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.