Thursday, May 7, 2009
Down the Dusty Trail, Part 3
The first rock rag I ever came across was Fusion, held in high esteem by the hippest junior high school guy I knew, Chas Chesler, the first cat I ever met whose record collection went past the oh-so-familiar copies of Sweet Baby James, Woodstock, Tea for the Tillerman, and Sergeant Pepper, that every other contemporary seemed to have. Chas pointed out the review section and explained to me that it was there he discovered some of his most treasured LPs, and also learned how to take the occasional leap of purchasing faith, a faith he placed squarely on the scrawny back of some beatnik/hippie/college type scribbler. As always, I went right out and copied Chas, buying my own copies of Fusion, and eventually Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, and I noticed that many of the writers appeared in all three publications, and simultaneously developed my first true case of non-baseball hero worship, falling head over heels for one R. Meltzer, a pugnacious, audacious, all-out white lightening force of a writer who made me laugh out loud even when I was shaking my sweaty forehead trying to discern half of his references points.
To this day, I’ll never forget spitting up a mouth full of coke upon reading Meltzer’s first line of a Johnny Matthias piece in Fusion, “Way back before James Taylor learned how to masturbate...”. Fuggetabbout it---I was off and running, already having formed some vague writerly aspirations---I couldn’t hit the curve ball, couldn’t sing or prance or find anything but a discordant note on any instrument I touched, and the only rhythm I could regularly beat out occurred during my constant bouts of self-abuse. Rock and roll writer, how absolutely cool was that? Thus I began submitting my teenage reviews, blatantly imitative of Meltzer, Nick Tosches, Lester Bangs (by now Creem had reared its protruding, wise-ass, ever tumescent head), and newcomers like Metal Mike Saunders and Robot A Hull. I sent off record reviews, all banged out with hell-bent adolescent fervor on my Smith-Corona, to Fusion, Creem, Zoo World, Rock, and the like, and managed to eventually receive some concise words of encouragement from Bangs himself, scrawled on the bottom of a typical rejection letter. I also discovered fanzines; cheap, mimeographed rags springing forth from all different pockets of the country, wanna-be mags that would actually publish my barely formed pearls of wisdom, actual hard copy artifacts that allowed my OWN BYLINE to appear right next to some of the rockwriting kingpins I was aspiring to be like.
The February 1973 issue of Creem featured a piece entitled "Americas Ten Worst Restaurants", co-authored by the aforementioned Robot A. Hull and Brian Cullman, a virtual Mad Magazine-styled bit of outright parody replete with a bit more earthy bite, with actual pics of the two writers seated for bad dining accompanying it, and it just knocked me out. What did it have to do with rock and rock? Nothing, literally, it was in-yer-face, vaguely infantile, and side-splittingly funny, and, to a seventeen-year-old aspiring writer, evoking exactly the spirit and tone of what I was so laboriously attempting to self-create. To top of, in one of the subsequent issues there was a letter from the infamous author/illustrator/pundit The Mad Peck (who would at one point soon would take over the editing of the record review section of Fusion and publish my first ever professional critique-a goddamned review of a Foghat record that I was never even paid for, a truly significant win/lose reflection), and the letter knowingly accused Messer’s Cullman and Hull of pulling their readers collective legs—it seems all the restaurants depicted were in Providence, RI and the surrounding areas. Boy Howdy, my neck of the woods, waitaminute, that meant those guys had to live close, maybe even reside nearby, hold on, maybe right up the street were two sharpies with the secret key to the rockwrite universe. I picked up the telephone book, found a Robert Hull with a Providence address and made the call, and before I could blink the guy (a real life rock and roll writerama, an out-an-out Creem headliner, a big deal real deal actual WRITER who called hisself Robot) graciously invited me over to his digs near the Ivy League school. I know, it was only rock and roll but he might like me, and he might gimme the clue to pry open the elusive door to my should-be, could-be, has-to-be adulthood pursuit: divining the raw and magical essence of pop culture and disseminating it to the worshipful masses, so, so, sweet and absolutely too cool to be true. If only I knew...