Zine Integrity? To be or not to be…

Integrity

 

The author of this piece wanted to remain anonymous as to not stir up too much shit.  It’s a good read and makes some excellent points.  Read on…

 

Here is a story about my experience with a long time running “underground” ,”community contributed” music zine. I do not want to bash them, however I will express my honest opinion. I do not want to discourage people from contributing to them if they already do so. This is my opinion and account/perspective and by telling you this story I hope to save you the headache and heartache I had to deal with, and maybe push you to seek EVEN MORE alternative outlets when reading band reviews and especially when submitting your own music. Hopefully if you read this, you can learn something and maybe ever perhaps identify. Hopefully a positive change in the way we treat this process and view our sources of musical information will come from this.

Now out of respect for people who are into this zine, and for the many, many, people who whole heartily contribute reviews and other good stuff, and keep it going for the right reasons, I am going to keep the zine anonymous. For name’s sake I will just call it “Zine“.

I have known about Zine just about as long as I have known about hardcore punk music. Zine kind of always went hand in hand with the stuff I was into. I used to read it when I was a young teenager, to try to learn about all of these obscure bands I had neither the means nor money to learn about in other ways. I thought it was pretty cool, even if at that time it went a little over my head. I was never a devoted follower of Zine but everywhere I would go, every city, every record store and every country, you could bet your ass you would see the good old trusty Zine sitting there waiting to be purchased for a few bucks.

As I got older I naturally progressed deeper and deeper into the magical, wonderful world of punk and hardcore. Ok, I became obsessed. After following bands and trying to squeeze the life out of the “punk rock experience” I wanted nothing more than to be in a band myself. I tried to teach myself guitar, I begged every musician I knew every place I ever lived to start a band with me. For some reason (maybe because I was a psychotic young person with nothing to lose), no one wanted to take it as seriously as I did. I even almost got the chance on a few occasions but the harsh realities of life kept getting in the way… Darn it!

One day, to escape these harsh realities, I left the cold damp town I was residing in for a couple of years and made my way over to the cozy welcoming small town life to try to make a positive change. At first I thought I was the only person who lived here that was into punk! Boy was I wrong. Nestled deep in this cities roots are a plethora of phenomenal bands and musicians (even if at the time I didn’t know anyone quite as obsessed with the same particular type of music as me). I hit the jackpot! Not only did I have constant shows to attend but I met a lot of welcoming, friendly people who were actually down to play music with a nobody-newb like me!

It took me a couple of years living here to get my shit together enough to even think about seriously playing, but I always kept my ear out for openings. To make a long story not so long, I finally met someone who took me seriously. That someone had totally compatible interests musically, and even had a friend who was also totally interested in playing in a band with us! I convinced another friend to begin drumming and in no time at all these guys were ready to rock. In fact, a couple of them had been doing it for years! Even have a little cult following from the shit they did all the way back in the 80’s. Zine liked them. They reviewed them and wrote about them and gave them full page spreads back then. Back in the salad days of Zine.

We played our asses off and didn’t really know what we were going for and maybe still don’t, but people are beginning to take notice.

We hand made 100 demo tapes with fancy silk screened covers, stickers, and buttons. We were pretty proud of these crudely recorded four song demos. Like many, many, bands before us, and many, many, more to come we sent them to everyone we could think of that might be interested in reviewing it. We got a massive response!! Those things flew out of our hands like hot cakes. We even got a really killer review in Zine! And then to all of our surprise, a month later another killer review in Zine,,,,and then even more to our surprise ANOTHER killer review in Zine!!!   We only sent two demos!? Shortly after this we got contacted by a friendly guy in another state who deals mostly with big name metal bands, but whose heart lies with old school hardcore punk. He wanted to release something by us on his label. We were ecstatic and really worked our asses off again to produce a 7″ with him. And when I say worked our asses off, I mean we did everything besides pour the fucking wax! Again, we silk-screened the covers, printed the inserts, got stickers made and stuffed them all over a 6 month period with nothing but love and excitement. The day came when the fruits of our labor paid off. Again we frantically sent them to everyone we could think of. I even got an email from Jello Biafra asking why we keep sending him stuff! Again, two copies marked “ship to” Zine. The anticipation was killing me! Every issue of Zine I got my hands on, I would rip it open and go straight to the record reviews! Until the day it came.

“This bands name is terrible, I am too lazy to review this. Here is a mainstream street-punk band who has a female vocalist I will compare the sound to. Here is the name of the band the members are from”…..Basically sums up the ENTIRE review. Those four sentences ripped me apart inside. It wasn’t that it said terrible things about how bad we sucked… It’s what it didn’t say that killed me. All of our hard work and money spent, all of the years that I had spent to form a band, all of the years it had taken us to get to the point of making this 7” to be reviewed….all for those four lousy sentences. I sat on it for about a week or two. It was really bothering me. I just couldn’t understand why they would even publish such nothingness. I would have rather not been reviewed, or have had a review saying how awful and screechy I sounded and how crappy and kazoo-like the back up vocals and distortion sounded. Anything. It really felt like they didn’t care, and in essence, why should anyone else? I visualized the girl getting the record looking at the band name and thinking “Oh great, another female trying to be bad ass,” then she plays one song and submits four lousy sentences so that her name can appear in Zine. Maybe she was just having a really bad day!? Maybe the people who review demos just care more? I just couldn’t understand why this lack of a review was even published.

I am one of those people who likes to set things right. I wanted to understand how something like this happens in such a well known magazine with so many hands and eyes on it, and how something like this could slip through the cracks. I wanted to believe that they also would not think it was acceptable. So I emailed them.

The conversations between me and Zine were quite long so I am going to sum them up and give you the gist of them, the best I can, without going into too much detail.

I basically expressed my disdain, how I felt about the review, how they wasted my time and resources and how that kind of journalism will ultimately reflect on people’s opinion of the magazine. I had also mentioned how we had multiple favorable reviews when we sent in those two demos.

First off, she basically started every response with “CAN WE PUBLISH THIS!?” as if my anger were some sort of thing they could capitalize on to make Zine more readable and juicy. I politely responded to each one with “No you may not.” I honestly didn’t care so much about people seeing the conversation as much as I disliked the fact that she was trying so hard to publicize it. It made me feel dirty….well not really, but I thought it was dumb and unnecessary.

The person I was in contact with was very intelligent and articulate and fought tooth and nail for… I’m not really sure what. She basically agreed with me about the review, but then went on to say how dare I question their integrity and said how it was a lot of hard work to keep Zine going (which I never doubted to begin with). She basically said that out of the hundreds of free working contributors you’re bound to “get what you pay for” (INTEGRITY!!!!!). Then she kind of reamed me about getting the three reviews. APPARENTLY we read the instructions for the record reviews and applied it to the demos. We sent in two when we should have only sent in one… they were packaged together… She was mad because it was my fault that their system (I am assuming the same one they have had since the 80’s, or hopefully a new and improved version) failed to throw one of the demo tapes away. Failed to notice that the same demo was reviewed three months in a row. Fuck me for doing that to them!

I was very frustrated at this point and was taken aback by the manner in which I was responded to. It being a “community” type magazine, I thought that my concerns might be addressed and brought up to the reviewer (she said it would be, yet I never heard anything in regards after that). I thought that my point was valid and I was not out to hurt them but more to express my frustration and tell them how these types of things affect people who work just as hard as they do, if not harder, to make this music and how their actions will ultimately reflect on people’s opinions of Zine and their willingness to participate in submitting materials. Its like listening to your favorite band since you were a little teen, getting the opportunity to meet them in person later on in life and realizing they are a bunch of self righteous snobs who you would never associate with in your right mind. You throw away their records because the band is now ruined in your eyes, and the songs you had meshed so well with, now seem like lies.

I responded as politely and nobly as I could. I explained how the demo thing was an accident and how we in no way expected favorable reviews nor did we send in extra demos to get more mileage (as she had accused us of doing.). I also went into clearer detail about what I meant with the whole integrity thing (she apparently hated that I said that). I also mentioned that I discussed these things with other people who had been fans of Zine at some point, and people who did reviews for other fanzines and how we agreed that these kinds of things are ultimately what turns people away.

Now I know its hard to swallow when someone is calling you out, but I just want to clarify that I was in no way trying to bash them, be spiteful or talk shit. I wanted to let them know what was up so they could correct what I believe is a huge downfall for the magazine. Apparently they can dish it, but not take it.

The next response I got was much more aggressive. It started out nicely, but it seems the politer I got, the more frustrated she became. She told me she was bummed they couldn’t publish the conversation because she thought it would kind of teach her reviewers a lesson. I don’t really understand why she couldn’t just email them our conversation? Or maybe have a meeting or send out an informational packet or something? Maybe a leaflet should be sent out with every article given to be reviewed that states clearly what they expect from the reviewer etc. anyways, she goes on to express how she is unhappy with the “joke” they have become among my inner circle… (Lady, please!)… That is what she was resorting to, to get her invisible point across (I’m sure you can basically see where this is going). She went on further mentioning how this kind of limiting mentality is what they are used to from people who critique them for their writers who aren’t as fluent in English or people who give them shit for grammatical errors, etc. Ya know, a bunch of bullshit that had nothing to do with the topic at hand, and in no way represented what I was expressing, yet she was using it to attack me. She even at one point sarcastically thanked me for opening their eyes to this whole thing. The last thing she wrote me was basically a mockery.

I failed to mention she had previously called me out as being a “corporate type punk” because I was calling their product (a magazine which has a cover price of $4) a product.  She was jabbing from every angle, fighting tooth and nail against something she knew was wrong. I got to give her props (and I actually did), she stood up for the magazine, even if not for the free contributors and the coordinators. That at least shows me there is SOME passion left amongst (who I am assuming are paid) employees, even if I think its in the totally wrong spot.

My last response and the finality of the conversation was basically expressing that I am not going to argue with her about things that don’t exist (such as the accusations she was using to go against me). I reiterated my intent on emailing them in the first place-just so we were perfectly clear. I expressed my gratitude for her responses and for taking me seriously, even though she constantly used sarcasm. I expressed to her that I wasn’t talking on behalf of my (non-existent) “little circle of friends” but on behalf of every musician who submits, and on behalf of every person who contributes. I am not sorry my devotion to the punk scene is there, I am however sorry that she found my concerns so threatening. That was never my intention. I ended the email telling her that I hope she was able to take some good out of it and that my intent was not to be cruel but to build a bridge and maybe make something positive come from the situation. She never responded.

The whole thing left me thinking a lot. Here is this iconic fanzine – something I looked to as a kid and I am sure thousands of people look towards to learn about music still to this day. The older guys in my band read it when they were kids and even knew/met the creators.  This magazine that, at the onset, did a great job of reporting on “punk rock” worldwide but which seemed to morph into a PC-type punk rock guide book. That now seems to greatly contradict the origins/ethos of a musical movement started by misfits, outcasts, and the socially unacceptable. A movement where anyone could pick up an instrument and honestly express their own opinions/views. A movement that spawned the likes of The Child Molesters, The Mentors, and GG Allin (just to name a few) – and who were all accepted and acceptable in this thing called “Punk Rock”. But by the late ‘80s, this HUGELY influential magazine was so steeped in the political aspects of punk rock that it just seemed like if you didn’t follow the same political beliefs and/or weren’t political – then you and/or your band “sucked”. Somehow giving me the feeling that they are, in a sense, trying to divide the scene via favoritism for “punks” that match their own views instead of genuinely trying to bring the whole spectrum together and report about the scene. To me, that’s not punk rock… and that’s not what any of this should be about.  And now, some 30+ years later is not unlike the feeling I get from seeing/hearing a legendary punk band that no longer has any original members – but they’re trying to play all the old “hits”. Their just going through the motions riding on the past glory – but none of it feels sincere. Its just getting pumped out every month full of questionable reviews guiding people’s opinions in one direction or another. There is a lot of influential power in Zine. It’s just unfortunate to me that it’s gotten to the point where it seems to be used for a lot of wrong reasons. I hope the people that work there are truly passionate about it and not just dragging it on because they somehow inherited it (of course these are my own speculations).

I will continue to read Zine and support it for the right reasons. But as far as my hard work and energy goes, I will no longer be contributing to them since two out of two times I sent in my personal band’s music there were issues.

The main lesson I learned from this whole experience, and what I would like to pass along to other musicians and contributors (since it is us who is the lifeblood of these types of magazines), is that just because the name is “underground-household”, and familiar/long running, doesn’t mean the quality is timeless. I will choose wisely when sending in hard copies of the things my band and I have poured ourselves into, only submitting content to magazines who’s reviewers whole heartedly and honestly review the material not only because they want to/love to/need to, but because the magazines standards require people involved to be devoted in order to maintain their own integrity.

 

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~ by thrashpunx on February 3, 2013.

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