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Zine but Not Heard

Few publications are growing in the Denver underground.

For many young urbanites, the cultural vitality of a community can be judged by the number of homegrown, advertiser-supported periodicals that are piled up near the doorways of CD stores or funky restaurants -- and by those standards, Denver's in the dumper.

At any given time during the last decade, the city has generated fewer magazines in this category than virtually any other major metropolis. Worse, many of the rags that unraveled (and success stories in this arena are rarer than award-worthy performances in Jean-Claude Van Damme movies) did so not because they were edgy, or outrageous, or contemptuous of the status quo, but because they were simply flat-out boring. And today is hardly an exception.

Among the theories frequently floated to account for this state of affairs (aside from the rise of the Internet, which is credited or blamed for practically everything) is the muscle of the very publication you're reading, and that shouldn't be overlooked. Because lots o' voices are better than not many, I'd personally like to see freebies flourish and multiply, but I'm guessing my friends on the business side of this office might have another point of view. Still, there are plenty of other cities with large weeklies that have managed to spawn and sustain more and better newspapers and magazines.

So why hasn't Denver? A big factor is what George Bush (the older one, not the scrunched-down, cross-eyed contemporary version, who stars in a blurb below) once referred to as "the vision thing" -- an original, clearly defined slant that sets a publication apart. That's why the Onion, a weekly Madison, Wisconsin-based humor newspaper, is so popular: It's different, and consistently funnier than hell. By contrast, too many Denver-based offerings -- especially the ones that aim to attract broad audiences instead of zeroing in on niches -- seem generic, interchangeable. A case in point: When asked to describe the approach of Go-Go, currently the city's most prominent new entertainment bi-weekly, its publisher, Gary Haney, hesitates for a moment before saying, "I don't know."

He did, initially. Haney, an import from Amarillo, Texas, hit town with the goal of producing the best freakin' porno paper in the Rockies ("Breast Reduction," November 25, 1999) -- but when his creation, Rocky Mountain Go-Go, proved unable to keep it up, he shortened its moniker and headed for the mainstream, with only the occasional cover shot of buxom babes as a link to its previous incarnation. Yet, while it's currently celebrating its first anniversary since buttoning its shirt -- a benchmark many Denver publications before it never reached -- Go-Go continues to search for an identity. Many of the 36 or so pages per issue are filled with listings or familiar syndicated features such as Chuck Shepherd's "News of the Weird," and the self-generated reviews and entertainment items are generally dull, hackneyed and stereotypically "positive."

This last quality is one that's often been embraced by Denver zines, almost always to their disadvantage. For instance, defunct music-oriented efforts such as Euphony Music News, Color Red and Pulp tended to make every Colorado performer sound like an undiscovered Elvis, and although that no doubt pleased musicians and club owners, it required readers to believe that mediocrity had been banished from the state -- a leap of faith that spouses and relatives were willing to make, but not many others.

Nonetheless, Go-Go editor Chris Magyar, to whom publisher Haney referred the question about the magazine's style, believes that positivity works. "We've decided that our coverage will be more on what's good and what needs support than in pointing out flaws in the system," he says. "Successes are a lot more fun to talk about than failures, which is why we want to keep it positive, especially in terms of the local scene."

At the same time, Magyar insists that Go-Go has tried to "point out problems" within the context of such articles, using as an example an August look at Willie B., the controversial KBPI jock who recently led a four-wheeling expedition on private land near Boulder ("KBPI Wrecks the Rockies," October 5). But just how hard-hitting this profile really was is indicated by Go-Go's response to complaints about another article.

"Sound Check," printed October 12, was an overwhelmingly sunny assessment of Denver music, but it contained a single negative paragraph. Author Judy B. noted, quite accurately, that "our radio stations do a pitiful job" of representing local music. This was hardly an indefensible position, and indeed, the writer softened her contentions in a subsequent section that singled out KBPI and the University of Colorado-Boulder's Radio 1190 for doing better in this regard than their competitors. But when Magyar received calls from KBPI reps griping that this salute to their station was too small, he responded with an extraordinary, bend-over-and-play-dead capitulation in Go-Go's October 26 edition. Under the heading "KBPI Champions Local Musicians," he wrote, "It has come to our attention that we made an egregious omission in our 'Sound Check' cover story." After citing a bare handful of minor KBPI local music promotions, including a "pay-to-play" charity fundraiser that required musicians -- often the poorest people in any neighborhood -- to pony up cash before the outlet would spin their songs (but stopped short of asking for a pint of blood), Magyar concluded, "KBPI has gone above and beyond the call of duty in supporting local music. They deserve the heartfelt thanks of this magazine and every musician in Colorado for all their hard work. Kudos, guys."

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