Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘creem’

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »