Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teenage Rampage and Back Door Man, Fanzines in the 1970's

My 1970's fanzine - Teenage Rampage - grew wholly out of the inspiration of Back Door Man, to me 
rock & roll fandom's most perfect creation ever.  In 1976 I was working 40 hours a week in the warehouse of a Service Merchandise catalog showroom.  I likely had a rock & roll band going - most likely at that point it would have been The Survivors, before my band The Strokes formed in 1977, a year before Julian Casablancas was born - but probably not a very good one.

The highlight of my rock & roll existence in 1976 was when my issue of Back Door Man - the pride of the South Bay area of Los Angeles, California - would arrive in my mailbox.  (I get the feeling South Bay was the L.A. equivalent of the West Side of Columbus, Ohio.  Blue collar working-class and damn proud of it.  Aerosmith over The Mahavishnu Orchestra any day.)  Back Door Man was my only connection to quality rock & roll.  There were times that year I might as well have been speaking Swahili to the rock illiterati I interacted with, as little communication as we shared.  Those people wanted to listen to Black Sabbath and The Allman Brothers Band, I wanted to listen to The Dictators and The Modern Lovers.  The Back Door Man staff and I understood one another implicitly.  I would take my Service Merchandise lunch hour in a quiet little outdoor area of our shopping center and DEVOUR the latest issue of the mag.  Phast Phreddie Patterson, D.D. Faye, Don & Liz Underwood, Lisa Fancher and especially Don "Doc Savage" Waller were my long-distance friends that, as it turned out, I would never meet.  They were my confidantes, my role models, my inspirations.

I would write them long, ridiculously impassioned letters about rock & roll and they always answered me.  It was my equivalent of the relationship between the Cameron Crowe character and Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, which, by the way, is, in my humble opinion, far & away the best movie EVER made about rock & roll. 

Teenage Rampage was born when the Service Merchandise store copy machine was moved from the front office to the warehouse because we had to make so many more copies: of purchase orders, bills of lading, packing slips, etc.  At some point we realized there was a way to turn the counter of the copier back one entire digit, i.e. we could make 300 copies but only 30 showed up on the counter.  Voila, I had a publishing empire.  (I can't tell you how many times our store manager of the time would comment, when he visited the warehouse to make front-office copies, "I can't understand how we're constantly out of copy paper when we're only making 100 copies."  My good friend to this day Rob and I would shrug our shoulders and make some non-committal comment.)

I'd type up the issues at home on the trusty Royal typewriter that my sainted Italian father (see blog entry Birthday Blog, June 30th, 2013) had brought home for me in the 1960's, when I developed an interest in typing, from the Columbia Gas Of Ohio warehouse where he worked.  (Is there ANY aspect of the creation of Teenage Rampage that does not include petty theft of office materials?)  I'd post a lookout outside the warehouse office and run off maybe a hundred copies at a time.  (Said lookout failed miserably at his job at least once during production of the mag when the store manager walked in on me while I had about 100 pages of issue two spread out all over the copy area.  I just threw some purchase order copies over the top of them and tried to gather them up as calmly and innocently as I could.  By luck, nothing came of it.  I could have gotten fired for that infraction and I needed that job.)

Teenage Rampage was named after The Sweet song of the same name - a song I had never actually heard at that time, English import that it was, but had read about in the pages of Bomp! magazine, Greg Shaw's vitally important & influential publication of the time.  Bomp! was my mid-1970's - post-Creem, pre-New York Rocker - rock & roll Bible.  It was Greg Shaw who put me in touch with the guys & girls from Back Door Man, as well as with Nancy Foster from the North Carolina 'zine New Age, who later provided me with some journalism & poetry for issue five of Teenage Rampage.  Greg Shaw really was one of the great early movers & shakers of the punk & New Wave scenes in America, and his inspiration & passion have gone largely unheralded & unsung.  I miss his writing to this day.  It's hard to convey in this time of smartphones, instagram & twitter, but in the mid-1970's the only way small pockets of rockers all over the United States had to communicate with, or indeed, to find one another was by writing letters or exchanging fanzines.  It was a different - and in some ways - a better and more innocent world back then.

The first couple of issues were double-sided broadsheets, 8-1/2 x 14 inches, stapled together back to back.  (With Service Merchandise staples, naturally.)  By issue three, after the close call with Management and by which time I actually had some subscribers and money coming in, we went to five-page 8-1/2 x 11 inch issues that I ran off at a local copy store that would cut me a break.  (Issue five was a whopping 10 pages.)

I had colleagues and associates on the paper, Allan Tinney and Cliff Phillips should be mentioned in particular, and guest writers like the aforementioned Nancy Foster and Lisa Baumgardner from Kent, Ohio, whom I first made the acquaintance of when I sent away for a Pere Ubu single in the mail.  (No Spotify, Dropbox or Rhapsody back in the day, you just sent away for 45's, and your friendly postman brought 'em to your door.)

Issues were distributed free all over the West Side wherever Focus magazine (the bane of my existence, the "official" Columbus rock weekly, which I saw as little more than an excuse for stereo store, car audio, apartment complex & campus bar ads, with a few "rock" stories thrown in) was available.  Teenage Rampage's motto was "We're freer than Focus," which I found very clever, if I do say so myself.  On Saturdays I would take the bus to campus (I didn't have a driver's license until 1978 when I was 25, but that's a whole other story for whole other blog) and leave issues at all the record stores there.  I'm not sure why, but I always left the mags very surreptitiously, I didn't want anybody to know I was connected with the fanzine.  There was just something about the anonymity that I liked.  I wanted the focus (pun intended) to be on the writing and the music, not personality. 

That anonymity led to my favorite story about the fanzine.  One day I was trolling the used-vinyl bins in Mole's Records, the almost insufferably hip record store above Bernie's Bagels.  The three too-cool-for-school employees were reading the latest issue of Teenage Rampage and arguing over the auteurs of said issue.  "It's gotta be Zero Watts from The Blades putting this out," one opined.  "No, it's that kid with the mohawk & leather jacket that's always yelling at hippies on the lines at McGuffey Lane shows at Zachariah's," stated The Captain, the bespectacled owner of the store.  As I stood there in my denim jacket, with my mustache & my long hair, I found myself thinking, "This must be exactly what it feels like to be invisible."

Those three people argued about the fanzine I created and edited for the entire 40 minutes I was in the store, and never took one moment's notice when they rang up my purchase, a used copy of "Pure Pop For Now People" by Nick Lowe that I bought for a buck, that I still pull out and listen to right up until today.

This is a small sampling of some pages from Teenage Rampage, issues five and six.  I still still have all of the original pages from those issues, in case anyone is interested in reading a complete edition.  (see below)  Issues two, three & four have been lost to the sands of time and rock & roll.  (Oddly, the only article in those three issues I have any clear memory of was one entitled "Disco-Shit and the Loss Of Virginity," that was largely concerned with and detailed the nocturnal expeditions of some of my female Service Merchandise co-workers to the local West Side disco - The Dixie Electric Company - and the truly sad & disheartening sexual encounters that grew out of those excursions.)  (And that article ran two full years before Saturday Night Fever was released to theaters.)

Bizarrely, I still have a few of the original xeroxed broadsheets of the first issue - on that old, filmy, waxy paper used in early copy machines.  The first six people who order hard copies of Teenage Rampage by mail will get one of those free.

I produced the final issue of the 'zine completely on my own in late January, the weekend after The Great Blizzard Of 1978, while snowed in at my Lincoln Park West apartment.  All along it had partly served as a way to find musicians for - and later to promote - the bands I had going at the time: The Survivors, The Strokes, Ricki & The West Side Rockers, New Action Ltd. and finally, The Twilight Kids, whose exploits are detailed in I Love Distortion.  Ultimately - in an admittedly sleeping with the enemy move - when Focus changed editors to an enormously charming, erudite & musically savvy woman named Kathy Reed, I wound up writing for them, realizing I could reach thousands more people in a weekly magazine with huge circulation than I could with a xeroxed fanzine.  As I've said many times in this blog, I wanted to be a rock & roll star, not a punk legend.

Looking back, I always thought of Teenage Rampage as a punk fanzine, but really it was more of a hard-rock or just plain rock & roll publication.  As much as I loved The Patti Smith Group, The Clash and Elvis Costello & the Attractions, I was certainly much more interested in Blue Oyster Cult and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in those years than I was art projects like The Sex Pistols or Talking Heads.  (Let alone jag-off hangers-on like The Weirdos or James White & the Contortions.)

I was just a West Side boy with access to a copy machine, looking for some good rock & roll.  (Much like I am today.)

(special thanks to reader/follower Christopher Stigliano for suggesting today's blog topic)

(for a critique of our little paper by England's New Musical Express back in 1978,
see blog entry, Rock & Roll Regrets, August 11th, 2013)

Teenage Rampage Issue & Format

© 2013 Ricki C.

(Teenage Rampage content © 1976, 1977, 1978)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. I ordered a batch already (somewhat) as I hope you've already noticed.