Interview with Jason Gross (Perfect Sound Forever)

By Scott Woods

Jason Gross is the founder and editor of Perfect Sound Forever, the longest-running internet music publication, with its monthly schedule dating back to 1993 (roughly three years before I even knew what a “web” was). Gross has written for numerous publications over the years (Spin, the Village VoiceBlurt, et al.), produced critically acclaimed CD reissues by Delta 5, Kleenex, and Essential Logic (via the Kill Rock Stars label), and for many years was a panelist and organizer at SXSW, which, like everything else in the entertainment industrial complex, is currently on hold due to COVID. Continue reading “Interview with Jason Gross (Perfect Sound Forever)”

From the Archives: Interview with Matt Resnicoff (2005)

(Originally posted in 2005)

By Steven Ward

Matt Resnicoff crossed a line. The former Musician Senior Editor and Guitar Player and Guitar World writer is now a professional guitarist and record producer. During the e-mail interview below, Resnicoff talks about working for Musician (a magazine he once described as “The New Yorker of music magazines”), and the good and not-so-good aspects of interviewing and writing about musicians. Although he doesn’t miss his music-writing past, he admits it was fun working with such talented people. Continue reading “From the Archives: Interview with Matt Resnicoff (2005)”

Interview with Mark Sinker, Editor of ‘A Hidden Landscape Once a Week,’ a book about the UK music press which any critically-minded person will enjoy lots

Mark Sinker is the editor of A Hidden Landscape Once a Week, a critical history of the UK music press “in the words of those who were there.” Continue reading “Interview with Mark Sinker, Editor of ‘A Hidden Landscape Once a Week,’ a book about the UK music press which any critically-minded person will enjoy lots”

Rock Critic Bill Wyman in Conversation with Chris Buck

Bill Wyman has been a music critic and arts editor for over 30 years but his ranking stories for New York Magazine’s “Vulture” section has recently raised his profile. In these epic pieces, which list every track from worst to best of some of the most important rock acts—the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Clash and Led Zeppelin—Wyman justifies his rankings, while telling the band’s story. His most recent article of this kind, ranking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, is more ambitious still, and becomes almost a history of the rock genre itself, and an argument for its cultural value. Theses stories are a mix of the high-minded, the fantastic, and the silly—in other words, smart and entertaining.

Wyman initially made his name as a music writer at the Chicago Reader in the mid-nineties and then worked as an arts editor at the SF Weekly, Salon, and NPR. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Columbia Journalism Review. For more of his story and his writing visit his website

Normally my interviews are accompanied by a portrait that I’ve taken of the subject, as my primary vocation is photography, but on this occasion that was not possible as we spoke on the phone.
Chris Buck

Continue reading “Rock Critic Bill Wyman in Conversation with Chris Buck”

Chuck Eddy interview, Oct 2017 (link)

But at the same time, you told me when we talked last week that this is yet another clichéd sentiment, that music was at one time the center of the culture and that the internet has ruined that. You said that things like The Beatles and Michael Jackson and Nirvana were huge exceptions.
I just think — when you mention those names, I think what you’re referring to is how people talk about how there was this monoculture where everybody was in tune to the same music at the same time. I mean, I’ve been hearing about fragmentation ever since I started hearing about music. I cared more about baseball than music through high school. I’m kind of a weirdo in that way, where I didn’t really start buying records, like, constantly, until my freshman year in college. That’s basically when I started reading music criticism and stuff like that.
     But ever since I started, I’ve heard people talk about how the music world is becoming more fragmented. Again, that’s something — and I’ve seen criticism from long before then, probably to the late ’60s, that would talk that way.
    But, it’s like, if you think about it, in the early ’60s, the same people who bought Kingston Trio albums probably weren’t necessarily buying girl-group albums. You know? I mean, what I really wonder is whether the same people who bought Kingston Trio albums bought early Beach Boys albums because they kinda dressed the same.
    They both covered “Sloop John B.” I get the idea that it was two different audiences. That you had a college audience buying the folk revival bands, and suntan high-school frat-boy audience — these are clichés — buying Beach Boy albums, early on. Pre-Pet Sounds or whatever. I’d have to check but I feel like I read once that the biggest selling album of the ’60s was The Sound of Music soundtrack. Lots of people in the wider culture hated The Beatles. They hated their long hair. And it was like news when Leonard Bernstein embraced [them]. And I’m no Beatles expert.
    A lot of people hated Michael Jackson! I mean, it wasn’t long after the whole ‘disco sucks’ thing, which I lived through in the late ’70s. I remember when those disco records were set on fire by rock bands [fans?] at the Tigers-White Sox game…
A sprawling interview (is there any other kind?) with Chuck Eddy at No Don’t Die, a site devoted to video games.

podcast interview with jeff pike (@ new digs)

As I slowly step away from this site (…), I have decided to start hosting my podcasts and audio excursions in a new WordPress space: and you can dance to it. How active this mostly-talk site becomes depends on how willing anyone is to talk to me (and how actively I pursue other people talking to me; I do currently have a few conversations lined up).

In any case, I’m pleased to kick off this new chapter with a conversation with Jeff Pike, author of the newly published Index: Essays, Fragments, and Liberal Arts Homework. I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s writing since I first encountered it in the ’90s fanzine mini-network we both frequented (Radio On, Why Music Sucks, Kitschener, and Jeff’s own Tapeworm), so it was a pleasure to a) read Jeff’s new anthology, and b) bend his ear over the phone about his writing.

Pop as Self-denial

“I’ve long suspected that those who rail most vehemently against the banalities of mainstream pop do so because they can’t stand the fact that they react to the music. It drives them crazy to hear a snippet of ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ and then have the damned hook bouncing around their head for the rest of the afternoon. But rather than face the issue head on, and risk admitting that there’s something appealing about the bald melodicism and sentimentality of such a tune, they instead go into denial, denigrating people who do like the tune, and even urging that the thing be wiped from the face of the earth.”
J.D. Considine, interview, 2000

From the Archives: Andy Secher (2003)

Andy Secher, Hit Parader

By Steven Ward (November 2003)

Steven:   How long have you been working at Hit Parader and what was your job title when you were first hired?
Andy:   As amazing as it may sound, I’ve been working at Hit Parader for nearly 25 years…which is truly incredible when you consider that I’m 32 years old. Uhh–first part right, second part, not quite. When I was hired, I guess I was an Assistant Editor. The staff was basically two people back then, so I could assume just about any title I wanted. I was hoping for “washroom attendant” but that was already taken.

Steven:   Let’s go back and talk about how you landed your job at Hit Parader. Where were your first pieces of rock journalism published?
Andy:   I landed my job at Hit Parader thanks to an interview I had done with AC/DC appearing in the New York Daily News. When I was just out of college, I decided to start my own national newspaper syndication. I was too dumb to know that you weren’t supposed to do something like that on your own. Well, within a few months, I managed to get my column into a dozen major papers around the country, including the Sacramento Bee, the San Antonio Express and the New York Daily News. I was focusing on hard rock/metal bands at the time (the late ’70s) because it was my primary interest…and nobody else was doing it.

Steven:   Was Hit Parader an important rock magazine to you when you were growing up?
Andy:   Actually, I tended to read Circus more because Hit Parader tended to cover too much punk, pop and new wave. In fact, I briefly worked for Circus before moving on to Hit Parader.

Steven:   What was the mission of the magazine when you started there, and do you think it is the same today? How would you describe the current mission of the magazine?
Andy:   Our mission remains to survive one more month. Actually, when I came aboard in 1979, my immediate goal was to take the magazine from covering new wave to covering hard rock. My first cover was Van Halen, and we were the first magazine in the world to focus exclusively on hard rock/heavy metal. We were a bit lucky in that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (with Priest and Maiden) was just kicking in, and the West Coast Metal Explosion (Motley Crue, etc.) was about to launch. Our timing was very good. We’ve stayed loyal to hard rock throughout the years because that’s where my interest remains. Trends, bands and fans have come and gone, but hard rock has stayed strong.

Steven:   Former Circus editor Philip Bashe recently told me a story about you being at one of those rock symposiums back in the ’80s and how you criticized some of the people on that symposium for being elitist about heavy metal. Bashe said Robert Christgau said something to you about a mag like Hit Parader “pimping” for heavy metal. Bashe said that may be true but how it’s no different than the folks at the Village Voice pimping for people like Lou Reed. Do you agree with that, do you remember the incident, and do you think that some in the rock press today still look at heavy metal magazines that way?
Andy:   I do remember the incident because it was probably the first and LAST of those things I ever did. I knew I was stepping into a mine field and I didn’t like the feeling. I always sensed that people like Christgau had to justify their existence by promoting the artistic aesthetics of the rock form. I’ve never taken any of this that seriously. Hit Parader isn’t the New York Times…it’s a frikkin’ fanzine, and proud to be exactly that. Our target demographic is some 17 year old kid in Iowa, not a socialite in Manhattan. Sure the “mainstream” rock press is elitist… but I think it’s less elitist today than it used to be. Is that a good thing?

Steven:   What rock writers and rock magazines meant something to you when you were growing up and what rock writers do you think had some kind of influence on you?
Andy:   I hate to say this, but I really didn’t read that many rock magazines when I was growing up. There was the occasional Circus or Creem, but that was about it. They tended not to write much about the bands that interested me.

Steven:   I think magazines like Hit ParaderCircus, and Metal Edge serve a purpose in the rock journalism world–they cater to the younger fans–mostly teenage boys–like nobody else. Do you agree with that and could you elaborate?
Andy:   You hit it right on the head. We are geared for a young, male demographic. That audience may not want to read detailed critiques or lengthy analysis. They want short, pithy interviews and features–along with BIG color photos. The formula is fairly basic.

Steven:   When you look back at your career at Hit Parader, what stories or interviews stand out for you–whether it be for news value or just good rock journalism.
Andy:   It’s been an amazing ride, both figuratively and literally. I’ve been able to travel around the world following the form’s biggest stars; Ozzy in Brazil, Dio in Japan, Bon Jovi in Canada, the Scorpions in Sweden…it goes on and on. There’s no question that the times (and the stars) were bigger and brighter in the ’70s and ’80s. Once Nirvana hit, things took a definite dive in that regard. I remember the first time I interviewed Van Halen in a New York hotel and encountering a chain-smoking, Pastrami-eating Diamond Dave. The stories are too many, and in some cases too wild, to be printed here.

Steven:   As Hit Parader‘s Editor, what advice would you give to journalists who love heavy metal and would like to see their byline in Hit Parader?
Andy:   Get a good story…and push it. Don’t wait for us to assign you something. I know it’s kinda like the old chicken and the egg. How do you get the cool story without a magazine affiliation? Well, it can be done! And when you have that story pick up the phone and let the right people know. Also, keep in mind that magazines like Hit Parader have three month lead times. Don’t offer me something that’s old news today, when it’s gonna be positively stale in three months. Try to anticipate what might be happening in a few months.

Steven:   What is the biggest misconception about Hit Parader?
Andy:   That I actually know what I’m doing.

Steven:   Again looking back at your career at HP, what editors and writers at the mag stand out for you as friends, freelancers or colleagues?
Andy:   I think more of the many people within the industry who’ve been a major help. Hit Parader has functioned with an amazingly small staff throughout the years.

Steven:   Hit Parader has been publishing for so long now. Do you see it as a continuing thing that will go on in future years?
Andy:   I’d like to think so. I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep doing this because I do find my interest flagging a bit. But the field seems relatively strong and just when people are beginning to write off metal as a viable commercial or artistic form, that’s when it tends to once again rear its ugly head.

Steven:   And finally, why do you think the mainstream rock mags like to ignore heavy metal and do you think that is changing now or will change?
Andy:   That’s not as true as it used to be because I think those mainstream magazines have begun to realize that if you want to grasp the lingering pulse of rock and roll, heavy metal bands still do it better than anyone! Also, the cross-over success of performers like Ozzy have opened a lot of eyes to the long-term accessibility of metal stars.


From the Archives: John Kordosh (2004)

The Zen of John Kordosh: Inside the Hallowed Halls of ’80s Creem

By Anthe Rhodes (May 2004)

John Kordosh can blindside anyone with science or pop culture. He was Creem‘s quick-witted everyman who went willingly into those good and not so good nights with the full gamut of musicians. Kordosh, however, has followed a completely different career path than his counterparts. Starting out as a chemist for Dow in his home state of Michigan in the 1970s, he began contributing to Creem in 1980 before joining the staff in ’84 and making the final move to California as a co-editor in ’86.

During his tenure at Creem, Kordosh’s tone was irreverent as well as whimsical, nipping if not biting at the vehicle that fed him, and he always took the reader on his personal journey, making you feel as though you were there, by asking questions and responding as you might have. By many accounts he is the well respected man about town–that is, if you don’t talk to two-thirds of Rush, their fans, or a few scattered prog-rock enthusiasts on usenet groups. It was amazing to interview Kordosh: ten or twenty years ago, I could never have imagined conversing, via telephone–let alone devil’s word box (a.k.a. instant messaging)–with one of the music and culture writers who most influenced me in my young adult life.

John Kordosh took time out of his schedule, and an appearance at The Viper Room, to talk from his home in Simi Valley, CA.

(Following the interview: John Kordosh Fun Facts!)

J. Kordosh interviews Neil Peart and Geddy Lee,1982


Anthe:   When did you start writing?
John:   I’ve always liked writing and did well on essays and the like. In fact, on e-Bay a while back I saw this chapbook I wrote in junior high school called “Joe & Sam.” They were just a bunch of short stories about Joe and Sam, but I guess it showed I liked writing. I always wrote stuff.

Anthe:   Where did you go to school?
John:    Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan as an undergrad. The first two years I didn’t know what I wanted to do in terms of a major. I didn’t take any math or science classes–just the soft courses. Then I decided to major in chemistry, so I went for two years straight and took nothing but physics and lab courses. I always did well in science.

Anthe:   You had a good number [in the draft]?
John:   I had a great number. In the upper 300s.

Anthe:   So you didn’t see the shit.
John:   What shit?

Anthe:   Vietnam… the paddies and the shooting.
John:   Oh, no. No. I had two older brothers and if either of them had been drafted my father said he would send them to Canada. He was an army captain in WWII. We were near the Canadian border.

Anthe:   Did you go right to grad school?
John:   Yeah, I went to Pittsburgh for grad school and got married right out of college.

Anthe:    You really had it all together.
John:   No, I don’t think so. I dropped out of grad school and went to work for Dow in the lab, making saran and saran-like products. I was only making $300 a month in grad school. They paid for my tuition and books, but I was living on shredded wheat, that was my favorite stuff, it’s all I could afford. So, I got kind of disgusted and went to work for Dow

Anthe:   Where did you go then?
John:   Dow was in Midland and in some ways it was a Dow town. My wife really didn’t like it, so we moved to Detroit, which is where I was from, and I got into paint. Anyway, my first time writing was for the Detroit News in the Features section. It was always something scientific, like stinging insects in the summertime, black holes in space.

Anthe:   At what point did you get ensnared by Creem?
John:   About a year later. I knew all about Creem, being from Detroit. I had been reading it for a long time. I got to know the editors by spending time with them. I think I met them while I was playing in the band. Sue [Whitall], Dave [DiMartino], and Bill [Holdship] would come and see my band, the Mutants. We were a pretty big draw on the weekends. We opened for Blondie, the Pretenders, the Romantics, and twice for Iggy when he did a four-day-long weekend.

Anthe:   What was the first story you wrote for them?
John:   “Apocalypse Hooterville” in 1980. It was a review of Green Acres, which was already in syndication.

Anthe:   Why was that your first piece rather than, say, a music-based one?
John:   Because I really like the Green Acres show. It was quite brilliant, and I knew it very well. I wanted to write for Creem and I thought it was a topic that needed to be covered.Creem was one of the few magazines that would devote space to something that, shall I say, esoteric. And meaningless. I always liked Creem‘s non-music coverage. Creem was all about pop culture–music was the flagship, but that included a lot of turf. Humor, foremost. I honestly saw Creem as being more of a humor mag than a music mag. Music was the backdrop, but the real story was the humor and Green Acres fit into that nicely. I always saw Creem that way. That might explain its demise.

Anthe:   Why do you say it might have been its demise?
John:   Because I think ultimately the very idea of Creem became too elusive. A lot of people don’t want their music coverage sullied with the thoughtful insight Creem provided in its latter years, and many of them worked in the Creem art department. And we were demanding a lot from the readers. A way lot. Ourselves, too. It was like a weird experiment.

Anthe:   I’ve read what you thought about the place of humor in music writing. It was in the Rush story where you said you couldn’t imagine doing it without some degree of humor.
John:   I really can’t. It’s a pretty ridiculous thing, when you think about it: being a “rock critic.” What kind of job is that?

Anthe:   And not in a mean-spirited way, or to dismiss the music.
John:   The music kind of dismisses itself effectively.

Anthe:   Some take themselves very seriously…
John:   I mean, it’s obvious that Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet disc, although a top-seller, doesn’t bear much discussion. It’s self-evident. Neil Peart really takes Rush seriously, as he should, but not as some sort of grand artistic presence.

Anthe:   I mean, they can take it seriously, but not to the extent of egotism, although all have egos to some degree. So much of your writing concentrated on music and personalities, but was in contrast to some other writers by its intelligent humor.
John:   Well, it was a music mag. I had a thought about Creem, during Dave DiMartino’s tenure as editor, the things the editors controlled, like the cover headlines, the table of contents, the letters page, “Rock ‘n’ Roll news,” and especially the captions–all those things were meant to kind of pull the curtain away from the magazine, and allow the reader to peek inside. To nudge the reader and say, “Yeah, we know we have a Motley Crue story in here, but here’s what we’re really doing in Birmingham, Michigan.”

Anthe:   Which, to some people’s taste, would be the perfect pop magazine.
John:   And it was a challenge to the reader to present it like that. Really, when you think about it, there haven’t been too many magazines that would try anything so audacious.

Anthe:   Rather than what Rolling Stone turned into fairly early on.
John:   In any case, I think it hurt the magazine’s circulation. Compare Rolling Stone of 1984 to Creem of 1984. An independent group of psychiatrists would think the Creem people were fucking insane. Their words, not mine.

Anthe:   But Creem wasn’t trying to keep up with Rolling Stone realistically, right?
John:   Naw, no way. I personally resented their massive readership and, moreover, their undeserved reputation.

Anthe:   More, I would think, Crawdaddy!, and maybe Hit Parader, too.
John:   Crawdaddy! way back when was pretty cool. I used to read it as a youngster and be amazed that there even was a “music magazine.”

Anthe:   When did you start reading it?
John:   Oh, God, like, 1967. They actually covered the Kinks, who were not too popular then, so I was entranced. Actual Kinks photos in an actual magazine. It was hard to find, too. I used to buy it at the Fifth Estate near Wayne State University in Detroit.

Anthe:   Do you think that had some influence about how you approached writing?
John:   Maybe. I was usually into lesser known bands and so on. The writing style, no.

Anthe:   I just meant sympathetic in attitude.
John:   Oh, sorry. Yes, I think it did, in fact. It seemed obvious to me that the writer should be sympathetic to titans like the Kinks–underrated titans, I must add–and I think I felt the same way about, say, the Replacements. It behooves the rock writer to enlighten his readers in a gentle, yet persuasive way.

Anthe:   Who were some of your favorite music writers?
John:   I loved H.L. Mencken of the Baltimore Journal, though he wasn’t a music writer…I liked Rick Johnson. He was a big influence on me when I was getting into the biz, and Lester Bangs. I was influenced by LB as far as being in music journalism, but I’m surprised he’s as deified as he is. What I really like is Mystery Train by Greil Marcus. And I never tried to emulate him, but Nick Tosches was a big fave of mine when he wrote “Unsung Heroes” in Creem.

Anthe:   What did you like about them, particularly?
John:   Greil Marcus talked about what musicians liked and made connections–a sociological insight I didn’t have, [he] looks at it and sees deeper things. Tosches would write about people I never heard of and I was just fascinated by their stories. I liked the seriousness of it all. I talked to him once in my life and it was actually a thrill for me, but probably not for him.

Anthe:   Why do you say that? He’s said some things that are close to what you have to say.
John:   Oh, I’m sure that’s true.

Anthe:   What about your contemporaries?
John:   I like John Mendelssohn and Dave DiMartino a lot. These guys can really write. I thought Dave was a better writer than Lester Bangs, just had a better idea of how he was doing it. You know who’s a great writer and an editor’s dream? Jon Young. I used to actually look forward to getting a Jon Young story in the mail because I knew it would be absolutely un-edit-able and, in general, perfect.

Anthe:   Did you ever regret writing anything, like something written in the early hours or after too many beers?
John:   Jesus, all the time. I regret almost everything I ever wrote. I told you this before, but I don’t know if you believed me: I only like, maybe, five stories I ever wrote for Creem. I can’t even read the earlier ones, because I took so very, very long to find any style. Style was important to me. I experimented a lot and finally got to where I was going, but my writing’s never won any awards. So, to answer the question, revealing so many homosexual musical relationships was a mistake I regret bitterly.

Anthe:   You have a dark soul.
John:   Hang on, I want to answer that question seriously.

Anthe:   You weren’t being serious the first time?
John:   To be honest, I don’t think I ever mistreated or misrepresented anyone. I was scrupulous about quotes. I regret more my own failings as a writer than I do mistreatment of any subjects. Jesus, that sounded pompous.

Anthe:   Many writers feel the same, a lot of them “great” at least to various readers. So you were more from the “informing” approach to writing than the follow-the-current-trend that a publicist would be pitching?
John:   I sympathized with the publicist, who really has a difficult job. Particularly Belinda Carlisle’s publicist. But, I think the answer to the question is yes. And for a dark soul, I’m one optimistic son of a bitch.

Anthe:   That in itself sounds a bit dubious.
John:   No, I really am optimistic. I always have been. I have no idea why, though.

Anthe:   But you’re more a writer or journalist–almost an observer–than a critic. A student of human behavior, in a way. That’s part of what I would get out of your stories.
John:   I agree with that. I never bought into the fact that just because I thought Styx’s new album was horrible that no one should buy it. I think I liked interviewing musicians because they live interesting lives. They’re maybe not that interesting themselves–their opinions, I mean–but their experience is fascinating and I wanted to convey that.

Anthe:   So that could be why you gravitated toward writing about music, too?
John:   Yeah. Plus it’s an infinite market–look at TV nowadays. The public has an appetite for celebrity that guarantees writers an income. Writers need to get paid, too.

Anthe:   Photographers, too–even more so. It depends on the heights or depths you want to go to.
John:   Everyone needs to make a living. Photographers need to cultivate relationships with musicians, because it gives them much-needed access. It’s pretty screwy and neurotic, but it works.

Anthe:   It was fun looking over your old reviews and interviews.
John:   I don’t know. Sometimes I think I have deep insight into Creem and the world of rock writing, and other times, when I’m sober, that I’m full of shit. Drinking is bad except in moderation, but it’s only fun when not in moderation.

Anthe:   Sometimes that’s hard to find, though.
John:   Well, I’d like to be taken seriously. I have this sense, and I might be wrong, that our “peers” never took the Dave DiMartino ear that seriously. That we were just about the jokes and such. But Dave is a virtual encyclopedia of musical insight, and compelling musical insight. And I think Bill has experience in the industry that rivals anyone’s. Oh, fuck it, I’ve changed my mind–who cares? “Era,” not “ear.” They probably don’t take Dave’s ear seriously, either.

Anthe:   That’s something I wanted to ask about, the different Creem decades.
John:   I think maybe I feel a little out of place in the critic’s world because a) I’m a scientist and, b) I’m damn handsome. I would have enjoyed being a medical researcher, I think. It’s a good thing I can’t go back in time, because I have about 89 careers I’d like to try.

Anthe:   How was the acclimation from working at Creem in Michigan to California?
John:   Creem grew up in Michigan, and so did I, so I was very comfortable working there. For me, the big acclimation was leaving the science world for a while. But when I came on board, Dave was the editor-in-chief, so the working atmosphere was amazingly good. I mean, I went to work just to clown around with Dave and Bill. Then Bill and I would go to some show and do hijinks and such. Life was wonderful. Then, in November of ’86 Dave went to LA to become the bureau chief of Billboard. That was quite a career move. And Creem was struggling. Ever since Barry Kramer died and his wife Connie inherited it, the finances weren’t all that wonderful. She eventually sold it to Arnold Levitt, who was our boss at the end of the Detroit days. But readership was down–Circus and Hit Parader were the main competition, although I think we on the staff thought they weren’t very good. As magazines, I mean. We still thought Creem was a wonderfully funny idea, but as the financial noose tightened, fun became rarer. When Dave left, Bill and I were made co-editors–we agreed on it. Good for us. Yeah, going full-time was a big deal.


Anthe:   Could you tell me more about when you first started writing a lot for them and then went full time in ’84?
John:   When I first started freelancing, I was way busy, but I got everything done. I mean, I was working as a chemist full-time and playing in the rock band, and freelancing, and also looking in on my family now and again. But I sometimes thought, “Gee I could be an editor,” because I kind of think I could do anything if I studied it a bit. So after Sue Whitall left Creem, Dave asked me if I wanted to be an editor full-time. This was at a restaurant in Birmingham; it was a lot like Sex In The City, only with hot guys. At the time, Rick Johnson was on staff, so I became the fourth guy. But psychologically, it was big to leave the lab because I trained to be a chemist, and this was quite different. Anyway, Rick left shortly thereafter–he went back to Macomb, IL–so it was just me and Bill and Dave, and later our very able assistant, Joanne Carnegie. Joanne and I still e-mail to this day.

Anthe:   How was it to leave the private sector of science for something so polar opposite?
John:   It was exciting. The science I do–paints and coatings–is really extremely interesting, but not as glamorous as you’d think. The rock field held the kind of cocaine-like instant buzz of “hanging out with rock stars.” I thought it was lunacy from a long-term financial viewpoint at the time, and I still do. Kids, don’t make this your path! But I always wanted to write–I love writing essays in particular. So, to get to write AND to hang out with rock stars AND be part of the magazine I felt was America’s funniest…it was too damn tempting. And I’ve never over-thought things. I like to think quickly and then act quickly–oft a mistake, I might add.

Anthe:   That’s so interesting coming from a man of chemistry and numbers, but also letters–it’s almost Mr. Goodbar-like.
John:   You know what, I never saw that movie. Diane Keaton, right? It was a famous book first. Well, I never read the book, either. I read a lot of sci-fi.

Anthe:   What I meant was, to do one thing during the day, then another at different times and then cross over almost entirely.
John:   Oh, yeah. But you have to grab the gusto, I’ve heard. At the time I was a little bored with the lab and when I left rock writing I was a little bored with editing–not writing, but the editing part was getting to be a drag, and Creem‘s finances were ridiculously awful. So I felt evil even assigning a story because God only knew if someone would get paid. That was right before the mag folded, a non-fun time. Our writers, for the most part, stuck it out, and many of them are among the best in the history of the business. Or, as Dave liked to say, the history of history itself. We were big on hyperbole at Creem.

Anthe:   You mean like “The Phil Collins Shriek That Created a Wondrous Poverty-Free World”?
John:   Hey, did you ever see Dave’s headline to a Creem story: “Foul-Mouthed Reagan Shocks The World!” Sub-titled “A Really Catchy Headline for a David Lee Roth Story.” Now that’s Creem. I missed the Phil thing.

Anthe:   “Year in Rock ’87”. Tell more about the move–that was another reality trade, from Detroit to Los Angeles.
John:   I had only been in LA once before and that was to interview Stevie Wonder, who actually made a Christmas song up for my kids and let me tape it. Can you imagine? They were little, but even they knew who Stevie Wonder was. Amazing. Anyway, the day I came to LA, which was Dec. 30 or 31, it was like 75 degrees and Dave drove me to the new offices on Sunset, and all the palm trees–good God, it really looked like paradise. Like right out of a Randy Newman song. So it was cool to be in LA, because we were hip midwestern dudes, as you know. Even though Dave was at Billboard, we could still all hang. But trouble in paradise. The staff was drastically reduced, and sales were lagging. Or, as I like to say to my cat, Robo Smoo, “Run, Robo Smoo, Farmer Jones just fell down a well.” Which we were doing metaphorically.

Anthe:   That fast?
John:   Not that fast, but pretty fast. So despite LA’s all-around excellence, the job was becoming more grueling. And Bill was getting unhappy at this new Creem and even LA. I think I liked LA better than he did.

Anthe:   Maybe it seemed that way in light of how it was in Detroit?
John:   I think the absence of Work Dave hurt us. I like and respect Dave so much, and Bill does too, that I would have gladly stayed whatever I was under his tenure–assistant editor or whatever I was. But Dave was gone and Creem was sinking. And Bill started looking for an out, and didn’t have the option of returning to the lab. I wasn’t even sure I still had that option. At the end, I was just plain tired of talking to rock musicians and I cared less and less about the music. Kind of like Dave Marsh and rap music, only better.

Anthe:   Why did Dave DiMartino leave?
John:   And publicists–I mean, I like them and all that, but it’s like never-ending. I think Dave was a more skillful administrator than myself at a younger age. Dave left because he got a great offer from the prestigious Billboard mag–a canny move on their part. Plus, the writing was on the wall even back in Michigan–it didn’t look good.

Anthe:   Then moving to LA was the last great effort? You must have all felt it was viable enough for a try.
John:   You know, I think even we felt that Creem wasn’t long for this world, the world being Earth, of course. My wife wanted to move to LA–actually, I didn’t. At the time I was lining up companies in the Midwest to talk to about chemistry jobs. I thought living in Chicago would be way cool. But we gave it a spirited college try, I guess. You know, MTV was in existence and I think that started killing off the rock mags.

Anthe:   I see…
John:   I remember writing our “Rock ‘n’ Roll News” column in LA and thinking, “well, fuck, MTV is going to have this out six weeks before we do, so what’s the point?” So “R&R News” became very stylized and cows were mentioned a lot. Seriously.

Anthe:   Really? You don’t think people like to have something to hold?
John:   Some people do. I know I do. But the greater market could get their music fix, such as it was, off of TV. It’s just progress. I’d like to know how many people in the world have ever looked at the rockcritics web site. How intensely is the world interested in rock writing? It’s a small crowd. So, economically, a bad idea to invest in a rock mag.

Anthe:   And it seemed to get even more corporate with each decade–the music industry, I mean.
John:   I guess. I think that’s a natural part of the progression of any industry. People never tell me that the aerosol wall texture industry is getting too corporate. And yet, it really is. In Michigan, we were much happier. But we were also more financially stable.

Anthe:   Sacre Bleu, indeed.
John:   Sacre Rouge.

Anthe:   How did the stories and interviews contrast between Creem in Detroit as opposed to LA? You seemed to get around despite being in the Midwest, but as far as flying goes, it’s pretty centrally located and lots of bands toured there.
John:   I did a ton of interviews when I was freelancing in Michigan. Someday I must go back and read some of them. And, yeah, I interviewed John Waite in Miami and ZZ Top in Wichita, Judas Priest in St. Louis and Black Sabbath in Indianapolis, etc. Michigan is just fine in that sense. Out in LA, though, we instantly had lunches with publicists at the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset in Beverly Hills, and so on. It’s different. Plus the bands come through here like clockwork. Hell, I saw a Sigur Ros concert in LA a couple of years ago. They were great, incidentally.

Anthe:   That den of iniquity. How does that effect the story, review or interview process, if at all?
John:   I don’t think it does. For example, Bill and I and the Replacements were great friends and serious drinking pals, but that started up in Michigan. Please see the excellent Bill Holdship story. Out here in LA, it just made it easier to get together with them, and then on to Barney’s Beanery for volumes of alcohol. But that’s an example of it not being that much different psychologically. I remember interviewing the Thompson Twins in LA–a fine, fine story, I’ll add–and I wouldn’t have liked their music any more or less back in Michigan. Nope. That Alannah from the Twins was one of the funniest fucking people I ever talked to. A charming, witty girl. Oh, and I remember interviewing Fleetwood Mac–every single member, in their homes. You can’t do that in Michigan. You should see Lindsey Buckingham’s pool. What a life, God love him. He actually had a radio-controlled submarine toy in the pool he showed me and we played with it. That’s what this job’s all about.

Anthe:   Max out the good times. Did you get more respect from musicians and such, when you made the move?
John:   I don’t think so. Most musicians knew about Creem and had some grudging respect for its reputation. I think more indie-type bands, like maybe REM were like that. Not that REM’s respect was grudging. Peter Buck, for example, knew all about Creem because he’s interested in such things. The Place Mats knew of Creem. Actually, now that I think of it, I think almost everybody knew about Creem. I remember meeting Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon at some frou-frou Hollywood event, and even he knew about Creem. Not to slam REO, but they didn’t seem to be Creem kind of guys. The Place Mats, now they did. So, I think the amount of respect was pretty equal because our predecessors at Creem had done a fine job of establishing the brand, quite seriously, and even we did a pretty good job. Dave and Bill and I, I mean. And Joanne. And the art department.

Anthe:   You always held your own very well, like with the Mats, Rush and Motley Crue interviews. And as you alluded to, some weren’t exactly Creem kind of bands, or yours. But you were able, or rather you liked, the approach of being a student of human nature?
John:   Ha! Well, I usually had fun, even if it was Motley Crue. I mean, at the time, they were amazingly popular–God only knows why–but their experience in their world was way out there, by my modest standards. Yes, I was always into the human-interest angle when I did an interview. I mean, if you saw my record collection, there’s a lot of unpopular stuff in there, and I’m including Burl Ives and The Aluminum Group. So when talking to a band, if it was Robyn Hitchcock, whom I think is quite swell, or Motley Crue, who kind of scared me, it was a different deal. But I thought the readers would like to know what it’s like to hang out with both. Even the people who hated Motley Crue must have enjoyed their decadence, the lesbo tapes and so on.

Anthe:   Hef’s Mansion: yes or no?
John:   Very sadly, no. I only wish. Damn that Hef for ignoring J. Kordosh lo, these many years.

Anthe:   So, did your appreciation for the music at the time start to fade along when Creem did?
John:   No, I’ve always loved music. I wasn’t a huge fan of some mid-to-late-’80s stuff at the end of Creem, but what the hell. In fact, I think leaving Creem and leaving having to have an opinion about music elevated the level of my enjoyment significantly. Nowadays, I enjoy bands as diverse as Granddaddy and Radiohead and don’t have to explain why. It’s a fucking blessing. I think for me it came down to science equals fact, which is only true if you’re an immature scientist, and rock writing equals opinion, which is only true if you’re an immature rock writer. And, hey, I was both.

Anthe:   Your humble mix of esteem and honesty is engaging–almost Zen-like.
John:   To tell you the truth, I’m getting troubled about my self-deprecation. To tell you the truth, I think that my stint at writing the “Rock ‘n’ Roll News” column was almost definitive; it was there I introduced the bovine Buttermilk…

Anthe:   Tell more about that…you’ve said there were only five stories you wrote that you actually liked.
John:   Yeah, about that. I really liked, much more, “Creemedia” [which] dealt with all manner of obscurity. Short story, I think that near the end of my writing at Creem I ‘found my voice.’ So the stories I like are latter-day stories.

Anthe:   Which didn’t include Molly Hatchet?
John:   Ha ha, Lord, I don’t even know why I did that. There are greater Hatchet fans than myself. No, that story was hackish, I think. I haven’t read it since it came out, though.

Anthe:   And what was your voice, if you can do your best to describe it, and how did it evolve?
John:   My voice was one of reason but light-hearted incredulousness. No shit. I wanted to be very deft, and I’m sure I failed 99% of the time. It evolved because I was reading better, skilled writers.

Anthe:   Personally, I loved the “Year In Concerts ’87: You people paid way too much for some pretty lousy shows.”
John:   I DO remember!

Anthe:   And when I said regrets, I meant like shots at the late Natalie Wood…stuff like that.
John:   No, not really. Here’s a good and true story: Billy Joel once called us to bitch because we were being mean to his then-wife, Christie Brinkley. Hubba. And the woman who answered the phones didn’t put him through, if you can believe it. Anyway, we thought it was cool that Billy called to bitch-slap us about his woman, but still, we were right in openly mocking her. Actually, he called twice. The first time, I think Bill talked to him, and then he was denied editorial access.

Anthe:   I would have thought it would have been about your reference to him in your “kissing etiquette” book review.
John:   Billy Joel: fighting mad, as you like him! There are a lot of laughs in the rock writing game. No, Allentown Bill was pissed about his woman, so God bless him.

Anthe:   Well, here’s an example. Was it really something worth getting mad over?
John:   Only Bill Joel can answer that. I don’t think so, myself.

Anthe:   Ok, so no one went out of their way to be insulting.
John:   No, no, not at all. Bill and Dave and I are, and were, pretty nice people. Very polite. Japanese, almost.

Anthe:   So, how did you forge a relationship with them?
John:   It was a natural. Dave and I are, I think, very kindred spirits. Plus Dave knew way more about music and bands. He’s turned me on to more good music–and I include Orange Juice–than anyone I’ve ever known. When Dave was editor, [Creem] was sadly underrated. The captions are what I remember most. The art department would get the photos from photographers and since they decided what was going in, we would write the captions. We were getting all sort of disgruntled and thought, why not? I would look at a photo and see what they were thinking. We could actually do a story on just the captions. Dave Marsh took credit for “zany captions.” Dave Marsh taking credit for Creem‘s captions is like Orville Wright taking credit for the lunar landing. And Bill and I were really comrades-in-mischief at Creem. We hung out together a lot, and kind of played off each other. Plus we just kind of enjoyed making fun of things together, in the winning junior high-ish way your readers would expect.

Anthe:   And in what ways did that conflict with the art department? It reminded me, sort of, what John Morthland said about Rolling Stone breaking at one point, between politicos and music writers.
John:   I used to edit a teen magazine for Creem called Rock-Shots. This was a horrible photo mag that no one over the age of 15 would look at, seriously. But it was a real magazine. And I remember a big argument I had with a gal named Kathy Kelley in our art department about this magazine. Basically, it came down to me saying, “Don’t you think young people can have a magazine, too?” and her saying that she wanted to read a John Cougar Mellencamp interview. To me, she represented a certain unpopulist viewpoint that I think may be common in the rock critic world. That’s the trouble with rock criticism: everyone’s got a fucking opinion!

Anthe:   But how much weight did they carry? I mean you didn’t go and critique their ad layout and cut and paste-up? Wasn’t there a separation of writing and graphics?
John:   They carried no weight, thank God, but this was indicative of what our readers and potential readers also thought. Troubling in its way. There was a big huge separation of writing and graphics and I urge all of the incipient rock critics out there to get on board.

Anthe:   Why would they even comment outside of just general interest?
John:   Because, everyone’s got an opinion and why is J. Kordosh’s any better than yours? It’s because it’s about music. If it were about the hydrolysis of organic chlorides, nobody would have a fucking opinion. Except me, of course.

Anthe:   My head is swimming…so it was never a literal problem?
John:   It was a problem, but we dealt with it by ignoring them or mocking them. They really couldn’t out-argue us because we were who we were.

Anthe:   You ultimately had the final say? I guess I just don’t understand why they would care, since it wasn’t their department. The text, I mean.
John:   Okay. I think they cared because they worked for a national rock mag. I don’t want to make a big deal out of this; they were very bright and attractive people. But they had their own opinions and, sadly, those opinions didn’t coincide with the opinions of the editors. They were more into the popular mainstream than the editors were. But I do think they, correctly, saw the magazines a reflection of themselves.

Anthe:   You wrote for Bill, too, afterwards at BAM and New Times LA.
John:   Yes, I did. That was fun–I used to love those screwy LA New Times pieces. And I wrote for Dave at Launch, now Yahoo. Ironically, I somehow became a much better writer after I left Creem–at least, I liked my post-Creem writing, minor though it’s been, way more.

Anthe:   Your stories and essays are transcribed and discussed at length on the net.
John:   You know, I’d like to write more someday, but I’m so busy in the lab these days that I never pursue it. It’s like this: if I get three patents this year, and I might get one or two, is that better than writing an excellent and acclaimed story? I just don’t know.

Anthe:   It would be welcomed, for how ever many there are. And since you always were a true writer, along with science, it’s commendable that you still care.
John:   I still read rock criticism, but only like in the LA Times–Bob Hilburn, you know and also in Entertainment Weekly. I try to keep up. My opinions are incredibly well honed, I’ll tell you that. Damn, I wish I could rewrite that massive Kinks story–they just get better as time passes.

Anthe:   No, really? EW?
John:   Yeah, I read that stupid EW. It’s horrible. You know at the end of their mag, back in the reviews section, they try to do funny captions a la Creem, and I stress that they try. Woe is them. There’s nothing worse or lamer than a funny caption written by a person clueless in the way of the funny caption. It’s a new circle in hell.

Anthe:   Why do you suppose none of you gave in to the stereotypical Hollywood beast? I mean, you never sold out, never gave in to vices.
John:   I think we did, a little. But keep in mind that we were already grown up men when we moved out here, so we had enough cynicism to protect us. That and our winning life-philosophies.

Anthe:   Coke, babes, boom, pow…
John:   There was that for some of us.

Anthe:   How come you didn’t become immersed in to the high-tension world of rock?
John:   In a lot of ways I just wanted to have a normal life. I stopped smoking pot by the time I was 20. It really messed with my sense of time. Like asymptote–that’s when an arc approaches a line, but never reaches it.

Anthe:   So, tell me, why didn’t you just turn into a bunch of H-town gasbags? I mean, you could have.
John:   You know about H-town? Sweet! Naw, total excess is fatiguing. But there was some excess, to be quite honest with you.

Anthe:   I know you probably all had moments, even in the Midwest, but I mean all out.
John:   No, never all out. We’re too down to earth for that, I guess.

Anthe:   But you have this Midwest…even New York, vibe or outlook…not really a Warren Beatty inclination.
John:   Yeah, I was molded in the motor city. I still like Detroit, at least in theory.

Anthe:   All right. But what I meant was, I guess coming from a Lester Bangs, John Holmstrom perspective, you never had the all out life of excess; in fact, you kept up with school, marriage, friends, science…
John:   Everyone’s only human, you know. It was a close call. Like I said, I had my moments. Believe it or not, I still have vices to this very day. I might OD on Coors Light someday; that would be tragic.

Anthe:   But rather than ending up with no place to go when the bars close or being Tommy Lee’s personal assistant. Or some massive tool.
John:   Well, people probably grow out of that or die trying. I see that as part of the Zen. Life is way too fucking short to worry about so many things, to not try and enjoy it.



John Kordosh Fun Facts (compiled by Anthe Rhodes)

  • John Kordosh was the first celebrity host of AOL’s Live Chat. The first featured band was Great White.
  • He was once cursed by a drunken Dave Davies, but wasn’t offended because Davies was drunk.
  • Kordosh’s exhaustive history of the Kinks is still referenced by fans and other writers, 25 years after it was first published in Creem.
  • His Rush story has been the object of scorn from their fans and laughter from others, a legacy well documented on usenet.
  • The above fact makes him the Salmon Rushdie of the Rush set.
  • “Yeah, I read that article. Kordosh was such a dickhead.” The words of one usenet reader.
  • He drank with Ozzy Osbourne while Sharon loomed in back. Or rather, John drank while Ozzy watched. He was on the wagon then.
  • “The person who wrote this article obviously has no concept of musicianship, if he thinks McCartney is better than Geddy Lee, or especially if he thinks McCartney could play guitar better than Alex, drums better than Neil, or write better lyrics than Neil…what the fuck planet is this asshole from?” Another Rush usenet reader.
  • While tagging along with Bill Holdship on an interview with the Replacements, both became pals with Westerberg and the rest of the band. It was John who was secure enough in his masculinity to scream when bassist Tommy Stinson threw a beer bottle, shattering it against the wall.
  • He loves Head. No, not that head, necessarily. The trippy Monkees movie, which John thinks is the best music movie of all time.
  • “That interviewer was definitely a good writer, and pulled no punches in expressing his dislike for the band. Hilarious.” Still another usenet reader.
  • He contributed to a professional petition against global warming; however, if he had to do it over again, he would reconsider.
  • A guilty musical pleasure is difficult for John to imagine, since he has none. He is, however, a whistling music enthusiast.
  • “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is one of his favourite pop songs. Mostly due to Kiki Dee. He also enjoyed some of the disco music that came out around that time.
  • Bob Dylan told John that he couldn’t remember making John Wesley Harding. But then, he told him a lot of things.

From the Archives: Kandia Crazy Horse (2003)

Kandia Crazy Horse Rips it Up

By Scott Woods (November 2003)

Kandia Crazy Horse is the Editor of the upcoming music tome, Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n Roll, which will be published by Palgrave at the end of 2003. I recently sent her a bunch of questions about the book and a few about herself as well.


Scott:   How are you doing, and what have you been listening to lately?
Kandia:   I’m doing shitty, thanks, Scott. This year has been all about Arthur Lee & Eddie Hinton. Have seen five of Love’s Forever Changes anniversary concerts since December 2002 (including the one in LA w/ Johnny Echols & Don Conka), got the Zane Records reissues of Hinton and listen a great deal to an Eddie compilation made for me by someone I love very much. Rufus Wainwright’s Want is superb, perhaps the only true masterpiece of the times. Otherwise, my recent enthusiasms have been: Los Lonely Boys, Seal’s latest–which is a real triumph, Donnie still, Mofro, Jet (from Australia, purveyors of Get Born), the Chesterfield Kings who have a cracking new one on Sundazed–The Mindbending Sounds of…, the Faces, Jeff Beck Group, Eugene McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, a lot of Fela still, the Neil Young reissues (esp. On The Beach). Hoping someone will send me the reissue of Gene Clark’s No Other. Admit a horrible weakness for Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” and Zero 7’s remix of N.E.R.D’s “Provider.” Jesse Malin dominated the 1st quarter for me, continues to spark and I am still reserving judgment on My Morning Jacket.

Scott:   What is the title of your upcoming book?
Kandia:   Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock & Roll.

Scott:   Where did the idea for the book come from?
Kandia:   Independently, I have had the lifelong idea of doing some cultural project focused on the innovations of blacks in rock & roll. I specifically came to this project when my old friend/schoolmate Mike Ladd, the alternative hip-hop artist extraordinaire, recommended to independent filmmaker James Spooner that I serve as a “scholarly” resource for his book at St. Martin’s. James eventually decided to throw all his energy behind his new film Afro-Punk, aka Rock N Roll Nigger (High Yellow Productions) and I helmed the book project.

Scott:   I understand there are other writers involved–are you the Editor of the book? Who are some of the contributors?
Kandia:   Yes, I am the editor. Contributors range from Black Atlantic icon Paul Gilroy and my rockcrit nigga Jon Caramanica to the lovely Vivien Goldman and Bad Brains’ Daryl Jenifer. Me mate Barn generously supplied some historical reprints from‘s archive. And I even got that crazy dada wigger Lester Bangs to write for me; he’s about neck ‘n neck with 2Pac, Jimi, Eva Cassidy & Mojo Risin’ in the posthumous release sweepstakes inne? I wonder what he makes of Prince stumping for the Witnesses door-to-door these days?

Scott:   Is the book a genre study? A musical history? A polemic?
Kandia:   I suppose Rip It Up–note the Little Richard reference–is a combination of select history and polemic. I was wary of calling it “the” history because it’s hardly complete…and that was intentional. Certain decisions as to cutoff dates and which artists would be included had been made even before I stepped up. The real point of the book is to serve as a primer on blacks’ contributions to rock and serve as a marker for future in-depth study of the subject. Black rock still deserves the mammoth coffee table treatment with Pedro Bell & Henry Diltz images and all that jazz. I just could not countenance the fact that I might die any day now without having made a stand on behalf of black rock’s canonization for the Masses to recognize.

Scott:   Did the writers write material specifically for the book, or is it culled from different sources?
Kandia:   Reprints had appeared in various music publications; the Bangs piece originally ran in the Village Voice. Everything else was done specifically for the project.

Scott:   Do you write anything for the book yourself?
Kandia:   I actually submitted several things but, in the end, my primary contributions are the Introduction and an interview with legendary session singer Venetta Fields. Also had a hand in the “Black Rock Glossary” etc.

Scott:   All I know, from the brief mention you made in an e-mail, is that the book is a history of black rock. Is there a unifying premise here?
Kandia:   I would not say there’s a unifying premise beyond the majority of the artists’ era of peak productivity falling between 1964 and 2003, a burning churning desire on the part of the writers to be militant about black rock…and of course, erm, having suffered creative and professional slings and arrows due to race.

Scott:   Do you believe that audiences and critics still have preconceptions about what “black” music is and what “rock” music is? If so, where are these preconceptions coming from–critics? radio and MTV? demographic marketing? the record labels?…
Kandia:   The Black Rock Coalition’s Director of Operations, Darrell McNeill, contributed a lengthy and thorough essay on the cruel history of race and the entertainment industry; read that and you’ll get just about all the “facts.” Personally, as a young, black, female rock critic who has mostly covered southern rock throughout their career, I perennially LIVE the reality that audiences, the media and the industry have dangerous and ignorant preconceptions about what black music is and ain’t–and about rock. Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s struggles with artistic freedom, mass indifference and poor reception by the black community and black radio certainly prove that these issues are entrenched and (pun intended) bitter. The pimping of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy and his constant presence on the cover of wide-circulation guitar magazines which conveniently divorce him from his colored roots is also a huge point of contention…I mean, Jimi’s kinda like that one black slave in the Mormon heaven. All that you mention–radio, MTV, demographic marketing–are bloody usual suspects. Yet, as a critic, I am more concretely aware of the gang’s shortcomings in treating black and “other” music. Maybe that cannot be helped since we “others” are not and never have been the center. Labels are definitely to blame, though, since with the appearance of every Chocolate Genius, Glen Scott & Res, the same ole tired refrain about what is and should not be “black” music rears its ugly head. Lenny Kravitz is the only one in the last 15 years or so to truly escape that conundrum and some would argue that he’s achieved it by pointedly eschewing race and any radical stances throughout his career. No need to spin, this record’s been broke.

Scott:   Does the book challenge these assumptions–and how?
Kandia:   At this point, I think it remains to be seen whether or not the book will succeed at countering a half-century’s worth of wrong-headed thinking and writing about blacks in the rock field. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of any one work. I do think that the book represents a challenge in its exploration of the subjectivity of various artists like Sly Stone, Slash and Betty Davis. In the past (and present), many of the fans and biographers of these artists who have been allowed face time with the mass mind were white males and it’s their “authority” which holds sway in all assessments of the musicians and their oeuvres. Let some folks inside the race at least have a chance to present the other side of the mirror (of Sly’s freaky grin).

Scott:   Who do you think are the 5 most significant black rock artists of the last 50 years? (Feel free to expound.)
Kandia:   I think the choices below are pretty self-evident…but here’s some suitable quips:

* Arthur Lee: the true King and Spirit of Rock & Roll…hey, with Jim Morrison as a fluffer…
* Chuck Berry: made room in the mass spotlight for the subjectivity of the brown-eyed handsome man & gave rock ‘n roll its essential vocabulary (don’t believe me, axe Keith Richards).
* Sly Stone: alchemist of the most complex and volatile and sublime hybrid of genres, genders, races…look at 1970s/Golden Age of Black Music and you will see his handprints everywhere.
* Vernon Reid: one of the smartest musicians I’ve ever met (denying the stereotype), very aware of his role as a human and an aesthete…indeed, some of his testifying reminds me of my cherished Fred Hampton (Sr.’s) wisdom.
* Betty Davis: she introduced Miles to Jimi… and vinyl fetishist fanboys are STILL deathly afraid of her… now, that’s power.

Scott:   Who is the most significant black rock artist of right now?
Kandia:   David Ryan Harris…he’s a Georgia homeboy so got to give it up. No, I never fucked him and I actually don’t think he likes me too much but we have been “friendly acquaintances” for several years. Never actually saw him live in the Follow For Now days but witnessed the Brand New Immortals era and his solo career at close quarters. He’s never quite grasped the ring of mass adulation that he deserves but he is very rare in the rock pool–of ANY race or gender–in that he has the great voice, guitar chops, songwriting skills, stage presence & suitably marketable image that lots of aspiring musicians lack. He is also one of very few that has successfully covered Hendrix without you wanting to commit suicide; I maintain that NdegeOcello’s “May This Be Love” is the best but David’s “(Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland” is superb.

Scott:   What is your personal prognosis of the state of popular music in general today? Is it in good shape, great shape, hopeless, etc.?
Kandia:   Being that music is my grand passion, from my first memories being musical to my foolish pride as a vinyl fetishist/collector, I just cannot admit that the prognosis for popular music is utterly hopeless. I am an early FM radio baby and a defiant anachronism…so I tend to view most pop output with a jaundiced eye these days. Beyond the general milestones like “Rapper’s Delight,” “La Di Da Di,” “The Message,” etc. and the music of Public Enemy, the Native Tongues and the Dirty South, I have never had any use for Hip-Hop Nation and remain resentful that this is my (black) generation’s great contribution to the global culture. If it weren’t for OutKast, Cee-Lo & Big Gipp, I’d probably have to hang myself. No one, critic, fan or otherwise–has ever wanted to agree with me and never shall…but I still maintain that the reason I was in exile amongst the Black Crowes for all of the 1990s is because I felt they were doing the work that younger black artists should have been in the mainstream eye. With Freddie Stone as his key idol, I sincerely felt that Chris Robinson was slaying some of my aesthetic dragons. I would argue that Donnie, also from Atlanta, is the one bona fide “Negro” artist of the times who has an appropriately complex and comprehensive vision, great talent and an awe-inspiring commitment to the Race.

There are also artists that I don’t “like as a person” that I think are doing important work…but they rarely dovetail with the list of critical and rock snob darlings. Kid Rock deserves a lot of praise.

Basically, I await the demise of hip-hop, Orlando pop, “R&B” girl groups, the dregs of Nu Metal etc., but I don’t think their banishment will change too much. It’ll be business as usual in the Industry. I will say here that I do not think piracy and illegal downloading is the root of all evil–for either the rockbiz or Hollyweird. The chief problems are an appalling lack of artist development at the labels and, in the wider entertainment industry, the greed of these corporations and their utter disregard for the consumer. [That Lesley Stahl segment on 60 Minutes was pathetic: trying to appeal to us by saying the poor blue collar workers like carpenters at the studios are being sacked when the real problem is that these high-level executives are not taking any pay cuts or losing their ranches in Idaho]. I frankly could give a toss whether all the majors tumble into the sea. What have they done for me lately?…to bite the O. G. Miss Jackson.

Still, there is a staggering lack of humanity and morals amongst the people who work in the industry and that alone is probably the most damning factor in the business’ current troubles and the creative sector’s malaise. Everyone’s favorite whipping girl, Courtney Love, easily illustrates this: on the one hand, she’s supposedly “fighting the power” for artists’ rights etc etc (which she then went and undermined by settling…no one held a gun to her head); on the other, she’s her fatherless daughter’s sole support and yet she cannot give up her puerile sexdrugsrockanroll fantasies of assuming Anita Pallenberg’s throne long enough to focus on the mature responsibilities being a mother requires. I like the party like everyone else and I got the wanderlust but I have never been a junkie and I have no dependents. I don’t care what your beliefs are: once you have the kid, (until they’re eighteen) they must come first.

Rufus Wainwright gives me the most heartfelt hope for the future of the type of music I value. I don’t understand how ANYONE who actively obsesses about the lifeblood of music can fail to genuflect before him. Yet with him, again, I am often swimming against the tide because many of my colleagues have a very rigid opposition to him based on post-punk bias, homophobia or whatever. Patterson Hood is also my Great *Hope… (* he & I are beyond race).

Scott:   Ditto the state of music criticism.
Kandia:   I’ve said enough, here and elsewhere, which supports career suicide so you will not lure me ‘neath the JoJo Dancer proscenium. I was there when that all went down, you know. Every other scribe, high and low, has sufficiently weighed in about how every 19 year-old with a laptop thinks they can topple the monolithic statue of Lester Bangs at 14th Street, the nadir of the lad mags and their influence on reviews, and how the publicists have all of our balls–and, erm, ovaries–in a vise. I’m just tired of it already. I don’t see a real future for music criticism (if it even exists right now)–some of Armond White’s recent NY Press anti-NYFCC screed applies here–and, now that it’s plain that I don’t have the taste (or medical benefits) for the lobotomy it would require for me to outlast Jane Smith’s record, I sympathize a good deal more than I ever did with R. Meltzer. I sincerely doubt we will ever see the greatness of a Jon Landau again on paper.

Richard’s simply brilliant; loving his new book on geezers. I am also very fond of Jon Caramanica, Amy Linden & Barney Hoskyns (looking forward to his Mellow Mafia opus very much). I rarely see Vivien Goldman or Rob Sheffield’s stuff but, in their zones, both are good. I remain indebted to Bob Christgau, Dennis Lim & Chuck Eddy. Holly George-Warren is mah twang nigga.

Stanley Booth has never been a music critic yet he remains my Chuck Berry. I’ll be his Huckleberry (laughs)!

Scott:   What about you–are you working on any other projects or articles right now you can tell us about?
Kandia:   I’m working on my tan, Scott, right here beneath the weak Harlem sun. Many of the rednecks I’ve adored or sparred with over the years think this shit’s natural but it ain’t.

Rock on wit’ yo’ bad selves,

Kandia Crazy Horse
Manhattan, November 2003




Interview with Raul Sandelin (dir. A Box Full of Rocks)


Because he’s so closely identified with Creem magazine and Detroit on the one hand, and New York City and post-punk on the other, it’s easy to forget that Lester Bangs’s roots lie somewhere else entirely, in the small-ish (current population less than 100,000) town of El Cajon, CA, just outside of San Diego. Raul Sandelin’s feature-length documentary, A Box Full of Rocks: The El Cajon Years of Lester Bangs, addresses this oversight, and except for a few (unnecessary? I couldn’t decide) clips of Bangs waxing eloquent about the state of popular music from the offices of Creem during the mid-70s, the movie never really leaves El Cajon; it’s as much about the city as it is about the writer. Though in truth, maybe what the movie’s really about–in any event, the aspect of the movie that most connected with me–is friendship and community, and it’s quite moving to hear all of Bangs’s old pals speak of him today with such love and affection. Not, to be clear, with mawkish reverence–this isn’t (thank God) The Early Years of Saint Lester–though sometimes with bafflement, as with Jack Butler’s perfect recollection of the time Lester tried to turn him on to free jazz: “What the hell is this? It was totally out of my comfort zone, and it was really atonal and… ”

Raul Sandelin, also a native of El Cajon, produced, wrote, and directed A Box Full of Rocks. It’s his first feature-length documentary (his second–see below–will also be of interest to readers of this site), and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about it.

You can watch A Box Full of Rocks in its entirety here. Tell your friends.

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Is this your first movie? I know you’re a professor, but are you also a moviemaker, or just a Lester Bangs fan who decided to make a movie about the guy?
This is my first feature-length movie, yes, and my first documentary, in which I had to do research versus writing a script. But, I had done several short narratives before this. With that said, though, I want to emphasize a unique characteristic about El Cajon (Lester’s and my hometown). The people of El Cajon have two long-time traditions, a love of movies and a loves of records. Both records and movies are forms of recorded (versus live) entertainment. And, they reflect a time when El Cajon was an isolated town. It’s 15 miles east of San Diego, which was a long, windy, mountainous trek in the early 20th century. El Cajon has always been considered out in the middle of nowhere. So, El Cajonians were amassing large record collections before Lester Bangs raided the bargain bins at the Thrifty Drug Store. Likewise, El Cajonians were always going to the movies. We had a couple of large theaters and several drive ins.

Like Lester, I’m an El Cajon kid too. So, I grew up heavily influenced by both records and movies. Of course, Lester Bangs was a hometown legend. So, when I started making films, Lester was a natural subject. Also, I had already founded the Lester Bangs Archive at Grossmont College, Lester’s alma mater and where I now teach. The synergy dictated that this film had to be made.

What led you toward the subject of Lester Bangs? What is the particular appeal of Bangs for you?
Again, Lester and I are both El Cajon kids, both with a love of rock music and counter-culture. Lester was 15 years older than me. So, he was writing for Creem when I was 14 and reading Creem for the first time. I remember a friend’s older brother saying, “Read this article. The guy’s from El Cajon.” From that point on, I’ve always read Lester with El Cajon hometown pride.

You are currently a Professor at Grossmont–have you lived in El Cajon all your life? Was it always your intention to focus on his early, formative years?
Yeah, I’ve lived in El Cajon (and its sister city La Mesa) my whole life spotted with a few ventures out into the world. But, I strongly identify with El Cajon. And, I’d like to see these aspects of El Cajon history recorded for posterity and for the world to know.


Is it safe to say that Lester Bangs is the most famous person to come from El Cajon? What else is El Cajon known for?
Lester is definitely one of the most famous people to come out of El Cajon. But, there are others. Iron Butterfly (the band that invented Heavy Metal) came out of El Cajon. Frank Zappa lived here around age 14 and bought his first record player here. (Zappa bought his first Varese album in nearby La Mesa, the sister city mentioned before.) Songwriter Jack Tempchin, who wrote the Eagles “Peaceful Easy Feeling” amongst many other hits grew up just a few miles away, as did Tom Waits. All of these guys were living in or around El Cajon in the 1960s. So, Lester had company. Other than that, El Cajon is also known for its great motocross racers not to mention stock car champion Jimmy Johnson. A number of professional athletes as well as artists and actors came from here too.

Stock car champion, Jimmie Johnson

How did you manage to connect with so many of his old friends?
A lot of Lester’s friends are still very much around the local scene. Jerry Raney, a Lester friend and founder of the Beat Farmers, performs every weekend right down the street from my house. Jack Butler, Gary Rachac, Milt Wyatt, Rob Houghton. All these guys live right here to this day.

Did you encounter any resistance to the subject from people you tracked down?
Well, we weren’t able to talk with Andrea “Andy” Di Guglielmo, Lester’s high school girlfriend. It wasn’t as much resistance as much as the door to her was closed long before we started our project. We were told that she had given her last interview about Lester years before and didn’t want to revisit that part of her youth anymore. So, we just left her alone. The same kind of thing happened with Ben Catching, Lester’s nephew and childhood companion. Through a mutual friend, he politely let us know that he had retired from the whole Lester Bangs thing.

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Are all the interviews with his older friends conducted right in El Cajon?
Yes, usually at various schools and parks although we interviewed Gary Rachac at Gary’s childhood house on Herbert Street. Lester was a frequent guest there. So, we had a spiritual communion of sorts.

Jon Kanis provides voiceovers in the film. Tell me a little bit about how that came about–i.e., the decision to do voiceovers and working with Kanis.
A lot of documentaries now are avoiding the use of a voice-over or narrator. There’s something always stilted about a narrator, like in those old science films they showed in elementary school. So, I never felt completely comfortable with the scripts we were writing because I didn’t feel comfortable with the role of the narrator in the first place. But, nevertheless, I was prepared to have a narrator out of convention. Then, serendipitously, the guy who was going to do the voice-over bailed on the project. Suddenly, it all made sense: We wouldn’t have a conventional narrator. But, we still needed something. That’s where Jon Kanis came in. He has an extensive Creem collection and has read Lester out loud at public readings. So, it was natural that Jon would read Lester. We went through Lester’s writings, searching for all of the mentions of El Cajon (or San Diego). Then, we rearranged all of those citations in chronological order to conform to the timeline of the film.

Jon Kanis
Jon Kanis

Talk a bit about the nuts and bolts of the thing. Did you do all the interviews yourself? What about the filming and editing?
Much of the film was made as a student film under the auspices of the Media Comm department at Grossmont College, where I teach. I actually took a year-long class and made the film as a “student.” Other students in the class crewed on the interviews with me and helped with some initial editing. The English department at Grossmont found a couple of stipends to keep the wheels greased. Finally, Ed Turner, who owns an entertainment investment company called Road Ahead Productions, gave us several thousand dollars to finish the film. We used that money to hire a professional editor, Tony Butler, who happens to be the brother of Lester friend Jack Butler. Then, Tony and I sat for hours and days finishing it.

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What was your biggest challenge getting this movie made?
Definitely, the financing. Film is an expensive medium and money seems to disappear into the smallest details. I remember looking at the clock dozens of times as hundreds of dollars just ticked away as we fixed some three-second transition or some illogical glitch in the video files. So, a 90-minute film needs a good budget needless to say. I’d recommend to anybody: Find your money first. It’s hard to get going, gain momentum, then, run out of money. Fortunately, Ed Turner and Road Ahead Productions financed my second film, The Rock Bards, which explores the broader history of rock journalism in the 60s and 70s. It’s not really a sequel to Lester’s film. But, there’s definitely an organic link between the two.

You’ve piqued my interest–what can you tell me about The Rock Bards? Is it a movie about the birth of rock criticism? Can you reveal who is, or might, be in it?
The Rock Bards is currently in production. The film covers the heyday of rock journalism and the rock magazines that nurtured the great rock writers like Lester Bangs. Basically, we are looking at the years 1966-81, from the founding of Crawdaddy magazine to MTV, which signaled the end of this era. We have interviewed several people already including Mike Stax, John Morthland, Billy Altman, and Ed Ward. Jaan Uhelszki, Susan Whitall, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Ben Fong-Torres, and Robert Duncan, are planned over the next two months. The documentary is being funded by Ed Turner’s Road Ahead Productions, an entertainment investment company. So, we actually have a decent budget. Rock Bards should be completed by the end of 2014. Then we plan to send it out on the festival and art house circuits before going to DVD and Netflix.