Scram #5

The early/mid 1990s produced such a bounty of well-crafted, self-published fanzines that were intimately devoted to self-defined subcultures that many of us didn’t fully recognize all that we had in front of us until it was totally gone. That’s sort of what happened to me with Kim Cooper’s Scram magazine. I was present at the creation of her publication in 1992, as Kim and her partner and my personal friend Steve Watson lived just down the hill from me on lower Haight Street in San Francisco, and the three of us conversed and carried on frequently. Steve and I formed a band called Helevator a couple of years before that with a great American named Chas Glynn, who’d go on to be one of Scram’s key contributors. (If you want to read the highly subjective story of “Helevator, San Francisco Rock Band”, you can do so here). 

Kim proved to be quite a creative force of nature after that first, garage rock-focused issue of Scram, and she’s a truly inspirational doer to this day. I’ll get to what she’s up to later. She wrote the Deniz Tek/Radio Birdman interview piece in the second issue of my own fanzine, Superdope, while Steve did the piece on Sonic’s Rendezvous Band in the first issue. The two of them had some extremely goofy sensibilities that spanned the breadth of underground comics, pranks, 60s pop and bubblegum, beat & noir fiction and garage-influenced punk rock. I remember being super-impressed that Kim, as a teenager, had had a letter published in Forced Exposure taking them to task for their dopey and puerile Lydia Lunch/Nick Cave one-act plays. This was someone at least partially on my wavelength and who was very much marching to her own drummer.

A few issues in, she’d really nailed the aesthetic for Scram that she carried forward to its final issue in 2006. I’d define it more or less as I did above; a playful, jokey gaggle of articles and musings about oddball humans, 1960s pop music, modern garage rock, comics, writers and whatever else was driving Kim and her contributors’ fancy. It was a magazine whose patron saints appeared to be Lee Hazlewood, P.F. Sloan and Tiny Tim, among others. Like this one, #5, which has a soup-to-nuts appreciation of the late 50s/early 60s notion of “spy jazz” by David Smay, and an overview of the 60s “rodent rock” craze (think Alvin & the Chipmunks). With Scram, you’d get some really well-done dives into discographies, stories and stuff regarding music that, at the time, I wasn’t personally interested in and/or not ready for. This is why I foolishly passed on so many of Scram’s best issues once Kim had left San Francisco and moved to her hometown of Los Angeles. I had to order the ones I’d missed from her all in one big heaping batch sometime in the past decade, including this one.

Now when I read them, I’m thankful for the obsessives and freaks she assembled to tackle some of the stranger corners of the musical and musical-adjacent universes. Scram isn’t where you necessarily would go to earmark the next batch of LPs for your collection, it was a place to guffaw and chortle about some of the excesses, failures and sometimes high-water marks of middlebrow and low culture. So it’s really the articles that are worth digging into, not the reviews, nor the Bad Religion and Jawbreaker ads that paid the bills. Most of Scram’s record reviews often magnanimously took an “it’s all good” or a surface-skimming, let’s-get-this-over-with approach to the many promos they received, virtually all of which were reviewed. To this day I’m looking for a review to discerningly guide me to the next thing I ought to be listening to or to convincingly steer me away from something I ought not to, rather than a merely facile two-sentence description of its contents. In this issue, Kim herself’s reviews are actually more negative than not, yet the glut of promotional material she’s forced herself to consider is so entirely forgettable and now forgotten that little wonder, right? This “review everything we get” approach wasn’t unique to Scram at all; any back issue of Flipside or MRR will tell you as much. I’m sure it had its adherents. 

Kim eventually put together the bible of bubblegum music, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, the roots of which began in this very issue. In 2004 she put out Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed, which she asked me to contribute to; I wrote short pieces on the Gibson Bros and the Flesh Eaters, and even got to present a pithy little thing I wrote at the book release party in Berkeley. I’ve not seen her in person since!

 But man, what an amazing career she carved for herself after Scram. Not only did she write a really great piece of noir fiction called The Kept Girl, she founded Los Angeles’ Esotouric sightseeing agency with her husband Richard Schave. Esotouric, among other things, takes busloads of folks around LA on themed tours devoted to (for instance) Patty Hearst and the SLA; The Real Black Dahlia; literary LA and so on. There’s a great 11-minute documentary about what they do here, and they’ve been front and center in helping to preserve LA’s disappearing heritage of wacko signs, buildings and monuments. They do the work, in other words.

She’s my favorite example of someone who embraced her well-out-of-the-mainstream passions early in life, then built a career on top of it, rather than succumbing to the grind like the rest of us. Scram #5 is one of many fine glimpses into her developing aesthetic, and can still be ordered here.

What Goes On #1

Despite present appearances, the Velvet Underground weren’t always thought of as a ubiquitous progenitor and cited influence upon untold thousands of fantastic bands. The extant literature of their time supports the fact that they certainly made an impact in pushing boundaries and blowing minds, if not in selling records, yet I don’t believe it was possible to actually see their eventual and well-deserved towering stature from a lens pointed in the year 1977 toward the future. 

In 1977, it was a hardy, newly-converted VU fan named Phil Milstein who had the wherewithal to channel his obsessions into creating the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society, which was effectively defined by a five-issue Velvets fanzine called What Goes On that he very infrequently published with others into the 1990s. This is the very first one, a 12-page xeroxed gem from 1978. 

I was fortunate to have interviewed Mr. Milstein about the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society and his magazine in my own Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine #3, published in 2015. You can download a PDF of it here. I’ve cherry-picked our exchanges about What Goes On and am reprinting them for your reading pleasure presently:

Was there a simple “fan club” motive for the founding of the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society in 1977, or was it truly an attempt to foster a more widespread appreciation for a band that hadn’t received anything close to its proper due?

Phil Milstein: As I was absorbing the VU’s music I began hungering to learn their story, yet I could find little information on them beyond a few table scraps. At this time there was a cauldron of fan club activity heating up, with dedicated fans conducting genuine research starting to crowd out the officially-sanctioned clubs, which were little more than promo machines. I waited eagerly for someone to get something going on the VU, but, for whatever reason, nobody did. (For the record, there was indeed some nascent fan activity taking place, primarily in England, but it was very localized and I didn’t learn of it until later.) When I noticed a new zine starting for Suzi Quatro, I was appalled that a mediocrity like her would get a fanzine before a truly worthy group like the VU. With that, I was moved to act.

I was ill-equipped to publish a magazine on a group I knew so little about, but I figured that if I did a good job information would start rolling in, and that I’d learn about them concurrently with the readers. The first issue was consequently low on serious content, but the mere fact of its existence was enough to start drawing VU fans out of the woodwork. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I began developing information — and, eventually, inside sources — just as I’d anticipated.

What was involved in the launch of the VUAS? Who were the main initial players, how did you get the word out, and were What Goes On and the Temporary Thing newsletters your primary communiques?

Phil Milstein: Recognizing that I knew so little myself about the VU, my first effort toward getting something useful going was to reach out to prominent figures in the music world who had, in some way or other, acknowledged themselves as VU fans. I recall writing, for instance, to Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye, a musician and writer from Boston who called himself the Count, and Miriam Linna, who was then still in The Cramps. Between them they contributed articles, ideas and general support, and were instrumental in my ability to move the project forward.

The fanzine world was so active around this time that several larger publications, most notably Bomp and Goldmine, ran columns that discussed and reviewed them. Mailing addresses were invariably provided, along with the ubiquitous reminder to “include SASE”. This attention, of course, fostered further activity in its turn, and for a while it seemed that everybody and his sister had some sort of zine going. It was strong validation when Greg Shaw gave WGO an A grade in Bomp, and it led, as you’d imagine, to the arrival of a lot of SASEs.

What was the distinction between the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society and What Goes On
Phil Milstein: What Goes On was the magazine published by the VUAS, while the VUAS was more a concept than an actual organization. There were no dues, nor even a membership list per se, and I thought of it as simply an umbrella under which I’d conduct my VU-related work. Most of its activities, in fact, were in support of projects by other people, for instance the Moe Tucker/Jonathan Richman 45 the Count put out, the And So On bootleg out of Australia,WHRB’s all-Velvets radio marathon (which provided the first-ever exposure of Robin Hough’s Boston Tea Party recordings), etc.

Tuba Frenzy #4

It’s now hard for me to fathom just how aggressively I turned my back on many of my fellow late 1990s fanzine brethren and sistren. While my personal underground rocknroll palate was fairly omnivorous during the first half of the decade, I developed a severe reaction to what by 1996 felt like a lemming-like rush by the broader fanzine community toward noise, free jazz, drone, electronics and so forth – toward anything that wasn’t rock

At the time, I mostly blamed Bananafish. I mean, everyone was reading the thing, myself included. It was well-distributed and editor and chief writer Seymour Glass perhaps inadvertently cultivated quite a curated aura and persona, one that championed (often tongue-in-cheek) the most outré of non-rock music as being central to a finely-honed taste and sensibility. Sun City Girls and Merzbow yes; anything with a hint of swing or swagger, no way. Because he and I skirted around some of the same local bands the previous few years – Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, World of Pooh and so on, all of whom were his personal friends and mere acquaintances of mine, at best – I’m sure I suffered from a bit of jealousy at times for that and for the fact that he wrote exceptionally well & had a real way of making me feel like a wild, weird party of creative freaks was going on in his corner of San Francisco and not in mine. (In hindsight, the freaks I partied with at the time were just fine). 

Also in hindsight, I can see now that it’s not quite clear where the creators of underground rock fanzines should have been paying their attention in the lean years of 1996-2000. I personally was more interested in garage heathens such as The Cheater Slicks and spent time digging almost exclusively into 60s punk at the time, and granted, I hadn’t really evolved much beyond a punk-before-all mindset. I was also a ‘lil busy getting married and going to grad school during this time as well. So I’d look at fanzines flogging Fushitsusha, or Flying Saucer Attack, or Tortoise, or Olivia Tremor Control, or William Hooker, or Labradford, or Tono-Bungay, or Loren Mazzacane Connors, or Cecil Taylor and so on, and just completely disassociated myself. I missed out not only on some fantastic music but some top-drawer fanzines writing about it as a result. I only really started heading back into this era within the past ten years, trying to pick up fanzines like Tuba Frenzy that covered it where I can.

In fact I only bought this 1998 issue online this past week, inspired by seeing a different issue of the magazine referenced by Dave Lang on his The Devil’s Lexicon Instagram. The editor of Tuba Frenzy was Tim Ross, and he published this out of Chapel Hill, NC along with a stable of contributors. Far from being a pompous, uninformed, trendy dive into more-difficult music, Tuba Frenzy #4, the magazine’s final issue, was as well-written and informed a mag as I’ve seen from this era, and it was a real disservice to myself that I passed it up back then, something I even recall doing.

There’s a terrific overview and oral history of NYC’s late 70s/early 80s 99 Records (ESG, Glenn Branca, Liquid Liquid, Bush Tetras etc.), as well as truly comprehensive interviews with Oval (one of the Thrill Jockey bands I totally ignored), jazz saxophonist Sam Rivers, the aforementioned Tono-Bungay, Ian Williams from Don Caballero and a ton more. Truly deep musical ephemera and intense explanation for heads, record collectors and fellow deviants. 

If you believe this website, you can still buy this issue for $4.00 directly from Tim himself. I’d love to find copies of the other three, once I truly sit down & read this one cover to cover to make up for lost time, and maybe discover a hot new weirdo band from 25 years ago.

Curiosity In Stout Shoes #1

I had an ongoing correspondence in the early 1990s with a woman named Christina Madonia, who worked at the Sound Exchange record store in Austin, TX and somehow counted herself a fan of the early issues of my own fanzine Superdope. We infrequently wrote “letters”, a form of written communication that some of you may remember, in which we compared notes on various bands, our respective music scenes, the turgid miasma of existence and so forth.

Let it be said that fanzine correspondence from a woman – particularly one near my age, which was at the time 23-24 – was always most welcome, given its extreme rarity. She definitely conveyed a sense of a goofy and creative early 90s Austin that’s subsequently been codified in memory and lionized by many, though it was clear to me then that Christina, who was maybe 22-23 at this point, wasn’t a late-night rager nor an extreme extrovert making the scene but rather an introspective, poetic and graspingly creative old soul, looking for the right outlet to share her vision.

She helped lead the publication of the Sound Exchange’s Bloat in-store fanzine and even reviewed Superdope within it. I’d been trying to uncrack the mysteries of Austin with her via our letters and I remember her telling me she was moving to Houston to work at the Sound Exchange there, which sounded kinda baffling to me at the time, given the asymmetry between the two cities in my mind vis-a-vis the underground rocknroll scene and my personal priorities as such. 

(Note: I will interject, two days after writing this post, that what I’ve just recounted appears to have been mostly made-up on my part. Christina has corrected the record; while she did live in Austin, it wasn’t until later in the 90s. She lived in Houston and worked at the record store there the whole time. There was no move to nor from either city during the time we corresponded. This message has been brought to you by whatever deep hole that exists in my memory banks, which we’ll call the “Embellishment Hole” from here on.)

It was here that she published the sole issue of her fanzine Curiosity in Stout Shoes in 1993. It was very much in keeping with the earthy, ethereal, poetic and dissonant nature of what would very soon become her music, as she would soon marry one Tom Carter in Houston and become the Christina Carter whom we know and love from the band Charalambides and later solo recording fame. Apparently – I have been told this by Christina personally – I had something to do with connecting her and Mr. Carter with Tom Lax at Siltbreeze Records, who then put out their first album Union. I’ll go ahead and own that as a feather in my proverbial cap, as I love that record and its follow up Market Square.

Her fanzine was both music-related and music-tangential, a personal fanzine of stories, comics, diary entries and dream depictions along with interviews with Smog/Bill Callahan and Linda Smith. Tom Carter is involved in illustration and pops up frequently in the stories themselves. In 1992 I spent some quality time in Houston with Christina, Tom and their bandmate Jason Bill while I was visiting to work the booth at the “Ace Hardware Convention” for my employer Monster Cable. They were phenomenal hosts, and it was just one of those memorable young-person nights where everything came together. They dazzled me with the culinary delights of Houston’s rich Indian food culture (who knew in California?), took me to drink beers on the lawn in front of KTRU radio at Rice University, and played me records back at their place, which I seem to recall was on or very near a river (?). They made me a tape, as one then did, of some killer Houston psych/noise bands – Dry Nod, Rusted Shut, The Mike Gunn. I left thinking “these are some of the finest people I’ve ever had the privilege of hanging out with”. 

In early ‘93 – come to think of it, only a month after this fanzine was published – I came to Houston again as the road manager for the band Claw Hammer, and Tom & Christina came out to Emo’s and hung out with all of us outside while we very purposefully escaped inside headliner The Reverend Horton Heat. I took this photo of Christina with my handheld Instamatic camera here at that show – and alas, thereafter lost contact with her within a year or so, and we wouldn’t reconnect for another 22 years. When I pulled out this Curiosity in Stout Shoes again recently, I noticed that I had been thanked for encouragement for this very singular and interesting one-off fanzine. Hey, I didn’t do nothin’!

Statement of Purpose

I have this idea for a new project that will unspool itself in blog form, which is just perfect because the idea of a blog has by late 2022 become such an anachronism that I’m already marking myself as obsolete, regressive and partial to failed communication mediums. Not only that, I’m already super-late for the great “rock fanzine craze”. You know, the one kick-started by the Fuckin’ Record Reviews site that is itself so anachronistic that it still exists on Tumblr. Tony, the guy behind it, started making a small empire out of scans from his 80s/90s underground rock fanzine collection around 2013 or so, and he subsequently kick-started something of a wider digital focus on the analog world of printed music material of the past.

Others followed. There’s a terrific podcast hosted by Armen Svadjian called Rock Writ in which he conducts “explorations in rock criticism and old-school fanzine culture”, with interviews of writers and publishers past and present. He’s even interviewed me, for crissakes. Dave Lang, longtime blogger, Australian and record store empresario, has a great Instagram in which all he does is scan fanzines from his collection, then wax lyrical about them. 

So let’s just say Fanzine Hemorrhage isn’t especially breaking new ground. My idea here is to pick a single issue of a fanzine from the many I’ve collected and saved over many years, then use that issue as a jumping-off point for writing about whatever I think might be worth blathering about at the moment. It might be the magazine itself; it might be something covered within that issue, and hey, it might even be some nostalgia-drenched tale of the time & place in which it was created, or some story I’ve heard or experienced that connects to something in that issue. It could be something else entirely, we’ll see. But I do have a lot of rock music fanzines. I think they’re one of the great underground cultural art forms of our time, a radical democratization of publishing, and – as of this writing – a nearly dead medium. I collect the good ones and add them to my stable as often as I’m able to afford them.

What gives me the right, you ask? Look, I’m not trying to monetize anything here; this is just a way to try and keep my writing chops, such as they are, fresh enough to stave off eventual dementia. I myself have published printed music fanzines in fits and starts since 1991, with a lengthy time off between 1998 and 2013 as I took part in the blogging era which is itself now long-past (until this new blog of mine, of course). I even traveled to Shenzhen, China in 2018 and gave a talk called Underground Music Print Fanzines in a Digital-First World, no joke. In my Dynamite Hemorrhage magazine, I’ve covered Forced Exposure fanzine at length (issue #7); Slash magazine (the entirety of issue #8) and Take It! fanzine (issue #10). 

With kudos and thanks to the aforementioned others who’re mining this field wonderfully, let me see what I can come up with here; hopefully it’s worth a hoot from time to time. Let me know at, and please, drop a comment here or on one of the pieces if you have something you’d like to add or an anecdote to share.