I’ve been thinking about zines lately, even though the outlets (at least the ones convenient to me) for them have almost entirely dried up. My writing career, such as it is, started with a zine, back in 1988. I can’t remember what it was that ignited the spark. Probably an issue of Maximumrocknroll, which was about the only zine to which I had access back then, because you could find it in your cooler bookstores (my cooler bookstore being Hawley Cooke in St. Matthews, KY). When I decided that the world (or at least 25 people) needed to know the political thoughts and musical tastes of a 15-year-old in Buckner, Kentucky, I conspired to get a “job” as a teacher’s assistant, which mostly meant making copies and running interference while my assigned teacher snuck a quick smoke during her planning period. The job would afford me access to the copy machine in the school’s office. My media empire was born.
Not too long ago, someone from back in the day mailed me copies of the first two issues, which I usually peddled outside local shows or through what was, at the time, Louisville’s only punk rock record store of note, Ear Ecstasy, a closet-sized hole-in-the-wall next door to a comic book shop on Bardstown Road. Revisiting one’s old timey handiwork is a mixed blessing. I admire the earnestness of that kid — he really did not like apartheid. His writing skills could use some work. And at some point I reviewed an Ice T record? Why the hell did I review an Ice T record? Had I ever even owned an Ice T record? Mixed in was a lot of bad collage art, mostly of menacing KKK guys, Ronald Reagan, and babies with their eyes whited out.
I continued doing the zine after I left for college down in Florida, expanding my repertoire, honing my razor-sharp wit, and developing my interview skills beyond “introduce yourselves and tell us who your influences were.” I took more photos, but this being the analog days, chopped most of them up and pasted them into layout, thus destroying the only proof I have that I ever went anywhere or did anything (I have a curious knack for not showing up in other people’s photos). Over the years, it drifted away from music and bands and shows (there’s only so many times you can write about the disturbing trend of punk rockers growing beards, something that continues to this day and the blame for which I think can be laid entirely at the feet of Gainesville rockers Hot Water Music) and into film and slice of life stuff. I read a lot of Cometbus and local hero No Idea. And The Journal of Ride Theory. That one was great. Dude from Negativeland writing about Disney’s Haunted Mansion? I enthusiastically tapped into the network of zines and zinesters I’d discovered through publications like MRR, Factsheet Five, and bOing bOing (who could have predicted where that one ended up?) I got cool stuff in the mail. And weird stuff. And lots of unsolicited Paul Weinman poetry.
And then came the internet. I launched my first real site in 1997 and bought the domain in 1998, back when such things required a disappointing amount of faxing of forms. With sporadic breaks here and there, I’ve been publishing online ever since. But every now and then, I think about zines.
1998 also happens to be the year I moved to New York. The city was well into the Giuliani scrubbing, but there was still some character to be found. I lived in a one-room apartment next door to Kojak’s police precinct and spent a lot of time (and most of my meager paycheck) at Mondo Kim’s and See Hear, a zine shop about which I’d read for years. Just as Kim’s indulged my voracious appetite for weird music, living a few minutes’ from See Hear resulted in a deluge of zine buying, which the highlights being Giant Robot, Endless Struggle, Grand Royal (maybe that one doesn’t quite count as a zine), Great God Pan, and so many others I can’t even remember at this point. I thought about getting back in the game, doing a journal centered around moving to New York as a young, broke, single, 20-something — no one had ever done that before, right??? I even started working on some pages. But then this came up, or that came up, or I just wasn’t feeling the creative magic the way I had before. Plus the equipment in ABC No Rio’s zine-making room was always broken or stolen. So I settled into running a website, even though it afforded less opportunity to use glue sticks.
Kim’s is gone. See Hear is gone. So too are ABC No Rio, MRR, and Factsheet Five. bOing bOing is online and mostly writes about the same memes and viral stories as every other site. St. Marks Bookstore, which was another decent shop for zines, is a coffee shop or a vacant storefront — it’s hard to remember these days. And yet, for some reason, I started snooping around for and thinking about zines again.
Well, not for “some” reason. The specific impetus was the book 20th Century Boy by Duncan Hannah, a kid who came to New York in the 1970s and decided to write down everything he did. 20th Century Boy collects the journals into one book, sort of a “zine before zines.” It is a fascinating first-person history in which even the mundane details of life have been rendered interesting by the passage of time. Zines had served that function for me — records of bands, parties, people, shows, and the ephemeral detritus of a few decades of kicking around the punk rock scene of one town or another. Unlike Duncan, however, I didn’t keep any of my stuff.
But I did, during a recent night out with a guy who used to do some writing for Giant Robot, start thinking about doing a zine again, about banishing myself from the comfort of InDesign and digital layout and go back to scissors and glue sticks and copy machines. No idea how you go about distributing a zine these days, with no MRR or See Hear (and I’m a little old to be standing outside clubs asking “you wanna buy my zine?”). But that sort of thing didn’t concern me in 1988, when my distribution was almost entirely to people I knew outside of Tewligan’s during their Sunday punk and hardcore matinees. What does a middle-aged guy do a zine about? Reviews of larb moo joints and 20-year-old records?
No idea, but I have a cover in the works.