originally posted on The Current July 19, 2016
I love books, but man, do I LOVE rock magazines. My mail carrier most likely hates my guts.
Growing up, copies of Rolling Stone, Trouser Press, NY Rocker, Spin and Creem magazines were littered across the family coffee table. I'd catch heat every time I tore out pages with photos of Bowie, Joe Perry, Debbie Harry or The Clash to adorn my bedroom walls. All the rest of the dirtbags in the family felt they should have the magazine intact to peruse before I got to my adolescent ripping and shrine-building.
Creem, self anointed as "America's Only Rock N' Roll Magazine," was a snotty, Midwest answer to Rolling Stone. It was founded in Detroit in 1969 by Barry Kramer, who owned a record store called Full Circle. Kramer decided to publish his own paper when a local alt magazine refused to print a concert review he had written. Tony Reay, who had been a clerk at the record store, became the first editor; it was Reay who named the publication after his favorite band, Cream.
Distribution at first was modest, despite the fact that many copies of the magazine were ordered by porn shops who were confused by the fairly suggestive title, displaying it next to Screw magazine. Giving massive exposure to artists like Lou Reed, New York Dolls, David Bowie and Roxy Music years before mainstream press caught on, Creem was among the first national publications to cover Detroit-area artists such as Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, The MC5, The Stooges and Parliament Funkadelic.
Lester Bangs, who is often called "America's greatest rock critic," became editor of Creem in 1971 after having been fired from rival music magazine Rolling Stone by publisher Jann Wenner for "disrespecting musicians" after a particularly harsh review of the group Canned Heat. Honestly, how "disrespectful" can one be when reviewing a band in which the lead singer's voice sounds like a singing sock puppet?
Bangs began a love relationship with Detroit calling it "rock's only hope." The same year Bangs joined the Creem asylum, the term "punk rock" was coined by columnist Dave Marsh. I'm sure that's a debatable claim to fame, but I'd rather be the dude who takes credit for "punk rock" than whoever came up with the term "foodie."
The writers were never afraid to knock bands down a few pegs; in fact, many considered it their duty. Being huge fans of rock 'n' roll in its most primal form, the writers felt a genuine sense of offense when the phonies of the rock world started buying into their own hyped-up bullshit. Prog rock? You didn't stand a chance with these peeps.
Done with irreverent humor and a self-deprecating attitude, Creem clearly informed a lot of people's sensibilities. The magazine became famous for its comical photo captions, which poked fun at bloated rock stars, the industry and even the magazine itself.
The "Boy Howdy" iconic design was drawn by cartoonist Robert Crumb who was reportedly paid 50 bucks for it. In every following issue after December 1971, musicians were photographed for the "Creem's Profiles" features holding cans of "Boy Howdy" beer.
In the 1980s, Creem led the pack on coverage of upcoming bands such as The B-52's, R.E.M., The Replacements, The Smiths and The Cure. It also brazenly sung the devil-horned praises of metal bands like Motörhead, Judas Priest, Van Halen and Kiss.
Changes in ownership of the magazine and a relocation to Los Angeles, as well as a few key players dying of drug overdoses, saw the publication eventually fold in 1989.
But now there is a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a Creem Magazine film documentary that is in the works. For the love of all of the seriously cool uncool rock geeks sitting home on Saturday night listening to Houses of The Holy in their jammies, please consider throwing a few bucks at this.
I'm sure the staffers alive and dead would give you the middle finger of gratitude.