Former Creemster Bangs On About This, That, the Other Thing

Final installment of Bill Holdship’s Creem history/memoir/book review here, at Metro Times. A much deeper dig than the first installment into the story, the in-fighting, the book, etc.

A few disagreements along the way, the most major one being in regards to this:

“Of course, revisionism has been going on for a long time now. In 2000, music critic Simon Reynolds took potshots at Bangs (and me) on his blog, writing that he’d read Bangs’ stuff in CREEM just recently, and while a lot of it was very good, a great deal of it wasn’t all that. But Reynolds obviously couldn’t read it in full context. So that’s sort of like me saying ‘I listened to Elvis in the ’80s,’ or ‘I listened to the Sex Pistols in the ’00s, and I just don’t know what all the outrage was about.’ Take it from someone who was there reading him at the time: Lester Bangs was great, even if it’s harder these days to accept, as Greil Marcus once put it, ‘that the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews.'”

That’s a bit damning to Bangs, no? (Not to mention Elvis and the Sex Pistols.) I mean, the idea that he needs to be read “in context” to fully appreciate him — I have a hard time with that one. Simon Reynolds not being wowed by Bangs should be taken as just that — one guy not being wowed by Lester Bangs. There’s of course something to the idea that certain pieces by Bangs, especially from his Creem days, are probably more thoroughly enjoyed in context, but I don’t think that’s what Holdship is saying (or if he is, I wish he’d been more specific — who the hell needs “context” to enjoy “Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves” or Bangs’s review of Station to Station?). 

(Come to think of it, though, the “in context” issue does point to a major problem with the Matheu book or any future Creem volumes we see. As funny as all those captions and headlines and such were, I think it’s inevitable that something will get lost in the translation from one medium to another, however “faithful” said translation is. That’s not to say, necessarily, you “had to be there,” but each issue of the mag is like a self-contained world, in a way, and short of perusing through the issues themselves, it’s likely impossible to capture an accurate snapshot in any other form. Not that I don’t believe someone should try.)

On the other hand, I’m really glad Holdship doesn’t scrimp on his very specific criticisms of the book — criticisms that go beyond the bickering and deal with the evidence that every reader will have to face — which, in the end, is what actually matters.  His list of the evidence is damning enough (the lack of reviews, the emphasis on photos, photo captions written by the editors but never noted as such, endless typos, etc.), but for me, he gets to the core of the book’s problems in something that reads more like an aside: “the book was obviously sold to HarperCollins based on the rock stars featured within, not the writers.” That pretty much nails it, I think. The point of Creem was never just Iggy or Kiss or Bowie or whoever; it was Marsh on Iggy, Uhelszki on Kiss, Bangs on Bowie, etc. That’s not to say the book should’ve been compiled as one huge orgy of celebrate-the-writers, but rather, that the pieces included should’ve been chosen first and foremost for the strength of the writing, not the cachet of the artists.

Anyway, when’s that new Zoo World collection coming out already? I think I need something new to bang on about myself.

15 thoughts on “Former Creemster Bangs On About This, That, the Other Thing

  1. I actually bought the rights to the Zoo World name in 2004 but Arthur Levy has been pretty pissed off about it and he will not participate in a Zoo World website or a book.

    I know I could do it without him, but…..

  2. I believe that I read the passage alluded to in his blog some years back. I took it more as a personal blog essay or diary entry since it had less to do with formed opinion and seemed nothing but reactionary insolence at the time.

  3. Seeing how Bill will likely not respond to me, here’s an email I wrote him yesterday:

    To me, it’s just a book. For anyone interested in rock journalism or music from era’s past, it is full of great pieces. It may contain an altered and edited version of the rag’s history. Maybe you could have done a better job. Maybe anyone could have. I liken the whole thing to a Rhino Records box set: even if it receives positive reviews and contains a lot of great music, there can still be a great deal of arguments made about what made the final cut and what did not. People who’ll talk about what should have been in the book that were not a part of the magazine will be fans, arguing in as geeky a fashion as the book editor Brian J. Bowe and I once did about which lead singer was better in The Flamin’ Groovies.

    As for CREEM’s legacy, it seems odd when anything that began as reactionary evolves into an institution concerned with legacy preservation. Nobody but critics, musicians and the occasional old timer would utter a word about CREEM had it not been for Bangs or Crowe’s film. Speaking as someone that worked on the website for several years, most I mentioned the magazine to had never heard of it, even after I mentioned Almost Famous. If I were in the same shoes as someone who worked at the publication, I would hope that I would at least be happy that my work is getting some attention. People are reading it, writing about it and talking about it. Isn’t that enough for something that ended twenty years ago?

  4. Nobody but critics, musicians and the occasional old
    timer would utter a word about CREEM had it not been for Bangs or
    Crowe’s film. Speaking as someone that worked on the website for
    several years, most I mentioned the magazine to had never heard of it, even after I mentioned Almost Famous.

    Luke, I’m afraid that I’d have to disagree with you here. I’ll wager that it’s not just “critics, musicians and old timers” like the Reverend that are paying $8 – $20 a copy for old issues of CREEM on eBay. I’ve spoken with people from all walks of life (not just the music biz) that remember CREEM fondly – heck, the rag was around almost 20 years – and there were writers just as entertaining as Bangs throughout the publication’s history (Dave Marsh, Billy Altman, Bill Holdship, John Kordosh, Rick Johnson, Susan Whitall, Jaan Uhelszki, etc).

    CREEM was original and influential, and its continued popularity can be attributed to more than just the brief period of time that any writer spent at the rag (Bangs included) or that damn movie. Perhaps if you’re a 21-year-old music fan haunting the clubs for the first time in search of the Pitchfork-approved indie-rock-band-of-the-month, CREEM is irrelevant. For the hardcore music fan, though, no matter the age, all roads lead back to CREEM. There’s no publication today (online or in the real world) that matches CREEM at its peak. Fans are in search of real music, more than what the industry is currently giving them, and they seem to be increasingly turning to old rock rags like CREEM (and CRAWDADDY, TROUSER PRESS, ZOO WORLD and ZIG ZAG) to find out about bands they might like.

    Personally, I’d love to see a ZOO WORLD book…and does anybody have any copies of ROCK magazine, circa 1970-71 they’d be willing to part with?

  5. I agree that CREEM was far more than Bangs. He made for a great lead singer but the band itself were solid throughout. What makes people go back to CREEM isn’t just the great coverage, but that the writers looked at their own job as being just as important as the facts. The pieces themselves were attempted as works of art often meant to stand in their own time. Was it Kordosh who wrote that CREEM wasn’t staffed by people who were frustrated musicians, but the truth was far worse — it was staffed by frustrated writers. Amen.

    NO music magazine I’ve run across today allows for that freedom. It’s all about getting the product description right. Interview the artist over lunch and write about it as if it matters.

    Did Rick Johnson eat lunch?

  6. What I said was “if,” and yeah, in hindsight maybe I should have stated that it was a possibility nobody would speak of CREEM had it not been for Bangs and Crowe. And yes, there’s the Ben Blackwell’s of the world, but I don’t know how large this group of true “fans” digging through old rock mags like Indiana Jones searching for some Holy Grail really is. I’m sure there are people like that, but I don’t think CREEM, despite its insight, great writing and hilarity, is the best place to turn to when looking for worthwhile music of yesteryear. There is such a thing as Allmusic and file sharing.

    And for the record, to say that people in their early twenties that go to clubs after reading positive Pitchfork reviews aren’t hardcore music fans, that is completely ridiculous.

  7. I took the line as hyperbole; like those who would look to Pitchfork only to figure out what to see, not Pitchfork readers proper.

    As for Creem demand, as the man said, check out eBay. I’ve seen some go for ridiculous amounts that even former editors scoff at.

    Additionally, the assertion that Bill Holdship would likely not respond is doubtful. He has been known to read and reply to just about anyone.

  8. I figured I should respond to this thread before it disappears from the front page.

    Scott, I think you either misunderstood what I was saying or, as you posted, we just disagree in terms of “context.” I think when one is studying and learning about history, context is the most important element and one that is too often left out of history lessons these days (see Luke’s above posts for verification of this fact). As far as I’m concerned, context is everything — and the impact is totally in the context.

    Sure, someone might be able to appreciate Lester’s writing years after the fact. And many, of course, have. But it’s really hard for a youngster to understand the IMPACT Lester had in his own time in a blogger world (where everyone’s an “expert”; almost any record is available via a click on the mouse; and there really can’t be a “counterculture” because everything gets coopted within a matter of days…and it’s been that way since the birth of MTV).

    By that same token, a kid might hear Elvis’s “Hound Dog” in modern times or the Sun Sessions and appreciate it as “good music.” My nephews and niece fell in love hard with him via the “Lilo & Stitch” soundtrack. However, it’s hard for them, in modern times, to appreciate how outrageous early Elvis was in his own time — a time when members of the KKK protested and marched outside his concerts and he was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

    I used to laugh in the ’60s when my Mom would tell me how outraged the country was when Clark Gable used the word “damn” (as in “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”) in “Gone With The Wind.” I guess the Catholic Church condemned it at the time and kids weren’t allowed to see it. Or remember how when we were kids, adult married couples were never seen sleeping in the same bed on network TV? “All In The Family” and Archie Bunker were outrageous for a sitcom when the show aired in its own time. Now it’s nothing; probably somewhat dated, in fact. Hell, I couldn’t see “Midnight Cowboy” when it first was released due to its X rating (my father finally took me and my brother to a drive-in to see it after we begged him for months; I miss you, Dad). Now, you can see it totally uncut Saturday afternoons on local TV stations.

    So, that’s what I meant by “context.” And I still believe it’s everything when you’re discussing historical impact. Or taking it back to music, I was just mentioning yesterday to Brian Smith — who deserves the credit or blame for me turning that CREEM piece into a cover feature — how sonically outrageous the Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Psychocandy” sounded to me the first times I heard it, even though I loved it from the get-go. These days, that very sound is mainstream. Hell, a similar sound seems to sell every other car on TV. Ditto Jeff Beck’s guitar on “Heartful of Soul” the first time I heard it blaring from my transistor radio. Hope that explains it, my friend. And thank you for all the support, btw.

    And, yes, I believe that most of the CREEM writers were great, to address some of the other terrific comments here. But in my world, Lester was the big bang or the Moses figure. He’s the one who drew the readers (and later writers) to the mag in the first place and that’s what I mean when I wrote that I think no one would still be talking about CREEM without his impact and influence.

    And, Luke, I got your letter but I didn’t respond because I really had nothing to say regarding your comments. I wrote in both parts of the piece that Lester and Cameron were the ones who’ve taken CREEM into the mainstream mainstream…so we’re in agreeance (as Mr. Durst once said) there. But, believe me, I taught three classes in Music Journalism at UCLA Extension…and there were (and are) plenty of people interested in CREEM (and there were before Cameron’s film was ever released). Some of those people even write for Pitchfork! The only other thing I’d question in your letter is when you suggest “Maybe anyone could have” done a better job on the book. Anyone?? You lost me there…but I’ll simply end by saying: “I think not.”

    Best Wishes,


  9. Thanks, Bill, for the clarification. If you mean context in regards to understanding the *impact* of someone’s work, then definitely, I agree (and maybe I didn’t catch that specific detail in your piece itself). My only point, which I stand by, is that, Bangs’s – or anyone’s for that matter – best writing holds up without the context, it is simply great writing as *writing*, and I imagine it will read just as well 50 years from now as it did 30 years ago, including to many completely unaware of the context. Not all of his writing will, obviously, and much of the lesser Lester still worked fantastic “in context” – so I get what you mean.

  10. And for the record, to say that people in their early twenties that go to clubs after reading positive Pitchfork reviews aren’t hardcore music fans, that is completely ridiculous.

    Luke, I believe that I described such people as “music fans,” which I will argue until I’m blue in the face are a different breed than your “hardcore music fans.” And yes, it was hyperbole. But if you don’t believe that a largish group (majority?) of (casual) music fans allow themselves to be led by the nose to their local clubs and record stores by tastemakers such as Pitchfork (or ten thousand all-knowing music blogs), then you’re living on a different planet than I.

    Of course, the Reverend is not above being ridiculous. For years, I’ve depended on Dave Marsh to tell me what to listen to…I expect another email from the wizard any moment now. But my point was that CREEM remains relevant among the smaller bunch of “hardcore music fans” looking for cheap thrills and the real thing. It’s the casual music fan that has fled from the killing fields of the record biz…catalog sales remain strong in this era of diminished expectations, and it’s the hardcore music fan that buys all of those old catalog titles, imports and reissue CDs.

    CREEM is still cool, and there’s nothing like it around today. Nuff said!

  11. I am continually surprised that many of the writers and editors of the early Creem are justifiably peeved at the revisionism that goes on regarding the “seminal” Creem (as it were) and yet continue to misrepresent it as being “Founded by Barry Kramer” and of Dave being a “founding editor”. Since much of this discussion is about context, then surely context must play into this data dyslexia as well. Creem did not just appear full blown as a journalistic and writing epitome… with acres of prizewinning words scattered among a generous ground cover of cool. It was designed and presented as a local calendar of the arts for Detroit and it’s suburbs, with reviews and interviews to allow folks on one side of the city to know what was going on elsewhere and what sort of thing to expect if one journeyed there.
    At the time, this seemingly simplistic aim was relatively unknown in terms of publishing and was meant to amplify the functionality of the Haight’s “instant news” mimeographic and messenger system with a little EVO thrown in for good measure (and advertising). Within it’s immediate success, Creem also provided a community voice and a publicity machine for local bands, clubs, artists and entrepreneurship, as well as a very important advertising platform and media for young “groovy” businesses to reach their otherwise scattered marketplaces. It was this advertising media that first attracted Barry to partner, and eventual ownership of the magazine, which he had previously turned down.
    This scenario may seem, shortlived as it was, a shadow compared to it’s eventual glossy and national success, but it is important to understand that Creem as a local and regional force was possibly even greater in it’s influence than as it later became nationally. After all, there are few who would deny that Dave and Lester and Ben and Jaan and Bill et al would have found success somewhere were Creem not there… but the success of Detroit and it’s bands and artists in the late sixties and early seventies as well as it’s reputation for a particular type of rock audience would very probably not have flourished without the incubation of a strong local and regional media to give it nourishment.
    Creem’s irreverent style, which Dave developed and Lester magnified (sometimes completely out of focus), was set in the first issue… it’s variety of music and art was established early on… and it’s championing of the non-california and non new york… and even non-nashville music centres was there also from the beginning. I included in my recent letter to Bill Holdship, c/o the metrotimes, a listing of those, including myself, who deserved credit for the foundation which became Creem as most of you know it… and I reprint that letter following these notes, but I have said from the very beginning that there would have been no Creem magazine, nor much else of Detroit rock fame were it not for Jeep… and no amount of squabbling will ever change that. I thank y’all for your time, and now the letter…

    I’ve been reading your continuing Creem Saga with obvious interest, as you can imagine. I have enjoyed and even agreed with much of what you have said. And I DO agree that titles, after all this time, are not or at least SHOULD not be particularly important. Facts, on the other hand, grow in importance with the passing of time and grey cells and a few of your basic facts are plain wrong.
    Barry Kramer was at the time my employer and my friend, best man at my wedding and the sponsor of Tea-Party – the ‘ABX radio show on Sunday afternoons, which I took over hosting, although I don’t recall Barry ever being the host. He was also, in partnership with Brandt Marwhil, the owner of Mixed media – a head, music and poster shop at the Wayne end of Cass. I began writing for the Fifth estate and ended up as ad hoc music editor with John Sinclair. I, after much encouragement from Jeep Holland, decided to start a calendar oriented newsmag to publicize the arts and music in Detroit AND IT’S SUBURBS.
    On a shoe string budget, a pile of promises, naïve stupidity, lots of help from anonymous people who had, at the time, no connection to the burgeoning Kramer empire, and absolutely no idea that such a thing could not be done, I founded Creem magazine in my basement on Gladstone Street… while I was working for Barry in Mixed Media. Barry was the first potential source of funding that I approached. He turned me down flat, told me he had no interest in such a project, that it would never work and even threatened to dock my MM pay for the time I spent on the magazine. He did grudgingly allow me to move the setup to the basement of Mixed Media – in exchange for promised free advertising in the paper.
    I, along with LOTS of invaluable help edited, pasted, laid out, distributed and wrote much of the first four issues of Creem magazine. None of that help came from Dave Marsh or Barry Kramer. The list of names that SHOULD be inscribed on the memorial tombstone as the “people without whom” there would have been no vehicle for Dave and Lester and Susan and Ben and Jaan and even yourownself would not include Dave or Barry (yet) but Charlie was there at the beginning… and Richard C. Walls.
    My friend of 40 years Chuck Pike, C.C. And Jim Kleinsorge, Bob Stark (who also ran the head shop at the Grande and was first “distribution manager”, Erik Jaggers, and Super Sharon McKinney… and, oh yes, once and future poet celeb Peter McWilliams. These are the people who, like myself, often become glossed over in the memories of those who list Creem Cred in their resumes. It may only have been four issues, but the style was set, the market established (Creem made money from it’s first issue forward). By issue three it was not just “Detroit and suburbs” – hell, it STARTED as Detroit and suburbs. By three it was state-wide and parts of Ohio.
    Dave, irrepressive force of nature as he has become, was not a “founding Editor”. He took over the editor position after I lost a head to head with Barry over the future direction of the magazine. Barry had become involved when he heard that I had approached Russ Gibb for funding and offered to give him a share of the magazine. Russ was mulling it over when Barry suddenly got interested and “offered to help me out…” by becoming my partner.
    By issue four, Barry wanted a much more politically slanted magazine. Child of the counter culture revolutionary sort of thing. I just wanted a regional arts medium. In a nutshell, it came down to a decision… one of us could buy the other out. I had NO money… I agreed to his takeover. My golden handshake didn’t amount to much but, by then, I had other things on my mind. I was writing a weekly column for the Detroit news, managing a local band, briefly did PR for the Grande… lotsa stuff.
    I had no interest in presiding over a five/stooges/white panther lovefest, and it wasn’t long before Barry soured of the idea and surged full ahead at making Creem a national music culture magazine with Dave and his merry band in full throttle. I have never denied either Barry or Dave or anyone else their full credit for the unique and iconic contributions to Creem and it’s resultant culture… Although it has always been my personal opinion that the entire enterprise would have lasted much longer and taken a far more interesting series of turns and wiggles had Dave remained and Lester left.
    I have followed the travails of the magazine all this time and always puffed with pride at my minimal contributions to it’s legend and status. And maybe that should be sufficient for us, but we few originators don’t want to appear to be liars when we proudly tell our offspring that it was we who conceived and birthed the beast. That WE gave it it’s style and attitude and that we had a successful and growing publication at the time of Barry’s takeover and long before Dave found his style and developed his skills.
    So, to correct a little bit of your recent voluminous pieces, let it be known in the hallowed pages of the mighty metro times that we few aforementioned strugglers were the founders… the founding editors and everything else… and that we did a good and lasting job of defining the raison d’etre of the magazine… and that we’re still immensely proud of it. That’s all…
    Continued best regards
    Tony Reay/Ice Alexander.
    P.S. It may also interest you and/or your readers that “Extra Creem” was also my idea, poorly done and adopted by Barry some years later.

  12. Erik Jagger’s was a story that should be told: Kid writer at Creem, Head shop inovator and his time on the radio with Russ Gibb.

  13. This is one of those persnickety non-discussions that both mystifies and amuses me. (Even more amusingly, I’m now choosing to take part in it.) For one thing, the post that initiated this thread is much ado about nothing. It’s abundantly clear — at least to me — that in the paragraph SW quotes, Bill is talking about context in terms of impact. Obviously, those who weren’t around to experience the music of the Sex Pistols or Elvis, or the rantings of Bangs — or On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Macbeth or the Bible — in the context of their times have to work harder to have that “deeper appreciation.” That’s why there are more contextualizing college classes on historical stuff than on the latest books and CDs reviewed in the New York Times. If that’s the “most major” disagreement SW has with Bill’s review, then I can’t imagine what the others would be.

    With regard to Creem’s influence: Like any early touchstone of any discipline, it continues to have an impact on those susceptible to its topicality and no effect whatsoever on those who aren’t. But those susceptible are continuing its legacy at Pitchfork and other places. I was just talking about Creem and Bangs to a Pitchfork-reading college kid at a hipster hangout in my neighborhood not long ago. He would have known about Creem had it not been for Almost Famous. Other people — even those my age — watch Almost Famous and the Creem references go straight over their heads.

  14. Mark, I don’t have much to say to this mainly because I basically agree with you; I look back at that original “criticism” (and only because I’ve been prompted by your comment), and “much ado about nothing” seems apt. The only person “banging on about this, that, and the other thing” here is… well, me. That it’s prompted some interesting comments here at least makes this post seem not completely futile, I suppose.

  15. Full disclosure: I have made “much ado about nothing” on occasion myself, so — to indulge in another cliche — I’m sitting here in the air-conditioned comfort of my glass house, throwing rocks… 😉

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