Resurrection Rock: “Creem” Magazine Rises From The Dead

If you’re old enough to remember Creem, you’re old enough to remember a time when rock journalism was devoid of a filter—or a conscience, for that matter. With its smiling “Boy Howdy!” beer-can mascot (designed by R. Crumb) and stable of top-notch writers who weren’t afraid to aim low for a laugh, the infamous monthly music mag managed to be both lowbrow and sophisticated, often in a single sentence. While the new large-format subscription-only quarterly version veers closer the latter in most cases, the first two issues retain the randomness and irreverence of the original. Even better, the relaunch includes a meticulously assembled digital archive of all 224 issues of the original magazine. 

“America’s Only Rock ’N’ Roll Magazine” was founded in Detroit in 1969 by headshop/record-store owner Barry Kramer. It morphed quickly from an underground newspaper into a national force, reaching its peak in the mid-’70s when its circulation topped out at more than 200,000. The much-mythologized Lester Bangs served as Creem’s editor from 1971 to 1976, and it served as a loose hive of creativity for such celebrated rock critics as Cameron Crowe, Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau and Jaan Uhelszki. 

Creem soldiered on for eight years after Kramer’s death in 1981, finally ceasing operations in 1989. After that, ownership of the magazine, trademark and intellectual property changed hands numerous times before Kramer’s attorney son, JJ, regained control via multiple legal battles. For more on the Creem story, check out acclaimed 2020 documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine.

For the relaunch, Uhelszki is back as editor. Creem Entertainment’s leadership team also includes former Vice publisher John Martin, who answered of a few of our questions about the relaunch.

At a time when the magazine industry is constricting, why bring Creem back as a print title?
Why not bring Creem back? It should’ve never gone away—and the world needs Creem now more than ever. The magazine is just the start. As an entertainment business, we’ll use print as an IP generator, introducing our audience to amazing artists and stories. We can then spin that off into audio, video and experiential formats.

What’s the target audience for the new Creem?
Rock ’n’ roll fans of all ages. We’re not trying to be better than Zuckerberg at targeting a specific age demographic, and savvy marketers know that aligning with a broad community of enthusiasts-for-life is a smarter play than targeting a narrow demographic that will age out of whatever product you’re selling. Rock ’n’ roll is for life.

How does the digital component figure into it?
We publish “Fresh Creem” on our website—stories we want to get out there in between our quarterly print drops. Then we have daily social posts—a playground for experimentation, bad jokes and new talent.

Is there a place for Creems signature brand of irreverence among younger readers?
Of course. They know it used to exist, and the spirit lives on in the best social-media accounts. But younger people don’t know that editorial voices like Creem’s existed. It’s been awhile since anyone really captured that voice. When was the last time any of us had a laugh while reading about music? It’s been awhile. We’re going to be a breath of fresh air for music fans—or a bad smell, depending on how you look at it.

—Hobart Rowland