- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Cleveland may have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which on Monday embraces new inductees U2, Percy Sledge and the Pretenders, among others, but that’s not nearly as cool as what’s in store for the true home of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, Detroit. A paper version of a revived Creem, the caustic, scruffy, street-smart fanzine that defined rock in the 1970s, is due to return to newsstands this summer, according to the notorious magazine’s newest honchos. And it wants to make sure that its hometown of Detroit is again where it rests its typewriter.

Sure, you’ve seen today’s creemmagazine.com, a nexus of rock ‘n’ roll culture jammed with the trademark irreverence that define its reviews, articles and exposes on old-timers like Yes and the Ramones, as well as contemporary performers like the Paybacks, Interpol and the Microphones.

However, even with the famous Boy Howdy logo designed by R. Crumb, it’s just not the same. No pulpy pages to thumb through, looking for one more of the smart, smarmy comments that once made the mag such a player in a tough field, crowded with the likes of Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone and even Circus.

“Creem magazine is the Algonquin Round Table of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Jeffrey Morgan, an alumnus of the original and a current staffer. “It continues to be the gold standard for literary style…against which all other rock magazines and rock critics are measured.”

Critic Lester Bangs, the icon who put Creem on the map with his uppers-and-downers-fueled rants on the Clash, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, is long since dead, but the Creem name is still alive, and Detroit, the Midwest monster of rock music, is perhaps the ideal place to restore the magazine’s relevance.

“Many of us in the organization agree that having some type of prominent presence in Detroit is necessary,” says editor Brian Bowe, a 32-year-old who works a day job as a flack for Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Detroit is removed from the machinery, which is something that the original folks always knew,” says Mr. Bowe, who was named editor two years ago. “It gave Creem this definitive Midwestern vibe, this idea of not buying into the stardust and the [nonsense] of the music industry.”

Creem was always the mouthy, smarter little brother of the music magazine industry. To move from a Web presence back to paper and into competition with large circulation giants such as Spin and Blender is reliving its original underdog status.

“We look at the Web site as being, ‘Well how did Creem start out?’” says publisher Robert Matheu, a Los Angeles-based rock photographer of merit in his own right. “Well, it came out of a basement on Cass Avenue in Detroit and sat on the counters next to Screw magazine, because people thought that Creem, the way it looked and the way it was spelled, was a sex magazine.”

Mr. Matheu is headed for his hometown of Detroit this month to cultivate some “sources” whom he believes will be able to fund the magazine. “What we don’t want to do is go to some big money publishing house and become another one of 20 magazines,” he says. “We want to do this so that we can be Creem.”

Creem magazine held the key to the aural adventures of many an adolescent in the ‘70s. A big moment for many a teen was the December ‘73 issue’s whiskey-drenched photos of the New York Dolls outside Hollywood High School, which undoubtedly kicked up the band’s record sales.

What puberty-addled kid would not want to hear the din from an androgynous fivetet that professed their hobbies to be “Straight baiting. Crawling over cracked mirrors. The back room at Max’s. Avoiding Lou Reed there”?

“When I read Creem as a kid, it was like a strange other universe,” says Bill Moriarity, a veteran Los Angeles-based music writer who writes for creemmagazine.com. Growing up in the bland obscurity of Sacramento, Mr. Moriarity pictured the Midwest as a haven of raucous rock ‘n’ roll. “Creem was this seamy underbelly of the things that Rolling Stone wrote about, where you pick up the rock and see what was crawling underneath. And all I could think is, ‘How do I get there from here?’”

The magazine hosted many of the premier bylines of the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll press, such names as Bangs and Dave Marsh. They became stars in their own right, penning tomes, tributes, slams and salutations to the day’s rock elite.

Creem was sold in 1988, sanitized beyond recognition and, after some feeble comeback attempts out of Los Angeles and New York, folded in the early ‘90s.

It will return to a different landscape, one where ad buys may depend on whether or not a publication has favorably reviewed or profiled an act.

“Record companies could bring their artists to the forefront back then with Creem,” says Dave DiMartino, one of the top writers for the magazine from 1979 to 1986. “But now, with MTV and the larger media for music, the demand for their time is bigger. One of the things about Creem was that it had no compunctions about giving a bad review or, if an interview was an unpleasant encounter, to write it like that.”

With rock music now considered a serious craft rather than a pleasurable self-indulgence, such a publication could find itself left out when a band is promoting an album, he says.

As he awaits sufficient funding for the magazine, Mr. Matheu has just put the finishing touches on a book proposal for a Creem coffee-table book, a nostalgic dream for those who recall the beckoning magazine covers that offered anyone from Alice Cooper to Leon Russell to Cheap Trick to Ted Nugent.

For Mr. Matheu and Creem, though, “our next step is to cash the rich guy’s check, whoever that is.”

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