Friday, April 28, 2017

Zine Thing

Was there ever a youth movement that demanded as much out of its fans than the American punk/hardcore scene? Sure, you could just go to the shows and buy the records or whatever, but there was an unspoken expectation that you would add something to the conversation - start a record label, write for or publish a zine, or in the words of the Big Boys' Randy "Biscuit" Turner, "OK ya'll, go start your own band."

I wasn't in a band (even though it is generally accepted that I have the voice of an angel), but I was on the community college newspaper, so I decided to stick a press card in my hat and become a zine publisher.

It's sort of amazing that a gawky kid could just declare himself a writer and people in bands would take minutes out of their day to answer hard-hitting questions like, "What are your influences," "What do you think about GG Allin/Ian McKaye," or "Are you straight edge?"

Of course, that makes it sound a lot easier than it was.

My zine 
Freezerburn started with a crack staff of four of the least outgoing and self-confident teens on Earth. Our first journalistic coup was a trip to Brandon to interview a couple of bands, Awake* and Slap of Reality. We sort of shadowed them around for hours in their houses without really asking any questions. I'd like to think this was an exercise in immersive journalism, trying to find what made our subjects tick by observing their day-to-day life, but in reality we just didn't come up with any questions, even though we had plenty of opportunity on the hour-long ride from Bradenton. And even if we did have questions prepared, we would have been too shy to actually ask them.

Somehow we became a little more outgoing and were able to work with the local promoter to interview nationally known bands like 7 Seconds, Social Distortion, and a couple more I can't remember right now. Fugazi, Down By Law, Pegboy, I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting.

We didn't get press passes or anything, or even get on the guest list. We just got permission to hang out at the sound check until we got the courage to approach our musical heroes with our questions that they had probably just answered at their last tour stop.

We'd wander around the venue trying to keep out of the way of sound people and workers and spending hours trying to work up the courage to approach the bands. Our approach consisted of, "Hey, maybe they'll see us standing around and ask us if we want to interview them." Or, "Uhh...well, they look really busy right now, so maybe we should wait another couple hours," until the promoter basically took us by the hand and made us speak, sort of like making your kid perform in front of company at a party.

While we had learned the valuable lesson of actually preparing questions for bands, we would get thrown if something came up that wasn't on our list of questions, and I'm sure our stammering and stuttering either brought out a protective big brother trait in these bands, or at least provided some entertaining van talk when they recounted the shyest interviewers they ever encountered.

Looking back, I wonder why we didn't just stay in the venue once we were inside, which as an adult and pillar of the community today, I'd totally try to get away with. The only time we did that was late in our journalistic career when we interviewed All and Bad Religion. We wandered through Florida Theater killing time, at one point hanging out in the green room (We had gained a bit more self-confidence by then), actually helping ourselves to some beer (Hey, that's how we gained our self-confidence!) until some Swedish guy said, "Now you are to be going now," so we hid in the bathroom for another half hour or so. As professionals, we did not let this incident color our story.

I'd like to say that interviewing people and seeing a project through to completion gave us all needed self-confidence and courage, but it would take years for me to feel comfortable enough to speak to strangers (although I did get better at interviewing) or vague acquaintances, instead of waiting for them to speak first. So you could say that zine writing kept me from living the life of a Howard Hughes-like hermit. For that, you can all thank Freezerburn.

*In a feat of under-the-gun, working-with-what-we-had journalism, we were able to salvage enough to write the stories, almost like a sober Hunter S. Thompson. Also, that Awake 7" is so good. Here, check it out: