25 years is just a drop in the never-ending vastness of the interwebs…
Me and all surviving members of the Phantom Five/ Boss Hoss posse from back in the day (last summer)
(L-R)Me, my brother CJ, Johnny ‘Bluesman’ Rahmer, Bill ‘Modfather’ Luther, my brother Vince
I was sitting in front of the computer the other day, under a ceiling fan, in the shade with a cool drink at my side (on account of it’s been around 100 degrees for a few days now) and I spotted a Facebook post by my old friend Andy Peters about his alma mater, Stevens Tech, in Hoboken, NJ.
What has this to do with me??
You see, it was 25 years ago (give or take a month here or there) that I took my first, tentative steps into the world of what I’ll call ‘zine’ culture, and Andy and his college had a big part in getting things going.
I don’t recall exactly what gave me the idea to do a fanzine. I don’t think I’d ever seen one when I started mine, and in all likelihood it was something I read about in the local rock rag (the Aquarian Weekly) or via Creem or Trouser Press. The idea of a self-published magazine seemed like just what the doctor ordered.
I had just started a job in the composing room of a newspaper, so I had the basic cut and paste skills, and the rest was a matter of DIY motivation, i.e. finding a source for, if not free, discounted copying, collating and stapling the zines and then (this was the part I thought was going to be difficult) finding somewhere to sell them.
It wasn’t long before I got hip to the concept of consignment, and since I was already haunting all the area record stores, they were generally agreeable to sticking a few copies in their magazine racks and sending me on my way.
The first issues of my zine Incognito (I think I picked the name at random because it sounded cool) were typed on an IBM electric typewriter, the headlines and logos hand-lettered and the picture Xeroxed and pasted in with rubber cement. I think I did two or three issues before Andy suggested an alternative means of production.
When he entered his first year at Stevens, all freshmen were required to purchase a personal computer as part of their coursework. Andy suggested typesetting the issues and printing the text out in column wide strips on his computer and printer.
This was major.
First-off, almost nobody had their own computer back then. I realize that relating this info to some of the younger readers here makes me sound like a Neanderthal man, but that’s just how it was. To put things in perspective, the major daily newspaper I worked at was barely more advanced than my two-bit, home-based operation.
At this point I had never used a PC before and wasn’t sure what to expect. As it turns out, since I was basically using it as a glorified typewriter anyway, it didn’t take much in the way of adaptation.
Every few months I’d take a ride up to Andy’s dorm room in Hoboken (usually with one or both of my brothers riding shotgun) and sit down at the computer for a lengthy writing session, interrupted only for trips to Benny Tudino’s for giant slices of pizza.
It wasn’t long before Andy started coming with us to shows in NYC, which is where he made his second major contribution to Incognito, that being his photographs.
Andy Peters (top, center) clicking the shutter at Maxwells (yes, that’s Soundgarden)
Thanks to Ken Salerno for letting me reprint his very cool pic…
Andy was (and is) an accomplished photographer (as well as a soundman, and his day job as an engineer) and over the course of the next three years he took scores of photographs of the bands and scenemakers on the NY/NJ garage/mod scene, as well as any number of other bands that came through Maxwells in Hoboken (where he worked behind the soundboard for years). Many of these pictures appeared in Incognito, as well as my next zine Evil Eye, and even here on Iron Leg (some can be seen here).
Without Andy, the whole Grogan blogging empire might never have become the monolithic cultural force of the interwebs that it is.
So thanks Andy!
Incognito (circa 1985)
Over those first few years I became an avid consumer of zines, especially locally produced titles like the legendary Billy Miller and Miriam Linna’s Kicks (a BIG influence), Jim Testa’s Jersey Beat (still going in its third decade), Bill Luther’s Smashed Blocked, the late Rudie Rosinski’s (with Bill) Stranger Than Fiction, Mick London’s Making Tyme, Mike Stark’s Trash Beat and countless others from around the US and the rest of the world (mostly procured through the influence of Ron Rimsite at Venus Records on 8th Street in NYC).
There were also minor detours into the ‘legitimate’ press in the late 80s/early 90s, with a number of freelance articles written for the paper I worked for, and for about a year my own music column in a smaller local paper.
Evil Eye (circa 1994) If anyone has a copy of this issue, please let me know…
By the late 80s I’d gotten my hands on my own computer (a tiny Apple Performa 200 with a weird little hand-held scanner), followed a few years later by a Performa 600, the last Apple product I purchased before my first iPod) and I got into the desktop publishing thing with my next zine, Evil Eye (roughly 1991-1996, I don’t really remember exactly) which covered a lot of the same ground, except the focus moved away from the garage/mod revival onto all kinds of alternative (when that word still meant something) stuff, from garagey sounds to trance ambient stuff like The Orb and FSOL.
A few years further down the line, post-Evil Eye I did two print issues of a jazz/Beat zine called Gone (1997/98) which was where I eventually made the leap to the interwebs in 2000 (the traces can be found here) , right before the Funky16Corners web zine.
Gone (circa 1997)
I really do consider what I do here in 2010 a direct extension of those early, primitive days of X-Acto knives, rubber cement and copy machines.
When I transitioned to the Funky16Corners web zine the format was still zine-like with feature articles, discographies, and the addition of small sound files (in the all but useless RealAudio format).
Once again, I do not recall when I first saw an audioblog, but I do remember that I made the decision to switch from the web-zine format to the blogs you see today right after my wife and I had our first son. Time was suddenly at a premium and I needed a format that would allow me to continue the vibe of the web-zine in much smaller increments, that being one song at a time.
The Funky16Corners blog got up and running in 2004 (at Blogger, then WordPress), and I started Iron Leg in 2007 so that I’d have somewhere to muse about 60s pop, psychedelic and the like.
And here we all are today, a quarter of a century later with my own personal zine story having moved along pretty much uninterrupted for the whole time. There were probably a few small lulls here and there, but I can assure you any down time was devoted to figuring out what I was going to do next.
I suppose it would be fair to say that I’ve been involved in these pursuits for this long because I enjoy what I do. It allows me to stay creative, and intersects nicely with my record collection.
There’s also something to be said for the mainstreaming of the DIY culture.
Back in the day, if you wanted to self publish your ramblings it involved a fair amount of work, putting it all together, getting it reproduced and above all, getting it distributed (which involved snail mail and the old sneaker net, same with self-released indie records, which I did too, see Phantom Five, above).
We used to pile into my old station wagon and hit all the local stores, then move on to the city, dropping the zine off at Venus, Midnight and wherever else I could. The whole process had to be repeated when I wanted to collect on any sales, and then to distribute new issues.
Those New York stores, and their mail order operations – as well as reviews in other zines – ended up getting my zines to people in foreign countries, years before e-mail was common. Back then it was a huge gas whenever I got a piece of zine mail from a foreign country. Now international communication is instantaneous in a way Marshal McLuhan never imagined. The mother-blog, Funky16Corners gets regular visitors from a few dozen countries, and occasional stop-ins from all kinds of crazy places. If you’d told me 25 years ago that anyone would be able to do that I’d’a thunk you were crazy go nuts.
These days, anyone with an internet connection and the know-how can get a blog up and running (and then shut down) in no time, or record something in their home studio and have it up on YouTube the same day.
There’s been a lot of crap heaved up onto the interwebs under the guise of blogging, but there’s also been a lot of very creative, interesting and rewarding stuff as well (see blogroll).
Though I’m not 100% sure that’s what folks were thinking of back in the 80s when they used DIY to help democratize the process and the market (it was after all a radically different set of tools at our disposal), it is certainly better than what the mainstream print and music industries hath wrought (which is by and large their own destruction).
With Funky16Corners in its 6th year and Iron Leg in its 4th, there‘s not really an end in sight (unless I get hit by a bus). The way things move along these days, you never know when the next big format change may come along (and Twitter ain’t it…), but I suspect that no matter what happens, both of my blogs will probably always be recognizable (at least I hope so) as part of this 25 year continuum.
I hope you all stick around for the ride.
See you on Monday.