“It seemed like The People’s Magazine,” says Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band in the documentary “Creem: Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine,” which will screen at the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival, April 27.
The rock magazine launched in 1969 and published until 1989, though it experienced its heyday — which director Scott Crawford sensibly focuses on — in the early- to mid-’70s, chronicling both mainstream and underground rock, and diving deeply into the genres of glam, metal and proto-punk. It was based in Detroit, both benefiting from and helping to champion that city’s gritty rock scene. And its non-stop irreverence made it seem, sometimes, more like National Lampoon than Rolling Stone.
Its writers were strongly opinionated and willing to take chances. It hyped itself as “America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” — a ridiculous claim, but one that I take as a boast that it echoed the music’s rowdy spirit in a way that other magazines didn’t.
The film’s interview subjects includes staff members, musicians whom Creem wrote about, and musicians who grew up reading it.
Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers remembers learning, as a boy, that the magazine’s offices were located five miles from his family’s house in the Detroit suburbs. So he rode his bike there. “The door opens,” he says, “and out comes Alice fucking Cooper. … It was like I found the freakin’ Taj Mahal or something.”
Joan Jett recalls receiving a demeaningly sexist pan, in Creem, for the Runaways’ 1977 Queens of Noise album. So she went to the office, looking for the writer. “They said he wasn’t there, or something,” sneers Jett. “I bet he ran out the back door.”
Jaan Uhelzski, a writer and editor for Creem since its early days, co-wrote the film (with Crawford) and also co-produced, so it definitely offers of insider’s view of how the magazine functioned (or dysfunctioned). Writer and editor Dave Marsh, a who played a big part in the magazine’s glory days, is interviewed at length.
Unfortunately, two other major figures in the magazine’s history, Barry Kramer (its co-founder and publisher, and the guy who made it work as a business) and Lester Bangs (whose work for Creem established him as arguably the most important rock critic of the ’70s), died in 1981 and 1982, respectively. Still, many of the interviewees discuss them. So the movie is, in part, a tribute to them, though it also details their wars: Marsh vs. Bangs (Marsh wanted to push the magazine in a more political direction; Bangs was only serious about being wild and funny and passionate about the music); Kramer vs. Bangs; and Marsh vs. Kramer.
Despite the behind-the-scenes turbulence, Creem certainly achieved enough cultural significance to make this an important documentary, exploring a small bit of rock history that hasn’t really been explored before.
“I first saw Creem magazine … I was in detention, in high school,” says Michael Stipe of R.E.M., in the film. “From that moment forward, my entire life shifted and changed, dramatically.”
“Creem magazine … it felt like those were sort of my people,” says Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam. “It was biblical, for a kid who loved rock ‘n’ roll music.”
“Creem: Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine” will screen at House of Independents in Asbury Park, April 27 at noon, as part of the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with director Scott Crawford and disc jockey Rich Russo. Visit apmff.org.
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