in the 80s there was a thriving cut throat xeroxed indie lit mag scene, where hundreds of little newsletters and poetry mags were made in true underground fashion: photocopied and mailed out. it was a pretty incestuous scene, you saw a lot of the same names in every mag (including mine). it really went nowhere though but it was the progenitor of today's flowering online lit mag scene.
i used to have a whole box full of xeroxed mags but they got lost in the mists of time. one of my best friends, kyle hogg, used to run a great xerox mag called BOLD PRINT, still legendary in some circles. and brian greene had DODOBOBBO and THE PISTOL, both high end lit mags that got a lot of attention. there was michael hathaway who had KINDRED SPIRIT/CHIRON REVIEW a poetry zine and the awesomely feared merritt clifton, whose rejection letters for SAMISDAT were brutal and scathing. a compliment from him carried a lot of weight indeed. there was denis mcbee from BEATNIKS FROM SPACE, gerry reiths old stomping ground and on and on. these weren't the college reviews, these were individuals using their own money and resources to put out work that meant something to them. they were labors of love, labors of need. a reaction to the vapidity of the 80s.
i can sum up the whole scene by a story about my old friend gerry reith. in 1981 gerry was the patron saint of all alternative novelists because his novel NEUTRON GUN was spotted in a xeroxed mag and actually bought by a real publisher, giving all the rest of us hope. it sold okay for what it was and gerry became a kind of icon.
toward the end of the 80s the litmag scene started to whither and die just in time for the cyber revolution. about that time, the grunge scene was still alternative and independent.
in 1989 i was in seattle for one of my plays and my friend took me to this bar, the satryicon club in portland oregon. it was around new years eve, and there was a local band playing who was pretty popular. they had just made an album named bleach, it was on white vinyl. the band name was nirvana. my friend brad was really into the grunge scene at the time, which was just starting to flower. there were all kinds of bands around, green river (which later became mudhoney), screaming trees, soundgarden, and pearl jam (who i hated), etc. no one had really made a dent yet.
you have to remember this was the time of michael jackson and shit like that. so brad took me to this club for new years and nirvana played. i didn't know them from the beatles, but i am an old school punk rocker - i cut my hair with pinking shears in 1976 when i saw the sex pistols on tv and noticed how much they pissed off my dad - i was deeply shocked and impressed. they were good and LOUD and they MEANT it, something that reignited this old punk rocker's heart. it had been a long time since i saw a band that truly MEANT it, and it has been a long time since. i can't even remember if dave grohl was playing drums for them yet. i seem to think he wasn't but i could be wrong.
after the gig i took the set list off the drums.
it was in the singer's handwriting. and to this day i have that set list in kurt's handwriting framed on my wall. it reads like a poem:
Floyd the Barber
About a Girl
Been a Son
On a Plain
as for gerry, he wrote a follow up novel that he swore was better than anything out there. he had problems though - i didnt know him well, he lived about a hundred miles or so from here, but i knew him well enough to know he was unhinged and a great writer. his mind was fast. too fast i guess. it's one thing to see feel and understand everything around you. it's another thing to know how to deal with it. after he finished writing the new novel he decided that the only thing to do was to blow out his brains. so he carefully arranged his masterpiece manuscript around him and... blew out his brains. the problem was that his carefully arranged masterpiece was covered with blood and other stuff, rendering it totally illegible. his parents buried it with him. it was the only copy. i know how unhappy he would be that his magnum opus will never see the light of day but he had enough humor to realize the irony in it all.
to me this story sums up the whole 80s lit mag scene. that whole scene was so weird and tragic. it was an exciting time.
words: Michael K. White, Colorado (stories)
photo: Jeff Crouch, Texas (more)