That sort of commitment to wide-ranging, off-beat underground quality shines through in his magazine as well. I’ve revisited this issue often primarily because of Dave Stimson’s “Low Tech” piece, focused on seven of the rawest & most crude of total-genius 45s from the previous fifteen years: Mike Rep & The Quotas, O Rex, Screamin’ Mee-Mees, Tav Falco & The Panther Burns, Vertical Slit, Fuckin’ Flyin’ A-Heads and Solger. Solger! Anyone who wrote anything about Solger in 1992 was an instant hero to me. That single cannot be touched. I reserve a special ‘lil piece of my heart for the genre known as “shit-fi”, so this article was and remains solid gold.

I think this is also the magazine that got me to wake up and really pay attention to Lee Hazlewood for the first time. Once I got hooked on the guy I was all-in. Man, Hazlewood records were really tough to find for a while there! The original albums were going for way more than I could afford in the mid-90s, then all of a sudden these LHI Records CDs started showing up in stores late in the decade, and I snapped every one of them up. I thought they were bootlegs at the time. Anyway, Mark Sullivan of Adelphi, MD, who wrote this excellently comprehensive Hazlewood discography piece in Drunken Fish – please stand up and take a bow, right now. 

So you can likely already see the breadth & heft of this issue so far – but wait, there’s more. Mike Trouchon interviews loopy Englishman Simon Wickham-Smith, who’s living in Davis, CA while his girlfriend goes to UC-Davis (!). Johan Kugelberg covers various punk and noise rarities, and as in many of Kugelberg’s blathers, he pointlessly equates “rare” with “masterpiece”. I know that for years I’d chase down mp3s of material he’d raved about – i.e. records that he owned and that you didn’t – only to be forlorn, bereft and a little miffed that I’d spent precious time clicking & dragging when I could have been eating a hot dog or something. And Darren Mock himself pulls together a complete discography of Wales’ Fierce Recordings, who put out a Jesus & Mary Chain 45 that was just sounds from a “riot” at one of their shows (among many, many other things). 

It’s a real barn-burner over the course of its 24 pages. There are Discogs listings for the aforementioned record active as of this writing that actually include the ‘zine, if you’re interested!

Fŏrdämning #11

Even in my ripening older age, I’ll still find myself hitting these exciting musical-discovery inflection points in which entire worlds open up, and I spend an inordinate amount of time frantically collecting, downloading, studying and of course listening to sub-genres I’d neglected. 

It’s usually through the influence of one or more curators, whether that person is a friend, a writer, or a “disk jockey”. There’s the friend – several friends and correspondents, actually – who sent me deep down a dub rabbit hole when those incredible Blood & Fire CDs started popping up in the late 90s. There’s Erika Elizabeth’s Expressway to Yr Skull WMUA radio show, which I listened to religiously circa 2010-13 and discovered an appreciation for music (to quote myself) “…at the perfect intersection of deep-underground pop; 70s-80s British DIY and post-punk; 90s shoegaze and twee (stuff from lost 45s and cassettes that no one’s heard for two decades, I’m serious); garage punk; and a lot of noisy girl-helmed bands that had been lost in a patriarchal fog of several decades of disregard.” In fact I probably started the Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine in 2013 because I’d been so re-invigorated by this particular radio show taking place across the country from me, and for the first couple issues she was the only other person I’d allow to write for it, so indebted was I & so complete was my trust.

Then there’s Matthias Andersson’s Fŏrdämning, easily one of the finest fanzines of the 21st century. He wrapped it up a few years ago, yet in 2017, when Fŏrdämning #11 came out, I could feel my own tastes and tolerances expanding simply by virtue of Andersson’s heavy influence. As I read his dissections of modern and past experimental, noise, and rock-adjacent (sometimes barely) sounds, I developed a much deeper appreciation for the weirder edges of the sub-underground, and my own podcast and fanzine evolved accordingly during the mid/late 2010’s (i.e. a few years ago). It turned out that as Matthias was moving somewhat closer to more rock-oriented sounds – i.e. he talks about his admiration for The Suburban Homes and Cheater Slicks in this very issue – he was helping me move closer to his personal original starting point in noise and formless free-form not-even-music. If it weren’t for him, I’d have known nothing about Neutral, Leda, Amateur Hour and Enhet För Fri Musik, for instance.

Fŏrdämning, you may not be surprised to find out, was a Swedish fanzine, albeit one written in perfect English. Better than perfect, even, in that there’s nothing stilted nor dumbed-down in the least, the way some English-language fanzines emanating from the European continent have often been (and listen, if I tried to attempt a fanzine or even a paragraph in Swedish or any other language, it would easily be the worst thing you’d never read). 

From his perch in Gothenburg, Andersson celebrated his collector obsessions, yet in a manner not at all redolent of the stench that can often emanate from the mania of collecting. Fŏrdämning #11 opens with an essay about a beautiful year at his local record store in which a nameless collector has unloaded an insane collection of Fŏrdämning-approved gems: New Zealand 90s lathe cuts; Majora 45s; the Siltbreeze back catalog; Flying Nun rarities; Urinals and Fall singles, Twisted Village records and so much more. The essay is about how Andersson and his pals frolic in the abundance and in their amazement at their own good fortune. It’s the stuff dreams are made of – no seriously, my dreams. You can actually read the piece here.

This intro serves as a prelude to an issue that focuses on micro-labels of the past, including Bill Meyer’s Roof Bolt, Mike Trouchon’s gyttja, and two noisy tape labels I wasn’t familiar with: Thalamos and Vigilante. Roof Bolt was a terrific – and terrifically unsung – 1990s American  label focused on New Zealand that put out fantastic Alastair Galbraith, Roy Montgomery and Terminals records, along with the only 45 ever from Brown Velvet Couch, a total high-water mark of the NZ underground. Andersson also carries on his back-page column about lathe-cut records “Speaker Crackle In The Garden”, which this time focuses on Sandoz Lab Technicians. In the reviews section, there are the exact reviews that turned me on to Stefan Christensen and Blue Chemise. A top-drawer issue all around.

You should also know, if you don’t already, that Andersson is the fella behind the I Dischi Del Barone, Fördämning Arkiv and Discreet Music labels. He’s been on a hell of a run the past decade. 

Crank #2

My entire collection of Marc Masters’ 1990s Crank fanzine fell victim to “the great lost fanzine box” which we tearily recounted the tale of here. I’ve been slowly righting that wrong over the past few years, and the issue I was most excited to claw back was Crank #2 from Fall 1991, the one we’ll be discussing presently. I (thought I) remembered this one the clearest and had pinned it in my mind as his “San Francisco issue”, given the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and Seymour Glass interviews, yet there’s a bunch I was excited & surprised to rediscover after finally holding it in my grubby paws again, thirty-plus years after the fact & nearly 25 years since my copy went astray down the I-5.

My own fuckin’ name, for one – self-centered egomaniac that I am. See, around this time I’d started my own fanzine Superdope, and as a result of our respective complementary endeavors, Marc and I became pre-internet “pen pals”, I suppose you’d call us. Isn’t that nice? Both of us were mining somewhat similar quarries at this time in our fanzines, but Marc really took his music-writing chops from this point and ran far with them. From these humble beginnings, he’s since written the definitive book on no wave; been a key writer for Pitchfork, The Wire, Bandcamp and elsewhere; and now he’s even got a few podcasts going, the most recent of which is The Music Book Podcast, which I highly recommend. Back in ‘91 he called attention in his preamble to my own minor work, and I appreciated seeing and recalling it just now.  

But the dude inadvertently did me a much bigger solid in 2017 that snowballed into one of the coolest experiences of my life. Mind you, we’ve never spoken nor met in person, yet he did a piece late that year in The Wire’s Unofficial Channels column about my current fanzine Dynamite Hemorrhage. This directly led to The Wire’s editor Biba Kopf recommending me to take part in an all-expenses-paid speaking gig at The Tomorrow Festival in Shenzhen, China in 2018, where I got to ramble on about the history of music fanzines to a Chinese audience. Unlike Mark, I’ve never done anything remunerative with music writing, 100% by choice in my case, but this was as close as I’ve come and likely ever will come. An incredible stroke of fortune that I’m eternally grateful for.

Whew, so yeah, how can I be objective about Masters’ 1991 Washington DC-based fanzine, right? Well, I was a partisan for it from day one. A few things struck me on the re-read; first, I’d totally forgotten that there were two other excellent contributors, Heather Lieser and Dave Whelan, and the three of them split up the many reviews. Heather even has an entire page dedicated to her live reviews. She digs The Cannanes, and gets to opine on most of the DIY pop stuff in Crank #2. Dave seems to get about half of the noisier independent rock and some pop stuff, and Marc gets anything & everything out of the weirdo San Francisco scene, including Archipelago Brewing Company (he likes ‘em!), whom I’m proud to say I saw live once, and Caroliner, whom I’m not proud to say I saw more than once.

The Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 interview with Hugh Swarts was a really good one, as he hems and haws about how long he’s hated the name of his own band, and dishes a bit on how lame it was playing with Royal Trux at a 1991 Matador Records showcase at the 6th Street Rendezvous in San Francisco, a show I attended and which I actually thought Royal Trux never even showed up for; either that or I bailed out of the club at 1am rather than wait for them to set up (at that point I’d only heard Twin Infinitives and not the first album!). The mock Seymour Glass “interview” is a frustrating bit of self-aggrandizement disguised as self-sabotage that was both hard to read then and is even harder to comprehend now. Other than that, I like it. 

Today I associate Masters with his deep appreciation for and knowledge of more experimental and difficult music, and you can certainly see the seeds of all that taking root here. Yet, as his podcasts and other fine music writing show, there’s still a rocknroller out-of-controller lurking behind that digital pen. Now if I could just find Crank #1, #2, and #4….do you know anyone who might be able to help?

Alright! #2

It wasn’t but two months ago when we talked about a different issue of the Alright! fanzine (#4), put out in Los Angeles by Rich, a.k.a. McKinley Richard of the band Jackknife. Rich, he was in love & lust with the garage punk of the day, both as a practitioner and as a true fan. This small missive from 1992 spans a mere twelve pages but it’s a terrific snapshot of where much of my head was at the time, mainly gawping and gaping at Royal Trux, The Bassholes, ‘68 Comeback, the Cheater Slicks, the Blues Explosion and so on – though I never saw this magazine at the time & I can’t imagine any more than 50-100 of them were ever printed. I just got this copy in the mail from JS, who gifted it to me like a true mensch. We sincerely appreciate his generosity at Fanzine Hemorrhage!

Rich makes his swelling admiration for The Trashwomen’s Danielle known right from the off, and it got me digging through my own physical archives….yeah, I know there’s a picture somewhere….yes, there it is! Before any of us knew her as a musician, she danced go-go style for The Phantom Surfers and (I thought, but I’m probably wrong) The Mummies. It was likely 1991 when she was summoned over to our clan of idiots in order for Nicole Penegor to take this photo of her and myself.

Then a year later, she turned up in a new all-female trio called The Trashwomen, at first playing instrumental surf music only, and then adding tracks with vocals as they improved – and they did improve. I recall that they let Danielle – whom I’d never met before this photo was snapped, nor after – sing one song and one song only, and it was fingernails-on-chalkboard fantastic. She was later in The Brentwoods, and therefore lives forever in our hearts. 

Alright #2 is like watching an unfolding snapshot of the time we all first heard The Chrome Cranks; when the final Gibson Bros album came out, and when “Larry from In The Red” had young America’s ear. Or being able to nod knowingly when Royal Trux tells Rich that Matador gave them an advance for an album, but that they “inadvertently spent all the money”. Oh, snap! Does that all sound pretty inane to you? Yeah, it does to me too from this vantage point 31 years later, but there were some good times, some mighty good times, and Rich was right there on the front lines stirring the drink.