Being a Month of Busting Out (If Not Loose)

So then: yet another nabbed opportunity for your correspondent, to mark time before it marks his only occasionally sorry self. And have we ever charged, trucked, slumped and galumphed manfully along since our last installment: through the cruel into the merry, and now taking first steps out the door into Summer.

(And with the weather this week getting balmy, keep in mind that scientific studies have shown that exposure to Dub Reggae can lower the temperature of one’s surroundings by 10 to 15 degrees on days like these. I personally recommend anything by King Tubby.)

What’s been doing, then? The first dip into SF/Fantasy Fandom in what well appears to be quite a memorable season for such events: our first BayCon visit in a handful of years, in fact. Altogether like riding a bike it was, getting back into the usual fun and discourse. Although many attendees thought the energy level was somewhat lower than at previous BayCons, it might be more a conserving of enthusiasms for the more prominent Cons later this year: next month’s Westercon, then the moveable megillah that is WorldCon touching down in Reno come August.

Even so, such gatherings are almost necessary as a reminder that, with so much banality and (yes) mundanely minded activity happening at every turn, there is the odd welcome oasis of imaginative, intelligent, forward-thinking souls to be found.

As per at such events, BayCon’s Fanzine Lounge was a constant buzz of chat and hilarity. Inveterate printhead that I am, I discovered a few new fanzines worthy of attention there, foremost of these being Yipe!. Subtitled The Costume Fanzine of Record, it does just what it says on the tin, covering all manner of facets to the stream of SF/F fandom that digs dressing up, or down. Its flamboyant braintrust includes Jason Schachat, regular contributor to the Fanboy Planet website, as well as fandom costuming maven (and self-styling Evil Genius) Kevin Roche.

It’s a flash and funky read from the several issues I’ve seen and, though in only its second year of publication, already seems to know its focus and potential readership intimately. Yipe! has even managed to attract a formidable posse of columnists, including Science Fiction/San Francisco’s Espana Sheriff (with her charmingly opinionated column titled — wait for it — “Sheriff Don’t Like It”), and the irrepressible Christopher J. Garcia.

This may be going out on a limb, but the overall vibe of Yipe! most reminds me of those street-level zines devoted to covering London’s Post-Punk/Futurist/New Romantic fashion cults during the early Eighties, I.D. probably being the best known. With the knowledge that Costuming is an always evolving element to Skiffy Fandom, Yipe! might and should have a good long run ahead.

While on the reading tip, you might recall my columnating about the raft of books about The Velvet Underground published over the past year or two. Amazingly enough, still another has just popped up on discerning bookstore shelves, Ignacio Julia’s Feedback — The Velvet Underground: Legend, Truth (Distributed Art Publishers USA), and it’s a beaut.

Julia is a Spanish music scribe who’s diligently covered the individual Velvets’ careers, from the late 70’s on, for the Ruta 66 rock rag. An earlier edition published in 1986 was rightfully hailed by VU fans for its cache of hens’ teeth-level photos and memorabilia accompanying Julia’s interviews, most notably a frank and insightful chat with the notoriously reticent Sterling Morrison. This update brings the timeline all the way up to 2006 and Lou Reed’s live revival of his Berlin album; the added confabs and visuals are bountiful and, again, VU fans on all levels of obsession will be captivated no end.

More reads: in its early-to-mid Seventies heyday, Creem Magazine and its stable of BS-detecting rock journos like Lester Bangs provided the best Stateside source for inquisitive, creatively minded youth to get schooled on the latest and hippest (or about to be) in Rock.

Perhaps the closest equivalent in the U.K., pre-Punk anyway, was the New Musical Express (NME), concurrently showcasing writers like Mick Farren, Charles Shaar Murray and most infamously the dandified, rawkified, self-styled “cross between Oscar Wilde and Lee Marvin” known as Nick Kent.

Coming up during the death throes of the UK’s hippie underground press, Kent was so inspired by the reckless style and energy of Creem as to visit Michigan in 1972 for mentoring by Bangs himself. As a result, Kent became NME’s go-to guy for the latest on the Stooges, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Led Zep and a certain libertine mob of Main Street (tax) exiles.

Beyond just covering the more excessive aspects of that era, though, Kent was also capable of word portraits that were thoughtful and genuinely affecting; his NME profiles of Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson were definitive in their reportage of the downside to all the decadence. All this and more can be found in Kent’s fantastic anthol The Dark Stuff from a few years ago.

More recently, a Kent memoir of his Seventies existence has also surfaced, titled Apathy For The Devil (Da Capo), in which the dark stuff gets even darker to say the least.

In its year-by-year structure, Kent details the taking of his place in that freshly formed cabal of Superstar Rock Writers, the comedown into a Drug Hell that nearly finished his career and creative abilities, and the ultimate, redemptive coming to his senses.

Along the way, there’s much life being lived and drama to behold: a tempestuous romance with an aspiring musician just arrived from Ohio named Chrissie Hynde, being saved from OD’ing at an L.A. party by Iggy Pop, and a brief stint playing guitar with (and giving advice on the finer points of Street Rock Style to) a London crew of urchins and petty crooks, who eventually become that minor Rock footnote called The Sex Pistols. That’s just for starters.

While the framework and trajectory of Kent’s story may seem a latter-day cliche to some, his was a truly privileged access into the musicians who soundtracked the lives of (I’d like to think) more than a few Grotto readers.

And if Kent’s judgment in tale-spinning is perhaps occasionally colored by sober middle age, Apathy For The Devil is still thrilling and unapologetic in its recounting of a blazingly colorful and creative time.

Another, admittedly grimier contemporary perspective can be found within the pages of A Dead Boys’ Tale (Voyageur Press), the autobio of Cheetah Chrome, lead axeman of that uniquely American, heartland-hoodlum gift to Punk that was Cleveland’s own Dead Boys. Chrome’s has been a punk life hard-lived, fought and even sometimes won, which comes through on just about every page. At times painful but mostly compelling, it’s a raw bruise of a read.

Am also presently tucking into Bob Mould of Husker Du, Sugar and solo renown’s own memoir, See A Little Light (Hatchette Book Group), of which more about anon.

Otherwise, I am trying my best to get my head around such blips of logic as our local PBS-TV station showing Qi Gong exercise instruction programs at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night. Likewise the recent news of an alliance between Lou Reed and Metallica, which might be either supremely astonishing or deeply embarrassing for all involved.

In the meanwhile, though: a happy Summer Solstice to all, with much more Grottoness to surely follow.


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