Friday, October 28, 2005

MY OWN HORN-TOOTING TIME!

Probably its because you WON'T be reading about it anywhere else or see it plastered all over whatever media there is out there that makes note of such things, but maybe not-so-egotistical me feels like it's my duty to inform you faithful readers that this month, in fact this very WEEK marks none other than the twentieth anniversary of the very first issue of my very own fanzine BLACK TO COMM! Yes, a whole whopping two decades back the debut issue of this mag (then wrestling under the pretty doofy title FUD!) was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, a humble twelve-page crudzine with an entire press run of about fifty copies (and that's including a brief reprinting in 1989) that had nary a readable word in it and incredible lame stabs at humor and record reviews to boot, but since it's MY crudzine and I know that it's stuff like this that makes up the vim and vigor of a "true" underground and not the usual bigtime alternative prepackaged wheelings and dealings, I'm of the opinion that blabbing about my efforts on this post have a lot more value (culturally, socially) to YOU as a whole (or even hole) than most of the blab coming out of blogland these sorry days. So sit tight Gertrude because it's gonna be a long, self-centered ride ahead!

Anyway, two decades back this upstart rockscribe, who had been toying with the idea of a fanzine creation for a good four or so years prior, (everything from a mag featuring nothing but various correspondence to an all Pere Ubu and related specialty pub, even going so far as to have started on a hand-printed sub-crudzine effort in '81, artwork samples of which had ended up in later-on issues as sort of an "in" joke), decided to finally get off the old duff and GO TO WORK creating a fanzine that would be JUST THAT! and not the sick state of affairs that some of these self-published reads had devolved into once the mid-eighties were rolling around. At the time I had become enamored with the previous generation of proto-punk fanzines that had come out during the early-seventies "Golden Age of Rock Criticism" and I guess the combination of 1) being stuck in a rather dire time for rock music in general (post-hardcore, post-post-seventies garage aesthetics) and 2) flipping over then-decade-old copies of such fanzines as BACK DOOR MAN, DENIM DELINQUENT and TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE with their snotty anti-"Youth Culture" mentalities and deciding that what 1985 needed was a lot less introspection and a lot more jams kicking...well, let's just say that the combination of the two made for a bigger combustion in my mind than the slamming of "nitro" and "glycerin" together, the resultant boom being none other than the entire BTC "empire" that remains with us to this day (more/less).

It's so funny looking over the old issues rotting away in my closet, reminiscing about the problems I had with not only with laying these out but getting them printed and hoping they wouldn't look too crappy in the process. In those days there were NO copiers (at least in my area!) which could reduce already-typed articles/reviews/etc. to whatever dimensions I would need for a tasty and tight layout...all the machines I had contact with contained only two settings in which to reduce (50 and 75%) which is why those early issues (up to #16) look so "clunky", and I gotta laugh at the primitiveness of it all as well as at some of my more left-wing opines that were still being spouted well into the late-eighties. I guess that journey from kneejerk radical hipness (the kind that kills millions!) to my present right-wing anarchist state took a lot longer than I realized, but although you could see evidence of an anti-statist mindset even in these early issues there are many things written in these early issues that seem so anti-BTC in retrospect! It's also funny giving a gander at some of the bands I was championing (maybe w/a small "c" but championing still) at the time like Husker Du and a lotta other musical acts that I haven't spun in what seems like ages. Still, my penchant for high-energy rock & roll and pangs for the cream of the previous decade's energetic post-Velvet Underground scene was also in full-force, so you could say that I weeded the chaff outta the mag and concentrated on the purer, more blare-conscious music as the years progressed.

If you asked me which of the early issues were my fave I'd probably sputter a classic Ralph Kramden "A-hummana-hummana-hummana..." from here to Kalamazoo and back! Issue two struck me as being pretty decent at the time not only with the John Dowd-inspired cover (similar to efforts he did for not only the classic Troggs-issue of WHO PUT THE BOMP but TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE, the final JAMZ and a few others I don't possess yet!) but with my piece on the then-current Australian high energy scene ("Continent Explodes on Impact"). You gotta remember that at that time it sure seemed as if the Detroit-inspired Aussie bands were not only the salvation of rock & roll but perhaps the last holdout regarding seventies trash aesthetics remains something to look back at without wincing, and yeah, before the glut of weaker recordings began being pumped outta that land o' Lang it sure seemed pretty exciting seeing what new groups and records were coming outta the Antipodes in those halcyon days. Also in that issue was a piece on the Raunch Hands who were yet another up-and-coming group out of the then-raving hot "garage revival" that captured my attention, as well as the debut of the "Inner Mystique" column by one Bill Shute (who had expressed a liking of the first issue although I've felt he was only being "kind" and didn't wanna hurt my feelings!). As you may or may not know, Bill had his own fanzine in the early-eighties (I still remember being shown a copy of it in the music listening room at Kilcawley Center located on the campus of Youngstown State University in 1982 and flipping out, so you can say that Bill was another big influence on my publishing desires) and having him do a "regular column" for the mag was certainly one big feather in the ol' cap since, if anything, what this mag really coulda used during the early days of struggle were some BRAINS, which Bill had in plenty supply. It was always a gas getting hold of Bill's columns, reading about whatever new reissue of some then-obscure private press or societal/political bugaboo he had, either laughing out loud at the brilliant ironies or shuddering in abject fear, but then again I get that way sometimes.

I also gotta say that the third ish was good, maybe not necessarily because of the insides (which contained some embarrassing, error-ridden scribings on my part) but because of the cover, a wonderful parody/homage to the Pretty Things' SF SORROW drawn by one-time contributor John Stanton who also did the wild Velvet Underground cover for #5 (utilizing a then-new photo which has since been over-used to the point of nausea) not to mention some nice scribing as well. And I gotta say one thing...looking at (and writing about) these early days reminds me of just how HAPPY this usually Sad Sack of a guy was during those times, which weren't any great shakes gulcherally but gave me a lot to live for, whether it be some new Syd Barrett or Velvet Underground bootleg to look forward to or some new group that Imants Krumins hipped me to, or even the fact that television hadn't begun its slide into total post-hippie wretchdom when such wonders as THE BEST OF GROUCHO and STAR PERFORMANCES, not to mention classic old movies that used to be the staple of the slowly-dying late shows, were now being shown on PBS of all places!

However, as far as the best of the early, less-professional (although the mag went from xerox to offset with #5) issues of what had by now evolved into PHFUDD! goes, my faves have to be issues 6, 7 and 8. #6 featured another fave early cover spotlighting my "heavy metal slugfest" pitting Radio Birdman against MX-80 Sound (getting hold of a batch of old CREEM's had honed my rockism vocabulary to the point where I was using their hoary old definition of the HM tag well into an era when metal had split into polar opposites of extreme brilliance or utter inaptitude with no redeeming trash aesthetic) not to mention pieces on Rocket From the Tombs and the Electric Eels which I was extremely proud of at the time. (An aside, I recall putting the finishing touches on this issue while playing Eno's HERE COME THE WARM JETS inspired by a recent reading of Lester Bangs' review of said album in the pages of the aforementioned CREEM.) Issue #7 was fine as well, not only with a brief mail interview with up-and-comers the Laughing Hyenas who were featured on the cover (I guess Chuck Eddy was put on this earth for a purpose since it was he who tipped me off to these Detroit maniacs before the inevitable rift!) but a hugeoid history on none other than local legend Blue Ash, a piece that I had painstakingly prepared complete with an interview with bassist Frank Secich (who lent me the use of his archives) and a lotta love-laboring going on considering how I felt like a bonafide Jimmy Olsen getting a SCOOP while this issue was underway. And the Peter Laughner special in #8 was another fave...it had been ten years since this Cleveland pioneer had died and considering how I got the issue out almost to the exact date of his passing was certainly an effort worth noting. By the way, the cover pic featuring a snap of Laughner taken onstage at the Agora during the Rocket From The Tombs gig at the "Night of Heavy Music" broadcast on WMMS-FM with no title or wordage (or price!) whatsoever was clearly a homage to DENIM DELINQUENT's Iggy-cover (#5), though such a fact didn't set well with See Hear's Ted Gottfried, who hadda sell the things and ended up printing the title and price on each of the copies I forwarded his way!

Not that those days were without their moments of angst (to be overemotional about it)...the fact that both Gerard Cosloy and Patrick Amory played the old "build up/knock down" game with me (resulting in dismal sales and adverse publicity thanks to some should-have-seen-it-coming bandwagon-jumping) really knocked a lotta wind outta my sails, something which couldn't be remedied by a much-needed title-change to BLACK TO COMM in 1989 as well as a switch to a more-professional (hah!) saddle-staple and screened photography layout a year earlier (suggested to me by one Bruce Mowat, who wrote the cover story on Simply Saucer to accompany this fanzine beef-up). By this time (1988) I was still keeping up a hefty and regular publishing schedule with four-to-six issues per year, and although I was constantly bearing the brunt of a lotta undeserved antipathy at the time I was still enjoying myself discovering not only classic recordings (Hackamore Brick, Von Lmo) but new faves like the Droogs' classic KINGDOM DAY, and as I said at the time I was flattered that this publication of mine was the first ever to feature this quartet on the cover and after almost seventeen years of fanzine adulation as well! But as far as the name-switch goes, although I thought it necessary in 1988 given all the crap I had to go through thanks to a few punques, in retrospect I never would have switched it to BLACK TO COMM had I only known that this once-obscure MC5 number would grow in fame (and notoriety) by leaps and bounds within the coming years. I was still on my BACK DOOR MAN jag which helped influence the moniker-switch (which was better than some of the new titles that were thrust upon me like (nothing about) U2 and RANDOM INSECT DOOM) but from the hindsight of sixteen years all I gotta say is that I coulda done better at least with the choice of title for my vehicle, but then again if everyone from Robert E. Lee to Soupy Sales had another chance to make that one significant change in their lives the world would be a much different place than it is today!

It was at this time that I also got to hitch up with a lotta people claiming to be friends, and while some turned out to be pals of the fair weather variety (in order to spare your senses just comb over the past year-and-a-half of blog posts for an inkling) there were a few, like Brad Kohler, who proved to be true and blue to the point of contributing articles and pix sorely needed to color the thing up. If you're reading this Brad, all I gotta say is...wanna buy any additional issues???

Anyway, by 1990 I had so much trouble keeping up with a "regular schedule" more or less, and since I had long-wanted to unleash a larger fanzine the dimensions of KICKS and WHO PUT THE BOMP (again, the Troggs issue) on you faithful readers I quit with the clockwork and decided to take my good ol' time lopping these mags at you. Frankly I consider this move on one hand brilliant considering the less-rushed look of the things and nice-solid reading and dismal on the other taking in account that the immediacy was lost given the lapsed time between issues. But since the music scene was changing and I was changing myself, perhaps in a different direction (having pretty much given up on a lotta what had devolved into alternative music during that time) maybe the changeover to a mag that wasn't exactly "topical" yet remained on the top of a proto-punk/old tee-vee/Amerigan gulcher trash-heap was a move worthy of King Solomon, or maybe Solomon Gruberger for that matter.

I must admit that of all the FUD!/PFUD!/PFUDD!/PHFUDD!/BLACK TO COMMs that came out it's these later ones that I am the most gosh-darn-it-all proud of. Since I was aiming for a KICKS look and a feel akin to the oft-mentioned classic early/mid-seventies fanzines I adore, I think I did a pretty good job and I'm sure some staunch observer like Lindsay Hutton might agree with me (but then again, he might not!). And I must also admit (at the risk of sounding like a gosh-it-all young dweeb) that it has been a total thrill for me to find out more and more information about all of these then-obscure proto-punk aggregates like Umela Hmota and Simply Saucer and not only do articles on 'em but release their wares on those disques that came with issues 22 and 25! Yes, of all the "accomplishments" (hah!) I've made o'er the years I think it's the inclusion of those CDs that I'm the proudest of even though I originally feared that those shiny pancakes would eventually KILL primitive music as we knew it! And yeah, I would have loved to have seen a Milk single back in 1980 and all of those Czech bands released for underground consumption around the same time, but if I had known only then that I would've been the one doing all this record releasing (OK, "CD" releasing) stuff I probably'd've freaked out to no end! And although the current music scene seems to be so dry and uninspiring these past few years (except for the new avant garde jazz that has played [and will continue to play] at the CBGB Lounge) it's always great to hunt out and (re)discover bands from the feral past (like Les Rallizes Denudes) who still deliver on the goods even if they're not around anymore while the "underground" of a current strain continues to bore beyond belief. And although not everyone seems to bear my musical inclinations out, I'll bet you a stack of back issues that come ten/twenty years, its bands like The Magic Tramps that are going to be remembered while the alternative flavor of the month club blog-hyped acts that are all the rage will be thought of more or less as a punchline to a sick joke.

And hey, it's great that I could use this mag (and blog) and HITCH UP with a lotta my heroes from the Tramps to Lou Rone to Mr. Bear, Billy 'n Miriam and many more too numerous to mention!!! (If I forgot ya, leave me a post to chew me out!) I mean, these are folks I only read about for years, but actually getting in touch via the internet or mail or however is a big thrill that turns this mid-aged baldo into yet another raving adolescent blackhead farm! I certainly can get off on that more'n had I just holed up in my room reading about a life I wish I could live but couldn't inna millyun years!

Anyway, despite all the self-backpatting and one-way congratulations going on in this post, all I gotta say is that despite all the bad stuff that's happened to me and the mag, the back-stabbing and the lack of interest thanks to distributors (many who have yet to pay me) and big-name people who coulda given me the push but failed to do so even after promising just that, it's been fun. Sure, BLACK TO COMM has never turned a profit or made anybody's top ten list or even got a hint of recognition from the "mainstream" and/or "underground" but so what? I did what I KNEW I should do, and my only beef these days would be that I didn't do what I did HARD ENOUGH!!! And if I've turned off people because of my certain views (which were honed and cultivated perhaps because of these very same people, if you get my drift), remember that these are the same folk who TURNED ME OFF long ago with their even-Newer Left blab so in vogue in the colleges and newsrooms of Ameriga these days. Well, it's nice GIVING IT BACK to the same people who give it to me and my family/relatives/associates all these years for being so ethnic and honest and middle-class and all those things so not-in-vogue with the same people who claim to "speak for their vague conception of the common man."


But enough of that. Let's just say that here it is, twenty whole years after that first FUD began creeping into the mailboxes of unsuspecting rock maniacs and the train is still chugging away... a few wheels have derailed and its not exactly on-time maybe, but the ol engine's continuing to churn out the high-energy rock & roll message that's STILL so desperately needed even these days when we ALL should know better. Really, I wish I could have celebrated this momentous occasion with you by publishing a twentieth-anniversary BEST OF BLACK TO COMM with choice moments from past out-of-print issues and even more in-depth reminiscences, but sad to say there just ain't any market for that, at least at this moment. Perhaps for our Silver Anniversay I can slap something together, but as the sixties radicals used to say, "things gotta change first!" And although the medium may now be internet and a new flesh and blood (make that pulp and ink) issue might be years away, the enterprise keeps on going and I doubt it will be going away for a LONG time. Anyway, I'm here, I'm JEER, I'm SNEER and I'm STILL IN YOUR FACE, and while yer at it howzbout buying a couple
back issues?

2 comments:

Lindsay Hutton said...

Chris, You did a GREAT job on those. The latest issue is as "coffee table" edition as it needs to be. I can't understand why you ain't inundated with orders but that's our corner of the print trade for you. One of these days, people will catch up. I think I hope I'll be around to see that.

Christopher said...

Lindsay, if you wanna be around to see people catching up. may I suggest eating lots of vitamins and health foods and exercising daily. After all, that day will probably be fifty to sixty years from now!