From The Desk Of Brett Netson: “Creem” Magazine

You probably know Brett Netson from his work with Built To Spill and Caustic Resin. Now he’s back with the excellent Scavenger Cult EP, credited to Brett Netson & Snakes. Netson will be guest editing all week.


Netson: There was a certain tone to Creem magazine that I had only seen before in Mad magazine, which I read since I could read. I can’t begin to explain how much joy this magazine gave me. Even when they destroyed something, you came away wanting to hear for yourself. I think that is what real rock journalism is. And with the prominently presented “Letters” section, it opened up and made clear that this magazine was about us, the readers as much as the people making the music. It was kinda like that, all of us, writers, musicians and the readers all carrying on out in the open, in the plain daylight of the ordinary and mainstream.

It turns out that Creem was made in Detroit, and Dave Marsh was a devout comrade of the MC5 and John Sinclair’s White Panthers, which would explain a lot. This magazine did not show any symptoms of establishment kiss ass. There was a clear expression of “We will do whatever the fuck we want, don’t even try!” But also a clear, raging heart, that loved music, the “who gives a fuck” essence of real rock ‘n’ roll. Knowing what I know now about ant-establishment movements and rebellion in general, it’s easy to see how they were picking up the pieces from all the failures of the ‘60s and getting right up in the face of the real commercial world with the real spirt. That seems to be what it took to keep the dream alive through the ‘70s and ’80s. Just rocking the fuck out as activism, opposed to giving up entirely. It said right on the cover, “America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine.” Although that may not be factually true, it wasn’t untrue either. It just seems like the right thing to say about a magazine like that! There was consistent coverage of all different kinds of rock music, with the exceptions being the more mainstream (Eddie Money, Billy Joel), but there was more about the likes of Gun Club, Iggy And The Stooges, Iron Maiden, Lou Reed, Dead Boys, Motörhead, etc. And in hindsight, it shows the wisdom of how they were with Van Halen from the start! It was a wild and slightly trashy place to go. They were totally opinionated, and they surely got it wrong a few times, but it always had an honest and open-minded tone, humble in a way. Creem picked up on metal, punk and new wave without missing a beat, and they were all there in one whacked-out rag.

Started in 1969 by a record store owner and failed concert promoter (Barry Kramer and Tony Reay), Creem was originally a local Detroit newsprint mag that ran through 1989. When they first got distribution, several porno shops picked it up. That’s the “tone” I was talking about; it was mistaken for porn! That’s the kind of rock mag I wanted as a young person! It ran till 1989. Within that time, there were writers who became very well known and went on to boring-ass Rolling Stone (Greil Marcus, Robert Chrtistgau, Richard Meltzer), some to Mojo as well. But Lester Bangs, the guy we all loved, was the editor early on, and I’m thinking he and Dave Marsh were largely responsible for its wild-ass tone. It heavily shaped what I thought was true and right in music. Smart, stupid, sincere, heartfelt and “who gives a fuck” all in one book that looked like it was made by the same kind of people who played the music. All the hand-drawn comic logos and funky layout, done by masterful weirdos! I wonder sometimes if Pitchfork serves the same purpose now. Kind of I guess, but when Pitchfork does a total annihilation of a band, it makes me hate them, too. It’s like real hate. Creem had a lot of heart. A lot of trashy, loudmouthed, true-believer, rock ‘n’ roll heart. (Turns out, Robert Crumb did much of the original graphics.)

Here’s a section from an Austin Chronicle article, when some remaining former staffers got together in a 2001 SXSW panel:

Not all the audience was as warm and fuzzy, as a younger writer accused the nine of complacency, asking if they were given $40 million, would they do it again? Well, son, the former are in their 40s and 50s now, and setting the world on fire is less important than mortgage payments, but that doesn’t mean music doesn’t matter. It just means, as Marsh said, “Creem was an outsider magazine. You don’t start outsider magazines on $40 million.”

Great samples of Creem articles over the years.

A long-form piece that says it all better than I can.

Video after the jump.