Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Fanzine

To our generation of blogs and socials, of instant tweets and Instagram, of dying newspapers and streaming shows, how to explain the fanzine? The fanzine was a photocopied scrapbook of your life. It’s difficult to imagine today just how epic the fanzine of yesterday was.

The fanzine came after the underground press of the 60s and before the internet explosions of the 90s and the aughts. Of course the fanzines were not Rolling Stone, but you can get an idea what our world was like by watching Almost Famous or dreaming what life was like for Lester Bangs.

Whether it was rock and roll or activism, we were subjective fans and biased peacenik lefties and completely immersed in the adventures of punk-rock propaganda and participant journalism. These paper testimonials may not have been as grandiose as the new journalism of Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer, but we were just as gritty. Of course the fanzine is still around, as an outlet for partial luddites and bedroom poets, as a kind of retro culture object in the land of cool, right there with vinyl and cassettes and manual typewriters.

 Everything I needed to know for this life of wild unemployed pencil and photocopier passion, I learned in high school journalism class. On the school newspaper and on the school radio station, we were amateurs, but with an audience. People actually followed and consumed our words about sports and bands and activism. We learned how to get interviews, to conduct interviews, to make cold calls for advertising cash and printing quotes, to hawk media product on the street to fellow fans and annoyed passersby, to place a publication for consignment at the corner store, to do photography, to do page design, to place ourselves in the middle of culture, to ask for the get and get that we asked for.

The first fanzine showed our fluency in the college rock or alternative milieu of the 80s greats. Some people who missed the 80s underground might never grasp how potent and meaningful it all was to us as teens and twenty-somethings. We had interviews, reviews, features, and essays. We learned how to get photo passes and backstage passes and free tickets to almost every show. 

We met other DIY-journalists and poets who gave us poems and illustrators who wanted to do cartoons. I can’t think of an artist we wanted to meet and did not meet. No, we were never backstage for Springsteen or Prince, but U2,. R.E.M., Husker Du, The Minutemen, The Waterboys, The Alarm, Lone Justice, 10,000 Maniacs, Violent Femmes, you name it, we met them, we got more than their autograph, we broke the Almost Famous code and tried to make friends with the rock stars. I was just finishing high school, and the times felt limitless.

I don’t think there were any rational reasons for my revolutionary hope. It had more to do with me being 18 and then 19 and 20, than it did with anything going in the world. We were committed to ending war in Central America, to freeing South Africa, to disarming all the nuclear powers, you get the idea, and no matter the facts of Reagan-era America, some of us believed all that change was possible and soon.

 During my last year as a teen and the first year of my 20s, you could say we had countless reality checks. Learning more about racism and war and environmental degradation, we were radicalized. We started to see flaws in the liberal religion and Democratic-party politics we’d been raised around. The days were such that I was increasingly radicalized, especially when I started to hang out with Catholic Workers and anarchists and the kinds of middle-aged hippies who never outgrew the passionate idealism of the late 1960s and became the kinds of subversive mentors the mainstream is always warning us about us about.

 The second fanzine reflected the shift inside us. We stopped attending church and starting living our own. We began to experiment more with mind-altering substances. The move from suburbia to the inner city was a short commute on a divided highway, but the divisions of race and class and worldview that I crossed over in 1988, these were leaps into an unknown from which, in some ways, I never returned. I would return to my faith and more conservative ideas about family and love, and I would one day achieve a successful academic and ecclesial career, but there were some illusions that got shattered as a young adult, and I am grateful for the harsh education of the street and its denizens of ideological honesty.

 That crazy fanzine of late 1988 is embarrassing to look at for the most part. The more professional and music-oriented zine of 1986, I would stand by its entire contents today. That this zine ended up in the hands of Michael Stipe, who gave it to Natalie Merchant, so she could read my story about her, because I was too self-conscious about my devout fandom (not shy) to share it, for this fact and for the friend who passed it to R.E.M., for all this I remain grateful and surprised it even happened!

 But no matter how the hyper urgency of late 1988 has faded in me, the issues we faced with caffeinated and intoxicated bravado defined our place in self-exile as subculture communalists. Freedom of expression meant this exercise in creative extremism felt like freedom itself. Did we sometimes shock for the sake of shock or make audacious claims that our older selves would never own? Well sure. The next fanzine that appeared the following fall was going to reflect my more radical turn.

It was 1988, an election year. Earlier that spring, I voted for the first time ever in a presidential primary, and the candidate I chose, Jesse Jackson, won my home state of Michigan. But by the summer, a more moderate candidate was challenging George Bush, and my radical friends had convinced me that no matter who I voted for, the government would win. My radical friends had convinced me that if voting worked, it would be illegal.

By this time, nobody had to convince me to attend a continental gathering of anti-authoritarians. By this time, I was the one who suggested to my first motor city roommate that we take his car (I didn’t have one) to Georgia to join a protest outside the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. People who believe in human liberation are still having the debate about supporting “lesser evil” candidates, but older more moderate me usually votes, as an act of both hope and self-defense. But voting is not and has never been all we should do for peace and justice -- and I digress from my tale, since it is another election year as I write these words.

 Even though I had a job to pay my bills and a bicycle to get me to work, that long warm summer of 88 was a blurry amble from party to protest and back to party again. Outside the 30 hours I was on the clock were long stretches of spontaneous freedom, documented fervently and without filter with the possibility of being distilled into the hyper poetry or chaotic prose that would crowd the pages of a future fanzine.

 Concerts were not the primary preoccupation like they were in high school and for that first music fanzine, but I still tried to get to shows whenever I could. I was more likely to be seen at a standing-only show in a small club or bar than at the bigger theaters, but I also made it that year to my second and last Grateful Dead show, at the same Joe Louis hockey arena where I had seen U2 two years prior. The punk rock I loved during those years wasn’t the so much the thrashy mosh-pit hardcore nor the grunge that was around the corner, but SST bands like Minutemen and Husker Du and the hazy heads known as Meat Puppets.

But in the summer of 88, and the fanzine would reflect this, I was obsessed with local rock, and two bands, the alternative rock Orange Roughies and the world beat Layabouts, got front page billing in the second issue of our encyclopedic fanzine, with its name imagined by a toddler that I had done some babysitting for in late 1987, just after dropping out of college, when I was still trying to make it in church.

 When we were finishing the last high school music zine, we were fresh graduates of an award-winning journalism program. Our photos were press-quality halftones for proper printing, our margins uncluttered, and our columns uniformed and at recognizable angles. Even though with the new zine, we were moving away from a focus on pop culture and leaning more toward radical politics and edgy art, the record review and concert review would remain staple dishes on the fanzine menu. A fanzine without rock was like a menu without protein.

 By the time of our second underground zine, we had all adopted ridiculous pseudonyms of an underwater variety. The cut-and-paste collage style was nothing like the computer-generated psychedelic art that would arrive a decade-later. This was a primitive scissors-and-gluestick operation. The electric typewriter I had bought in late 1986 to take to college was by the summer of 1988 a type-setter for zines. If another contributor wanted to write their submission in sloppy hand lettering, that was fine too. If you had a computer and gave me your work printed from that medium, my scissors and my gluestick did not discriminate. We tried our best with graphics, but we didn’t really care that much about higher visual beauty. I was more a compiler than an editor with a scrappy hippy punk-rock aesthetic and overflowing cup of coffee, wired on the inclusive spirit of a Whitman or Ginsberg.

 Looking back, some of the content was angry and naive, some of it self-righteous, some of it obscene. I am embarrassed by some of it today and shocked that just three summers before, I was a darling leader at a born-again summer camp, in charge of devotions and Bible studies and team cheers. But that summer between junior and senior year, I will never forget a fellow camper lecturing me that capitalism was the only Biblical economy.

Already biased by then toward the liberation theology of the Sandinistas and the Catholic Workers, I was mortified. When I loved the folk music revival of campfire singalongs, I resented then that my progressive Dad warned me the camp was too fundamentalist. Years later, I know what he meant. By my 21st birthday that fall, I had become the young adult some parents worried about and the kid that other adults were warning their teenagers about.

 The world should have been worried, because I could have been found at a concert or on a streetcorner selling this ridiculous book-length fanzine filled with radical anarchist propaganda, free love, and confessional prose about the benefits of drugs and booze. To my self-indulgent idealism and hedonism I dreamed that not even Kerouac or Kesey could have hoped that they would have had a better influence on the 1980s than I was proving they did.

 Let there be no mistake, I was not an accidental victim of the counterculture around me. I was a willing convert, and the aspects of my rebellion that were just plain sloppy and stupid were also conscious decisions. On purpose, I did not pay the tickets that meant I did not have a valid driver’s license. On purpose, I started smoking cigarettes. On purpose, I dropped out of college. On purpose, I stopped attending church. On purpose, I traversed the continent to each and every protest or direct action that I could attend. Only the protests today make sense, but not for my twenty-year-old indignant rage, but because a worldview run on war and greed still tramples human need, and human resistance to evil remains a worthy and necessary if desperate pursuit.

 As I have said in recent years, I turned from the triune God to worship the trinity of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. But in giving up drugs and changing my views about sex from the ridiculous free love selfishness, I have returned again and again to the better parts of hippy idealism, from health food to the demand for breathable air and clean rivers to the promise of peace and ecology and simple living, I return to these and many other organic ideals, even as I get older with every birthday.

 And rock and roll. Chasing popular music remains a holy and hopeful hobby that sustains me with joy. Rock and roll remains the choir of change, the soundtrack of revolution. And for the rock and roll ruckus and rebellion of the 1980s, the fanzine was sacred scripture. Paging through that manic madness again and again, it is an archive, part of my biography and testimony. Some shameful and worthy of purge. Some a reflection of every youthful urge. Some foolish courage that I curiously still have some left to share, in writing this story and speaking truth to power, even when my voice shakes and my fingers on the typing keys tremble.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pack Up Your Sorrows (TOTR 340)

The Layabouts - Johannesburg
Talking Heads - The Democratic Circus
Billy Bragg - Tender Comrade
Cowboy Junkies - 200 More Miles
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - Circle
The Waterboys - When Will We Be Married
The Waterboys - When Ye Go Away
The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians - Dark Green Energy
Short Dogs Grow - Desert Rain
The Church - Under The Milky Way
The Sugarcubes - Birthday
Jane’s Addiction - Jane Says
Pixies - Where Is My Mind?
Screaming Trees - Lines & Circles
Dinosaur Jr. - No Bones
Orange Roughies - Blue Steel Story
Bongwater - Just May Be The One
Bongwater - There You Go
King Missile - They
Roger Manning - Real Estate Blues
Don’t Look Now Jug Band - Pack Up Your Sorrows
Stream the archive here: https://soundcloud.com/teacherontheradio/pack-up-your-sorrows-totr-340

[The Show That Almost Wasn’t] (TOTR 339)

from last Monday, October 1 -- show began about 8:15pm, after dead air and technical fail. We ended the show before 9pm.

[Dead Air Due To Technical Difficulties]
Billy Bragg - Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards
The Proclaimers - I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians - What I Am
Cowboy Junkies - Sweet Jane
[passionate speech about supporting women and listening to women and believing women]
Emma’s Revolution - I Believe Her
[after this song, we switched back to the studio computer and went home]

Monday, September 24, 2018

Across the Lines (TOTR 338)

The Teacher On The Radio "time machine" is currently visiting 1988.

This night, we featured Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman, Short Sharp Shocked by Michelle Shocked, and Roger Manning by Roger Manning.

Andrew read the draft of his chapter "The Co-op" which takes place in 1988.

Read it here.

We closed with "Say Hallelujah" by Tracy Chapman from her later album Let It Rain.

Listen to the (most of) the archive here:

The Co-op

Disclaimer: This blog collection of first-person memoir hovers at the intersection of creative non-fiction and autobiographical fiction, made vague and even boring in fictionalized truth, lost in memory and translations,  in the name of honoring the distance of everyone’s innocence & guilt. I will probably be the only main character every mentioned by name for said reason. Please contact teacherontheradio -at- gmail -dot- com with questions, comments, or concerns.

1: The Co-op

A recent college dropout, I needed a job. My early jobs were not that different than the work that any late teen and early 20s human would take on – except in my case the counterculture version of that, for the service and retail context.

What was minimum wage back then? Four dollars? What was our rent? 250 dollars per month, split two ways between two rebels, dabbling in the anarchist and communist idealism that the post-industrial middle class once specialized in, back in one of those 20th century urban enclaves where a fertile cultural Left still flourished, before the days, like today, when the so-called “radical left” is just a pejorative insult flung at middle-class liberals by the vulgar far-right microphone mouths of cable television.

I really needed a job. Not just to pay the bills, but to work, to be an employee, to wrestle with my identity. Not a vocation or calling, per se. I was running away from the college path, the chosen career, finding my identity in a job meant not relying on my family; job really did mean just paying the bills at this point and being myself. It meant getting-by for someone who had been raised in a context much better than getting-by. An intellectual and educated dropout, I would never be just working class, but for the first and almost only time in my life, for a season it turned out, I wanted to see what life was like without the inherited supplements to my lifestyle that my upper middle-class heritage afforded. I wanted and needed a job. And for specific reasons, I wanted this job. The cooperative grocery was going to be an upgrade at this juncture in my 20 years on earth.

Back in the spring of 1988, what kind of a job did a 20-year-old college dropout really want and need? What were our other expenses? Food and drink and all the various pleasures for the mind required by a 20-year-old appetite. My college dropout status arrived in late 1987, not for lack of intelligence or ambition, no, but from an overactive hunger for adventure and and authenticity and spontaneous unshaven undiscipline. Four dollars per hour, for about 30 hours per week, that left empty notebooks of hours to fill with the poetry and prose of a wild-eyed rebel on release from suburbia.

Slowly slumming around the late 1980s, my wage-earning work life to that point had wandered from paper route to record store to restaurant. The trendy vegetarian health food joint the summer before (that was 1987) had been a baptism into a six-day week. I never asked why my hours there did not make me full-time or eligible for benefits. I just showed-up, clocked-in, chopped vegetables, and prepped salads. The first day, I sliced my hand open, taking a blade sharper than one I had ever used, right through an avocado pit. Yes, there was blood, and yes, they took me to the hospital. And yes, there is a scar.

Then, I became a salad chef. It was more than intense, but I kind of loved it. I loved my co-workers. I loved the bearded biker brothers on the hot side. I also wore my hair long, but we all tied it up and kept it out of the food. This place was far too upscale for hippie-biker hair in the food.  I loved the gospel-singing dishwasher who would regale us with songs like I Am A Soldier In The Army of The Lord.

I loved the contrast between the kitchen staff and the serving staff – it was two different classes across a short counterculture-culture-chasm. The cooks were what I thought all health food staff were supposed to be, rugged hippies. The serving staff were our cleaned-up and clean-shaven suburban counterparts of the New Age diet.

I am pretty sure New Age was the term by then, Harmonic Convergence and all that. Food was healing, and it did not matter that the kitchen staff also smoked cigarettes on our breaks. We did not want to be too healthy or too pure. Suburban health food restaurant felt like just the right stepping-stone to urban natural foods cooperative grocery store. I was accumulating hippie cred as quickly as I could. 

Now getting this next job at the co-op was hardly a guarantee. I had to apply for the job against other applicants. There would be an interview, and I waited to find out if I had been hired. Not even getting accepted to college or getting the jobs I had before this one seemed as steep a hill to climb.

Somehow because of the diversity of the neighborhood and culture, for one of the few times in my life, white male privilege wasn’t actually an advantage. But this factored in to why I wanted to work there, this was where we found college students and college professors, Methodist preachers and public school teachers, farmers and truckers, lesbians and librarians, Black Muslims and Rastafarians, Catholic Workers and Workers of the World. That place showed me diversity liked I’d never seen, even after integrated schools my whole life; I was learning about the urban counterculture I had only heard about. 

A college dropout, I needed a job, not just for money, but for a sense of self, that I could be a worker among workers if that is what I wanted. I left college for urban spelunking in the ruins of mansions, cathedrals, and movie theaters. I left college to recover from a handful of drug experiences that left my doors of perception a little too scrubbed, shocked, seduced, and scared to sit upright at another college desk spouting pseudo-truths. At least not just yet. This would come later. This was my season of learning to party, let me admit that. As long as I was mostly sober when I showed up for work, that was okay right? This was the season I would turn 21, the season I would try too many things.

Mostly I worked out my schedule to work the afternoon until close shift, but I remember beginning with mornings. I remember one morning, I was on produce at the time, they gave me a box of strawberries to sort, because the shipment was already starting to turn past saleable. It was summer, and I had been up all night. Bleary and still a little buzzed, they handed me the strawberries. The red juice was like blood on my fingers, each fruit a sweet sacrament, mushy to the touch. How could we ever sort strawberries! We should relish the wonder of the mushy juicy fruit and eat it like love itself, falling apart in our hands, melting in our mouths. Each strawberry was a vision to me, did everyone else not see it? But I sat or stood or something, and I dutifully sorted strawberries, eating or tossing the ones too ripe to be sold. 

Of course, the 20-year-old poet thinks he has a wild grasp on the truth, which only tells him to look for more truth, which in my case meant exploring books and albums and fanzines, which in my case meant to go on tour with bands and to Rainbow Gatherings and to nuclear test sites where earnest ragtag radicals had plans to shut down the war machine.

This was the city I thought would never be gentrified. This was the city a little too rough and rundown to join the upscale countercultures we were already seeing emerge in Boston and the Bay Area, in Chicago and New York. After a stint serving the poor and underclass in Atlanta, I saw Detroit as the place to practice revolution, to plant seeds of the new society in the shell of the old. Even though this was just a grocery store job, ringing the cash register, unloading the trucks, stocking the shelves, mopping the floor, and taking out the garbage, even though this was just a job among other jobs a college dropout could score, I saw the food co-op movement as a small gentle part of the revolution.

Over in Ann Arbor, the housing co-ops were hubs of hope steeped in the living threads of a radical campus milieu with roots in the legendary 1960s. When living in the 1980s, I thought the 60s were the distant past. But living in the twenty-teens, I understand that the 1990s are as close to us now, as the 60s were to us then; this is a wake-up call that in the 1980s, the 60s weren’t that long ago. Detroit and Ann Arbor were places where the more gritty dreams of revolution never died.

Our health food distributor, a co-op among co-ops, was based in Ann Arbor and run as a union shop, Wobblies at that. The IWW, International Workers of the World were the “one big union” of legend that I had read about in books, seen portrayed so romantically in the movie Reds, starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton and featuring Maureen Stapleton as red Emma Goldman. Our little grocery never turned into a Wobbly store, but I dreamed about it. I dreamed while stocking the shelves that we were stoking the fires of social change. I dreamed on my lunch break in the back alley, the same alley where the co-workers would sometimes go to smoke together, not just tobacco.

There was music in the crowded aisles of our tiny store. Who got to pick which cassette or CD went in our jambox was the decision of the day, a sacred decision. I would dance down the aisles when stocking the shelves. My co-workers laughed and called it “Doing the Andy.” That summer, a folk music revival was raging in my heart, and folk music seemed a good compromise with rock and reggae and blues and everything else we blasted in that store. Two folk music records defined that summer and are still on my mind and in my heart today, thirty years later as of this writing. 

Before our little corner store was grocery, the same spot was a neighborhood club, a jazz joint, I am told. A few doors down we would open a music and activist clubhouse three years later, a storefront soup kitchen and punk rock refuge. We were singers and subversives and poets and painters and protesters, all.

Monday, September 17, 2018

We’ve Got Tonight (TOTR 337)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Satisfy My Soul
Funkadelic - One Nation Under A Groove
Chic - Le Freak
Village People - Ups And Downs
Kraftwerk - The Robots
Queen - Bicycle Race
Blondie - Heart of Glass
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Pump It Up
The Jam - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
The Clash - English Civil War
The Cars - Just What I Needed
Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing
Billy Joel - Honesty
Journey - Lights
Foreigner - Hot Blooded
The Police - Can’t Stand Losing You
Talking Heads - Take Me To The River
Bob Seger - We’ve Got Tonight
Joe Walsh - Life’s Been Good
Van Morrison - Kingdom Hall
Patti Smith - Ghost Dance
John Prine - That’s The Way The World Goes Round

The audio archive is here: https://soundcloud.com/teacherontheradio/totr-337

Monday, September 10, 2018

Rolling On (TOTR 336)

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme, P 1 - Acknowledgement
Jack Kerouac & Steve Allen - Charlie Parker
Bono - September 1913
Radiohead - Everything In Its Right Place
TV On The Radio - Wash The Day
Israel Nash - Rolling On
Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Hide
Jim James - Over and Over
Jenny Lewis & Moses Sumney - Cassidy
Bono & Secret Machines - I Am The Walrus
The Flaming Lips - (Just Like) Starting Over
Bob Dylan - Things Have Changed
Neil Young - Old Man
Leon Bridges et. al. - Ohio
Jason & the Scorchers - Take Me Home, Country Roads
R.E.M. - Final Straw
DJ Drez et. al. - For What It’s Worth
Madonna - American Pie
Cocteau Twins - Persephone
Dead Can Dance - American Dreaming
Ani DiFranco - The Arrivals Gate
Casey Neill Trio - Araby
Pistol Pete & Popgun Paul - all along