The Life Changers-Episode 3: Magazines~!

Shinders, 8th St & Hennepin Ave, Mpls, MN, 1964
I know enough has been said already about the increased prevalence of digital media and the subsequent extinction of all mankind or whatever, and while I don't intend to beat a dead horse..., er format, I still can't help but mourn the loss of what I truly believe is an vital human experience: shopping for and owning tangible items--books, magazines, CDs/cassettes/records, etc. 

I was saddened by the news that Borders, one of my favorite bookstores (of the large chains, anyway), whom has had to close several locations over the last few years, filed for bankruptcy this week.  Then perusing the dismal racks at Barnes & Noble last night, it hit me hard: I miss magazines. 

When I was a kid, growing up in the middle of the woods 20 to 38 miles (depending which route you took) from a proper town, without television (and later when we had TV, without a good signal,) it was radio and magazines that were my view to the outside world and more importantly, pop culture.  Anytime my mother was grocery shopping, you could find me in the magazine aisle, pouring over all the wrestling and music mags, figuring out which one I was going to spend my $2.95 on, and then, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything important, reading all the articles from the ones I wasn't buying. 

I used to save up money for trips to the TC, making lists of which cassettes, comics, and magazines I was going to buy in the big city.  Back home, in the car, on the school bus, wherever, I would put my Walkman on and read my new magazine from cover to cover, and several times over.  Eventually, after it had shown several signs of distress from finger prints and traveling to and fro in my back pack, and I had deemed it appropriate for dismantling, I would hang the glossy cut outs on our bedroom wall--Motley Crue, the Road Warriors, Christian Hosoi, Sting, L.L. Cool J, Ratt, Natas Kaupas, Run DMC, to name a few. 

My love of magazines never phased, and eventually, in a fit of post-college diaspora, I got a higher-than-minimum-wage-but-still-monetarily-insulting job at the TC's mecca of magazinedom, Shinder's Newsstand.  What the job lacked in economic compensation it made up for in employee discounts.  For a fraction of the cost, or in most cases, if you removed the cover ( we called them "strips"), free, I had more magazines at my disposal than I had ever imagined.  And good great ones too.  Sadly, many of the titles that I fell in love with over the years have long since ceased to exist.  But in my mind and in storage bins in my basement, they still live.  What follows is (semi-)definitive list of my favorite magazines: the life changers.

Metal Edge
A glossy heavy metal pin-up mag.  I read it during the mid to late 80s salad days of Glam.  Motley Crue, Ratt, Dokken, Britny Fox, Cinderella, G-n-R, Poison and anyone with really big hair and spandex was normal fare.  Although, Metal Edge was also the first time I had ever heard of Anthrax, Megadeth or Metallica.  The latter of which I embarrassingly and incorrectly pronounced metal-lick-a while asking a cute headbanger chick from Grand Rapids if she liked them too.  "Do you like metal-lick-a?"  Needless to say I did not end up making out with her or metal-licking of any part of her that night.  An alarming number of the photos of bands were taken in bathrooms.  And because I assumed it was in the bathroom that all of the metal dudes did their dirty deeds, when I finally had my first chance to make out with a chick in 7th grade, I took her into the boys bathroom to do so.  And much to my surprise that didn't go over well either.  Word spread rather quickly that the new kid in Jr. High had a fetish for bathroom sex.  To this day I still blame Metal Edge editor, Gerri Miller for that one. 

Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Without TV and several years before the advent of the Internet, magazines were the only way to follow the goings-on of the "spandex ballet" that I'd come to love.  I would pretty much buy whatever wrestling magazine was available at the rinky-dink gas station or grocery store we happen to stop at that week on our way back from the laundromat.  But of all them--and for what was considered a "fake" sport, there seemed to be an abundance--the "Apter mags" (named after editor, Bill Apter) were my favorites.  And of all the Apter mags (Inside Wrestling, The Wrestler, Sports Review Wrestling, Wrestling Superstars, etc.) Pro Wrestling Illustrated, or PWI, was far and away the best.  Everything was written in kayfabe and was essentially an extension of story lines played out every week on the tv shows I was missing.  Another thing that I loved, was that besides extensive coverage of my favorite feds--AWA, NWA, WWF, World Class--they would also report on stuff from the Mid-South, Puerto Rico, Japan, Mexico and so on.  So even though I had never seen Jerry Lawler or Tommy Rich & Austin Idol, I knew all about their Memphis blood-feud in 1987.  And it was because of PWI that I knew about Brian Pillman, Scott Steiner, or Owen Hart as rookies, several years before I ever saw them perform.  It goes without saying, in those days if you ever wanted to get laid, you would never mention to anyone that you liked wrestling, let alone owned several magazines dedicated to the subject.

Thrasher wasn't just about skateboarding.  At least not for me; someone who lived on a stretch of dirt road, four miles from any blacktop or other skatable surface.  Instead of just skateboarding, Thrasher brought with it a whole new world: white-guy dreadlocks, sleeveless jean jackets, Vans, Airwalks, Vision Street Wear, cholos (or at least guys that looked like cholos), screaming palms,  and bandannas & flipped bills.  This world was called California and I loved it!  Back then Thrasher was punk fucking rock.  You could order Skate Rock cassettes for $7--bands like Drunk Injuns, JFA, The Faction, Skate Master Tate and others were all over the mag.  I spent countless hours studying the advertisements for Dogtown Skates trying to figure out what the connection to the Suicidal Tendencies was. (It wasn't until years later while watching Dogtown and Z-Boys that I realized Jim Muir, founder of Dogtown and Mike Muir, founder of ST were brothers.)  Thrasher was also the first time I had heard of Pusshead, who did a lot of the artwork in magazine and wrote a column covering punk, hardcore and the heavier side of metal.  Over the years, Thrasher has reamained steadfast in it's dedication to skateboarding and rad music.  I still pick up a few issues a year.

A handful of us convinced the school librarian that Jet and Rolling Stone would be welcome additions to mag rack.  And she went for it!  In all actuality, Jet is a really shitty magazine.  But to a bunch of curious white kids from northern Minnesota, it was  great. Not only did you get to see who was charting the highest in the rap and R-n-B world, but you also got to look at pictures of cute black girls.

The Source
As a young teenager I got all my rap info from the "urban" equivalents of 16, Bop and Tiger Beat magazines; stuff like Right On! and Word Up!  (What is it with exclamation points?)  While the pictures of everyone with their Africa medallions were glossy, the written content left something to be desired.  Then in '88 or '89, on one of those trips to the cities, I came across The Source.  The Source was like a month's worth of Yo! MTV Raps (there's the exclamation point again) stuffed in a magazine.  All the rappers you knew (EPMD, KRS-ONE, Eric B. & Rakim) and a whole bunch you didn't (X Clan, Masta Ace, King Tee) were in The Source.  The Source was my bible for next 3 or 4 years.  That was, until I found a new one...

The first time I ever heard of Spin magazine was in 8th grade.  We had a new girl in our class courtesy of the local bad girls camp.  She was petite, pale skinned, jet black hair with hints of a purple in it and draped in all black...every day.  She usually wore one of two shirts: 7 Seconds or one with solid block lettering logo that said simply, SPIN.  How she came to arrive at Bello Lake correctional facility was, as they usually were with these girls, a mystery.  I figured she was a ghost of Winona Ryder sent to save me from the day-to-day doldrums of Jr. High in the northland.  Of course I was infatuated with her; and if she had just asked I would have busted her out of the group home and ran away with her to spend our days reading Spin magazine and listening to 7 Seconds cassettes.  But alas, as with all the bad girls, she finished her time and was sent back to "the cities."

The first time I actually read Spin magazine was my senior year of high school.  During study hall one of my best friends, Brian was reading a copy he had recently lifted from Rainbow Foods in Hibbing.  It was a yearly readers poll issue.  Some guy named Perry Farrell, who had won artist of the year, was on the cover.  I was intrigued because I had never heard of this man, and here, the readers of a magazine that I had always wanted to read, had voted him the artist of the year.  Not A Tribe Called Quest, not Public Enemy, not Ice Cube, Black Sheep, Del La Soul, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Cypress Hill or even the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but this guy, Perry Farrell. I absolutely had to know more.  As he was his wont, Brian let me borrow the mag for the night.  Inside was a brand new scene I did not know existed: Pearl Jam, My Bloody Valentine, Massive Attack, Smashing Pumpkins, Fugazi, Pixies, Soundgarden, Primus and of course, Farrell's Jane's Addiction; and it all seemed to be exploding like, now! Best album of that year: Nirvana's Nevermind.  I immediately subscribed and never missed an issue of Spin again...until they put Kid Rock on the cover (not ironically, I might add) in the fall of 1999.  For nearly a decade, Spin magazine was my bible; the written council of "alternative", punk, hip-hop and select electronica that was the soundtrack to my late teens and early twenties.

In the 90s Details magazine, which had been around since the early 80s "relaunched" in a new direction, targeting young straight men such as myself via television ads (specifically on MTV) by offering a combination of hip fashion, flashy photography, hot chicks, and coverage of the all-important alternative music scene.  One of my favorite features was Anka Radakovich's, dare I say...revolutionary, sex column.  And while the magazine had all of the aforementioned "cool" things and a sex column penned by a hottie, it also had write-ups on electronic gadgets, home furnishings, and expensive menswear.  As well, from time to time, they would do feature stories on careers of men in their late 20s or early 30s.  Details was the first time I realized my life wasn't going to be all keg parties, skate shoes and NOFX.  I had a subscription to Details through much of the 90s and read it faithfully.  But around the turn of the century they went on hiatus, then relaunched again; this time in a direction that may have been targeted towards my demographic, but not one I was ready to be a part of: adulthood.

Big Brother
Big Brother was a skateboarding magazine created by and for guys like me.  Dave Carnie, Chris Nieratko, Jeff Tremaine, Rick Kosick and other eternal teenagers presented a world that was about anything other than being an adult.  Big Brother, which eventually played a critical role in the creation of Jackass, was very rarely actually about skateboarding, but rather an exercise in vulgarity.  In many ways Big Brother, sans the skateboarding, reminded me of the crew I ran with, of which this very site is named after.  Memorable articles would be the one where editor, Carnie wrote a detailed account of how he used Nair hair removal on his anus...with pictures, and the controversial interview with a young Corey Duffel, in which he casually throws around the word faggot and calls Stevie Williams a "trashy nigger." 

Mass Appeal, While You Were Sleeping, Elemental, Life Sucks Die
Some of my favorite smaller fan zines from the 90s transformed themselves and emerged as full-fledged magazines in the early 2000s, only to end up ceasing publication when print media fell victim to the digital age. 

Both Mass Appeal and While You Were Sleeping started out as graffiti zines and eventually grew to cover other art forms, music, fashion, culture, etc.  The writing in earlier issues of WYWS was similar to Big Brother in that no subject was taboo, and nobody was safe from witty criticisms and/or outlandish putdowns.  It was from the writing in those two mags that I first began to realize it's OK to lighten up and have a laugh.  Both Mass Appeal and WYWS were quite good in earlier issues but by the time they folded, had gotten stagnant and seemed to exist without much quality content.  I stopped reading both before they died, but earlier issues still rank up there as some of my favorite magazines.

Elemental grew seemingly overnight from a twenty-some black and white hip-hop fanzine to hundred-plus full color pages.  Although there would be some of the mainstream stuff that you would find in the now horrendous Source or Blaze, it was the passion with which they covered underground and independent hip hop that made it stand out.  It was without question thee best hip-hop magazine around while it existed.

Maybe I'm biased because it was local, but Life Sucks Die was my favorite of all of these.  Each issue was well worth the sporadic release dates, as they were jam-packed with content: graffiti collages galore, interviews with the bands and rappers you had seen when they came to town, creative and clever artwork and writing, and a good-sized helping of straight-up goofiness.  I'd like to think LSD is just on hiatus because the dudes are super busy with their current full-time hipster-artist-DJ jobs to put together a print zine that doesn't make any money.  (Listen, if anyone from Burlesque/First Amendment/LSD is reading this, holler at me.  I'd love to lend my services to help get a new issue out.  And I have a stock pile of graff flicks from the last ten years...)

When I decided to get serious about my art for the second, third and fourth time ever, Juxtapoz was big part of the catalyst.  Juxtapoz featured the art world where skulls, hot-rods, tiki masks, lucha libre wrestlers, out-of-focus photos and graffiti writers turned gallery darlings were the norm.  (In retrospect I laugh at the irony.)  What was inspiring was that you could be really good at what you do or you could (purposefully, perhaps) be really bad at what you do and its didn't matter because it was all outsider.  But after a two-year subscription, I realized that my favorite part of the magazine wasn't the art anymore, but rather the back pages where the party pics from gallery openings were.  I was in it for the wrong reasons.  And if you ask me, it will be the very magazine that brought "low brow art" to the surface that will bury it.  I flip through one every once in a while, but it all looks the same to me now and not in the least bit edgy.

Yep, Gentleman's Quarterly.  At 30 plus years old, and with the gentle nudging (ahem, gift subscription) from a friend, I decided it was finally time to learn the difference between gingham and seersucker and the appropriate time to wear each, and how a starched collar or a well-worn oxford can both get the girl, and how everything, I mean EVERYTHING, should be worn slim.  Plus, in case you didn't know or have forgotten, Glenn O'Brien is punk as fuck.  

Maximum Rock-n-Roll
I saved this one for last for multiple reasons.  I first started reading MRR in the mid-90s when I was diving deeper into punk rock.  I was beginning to desire something more hardcore than the Bad Religions and Rancids that were ruling my stereo at the time; something more like the Minor Threats, MDCs and Black Flags that I first loved about punk, back in 8th grade.  I had heard about how MRR was supposedly the "bible of punk rock" or something and that the founder of the magazine, Tim Yohannan had created all these rules about what is or isn't punk rock. I thought that that idea alone was completely ridiculous, so I bought my first copy of Maximum Rock-n-Roll on, yet again, another trip to the cities.  One of the things that always intrigued me about punk rock was that despite all the Punk-Is-Dead bullshit, it is a never ending, bottomless, black hole of...foreverness.  There is literally no end in sight, ever, to the amount of bands, zines, stories and so on.  And in MRR, much to my delight, every page is proof of that.  I've read several zines over the years--Under The Volcano, Punk Planet, Carbon 14, Raczorcake, Lollipop, etc.--but MRR is the one constant.  In fact it was an article in MRR that inspired me to start making zines in the first place.  Each issue is crammed full of interviews, scene reports, and tons of reviews.  Even though it's a non-profit venture, I have never subscribed to MMR because there is no way I could read all of the info in one issue before the next one came out.  But I do buy them when I can, and often, and it's as much a pleasure to read it now as it ever was.  Of all the magazines I've gotten rid over the years, Maximum Rock-n-Roll is one I will save forever.  There is a couple back-breaking bins full of them in my basement.
Dear Magazines,
I miss you.  And I'd really like to buy some more of you if you come around again.  Thanks for everything.

*Author's Note:
There are some ommissions from this list.  Unfortunately I missed out on earlier Gavin McInnes era issues of Vice Magazine, as they were not available in my area for a long time.  And regretfully I never knew Ego Trip existed until it didn't.  If anyone has copies of either of these (or anything mentioned on the list) let's talk.  Honorable mentions would go to skate-n-punk mags like Concussion and Juice, snowboarding mags Blunt and Heckler, Bike mag BMX Action (not the old one, but the one from the 00s that turned into Faction), art mag Beutiful Decay, and music mags Rolling Stone and Alternative Press.  The latter of which was at one time very core; going so far as to have a no Eddie Vedder policy.