Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Bad Mags 2

Published by Headpress, Tom Brinkman's Bad Mags 2 is perhaps less a follow up to Bad Mags than a continuation of it, as signalled by the fact that the page numbering for the 260-odd page volume starts at 312.

Not having read the original, I can't say how it compares in terms of content, though I can say that if the first volume is anything like this I will definitely be getting a copy of it as soon as possible.

Brinkman's subject matter is, as the cover blurb states, "the strangest, most unusual and sleaziest periodicals ever published".

How far that's true on a wider basis, given the geographical and temporal frame of the US and occasionally Canada between the 50s and 80s is perhaps debatable, but only in terms of being stranger, more unusual, or sleazier in a pissing match way that is part and parcel of cult territory.

Indeed, this is something Brinkman confronts but then assiduously swerves away from in introducing the first of his subjects, magazines dealing with the occult and eroticism, insofar as he mentions Nugget as a fetish magazine that was launched in the wake of Playboy but which has "definitely mutated" since; I'll say no more on the subject here, but rather leave it for the curious to investigate at their own convenience. (Curiousity may be aroused or diminished by the toilet and pissing metaphors...)

What impresses in the discussion itself are the way it charts the cultural developments of the 50s, 60s and 70s, from the magazine Satan with its relatively vague use of an iconic Devil as a counterpoint to the Playboy bunny onto slightly more authentic publications, and as an organic introduction to what follows:

The dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the establishment of the Church of Satan are followed by two chapters on the murder of Sharon Tate and on Charles Manson that neatly show up the confused and contradictory situation in the USA circa 1970, while also illustrating how little has changed since.

Reading the headlines pertaining to Manson and the most famous victim of his cult, along with those focusing on other celebrities of the day, it is amazing how easily you could simply change the names and the graphical style and have a contemporary publication.

This quasi-random / Markov Model approach to text generation is something that also comes through in the fourth chapter, which discusses the career and work of Myron Fass, the king of US pulp in the 1960s and 1970s.

Quite simply, Fass did not care what crap he published, so long as it sold enough copies of a given title. His gimmicks included offering student discounts, without bothering to check the subscriber's credentials - who cared, as he was still making money anyways? - and, with his Official UFO magazine, presenting the incredible story - as in beyond credibility - of one Buddy Weiss, a Kasper Hauser / Brother from Another Planet type (Weiss even has a wooden horse!)

Often laugh out funny, the chapter provides a welcome respite from Manson and the fifth chapter, which discusses true crime and atrocity magazines, including the infamous Violent World, as immortalised by The Misfits in the song of the same name.

Lodi's finest are, however, conspicuously absent from the final chapter, on 'punk' magazines; I use the scare quotes because the difference between these opportunistic magazines' version of punk and the 'real', 'authentic' thing is a key theme.

Maximum Rock and Roll these magazines were not: they had no ideology, other than (an unironic) implicit endorsement of capitalism and consumerism, about as far from (idealist) punk anarchism as you can get, except when you consider that Malcolm McLaren had already subverted Situationism into a chaos = cash syllogism with his Sex Pistol puppets...

Yet, at the same time, one also thinks of Black Flag's 'creepy crawl' tours across the USA, or the Bad Mags style headline collages in Dead Kennedy's LP inserts, and thereby realises the way it all fits together; to paraphrase a Misfits bootleg, "If You don't know [what I'm talking about] then what the fuck are you doing here?" (These magazines would never try selling such bands - can you imagine Minor Threat or The Minutemen's responses?)

The appendix provides a checklist of Ed Wood's writings for 'Bad Mags' in the 60s and 70s. One of his pseudonyms was, tellingly, Ann Gora....

Brinkman is definitely someone who knows his (US) trash culture, whether noting the appearances of porn star Rene Bond in satanic/occult magazine layouts or the use of stills from Love Camp 7 and Snuff in their true crime/bondage counterparts.

In a word: essential.

[Bad Mags 2 is available from http://www.headpress.com]

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

Saw a copy of this at the local Barnes & Noble last week and resisted a temptation to buy it. Now you've gone and made the temptation stronger. Thanks, Keith.