Zine but Not Heard

Few publications are growing in the Denver underground.

How does Magyar justify this enormous crock of guano? "We had built up a relationship with KBPI during our coverage of Willie B. and set ourselves up as advocates of them in the face of other detrimental media coverage." (So much for pointing out problems.) "And they were upset that we didn't give them more credit. So they said, 'Hey, friend, you know we do more, and we're upset that you didn't mention it.'" Go-Go types then responded with one of the sloppiest in-print blow jobs since the development of papyrus. Kudos, guys.

Perhaps an allergy to offensiveness will keep Go-Go going for the long haul -- but tiptoeing around hasn't helped similar publications. Despite the sad experiences of predecessors such as the largely forgotten Up the Creek, the Sol Day News, financed by investors from Aspen, burst onto the metro scene in May 1998 with an unlikely concept: It disseminated soft-hitting granola-and-Birkenstocks features on Sunday, directly competing with the Denver Post's and the Rocky Mountain News's largest issues. The idea was that people have more time to read on Sunday. But according to Allen Best, Sol Day News's former editor, that's not the way it worked out.

"Basically, you can start out small and build or you can start out big, but if you do that, you must have the money to bleed for a while," Best says. "Sol Day had it backwards, starting out big with a small budget. We started out with forty pages and a press run of 80,000, then fell back to 36 pages with a press run of about 40,000. But we had enough paying ads to justify about twelve pages and enough editorial staff to go about sixteen pages." He adds that, as opposed to the mountain communities where he cut his teeth as a journalist, "It's harder to locate well-defined communities in a place like Denver, and we never really did." Less than six months after its bow, the publication folded.

Among those who were less than shattered by Sol Day News's demise was Chris Logan, who signed up before its launch but bailed early: "When they put a fucking bobcat on the cover of the first issue, I knew it was going all wrong," he says. But the experience didn't sour Logan or partner James Corbin on the free-magazine biz, nor did their association with a potpourri of other departed salvos, including Freestyle and Seed. In early 1999 they gave birth to Shame, a pocket-sized publication that's still in existence; its next issue is set for early December. But it can't really be considered a member of the same genre as Go-Go. Rather, Shame is part of a less commercial, more individualistic tradition associated with idiosyncratic efforts, such as the late, lamented Modern Drunkard, that placed personal expression above financial considerations. "We want to unite people who are flipping their middle fingers in the air and saying, 'I don't care about the establishment,'" Corbin declares in a charmingly anachronistic way. "Our motto is 'Art, Noise, Mind.'"

Shame doesn't always live up to this manifesto. The local-music column in its current issue advises any performer who's apprehensive about "an honest critique" to "send that shit to someone who's in this business to gain friends" before raving about ten recordings in a row (Corbin says he likes to give leeway to anyone who "goes to the trouble of going to the post office and buying a stamp"), and some of the essays on various topics, many of them having to do with sex, are a little too inside, like private jokes only the cognoscenti will get. But at least Shame is lively and unafraid to infuriate -- hence the photograph of a nude young woman with her pubic zone covered by a "scratch and sniff" label. (No, it doesn't work.)

Running a publication on sheer passion can be exhausting, though. "It does get frustrating," Corbin concedes. "You wonder why you're putting yourself out there sometimes. But we have something to say that's not being said by other publications, which is what keeps us going."

That pretty much explains why John Reidy is still in the zine game, too, albeit in a lower-profile way than he once was. As the brain behind The Hooligan, one of the most personal publications Denver has seen, he takes delight in savaging anyone and everyone, often including yours truly; in his view, I am to journalism what John Wayne Gacy is to the campaign to make clowns seem less creepy. (Who among us can argue with that?) Reidy is sometimes guilty of hammering the same note over and over again, but because it's a note no one else is playing (and a bitingly amusing one at that), he has a sizable following. Yet his cult-sized audience hasn't been enough to keep him going full-time. He published every month or two from late 1993 until 1996 before stopping for around eighteen months, and since starting up again, his pace has been sporadic. He put out only one Hooligan in 1999, and if he doesn't make a self-imposed December deadline, he'll miss 2000 entirely. A scaled-down Internet variation of his baby can be found at thehooligan.com, with Reidy contributing a column's worth of ruminations every month or so (a new one went up October 30), and he helms Pop Autopsy, an hour-long talk show on alpharadio.com, each Thursday at 2 p.m. But for him, the Web offers less feedback than good old paper and ink.

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