Glossy Or Not: The Year In Fan-, Maga-, And Damn-The-Man Zines

“Among those far-fetched alibis
There live some far-fetched lies
What wouldn’t be lost if loud men died.”
— John Cale, “Magazines”

All apologies for the lateness in preparing for you a tipple of the buzzy DIY this and the thick-fan-journal-with-a-slick cover that, to not tempt to intoxicate with a semi-covered flask-shot of the current in sometimes-barcoded periodicals. The list of excellent music magazines is dwindling on the stands, yes, but every month there is still The Word, The Wire, Wax Poetics, Uncut, Record Collector, Filter, and others that most KEXP readers are already familiar with. There are even some new titles sprouting up in the blood-money dirt-shifting of the economy, combining welfare baby booty-crafting with homemade rockabilly haircuts for working at the food bank during grad school break. Most have record review sections! But some don’t and you want to get in on that, too. Stay tuned, kids.

Meanwhile, here’s a collection of SCAM’s first four fanzines, “The Mutiny In Miami Issue and more!”

Once known as guitarist and drummer Iggy Scam but now known beyond the Bay Area (and Portland and a thousand other cities where you can trade Half Priced Book hauls with comrades at coffee shops for a cuppa Joe and gobs of stale buns), SCAM publisher Erick Lyle has published a zine that gets him lots of pals to come hear him talk when he occasionally hangs out in Seattle (at Left Bank Books, last time). It’s not necessarily anything about a music scene — call it “punk leisure lifestyle reading,” ahem — but of course it references show-going, band shit-talking and shit band-talking, gig pranks, and favorite record drooling at 4 AM in a pal’s basement. It has also become a flagship attraction to the ever-expanding line of self-publications under the successful and supportive Microcosm banner.

It’s great that Erick is getting this kind of backup, and that his mostly hand-scribbled classic (if not always classy) pamphlets aren’t disappearing. We need articles like “Things To Do While Your Friends Is In Jail,” “Roadkill Recipes,” “The ‘Bagels, Not Bombs’ Movement,” “Crack Art And Other Drugs,” “The March,” “Fight Back With Feces,” and “Let’s Steal Electricity” if only for the try-this-at-home details. It gets the come-live-for-a-while-with-me-here-in-this-semi-squat “contender to Cometbus” prize, an award no one was really talking about but everyone kind of hoped to write or read themselves. That’s short-hand for “start at the beginning” (these were originally published in the 90s) and go back to a Low Life Eden before the Bush-room cloud turned us all into Crimethinc, Inc. silhouettes of socially networked personae.

Microcosm is also noteworthy as a zine publisher/distributor because so many zines (music, comics, politics, and personal) come out of its HQ, and it’s this ability to take on the horrible business of distribution and get voices out there who would never think to write for the perpetual-now “yeah, we’re working on a video” sphere. I admit that I am a sucker for The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting, in which histories of American martyrs such as Martin Luther King, Jr., AIDS patients, those persecuted by the Patriot Act, and the FBI assassination of Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios will pop that government microchip right out of your freaking head, right there waiting for the bus. You might just decide to quit your job and walk off to join the revolution.

Speaking of that first part, UNEMPLOYMENT from Microcosm is my personal zine of the year.

Written by Aaron Lake Smith, who has done some great writing on music (most notably the band Wire) in his own zine Big Hands (recommended), this single issue pamphlet is all about the jangled nerves of being without work in a society that asks “What do you do?” a whole fucking lot. It urges us to seek our Nietzschian being in rabid self-invention like Spider-Man but admits we’re all just sort of laying low and hope to eke out a living whilst kind of doing what we want. It’s got a great sense of how Jake Burns in Stiff Little Fingers sang, “The people who are on top say that you should keep your chin up,” in both senses of the meaning: But mostly that it’s easy for them to say that. Unemployment advises free yoga classes, trying to not obsess over how eagerly you awaited the fall of civilization until you realized you weren’t strong or smart enough to build your own apartment around yourself, not looking the hipster clerk in the eyes to see any approval at the independent bookstore when you’re over 20 and buy a book usually stolen by a crusty before you got there, and “For another cup of coffee or a secret kiss.” As unlikely as either might seem if seen in a future of decline.

But come on, you want to sink your eyeballs into a big old inch-girth Black & White-guts issue of Ugly Things (garage, mod, psychedelia, proto-punk, garage-new wave) and be absorbed by its killer bootleg and LP/CD/DVD reviews, weird scene reports from completely different times (did you know there was a Christian rock “beat band” period in the UK in the wake of the Merseybeat sound? I didn’t, but thanks UT! You’re awesome), and MUCH more. This latest issue is all about the tender brotherly love and four decade terrible tantrum that is the power pop princes The Kinks, but you’ll always find the latest result of some fiend’s crate-digging rapture, and publisher Mike Stax knows how to let his writers breathe. Ugly Things is the record guide-meets-deep reporting closest thing to classic head-case fanzines like Black To Comm (but without the cranky right wing politics of its editor) or Seattle’s own awesome Feminist Baseball from the early 90s. Every UT is a cornucopia of potential audio delights, and I often find my books I want to review in KEXP Blog’s Scribes Sounding Off column here. (Sshh, don’t tell anyone.) Or at least Shindig! with the same kind of MIA OG DIY stuff but with its snappy synopses reviews and color photos it’s kind of the cooler but less liable to get in a chain fight cousin to UT.

Meanwhile, here’s the magazine of the year:

YETI is a square-jawed studly trade paperback with color cover, nearly 200 pages, published two or three times a year, and comes with a free CD which is excellent because much of the music and literature covered herein is nowhere near any radar of any kind for the average consumer. But sampling the free disc will send you out to stores like Wall Of Sound quicker than you can say “atonality.” The articles involving Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs (among the many other active agencies against authority of any kind), “artist/filmmaker/troublemaker” Bruce Connor, musician/installation artist Maryanne Amacher, and Dean Wareham’s photo sections are vivid reports and creations of peak and prolonged creative experience, colorful shreds of genuine lives spent creating things so ecstatically everything else fell apart and balance is a glassy-eyed doorman to hoarsely cough at as he roots through your duffle-case. Not blog blurts or swag burbles, no extended Tweetifestos. That’s why you pay the $11.95 and display it proudly on top of your boutique label box sets. Buying and reading YETI is property tax in Freak Town, though its very sweet and kind founder and publisher/editor Mike McGonical would be seriously flummoxed by such hype. Its comics by Lizz Hickey are fun on the sight-balls, too. Favorite piece: discover-him-now Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts interviewed by Erik Davis, immortally unafraid to scribe the throb of the universe with a dub-soaked crack of a snare drum. Sample line: “This is music that burns itself before your eyes, changing your vision of things as it fades.”

Finally for punk and underground related publications, I have to recommend Go Metric, which also has an excellent (curses!) blog. The physical copy though is a nice B&W magazine-sized tabloid collection of wonderful record-related humor, coverage, and confession. #22 featured Gary Pig Gold on “Unearthed Merseybeat,” “What I Ate At The Fest VI,” “Unlovables Tour Diary,” “The Last Musician I Ever Dated,” the telling of ‘The Aristocrats’ “by Courtney Love” (!!!), and “I Got A Crush On The Crash.” The gentle summer back porch read vibe of Go Metric, which should be left on a warm tube amp between your own practices, is probably going to be the future of music writing again someday. (Here’s a hint to hopeful publishers: Since much content can be found *here* in the new demon box, the articulate specialist with a flair for visuals or a profound commitment to a personal approach may, with the right chemistry of Doing It The Way You Want To and Having Something To Say bred with What Readers Love To Dig Into, might be the new publishing moguls. Terry Sheldrake, Mike Faloon, and Brett Essler at Go Metric deserve to be.) Check them out.

My nomination for glossy of the year though is the Oxford American Music Issue:

It’s always one of the best magazines anyways, even when it isn’t all about music (usually oodles of Faulkner and Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, but much more too), but when it is, the whole “Southern emphasis” is much more fluid and connected than you might think. Obviously, previous coverage of everyone from Drive-By Truckers to Betty Davis shows the love and diversity of raw and rocking artists and forms. But earlier this year the 11th Annual edition was devoted to True Soul, and vanished from Seattle newsstands within minutes of being plunked there. (You should subscribe, just for the annual music issue. Seriously.) Joe R. Lansdale covered Sleepy LaBeef, there was a fantastic history of Memphis Slim & His Orchestra, “Ladies Love Outlaws” sniffed the broken-hearted trail of ladies behind Howlin’ Wolf, “Black Elvis” Barbara Lynn got a little of the acclaim she deserves, and I discovered The Feminine Complex, the slightly Shaggs-style grunge-pop girl group wearing shiny leather boots and making a cranky joyous noise half a century before it seemed proper for Southern ladies. And oh yeah, two full CDs of awesome tracks you’d swear you’ve heard on the speciality playlists of KEXP’s rootsier DJs. Here’s to synergy!

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One Comment

  1. Mike Faloon
    Posted January 29, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the review, Chris. I’m especially grateful to see Brett and Terry receive credit!

    My first book came out recently. It’s the Go Metric style in short story and essay form. If you’d like a copy, send me your mailing address.

    Take care,

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