Glossy Or Not is a column about worthy magazines and booklets and zines, as opposed to the authors, books, and events I usually cover in my Scribes Sounding Off column, or the reviews/interviews about Continuum’s 33 1/3 series in its own Odyssey. The basic premise comes from the idea that there are only a handful remaining of really good periodicals, and that many KEXP listeners would probably like to know which ones are worth purchasing, and which match the station’s intelligently eclectic aesthetic with coverage of same.
There are few music magazines that goose me hard when I see a new one on the stands than The Big Takeover. A strange happiness and anticipation comes over me seeing its crisply colored cover and feeling its inch-thickness of content, knowing that after I pay just over a fiver I will have hours of reading up on the best in indie, punk, power pop, hardcore, and affiliated genre bands. These won’t be features that have to be set to a product of a recent release date or reunion tour, though that sometimes coincides. The Q&As will be DEEP DISHES on every aspect of composing, lyric writing, performing live, controversies that aren’t stupid, and always heavy on the discographies and unique details. The Big Takeover doesn’t think of a review as a synopsis or a chance to snigger, either. And it gives you tons of both of those, artist features and record/DVD/book/live reviews, all helmed by an incredible editor named Jack Rabid.
In the early 80s, I received excited, one sheet broadsides out of New York City from Jack, and they seemed just as charming and informative and effusive as the ones we produced in Seattle. That was what shocked me: The Big Takeover started out like any zine, even scrappier, but soon enough busted at the seems with variety and depth. Though for a long time TBT was neither as densely descriptive and bizarrely intimate as The Offense (from the midwest), as sassy and slick as the “DIY” tabloid out of Southern California, and certainly not as cantankerous and sarcastic as Touch & Go out from near Detroit. But it wasn’t as stuffy as Trouser Press or anything like Rolling Stone could be, either. (This was before SPIN, which at the beginning was like TBT‘s older, rail-snorting brother who hung out at the dance clubs.) At that time, it had the usual scene reports, recording updates, and live show and record reviews of bands I was already crazy about, especially the Bad Brains. But the journalism was simply useful, the format unpretentious, and the spirit really inspiring.
At the time, I was still imagining that New York was filled with sophisticated literary punks like Richard Hell and Lydia Lunch running things, so The Big Takeover seemed strangely mine, a first wave hardcore kid who loved all the “old” punk but knew we had to create something new. Then I talked to a guy named Larry of the zine Tribal Noize (who was rumored to spray paint “issues” of his work on tenement walls in the city and then give you a card with the address to go find the latest “edition”). I had just been on a bender after a punk rock show in Spokane, and he called me when he was housesitting between DJ gigs at gay clubs. I asked him about Jack and he told me he was the “Welcome Wagon of New York punk.” Which meant when you came to town, you checked in with Jack to see what to do, who to know, and how to be punk, pretty much.
Thus, while the rest of us zine punks fell by the wayside or in and out of publishing (my own apex being the BANDOPPLER years from 2002-2006, a comics-friendly Seattle music magazine that owed no small debt to Jack’s very personal and passionate vision), my heart beamed at the continuance of the incredible Big Takeover. It’s continued to be published by the one guy who deserves the love, success, power, and fun it provides the rest of us. Its continuance in this magazine-hating economy is a punk rock sign that sometimes you can kick against the pricks and rise above.
The Big Takeover has always been incredibly intuitive about indie, due to Jack loving punk to death but also being reliably up on all things British and NE melodically post-punk, mid-American avant-cool, sweetly psychedelic, soulfully rock and roll. Particularly impressive is the magazine’s attention to the Pacific NW, with cover stories on Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, The Shins, and other bands as frequent as Bad Religion, Buzzcocks, Stereolab, and the latest cover dolls, Teenage Fanclub (issue 67). Those interviews with Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver BC bands aren’t fluff pieces either — Jack and his comrades have been following our scenes for a long time, and I learn more out of The Big Takeover about these groups than I tend to in our local alt-weeklies or regional glossies. Yes, NYC is kicking OUR press’s ass when it comes to unveiling the beauty and terror of OUR OWN BANDS! I love it, even if I am a bit ashamed.
It may be a bit bold to say this for everyone involved, but The Big Takeover is the kind of magazine just about every KEXP listener should subscribe to. For a measly $20 you would probably get started on the just-out #67, which has an extraordinary and truly exciting history with Gerry Hannah of Canada’s extremely notable hardcore band the Subhumans (necessary reading for anyone concerned about punk and political action); a deliciously sordid and surprisingly smart conversation with Iggy Pop’s guitar player James Williamson; a fabulous feature on the secret world of Guided By Voices; a howlingly delightful interview with the Brian Jonestown Massacre; a brilliant career recap on Superchunk; The Ramones Part 2 by EXACTLY the guy to write it, Martin Percival. (And a phone book at the back of extremely helpful, insightful, honest, and clever reviews.)
In fact, all the authors of the articles and criticism are the kinds of people you can trust about any non-mainstream genre you’re interested in; Jack seems to hire scribes you want to buy a drink for and talk all night about the Minneapolis scene, the feuds and the love affairs between bands on the road, the albums that kept you alive till the next morning after the night all your friends ran when the cops kicked their way into the club. This is bourbon and fireside rock criticism, and yet it’s as up to date and “on it” as any blog or website you’ll read tomorrow. If you ever wished that Pitchfork was more tied into the original regional-aesthetic based, beguiled but no-BS root of the heralded rock press (CREEM, Crawdaddy), then The Big Takeover is your last great read on slick, shiny paper. It is not just another music publication, it is possibly the only one left.
Available around Seattle at Sonic Boom and Easy Street Records; or send twenty bucks to: The Big Takeover, attn: Jack Rabid, 356 4th Street, Upper Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11215.