Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine

Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine ★★★★

I can vividly recall the first time I ever picked up an issue of Creem: I was 15, and my buddy X-8 and I were sitting in his bedroom, listening to a 45 of "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians. X-8 loved that band because he was a dead-ringer for their lead singer and dug their tinny, circus-like organ sound, so he spent hours thumping away at his cheap Sears Silvertone bass trying to play along.

"What kind of music is this?," I inquired. Without missing a beat, he reached over to a pile of magazines next to his bed and pulled out an issue of Creem dated May, 1971. "Read the column by Dave Marsh." I thumbed through the pages, lingering for an inordinate amount of time to leer at a picture of Grace Slick drinking a can of beer called "Boy Howdy" and flashing her tits at the camera, before finally landing on Marsh's Looney Tunes column, where he took the piss out of several bands, including the Mysterians, referring to them as "Punk Rock."

I wasn't quite sure what that meant in a musical context. There were kids in my neighborhood who ran around after dark, smashing car windows and playing mailbox baseball who the adults referred to as punks, and I knew that it was prison slang for somebody who got sodomized in the slammer, so was Dave saying that these guys were teenage hooligans who took it in the ass? Mysterious Mysterian Mysteries abounded, but I was keen to learn more, so I grabbed a few issues out of X-8's pile, took them home, and read them cover to cover...paying special attention to that photo of Grace, 'natch.

Thus opened up a weird world of Rock and/or Roll hitherto unknown to me in my sheltered suburban cocoon. I was especially intrigued by all of the "heavy" Detroit bands that Creem covered, the MC5, Mitch Ryder, and the Stooges in particular. I also dug Bowie and Lou Reed. I really loved the way that Creem didn't hesitate to skewer these larger-than-life rock icons, unlike those journalistic sycophants at Rolling Stone, who never met a rock star that they didn't want to prosaically fellate, and I despised their hippie political pretensions. Creem (Marsh excepted) didn't play that game. They had fun and mostly called it like it was.

A year or two after my first intro to the magazine, they started to cover the emerging Punk scene in New York and London, and they also introduced a new writer named Lester Bangs, who unlike the rather uptight Dave Marsh, just let it all hang out in his prose. Bangs would effuse endlessly about Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" and the Ramones. His coverage of the scene was the primary impetus behind many a trip to Hollywood in '76 to see the CBGB bands (Blondie, Television, Ramones, Dictators) and to a lesser extent, U.K. bands (The Damned, The Clash). X-8, Johnny Heck, and I even snorted PCP one night and tried listening to "Metal Machine Music". I have no recollection of our response, but we all woke up the next morning crammed into the bathroom of Johnny's cousin with no idea of what had transpired in the interim. Fortunately, no one was naked or covered with salad oil.

So given my history with Creem, how could I not watch this? For the most part, it focuses on the interpersonal dynamics of the staff. Publisher Barry Kramer was clearly the chief instigator of most of the friction between the editors and staff, his confrontational style creating a vibe not unlike that of a kidnapper holding a large group of adults for psychological ransom. Marsh and Bangs weren't far behind him though, as they both seemed to revel in sowing discord and pushing their colleagues as close to their limits as possible. Not exactly a healthy workplace environment, although one could rightfully wonder if the work this group of phenomenally talented human beings would've been half as good without the constant suffering inflicted on them.

I particularly felt sorry for the female staffers, as they were constantly singled out for the worst abuse by Kramer, Marsh, and Bangs, but to be fair, they weren't particularly pleasant people either, so pretty much everyone was in on the maltreatment.

Bangs and Kramer have departed this mortal coil, so we're left with Marsh as the primary talking head, and these days, with his gigantic bald head and enormous eyes, he looks like the love child of an alien Grey and an anime character. He is most definitely still an asshole.

In conclusion, I raise my can of Boy Howdy beer and flash my left nipple in tribute to the entire staff, living or dead. Now where did I put my copy of Metal Machine Music?

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