Thursday, April 07, 2005

RETRO FANZINE REVIEW: ROCK MAG #'s 1 AND 2 (edited by Tim Ellison, and you can read a lot more of his writings by pressing here, but don't try ordering any of these issues from him because they're long gone!)

A few posts back I made a disparaging comment about the current state of fanzine affairs, a topic I've tackled not only on this blog but in various issues of my irregularly-published fanzine, and although yeah, even retrogarde I know that we're now living in a magical mystical era of cyberwhatziz and can get any goofball's stoopid comments as soon as said stoop types his bile up and slaps it on his own personalized blog ("Look Ma, my name in print!" just doesn't have the same zing to it as it did long ago!), but sheesh, I gotta say that I've enjoyed things a lot more in the past when the same sorta stoop would slap his inanities onto a sheet of paper and xerox the thing for a hundred or so equally doltish goofs to read in yet another fanzine attempt to glom some of those precious SST albums that label was tossing out to just about everybody back in those maybe not-so-glorious days. Well, perhaps the once-proliferation of crudzines ain't as noble a cause as it may seem...after all, my closet is filled with up to a thousand of these quickie ten-page paste-and-slop 'zines, a ridiculous term in itself (like, at one point it was decided that the honorary term "fanzine" was too outmoded and a reflection of some cubesville Sci-Fi past or something equally ridiculous, and now they were [taa-DAAH!] hot 'n modern 'zines instead!), and how could I forget all of the cheapie crankouts sent me throughout the late-eighties and nineties by FACTSHEET FIVE-glomming "publishers" hoping for a copy of my humongazoid mag in "exchange" for their ten-cent wares! Frankly, I wouldn't call those days any sorta sainted highpoint in the history of any fanzine development given all the unmitigated crudzines that were coming out left and right, and in some ways that may include earlier endeavors I've had the gall to unleash on an unsuspecting rock world so MAYBE I SHOULDN'T TALK!!!

Getting back into proper rockism gear, I've got to gushingly say that li'l ol' me has been lucky enough to have latched onto a few more fanzines from the real "Golden Age" (which roughly lasted from the date the first issue of WHO PUT THE BOMP came out until the last issue of GROOVE ASSOCIATES in 1983), mainly the first three issues of the should-be-legendary COMSTOCK LODE. As you could tell if you've pressed the highlighted fanzine title and read the review that ultimately popped up (scroll down a bit), COMSTOCK LODE was one of those typical intellecto British fanzines that not only dwelled plenty on the past whether it be San Fran psychedelia (even with a hefty emphasis on the much dreaded Dead axis) or peripheral garage rock faves with a little of the moderne late-seventies/early-eighties underground rumble thrown in just so's they didn't look like total hippies, and even with the strange balance between psychedelic and punk the mag sure reads a lot better'n such contemporaries as DARK STAR not to mention that all 'round hippie trip RELIX which took the hippie credo and ran with it all way to the Boone's Farm winery. Anyway, I got the first three issues of COMSTOCK LODE just recently and they're all pretty snat as well even with the hippoid leanings that fortunately didn't go overboard into the more tasteless aspects of the form. And given editor John Platt's love for then-current innovation, it's sure swell that this fanzine didn't topple into the same chasm of terminal hipness that plagued its competition which ended up down on the farm with the rest of the ol' fogies.

But what I want to talk about today is ROCK MAG a fanzine that was put out (and may still be put out at least one of these days) by budding rock scribe Tim Ellison. I gotta say that I foolishly missed out on the early issues of ROCK MAG (which eventually became MODERN ROCK MAGAZINE for aesthetic purposes) back when they were first thrust upon a fanzine-hungry populace in the early nineties mainly because at that time I was purposefully avoiding just about EVERYTHING that had anything to do with the then-current underground rock scene. Y'see, at that time it had finally sunk into my pithy brain as to just how vapid a lotta this new rock banging had become despite deluding myself that there was some sorta connection between late-seventies innovation (no wave, local garage rock...) and then-current indie music, and by this late date it eventually dawned on me that all these new underground bands were doing was merely rehashing and rechanneling innovation of the previous thirty years to the point where it only seemed of themselves and nobody else, lacking any of the original putsch and impetus that one could find in even some early-seventies low-budget recording made by a buncha German punks who at least swiped from the big guns w/gusto yet came off pretty unique and entertaining in the process. This anti-current rock bias still exists (as even a casual tour of this blog would attest to), and without a doubt it was back in the early-nineties when my mad desire to hear just about EVERY proto-punk offering of worth (at the expense of current quap) went into high gear with my savings account being emptied into the coffers of the likes of Forced Exposure in exchange for just about every early-seventies vintage reissued 140-gram vinyl offering where the words "garage" or "Velvet Underground" appeared in its description.

But as for ROCK MAG, I didn't get hold of any copies of this 'un until the late-nineties, and only at the urging of a man who proclaims to be a fan of both that mag and the one that I publish on occasion. And I gotta say that when I finally read the thing (after much prodding) I thought it was pretty OK (which would be a change considering the low quality of many fanzines of the nineties), especially since for once in that sorry decade there seemed to be a magazine (and rock scribe) that straddled the various lines of punkism and intellectualism w/o any resultant storm fronts colliding into a tsunami I sure could do without. There had been similar attempts at writing about music considered to be dolt-inspiring by many with airs of philosophy major smarts tossed in...Russell Desmond and his epochal CAN'T BUY A THRILL comes to mind as does a good portion of the published work of Richard Meltzer, but seeing such writing coming from an upstart outta nowhere like Ellison was a fizzy relief, especially in light of the humongous hot "rock critic" turds birthed outta the ass of Robert Christgau we hadda dodge during those not-so-halcyon days.

Being outta print for quite some time it was sure fine and dandy latching onto these early issues of ROCK MAG. While not the fulfilling rock thrill the later issues could be, these embryonic pamphlets were sure fine as far as early starts go and in fact put a lotta other debut issues of certain fanzine endeavors (esp. the first attempt I made on a lost weekend in '85) flat out in crudzine territory. These "digest" issues are similar to the rest of the ROCK MAG run ('cept for that one "regular-sized" ish I reviewed in #25 of my own missive), and as far as these mags goe, they are pretty snat as far as delivering on the rockism goods that seem in such short supply as the years dwindle on and on from the original hard core root of it all.

The cover of the debut ROCK MAG features the guitar player from Larry and the Bluenotes (probably snatched from that issue of KICKS which made some joke about that group engaging in a "hold your breath the longest" contest in the caption), and on the inside you get a lotta good obscuro writing that takes me back to the days (mid/late-eighties) when I'd pour over xeroxed copies of Meltzer's uninhibited waxings that CRAWDADDY! and FUSION had the smarts to publish, analysing every word and ellipsed phrase as if it were a piece of well-crafted creative writing in itself. Questions re. rock as s**t/colors (good white/black analogies that recall Lisa Robinson's appraisal of New York rock in the mid-seventies as being monochrome, and in a good way) are tossed at you with a surprising accuracy and if your mind can't handle all of the philosophical tracts being shot out of Ellison's word-processor then welcome to the club...even I (no total dummy by a short stretch of the imagination!) have some trouble wading through the majestic thickness of Ellison's early scribings but I gotta say that it's sure a lot more FUN slipping inside Ellison's house that it was for me figuring out Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre in philosophy class (no beret and cigarette holder for me). Of course you get the obligatory reviews of the then-current altie/under/sideways/down stuff that never stood the test of the next week let alone eternity, but I guess there's an audience for this stuff...somewhere. Back cover snap of Paul McCartney in butch cut (probably pilfered from the WHAT A SHAME MARY JANE boot) foreshadows future McCartney idolatry to appear within the span of a half-decade.

Number 2 (a number 2 that I like the smell of!) continues on the high path of brain-scrambled quality that began with the debut, with a tome on minimalism that even reaches the pure heights of punk/intellectualism that's espoused by the likes of Wayne McGuire as well as a piece on "Cartoon Music" (complete w/a pic of the Archies) which ends with the brilliant summation "CARTOONS HEREIN AS REDUCTION RATHER THAN DETAIL PROLIFERATION"...comes close to a similar cartoon to real life axiom once uttered by VON LMO! (Great minds orbit the same planet.) The "highlight" of this issue is an interview with the Candy Apples who on first impression seem like just another one of the latest youth bands to roll out of the refurbished garage (there were so many of these groups over the past few decades sullying whatever mid-Amerigan gunch garage rock had come to mean), only this group looks like they might have had at least 25% on the ball (some intelligence in their answers) which would put them 25% ahead of the competition. Of course we also get the various altie reviews that I tend to ignore unless Ellison's reviewing something w/hefty sixties and seventies references (or some old reissue/repackaging), but you've come to expect that from me over the years. (Tho I did read and enjoy the Ruins review, but maybe that's only because they came recommended to me via a mention on Eddie Flowers' Slippytown website...thus the seventies tastemode connection that always seems to come up w/regards to my personal likes and dislikes.)

After all's said/done these two issues of ROCK MAG are honest-to-goodness pretty noble starts on a rock writing career that maybe did end up in a dead-end rut (I mean, what else would you call being a featured writer for THE VILLAGE VOICE alongsides such ne'er do wells as Frank Kogan and Chuck Eddy???), but at least we still have the guy's blog to enjoy, and perhaps there will be another MODERN ROCK MAGAZINE to peruse in the future, even if it is the distant future. Until then, try getting hold of whatever ROCK MAG/MODERN ROCK MAGAZINE back issues you can. Tim used to have a website where you can buy 'em but it seems to have been shut down. Write him at and see what happens.


Anonymous said...

Semi-related: Have you gotten around to checking out the most recent Meltzer book? The HB edit has seemingly been remaindered all over the place (a penny on Amazon!), and it's well worth a read.

Christopher Stigliano said...

Gotta say I haven't, not necessarily because of the cover w/the old fogie nudists but because of prior commitments. The Smegma CD w/Meltzer vocals is a gotta-have, and I plan on ordering it when Eclipse Records gets some more pressing Japanese underground stuff in (I'm getting penny-conscious in these high postal rate days...)