by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
my old pals, jesse reyes and bob newman, have started a collection of ‘zine’s from the early days of seattle. they are compiling a collection of covers on (i think) the website “newmanology”. in an aside, it was watching their efforts with their “cover of the day” facebook™ entries that inspired me to try this FB™ “show and tell” essay thing i’m doing here right now. so, those guys – individually and together – need to get all the blame and anger when i piss somebody off. always remember – IT’S THEIR FAULT!!! leave me out of it, ok?
this “northwest ‘zine” list should proove fascinating, because the height of the northwest ‘scene’ coincided almost directly with the whole ‘zine revolution. in fact, it was the ‘zine ‘network’ that created the tour paths for all those astonishing punk bands criss-crossing the country in the 1980′s that created the underground culture that spawned (for example) nirvana. it’s a direct correlation and the ‘zines are one of the primary creators of that culture that we still have to deal with today. without the localize communities created by these cultural “kiosks”, the rock bands would never have been able to find their isolated sympathetic markets.
back in the early days of seattle’s underground culture, even before the birth of the rocket (not a magazine, not a ‘zine, either), there were a number of strange little start up ‘zines with names like “stellazine” and “twisted”. these were just a couple of the publications that emerged back in the 1970′s. when the 80′s erupted, there were literally dozens of ‘zines that came and went, almost with the wind. it was impossible to keep up with them all.
you see, the secret of the ‘zines was that you could totally Do-It-Yourself, from writing to printing (xerox) to distribution (by hand). it was an extremely direct micro-micro-media effort that reached like-minded people. it created a dialog of true believers that, inturn, created the hipster world we have today. it was regional, yet international simultaneously. every little ‘zine spoke small but carried a big regional stick out to the rest of the country. the network of ‘zine distribution literally paved the path that all the scene followed.
the other secret of the ‘zines was that you could get free records. every ‘zine worth it’s salt did little record reviews. this was the very best way to get your record into the minds of the demographic you sold to. hipsters talking to hipsters. also, it was the best advertising possible for these little tiny DIY homemade record labels and their little tiny homemade recordings. simply send out massive numbers of review copies.
the ‘zines felt honor-bound to review, them, too. almost always giddily favorably, too, because the ‘zine makers wanted that steady stream of free records coming. the stuff you didn’t want to keep, you simply took to the local cool record store, who would buy them from you. it gave you rent money.
this system of promo records created an undergoriound economy of a sort. the record companies used the promotional records to write off their tax debt as ‘advertising’. the ‘zines helped to sell their product and then used that product as ‘money’ to help support themselves. the record stores who bought them would watch their sales to gauge the necessity of new orders. the little hole int he wall record companies sold more records to allow them to survive and continue creating new records. it was a self-supporting cycle. everybody won.
it really was sort of seamless. many people i knew literally lived on that system for years. it supported entire underground economies, too. cultures came and thrived and died out over and over again, all driven by this cycle. it collapsed when the major labels stepped in and tried to exploit the cycle for their own product. but, they saw this existing system as “money out of their pocket” somehow and shamelessly crushed it out of pure greed. then computer distribution of music killed off the struggling carcass forever.
this image i post today is for a seattle ‘zine’ from about 1983 called “street kids.” there was an intense and diffuse street life for lost children in seattle during the 1980′s. the only “home” these kids had was each other and the underground culture they were automatically accepted into. many of these street k
formed skate gangs and teams and then group houses and eventually rock bands. many of the very kids living on the street (homeless and often addicted) later became famous rock stars (no joke) when the ‘seattle scene’ exploded in mass hysteria. but, by far and away most of them became junkie hookers and today either are dead or otherwise long gone.
i don’t even remember if this little ‘zine ever really began publication. even though this cover says “vol. 1, no. 5″, i think this was a promotional poster to advertise it’s inception. it was aimed directly at the street kid population. beyond this poster, i don’t really remember ever seeing an actual copy exist. so, i think i remember that it died during childbirth.
the masthead is by seattle art legend carl smool (a guy who really should be internationally famous, but instead lives ignored in seattle). he pioneered a drawing style (at the rocket, no less) that was all done with that old ‘zipatone’ border tape and ‘self-adhesive zipatone dots”. he literally DREW with that stuff. his street poster were truly amazing.
the photographic image was created in montage fashion by art photographer cam garrett, he became another rocket stalwart and took so many photos for the rocket that he was virtually a staff member for years.
i always considered this image he created for this little ‘cover’ to be disturbingly prescient for the era. it was that period when seattle began to explode in yuppie population and you could literally stand in one place and watch the gentrification gobble up all the old cheap bohemian neighborhoods that supported the arts and music of seattle. it was so ironic to watch the microyuppies get attracted to “that bohemian urban lifestyle” and then destroy that very culture to make way for their “plastic” version of that same underground culture they envied. that little street kid sitting in the street in despair spoke very loudly to all of us that lived through that time.
in a way, this little cover really announced the beginning of the end of everything that was wonderful about the new world all the underground DIY ‘zine hipster people had help build up. it was starting to be eaten by commercial interests completely surrounding us. i’ve always kept this little cover because it was the first time i really saw the future.
AC:well, if we go that far back, i don’t think they rreally classify as ‘zines, ya know? there would be the Helix (and all the other hippie “undergound papers”) and then there are all those little fake ‘rock fan’ magazine things that the radio stations (KJR, KOL, KRAB) put out back it the 60′s. they got to be virtual necessities to the culture back then. should they be included, too?…as i reflect on the experience of my life toward the end of my time in seattle, i felt (at the time) like i was swimming in a sea of cannibal hustlers, all trying to devour everything ‘cool’ around them. it became a city of assholes (in my eyes) – all gimmee and no give. it got REAL tough.
so, i won’t move back. my current observation in that city is that it’s only gotten worse over the last ten/fifteen years…. it’s sorta reached that stage that san francisco got to in the early 70′s, ya know? that sort of smug dessicated zombie-cool false image of its old self? still staggering and telling everybody how hip it is (“we built this city!”) while the insects feed on the remaining tissue? been there, seen it, bought the tshirt, wore it out, moved on.
i feel sorry for what’s happening in portland right now. it’s the newest “hippest city in america” and it’s going through what seattle was gutted by a decade ago. so sad….