Vol. 2, Issue #22 November 21st - December 6th, 2007

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

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

While I love both cable and the internet, and I realize there are still many literate people out there, I have a longing for those days when the underground was kept afloat by magazines. The underground press tradition, which NONzine was born from, goes back to the hippie presses of the sixties, like “The East Village Other,” “The San Francisco Oracle” (which is available on CD-Rom,) and even “Rolling Stone.” Once the sixties shut down, a lot of the more mainstream magazines tried to take their place, like the “Men’s” magazines “Playboy,” “Penthouse,” “Oui,” and “Hustler,” and subculture magazines including “High Times,” “Mother Jones,” and even “National Lampoon” (which took up the cause of underground comix.)

Up until now one of the major players has all but disappeared from the public consciousness, “Creem.” Simply put, “Creem” is where garage psychedelia turned into punk. By heralding such punk forefathers as MC5, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The New York Dolls, and Patti Smith, in the days of sleepy sounding FM disc jockeys playing album length tracks by Yes and Emerson, Lake. and Palmer, Creem all but guaranteed to never be a threat to “Rolling Stone,” but they did find their way into the minds and imaginations of the next generation. A new time machine, in the form of a book, “Creem,” by Robert Matheu and Brian Bowe has just been released by Collins Press.

I remember those sleepy days when, as a teenager trapped in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, I discovered the rock magazines that were cluttering up the drug store racks. There were others, specifically “Rock Scene.” “Circus” and “Hit Parader,” but the big noise was being made by “Creem.” It was an ungodly mixture of Glam Rock, like Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and Lou Reed, mixed with the proto-metal of Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and Ted Nugent, the electric blues of Johnny Winter, the terror of The Sex Pistols, and a kill-your-idols begrudging respect for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, who were releasing their solo albums. It was everything cool, at the time, all rolled into a perfect mixture of nasty attitude, freeform obscenity and speed-fueled beat poetry.

The major figure was Lester Bangs - you may remember his portrayal by Philip Seymour Hoffman in
“Almost Famous.” Bangs was a very disturbed man who saw himself as the last of the beats, and he understood that rock’n’roll had become not just a genre of music, but a complete lifestyle. Bangs didn’t just review music, he explained how you were a part of the revolution just by buying and understanding that stack of 45s by your turntable. While the ghost of Bangs hangs in every page of the new book, his collected writings, “Psychotic Reaction and Carburetor Dung” (Anchor Books, 1987,) which is still in print, makes for the perfect companion piece.

But “Creem” was more than just Bangs. In the book you have a small sampling of some of the other heavies that weighed in; Ian Hunter’s “Diary of a Rock Star,” Cameron Crowe (speaking of “Almost Famous”) writing about T. Rex, Nick Tosches’ early piece on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Charles Bukowski on The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith’s “Jukebox Cruci-Fix” where she wrote about the grave sites of some of the late, great overdosed rock gods.

The images of the magazine are iconic; like the first photo spread most people saw of Iggy pop, back in his lean and mean years with The Stooges, attacking an audience member, Jimmy Page backlit and haloed with his bow and guitar on stage, and Lou Reed in his brief blonde period, with sunglasses, black wife beater, and microphone in hand. Sadly the only major image that didn’t make it into the book is Bowie on his knees in front of Mick Ronson as Ronson played guitar (the photo was referenced in “The Velvet Goldmine.”)

There are also the running jokes, especially Boy Howdy Beer, a fictitious brand, where nearly every major rock star posed with a can for their “profile” which ran in the magazine. I knew people back in the 1970s who scoured the earth trying to find a six-pack. The mascot of the magazine, a bottle of “Boy Howdy” beer, was drawn by Robert Crumb for $50. It was part of the over-all bad attitude and drug-addled shock effect of the magazine. You also get a nude photo of Martin Mull - for some damn reason - Grace Slick with a boob hanging out, Keith Moon in drag, Alice Cooper wearing a “Creem” t-shirt and ripped shorts. “Creem” didn’t care you thought they were gay, a bunch of heroin addicts, or out to bring about the decline of Western civilization; in truth they were a mixture of all three.

Rock’n’roll used to be about a big sweet inevitable; as long as it was declining in some strange organic state, we knew it was working. We had to de-evolutionize from sideburns to safety pins in the mouth, from political protests to dive-by shootings, from love-ins to mosh pits, , and from Elvis’ humble “aw, shucks” to the Sex Pistols’ “De-Stroy! “attitude. “Creem” understood this process and helped us through those years before rock was domesticated. However the magazine’s golden age was during it’s first decade, the 1970s, and then it started to fall apart in the 1980s. “Trouser Press” certainly gave it some stiff competition for awhile, but it also fell apart around the same time, 1988.

I remember reading an interview with the great film critic Pauline Kael, where she said the reason she was able to write great things about film in her heyday, the 1970s,was because there were so many great films to inspire her. I think that’s what happened to rock music; there was a lot to say about Captain Beefheart, Roxy Music, Jim Carroll, and a hundred other bands and musicians, but once rock music became that noise going on over the mall speakers, something you buy with a credit card at Starbucks, or even worse, democratized through “American Idol,” it lost it’s edge, and a lot of it’s poets.

“Creem” is a fascinating book that takes you into the mouth of rock’n’roll before it’s fangs started rotting. It’s worth the money for anyone interested in understanding how the mythic side of the rock lifestyle came about.

Tiger Beat From Hell Main Page

©2006-2007 NONCO Media, L.L.C.