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Archive for the ‘periodicals’ Category

To those wearing white one week longer,

The great Brian Distelberg, a PhD candidate in history at Yale, returns today to these pages. In case you missed it, check out his musings on Connecticut. And check out his own website, where he writes about his research, contemporary politics and culture, and LGBT issues.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) turns 100 this year, and as Katherine Q. Seelye recently observed in the New York Times, the anniversary finds the Scouts facing “a host of issues”: plummeting membership (from a 1973 peak of 4.8 million to 2.8 million now), an $18.5 million jury verdict stemming from a sexual abuse case, and ongoing challenges to its exclusion of atheists, gay people, and girls under 13.

Given that I currently fall into two of these three categories, it’s not surprising that I often felt a bit ill-at-ease during the eight years I spent as a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. But memories of that youthful discomfort now feed my curiosity about the remarkably under-examined place the Scouts have historically occupied in American society and popular mythology, and encourage me to look skeptically on the sort of fuzzy ahistoricism that prompted Seelye to declare that the Scouts were “long an icon of wholesomeness in a simpler America.”  As Michael Rosenthal wrote in his 1986 study of the Boy Scouts in Britain, “immunity from critical scrutiny has left Scouting almost entirely in the hands of its own historians and publicists, a situation that is not helpful in trying to understand the origins and meaning of any movement.”

Although now a quarter-century old, Rosenthal’s diagnosis remains surprisingly applicable to the case of Scouting in the United States. David Macleod’s social history Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (1983) examines the Scouts’ Progressive-era origins, and Jay Mechling analyzes a contemporary Scout troop’s summer camp rituals in On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth (2001). A few unpublished dissertations also cover the organization’s early years. But large swaths of the Boy Scouts’ history, including the wartime and Cold War decades when it enjoyed its greatest popularity, remain largely unexplored—to the detriment of our understanding of American political conservatism, youth culture, suburbanization and recreation, and masculinity and male sexuality, among other topics.

Lack of easy access to BSA organizational records is, of course, a major obstacle.  (The National Scouting Museum, which moved to its current Irving, TX, location in 2002, offers few useful exhibits on its website, and researchers must apply, and pay a daily usage fee, to examine to its holdings.) But the digital archive can provide inquiring historians an alternative means of exploring the organization’s place in American society, particularly as revealed through the voluminous print culture produced by and about the Scouts in its century of existence.

The Boy Scout Handbook is probably the best known of these publications. The handbook, which sets out and explains the Scout Oath and Law, describes the requirements to advance from rank to rank, and offers information on subjects from camping to fitness to good citizenship, has passed through twelve editions since 1910. (It carried the title Handbook for Boys until 1959.) Jeff Snowden, scoutmaster of Troop 97 in Fort Collins, Colorado, maintains a detailed online compendium of images of Boy Scout, Scoutmaster, and other Scout handbooks. The images, which accompany Snowden’s study of the handbook’s evolution, reveal telling shifts in the Scouts’ self-presentation and traces of wider social changes.

Around 1950, for instance, the fifth edition’s cover was redrawn reflect the introduction of “overseas caps”popularized in the U.S. armed forces during World War II—to replace “campaign hats” in the Scout uniform. Scouts of color appear on the back cover in 1965, and on the front in 1972. And since 1990, the covers have shifted from depicting hiking, camping, and fishing to emphasizing more “extreme” outdoor activities, especially whitewater rafting and kayaking. (Troop 97’s website only includes handbook covers; the full text of reprint editions of the 1911 handbook and 1913-1914 scoutmaster handbook are on Google Books.)

Between 1910 and 1930, the early handbook was joined by a flurry of inexpensive juvenile fiction featuring the Scouts. (more…)

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Dear weekend awaiters,

This is the second installment of a new Lazy Scholar feature, pairing news items with historical archives.

Slate‘s TV Club is diligently following and debating the new season of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched (is that possible?), it’s a 60s scholar’s dream, with carefully reconstructed interior design, fashion, and, yes, language. A few weeks back, Ben Zimmer at the New York Times Magazine offered an inside look at the writers’ efforts to keep the dialogue historically accurate. Scholars of advertising and consumerism, of course, will be thrilled, too, even if the show fictionalizes the origins of many real-life advertising campaigns. Sorry folks, Don Draper did not coin Lucky Strike’s slogan. People were enjoying their “toasted” cigarettes as early as 1919, as this ad shows. Until next Sunday night, you can ponder more of the history behind Mad Men by checking out the beautiful exhibit, The High Art of Photographic Advertisement, thanks to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. One wonders, were those “Luckies” even more tempting in color?

• Moving on to the big screen, top critics are divided about Eat, Pray, Love, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about her post-divorce trip to Italy and elsewhere. You can follow the globe-trots of some earlier American women courtesy of  Brigham Young University’s American Travelers in Italy archive, with digitized copies of travelogues by Sophia Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott. The Little Women author had this to say about Rome: “Felt as if I had been there before and knew all about it. Always oppressed with a sense of sin, dirt, and general decay of all things.” Not exactly the stuff of summer movies.

• Officials and locals in Louisiana debate whether it’s safe or wise to re-open commercial fishing grounds after the Gulf oil spill. Between 1921 and 1932, LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employee Percy Viosca, Jr.,  documented the state’s coasts, and captured many photos of its fishing industry. You can view images like the one below on the Viosca Collection from LSU.

• After much research, McSweeney’s presented the “Editor’s Choice Award” to their favorite “e-Reader”: the Newspaper. It “outclassed its rivals both in terms of size and elasticity” and its “display could be read at full size or, when flipped open, twice its normal width.” Fellow ironical Luddites will enjoy the Library of Congress’s amazing, easy-to-navigate, and free Chronicling America Archive, with searchable copies of newspapers dating from 1860 to 1922, including The Texas Jewish Herald, The Salt Lake Evening Democrat, The Ohio Valley Worker, and the Daily Tombstone of Tombstone, Arizona. Here’s a look at some beachfront fashions from a 1916 issue of the New York Herald-Tribune, “an afternoon gown of black silk.”

• Speaking of fashion, this just in: Urban Outfitters’s fall catalog was shot entirely in and around my adopted summer home, Northampton, Massachusetts. Have the grounds of Smith ever looked so co-ed? You can download the catalog here. And you can see historical images of Smith here, thanks to the college’s library. Below, some ladies play leapfrog on the ice for the Sophomore Carnival of 1922.

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Yours currently,

Stephen

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Dear obsessive Netflix queue updaters,

I went to San Francisco last week to do some research at a couple of non-digital archives—you know, the kind with actual, physical papers and books—but spent much of my time wondering what my life would be like on the west coast. Would I indulge in olive oil ice cream everyday? Teach in HistCon? Overcome my fear of driving on steep hills? What made Californians different from the Brooklynites and Bostonians  I’ve known?

My on-the-ground research remains inconclusive—one person described liberal Californians as passive-aggressive, in contrast to plain-old aggressive New Yorkers—but my digital research promises more answers, thanks to the archives of Sunset. As explained by historian Kevin Starr in this nice Stanford exhibit, the periodical eventually known as “the magazine of Western living” was founded in 1898 by the Southern Pacific Railroad in hopes of attracting the upper classes. To the right, you can see the cover of the first issue, beckoning readers beyond Yosemite. (Check out many more cover images on the Stanford site here.) Thanks to the ever-resource-full Internet Archive, as well as Google Books and the Harvard archives, you can also read some of those early volumes. The June 1900 issue featured, for instance, the sonnet “Before the Twilight Comes” by San Francisco accountant and lawyer John Franklin Forbes:

When down the flaming causeway of the west
The regal sun, refulgent in the gleam
Of sacred fire and the paler beam
That reaches into nothingness in quest
Of laggard eve, is passing to his rest,
And in his wake, like babbling of some stream,
Or soft, uncadenced voices of a dream,
Sound murmurs of the gentle night wind’s guest.

Then ere the tides grow dark as they flow in,
A blush of gold comes rippling down the bay
To kiss the Berkeley hills, and o’er Marin
A purple vapor veils each mountain height
For a brief while—then slowly fades away
Within the dusky coverlet of night.

Perhaps it’s a good thing Forbes left poetry behind to teach accounting and auditing at Berkeley. On the more serious side, the magazine also featured Mary Edith Griswold’s first-hand account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and its aftermath. One of the more stirring moments from her narrative: “As we stopped on Stockton street to watch a toppling-wall I found myself next an old colored man. As he spoke I recognized in him the negro exhorter. I had sometimes listened when he was holding forth from his open-air platforms. Now he was exclaiming: ‘Haven’t I prophesied all this? Haven’t I told you this wicked town would be consumed with fire and brimstone? But now I’m sorry I spoke.'”

By 1914, the Pacific Railway decided to get out of the magazine biz, but as Starr points out, the magazine had already outlived its early promotional goals, publishing famous and soon-to-be-famous writers including Sinclair Lewis, Damon Runyon (read one of his poems here), and Jack London.

Another major shift came in 1929 when the magazine was purchased by publishing mogul Larry Lane and his wife, who expanded the focus of the magazine to include the Great Indoors. This new attention towards the home may best be revealed by two of the covers from the thirties, below.

That decade also saw the release of the first Sunset cookbook, the All-Western Cook Book by Genevieve Callahan, available on the Internet Archive and on Google. Honestly, who had time to worry about the Great Depression when you were preparing artichoke soufflé? As Callahan exhorted, “Don’t let yourself fall into the routine of cooking just a few old familiar vegetables! Explore! Experiment!” Irony aside, I have to say, I love this illustration of a fashionable lady buying vegetables from an ambiguously ethnic market man.

As far as I can tell from this brief browse, the Western ethos according to Sunset hasn’t changed much since then. The current issue still features awe-struck memoirs of trips to the wilderness, delectable recipes, gardening tips. But then again, so does the New York Times. If anything, it seems the West Coast no longer has much of a hold on Western living after all.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

Yours escaping the Massachusetts humidity,

Stephen

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Many who like procrastination like this blog,

Today’s post, number three in the Lazy Scholar’s ongoing Divided States project, comes to you from  Brian Distelberg, a historian of twentieth-century U.S. culture and politics and a PhD candidate at Yale. I first encountered Distelberg’s work in the most recent issue of GLQ, featuring his rich and insightful article on gay book critics and the emergence of gay visibility politics in the 1970s. His dissertation examines minority groups’ campaigns to combat stereotypes and encourage “positive” representations in film, television, and other media between the 1940s and the 1990s. His other interests include gay and lesbian history, African American history, and the regional history of New England in the twentieth century.  He blogs about his research, contemporary politics and culture, LGBT issues, and other topics at his website.

“It would be a brave man who would sit down, alone or with company, and attempt a portrait of this State. Present-day Connecticut is too diversified and restless to yield an easy likeness.”

So wrote John B. Derby, state director of the Federal Writer’s Project, in his preface to Connecticut: A Guide to Its Roads, Lore, and People (1938), the Nutmeg State’s entry in the sequence of guidebooks that inspired the “Divided States” posts. Today, Connecticut is perhaps even more “diversified and restless” than it was in the New Deal era. But thanks to an abundance of archival material digitized by its libraries, universities, and historical societies, you can delve into its past in search of your own “portrait of this State” with relative ease.

Derby’s preface invokes the nineteenth-century engraver John Warner Barber, who travelled and sketched the state’s towns for his book Historical Collections of Connecticut (1836). You can browse hundreds of Barber’s drawings and engravings at Connecticut History Online (CHO), a portal and search engine that offers access to the collections of a number of historical institutions. In 1934, just shy of a century after Barber’s volume appeared,the state completed a first-in-the-nation photographic aerial survey. Check out “Aerial Surveys,” one of over twenty subject-based digital collections created by the Connecticut State Library, to search the images, and others from 1938 and 1965, by town and by street. Here’s a view of the state capitol in Hartford in 1934, opened in 1879, and here’s the famous onion-domed factory of Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company. (Another State Library exhibit has numerous images from the corporate records of Colt, one of Connecticut’s many arms manufacturers, including this charming photo of a young girl holding a Colt .45 revolver.)

About thirty miles east of Hartford is Storrs, home to the University of Connecticut, which was established in 1881 as the Storrs Agricultural School and serves as the state’s land-grant university. That heritage helps explain the impressive-looking College of Agriculture Building depicted in this undated postcard, one of hundreds from throughout the state included in the Boston Public Library’s Tichnor Brothers Inc. Postcard Collection and available on Flickr.

The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center offers several ways to dig deeper into the history of student life at UConn. As a Syracuse basketball fan by marriage I’m not exactly an enthusiast for UConn athletics, but the historian in me is still fascinated by the films of football and basketball games from the 1930s and 1940s digitized by the Dodd Center. You can also browse volumes of Nutmeg, the university yearbook, stretching from 1915-1990. Although the image quality is disappointing and each page features an obtrusive watermark, the yearbooks remain fascinating time capsules. Take a look at the 1970 volume, filled with Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, images of antiwar protests, and student organizations like the “Parachute Club,” all coexisting somewhat uncomfortably with more traditional fare like freshman beanies, fraternities, and the ROTC. (And, hey—is that kid holding a vuvuzela?)

Down in New Haven, meanwhile, is Yale University, which I’ve called home for the past four years. If you’d prefer a sense of the daily pace of student life, the Yale Library Digital Collections allow you to browse and search past issues of the Yale Daily News dating from 1878 to 1992.

But given its history as a “Model City” for urban renewal programs after World War II, New Haven also provides a window onto the broader history of U.S. cities in the twentieth century. Yale experts helped to make New Haven’s urban renewal policies, and Yale scholars and its libraries have since helped to document those policies’ often-tragic results.  For a multimedia introduction to the history, have a look at Life in the Model City: Stories of Urban Renewal in New Haven, a digital exhibit combining text, images, and oral history recordings. Then continue on to the Yale Library’s Historical New Haven Digital Collection, which allows you to browse images by neighborhood, as well as maps and a compendium of census and other demographic data. (Much of it seems to be the primary sources gathered by Douglas W. Rae for his 2003 study City: Urbanism and Its End.) Here, for instance, is a before-and-after image of the Oak Street neighborhood, bulldozed and replaced by a highway, and another celebrating the construction of the Elm Haven public housing project in the Dixwell neighborhood near Yale’s campus (which has since been demolished to make way for new townhouse-style homes).

Connecticut History Online also furnishes fully-searchable access to many more images from the files of the New Haven Redevelopment Agency—a fantastic teaching tool.

If that all isn’t enough, in two years, the Connecticut Humanities Council will launch another digital resource for exploring the state’s history, the Encyclopedia of Connecticut History Online (ECHO).  Until it debuts in 2012, you can follow the compilers’ progress and sample some of the content at their blog, ECHO Underway.

Yours in steady habits,

Brian Distelberg

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To the chronically tired,

While I may be lazy in my scholarship, let it never be said I’m a stranger to physical labor. On Monday, I started volunteering one morning a week at a local farm here in Northampton. As promised, the work was not glamorous—weeding, weeding, and more weeding—but it was surprisingly satisfying. As an academic, I’ve spent hours and hours revising the same paragraph, only to rework it again the following day. So imagine the joy in releasing a bushel of parsley from the strangling grasp of an encroaching weed, shaking off the soil, and moving on to the next plant. When I came home that afternoon, I still had dirt smeared across my brow—proof! It’s not so easy when your regular work consists of sipping  iced coffee while staring at a computer screen, trying not to cry. I know I’m getting ahead of myself for someone whose farming experience only amounts to four hours. But indulge me, dear reader. Do you know what it’s like to write a dissertation?

I’ve been fascinated for a long time with the sustainable farming movement, and the longer history of environmentalism in the U.S. Much of the current organic/local/natural food movement has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s, though those hippies probably never suspected their work would yield Whole Foods markets in 39 states (for better or worse).

Their spirit, however, lives on, thanks to Whole Earth Catalog Archive. The Whole Earth Catalog was launched in 1968 by Stewart Brand, described at the time by Tom Wolfe as “a thin blond guy… No shirt, however, just an Indian bead necktie on bare skin and a white butcher’s coat with medals from the King of Sweden on it.” The goal of the catalog, as the first installment explained, was to market tools that enabled the “individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.” The products themselves range kind of wildly–a glass blowing guide, buckskin, hunting boots, self-hypnosis manuals. Though my favorite ad is for Anthony Greenback’s Book of Survival, which beat out The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook by several decades. As the catalog assures, you may laugh, but “next time you’re running from an enraged bull, you remember about flinging down your jacket.”

By 1971, the catalog ballooned from 66 pages to 452, with a well-expanded section on land-use, from gardening to goat husbandry (Beekman Boys, here is your heritage!).

The catalog also yielded the CoEvolution Quarterly, later renamed The Whole Earth Review, also viewable online. They’re worth browsing for the trippy illustrations alone, including this cover from 1977 by Robert Crumb, which lightly parodies the utopian ethos of the back-to-the-land movement. The issue includes Crumb’s comic treatment of a “Modern Dance Workshop,” plus the results of a Stanford study on “Voluntary Simplicity,” lessons on retrofitting tract housing with solar panels, a story by J.G. Ballard, and thoughts on death from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. 70s counterculture was anything but narrow.

Those less eager to flip pages online (or pay for the PDF) can also view some articles in HTML format.

I’ll leave it to readers to reflect on why we’re still fighting the battles the Whole Earth Catalog started forty years ago. For more on the catalog’s afterlife, you can check out Fred Turner’s well-received study From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, or Brand’s latest Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. And for a decidedly contemporary take, check out Adbusters latest issue, titled the “Whole Brain Catalog: Access to Therapies.”

On that note, back to my mental gardening.

Yours holistically,

Stephen

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Dear air conditioner enthusiasts,

You may have heard that June is LGBT Pride Month in these United States, marked by rainbow-banner parades in cities across the country. Boston’s passed a few Saturdays ago (favorite sign: “gender is a drag,” courtesy of a Traniwreck marcher), but I’ll confess, the parade that still means the most to me is the one in New York City, from Greenwich Village to Central Park, held every year on the last Sunday in June. Part of my fascination is historical—I wonder how many participants and spectators will know that this is the 40th NYC pride parade. The first was held in 1970 in commemoration of the riots outside the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street. (You can read a scan of the Mattachine Society’s account of the riot on sociologist Toby Marotta’s excellent Community Roots Archive. And see some photos from the first Gay Liberation Parade, like the one below, thanks to the New York Public Library’s digital archive, here and here.)

Diana Davies, NYPL Digitial ID: 1619943

But beyond the political history, NYC’s pride parade still means the most to me because it was one of the crucial ways I tracked my own coming out. In the four years I lived in the East Village and Brooklyn, I never missed the parade, but my reactions to it kept changing. The first summer, I literally stood a few feet back from the main line of spectators, probably afraid some drag queen would literally grab me, pull me over the metal divider, and force to me to march alongside her (or more likely that my face would somehow appear in a local news broadcast). The second summer, I went with a new set of friends, and cheered on a group I meekly referred to, literally, as “lesbians on motorcycles,” not quite ready to embrace their more common moniker. And the third and fourth summers, I went with my boyfriend—though those two honestly start to blur together, which in itself feels like progress.

I went back to grad school, in part, because I wanted to learn more about the cultural history I felt myself to be a part of—a pursuit in which my laziness has been, and remains, key. The latest case in point: OutHistory’s Since Stonewall Local Histories Contest. The online archive invited readers to post their own exhibits, and the results are pretty extraordinary. Where else could you find a history of LGBT visibility in Bloomington, Indiana—now billing itself as the “fifth gayest place in America”? Or a look at FTM trans mentorship in San Francisco? Or photos from the 1978 Reno Gay Rodeo?

For a lesson in more recent history, you can also spend hours digging through the complete run of Outweek. Though it only lasted from 1989 to 1991, Outweek was an important voice in AIDS activism and awareness, taking a more militant approach than the older Advocate (particularly as co-founder Michaelangelo Signorile began “outing” high-profile sorts). It’s worth downloading some PDFs, just for the ads and cartoons. (FYI: You can also view issues of The Advocate from 1994 to 2006 and Out, co-founded by Outweek columnist Michael Goff, from 1999-2006 on Google Books.)

To view an archive in the making, you should also check out I’m From Driftwood, featuring an impressive range of true LGBT tales. Think of it as a queer Storycorps, which of course has its own share of queer tales.

And one last thing for you theatrical types: a re-mastered video of the great Charles Ludlam’s  silent (and campy) horror film Museum of Wax, thanks to the Outfest Legacy Project.

Yours fabulously,

Stephen

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Dear iTunes addicts,

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Jack Hamilton, a fellow PhD student in Harvard’s American Civilization program. He is currently at work on his dissertation titled ‘Rubber Souls’: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination, 1963-1971. Before coming to Harvard, Jack was a contributor to Rolling Stone and Paper, among other publications. You can catch him these days playing keys in the Abbie Barrett Band.

We have met dark days; the catalog of present horrors and dire morrows is so familiar there’s not even any point in running through it again. It may be a copout, but people will do almost anything now to escape from the pall. The (first) Age of Anxiety gave way to the clammy retreat of the Fifties, when every citizen kept a tight bomb shelter, then to the sense of massive change in the Sixties, but the passing of that agitated decade has brought a new Age of Implosion, yesterday’s iconoclastic war babies siphoned off en masse, stumbling and puking over each other at the festivals which were celebrations such a short time ago. Tying off their potentials and shooting them into the void in bleak rooms.

-Lester Bangs, “Bring Your Mother To the Gas Chamber”, CREEM, June/July 1972

It’s both thrilling and vaguely embarrassing that a renowned rock critic once opened a two-part(!) profile of this band with such an overheated cop of Ginsberg’s Howl, much as it’s both thrilling and vaguely embarrassing that, once upon a time, people wrote about rock and roll music this way in the first place.  But indeed they did, and a surprising number of them, as even a cursory journey through the tantalizing and frustratingly incomplete online archives of pioneering publications Crawdaddy! and CREEM reveals.

Established by Swarthmore College undergraduate Paul Williams in 1966, Crawdaddy! is widely considered to be the first American venue of serious rock and roll criticism.  Although the magazine existed well into the 1970s, its online archive is limited to 1966-1968, a sadly incomplete selection that nonetheless offers a glimpse into the unruly first steps of a significant cultural institution of the 1960s.

And what intriguing steps they were.  The first two years of Crawdaddy! feature names that would become storied in music criticism (Richard Meltzer), the music industry (Sandy Pearlman, producer of Blue Oyster Cult and the Clash), and, in at least one case, both (Jon Landau, who transitioned from Crawdaddy! to Rolling Stone to a gig as manager for an up-and-coming singer-songwriter named Bruce Springsteen).  Perhaps the most eye-catching recurring byline from Crawdaddy!’s early years is that of Samuel Delany, the esteemed African-American science fiction writer who holds forth here on artists from Janis Joplin to Randy Newman, whom he favorably compares to Igor Stravinsky in the June 1968 issue.

While CREEM’s archive is even more sporadic than that of Crawdaddy!, the magazine’s pedigree among rock snobs is probably unmatched.  Audaciously declaring itself America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” and wielding its iconic, R. Crumb-illustrated “Boy Howdy!” logo, CREEM persevered from 1969 to 1989 and boasted many of rock criticism’s most storied names on its masthead: Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, and of course Lester Bangs himself, who assumed editorial duties in the early 1970s.  CREEM spent its heyday as a sort of unruly, black-sheep stepbrother to Rolling Stone, the West Coast behemoth that was always three steps ahead in terms of money and publicity but could never quite shake its comparatively “establishment” reputation.  Much like the Stooges, the MC5 and other bands it championed, the Detroit-based CREEM wore its rust-belt chip on its shoulder with a bravado that might have been cloying if it weren’t so raucously fun.

Now, about those archives.  Crawdaddy!, as mentioned before, is sadly incomplete but wonderfully preserved, replete with page-scans of entire issues that allow for such nifty finds as a full-page advertisement for the debut album of a young Joni Mitchell only a few pages away from Delany’s encomium to Randy Newman.  The interface through which one views the scans is admittedly cumbersome, though not enough to deter the curious browser.  CREEM is even more selective about its online content and has declined to make page-scans available (excepting an impressive gallery of covers), but there are good reads to be had, and as traffic increases one hopes the online collection will as well.  It’s also worth mentioning that substantial portions of these and other publications are available at the predominantly subscription-based Rock’s Backpages resource, although RBP’s own collecting criteria are maddeningly opaque and their archives difficult to navigate.

It’s not a lot, but it’s a start, and while CREEM and Crawdaddy! may never enjoy the slickly-packaged, completist DVD-ROM treatment that Rolling Stone has recently received, to be able to peruse two of the more noteworthy theaters of late-20th century cultural criticism, even in severely abridged form, is a welcome experience. In closing, dear reader, and as a bookend to the opening of this post, I leave you with another piece of vintage Bangs, from a 1979 essay on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks:

Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend.  It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim.  It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie.  Maybe what it boils down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

While the charming effusiveness of Crawdaddy! and CREEM might occasionally make us embarrassed that people once wrote this way about rock and roll music, passages such as this should make us wish they still did.

Until we next say “Boy Howdy,”

Jack Hamilton

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