Mondo 1995 (Part II)

Mondo 2000 nailed the emerging cybersexcomputerdrug zeitgeist with its first issue in 1989, making media mavens out of its founders, Queen Mu and R.U. Sirius. But the trippy, fractious family that was Mondo began to implode in 1993, torn asunder bu inter

And one of the staffers started to develop a serious cross-dressing persona -- at the office.

"He was like, 'Oh, I'm sorry. We haven't met. My name is Amara,' " remembers Alderman. "He looked more like a British pop star. He had on all these flowing things, and a red wig. It was sort of par for the course. In fact, it was much more pleasant to work with Amara, because [he] was this cranky old man, and Amara's at least kind of perky."

Alderman and fellow staffer Kenneth Newby were in similar positions -- young latecomers surrounded by incomprehensible tension, working on a magazine that was appearing less and less frequently on the newsstand. The two wondered if this was what publishing was really like.

"We'd go out to lunch every day and just laugh and laugh and laugh," says Alderman. "Everything seemed so important, dead serious while you were there, and then you'd get out for a minute, take a breath. You're like, 'I just spent my whole day arguing about Masons and the CIA stealing the data base, when it's right there under yesterday's Chronicle.' It was like a Fassbinder film."

Many Mondo principals interviewed for this story doubted that Alison "Queen Mu" Kennedy would talk on the record about the magazine. After years of skilled media manipulation herself, they said, she was now distrustful of the press, and refused all requests.

But talk she does. To me for about five hours and to the editor of SF Weekly for maybe 30 minutes. She is puzzled about why this piece is being written, but once it becomes evident the story will be told anyway, she loosens up, relaxes, and expresses herself. Still, she insists on not being quoted.

No complete history of Mondo can be written until she talks because, as she has repeated to anyone who will listen, "I am Mondo 2000!"

Rudy Rucker agrees.
"It wouldn't be Mondo without Alison," says Rucker. Since its inception six years ago, Queen Mu has published 14 issues and co-authored a book, all without drawing any salary, instead pouring a personal small fortune into the coffers to produce the best magazine possible. The inheritance is now spent, by some accounts tallying close to a half-million dollars, but at the time of this writing, a fresh infusion of cash into Mondo is said to be on the horizon.

Given the sheer number of off-record anecdotes about her, the level of unresolved frustration among many former staffers and contributors, it is surprising to find her extremely charming, in a timeless, Old World sense. Verbal exchange for her is an art form -- you imagine receiving an engraved invitation for lunch, delivered by a butler on a silver tray. It's a truly odd juxtaposition, the publisher of a high-tech computer lifestyle magazine preferring to discuss arcane academic disciplines instead of electronic gadgetry. For years she even refused to use a computer. But then, Mondo has always been about juxtaposition, as perpetually confounding as a conversation with its matriarch.

Topics bounce around with lightning speed in conversation with Queen Mu, a stream of thoughts often mutating, unresolved, from one to another, as we circle around a set of questions faxed at her request. Our discourse is luxurious, seductive, and frustrating simultaneously, as a sudden Latin or French expression is casually dropped, requiring me to ask for explanation. It is a position of authority she has been in many times before.

One can empathize with Queen Mu's reluctance to talk on the record. Everybody on a publication wants to reap the rewards, but nobody wants to pay the bills. The person who does handle the checkbook has the least fun and becomes the most vilified.

In that context, the animosity toward Queen Mu among former employees seems confusing and unjustified. In her mind she professes great love and admiration for the talents of those who have passed through Mondo House portals. She is also frighteningly quick to judge, however, and starts zeroing in on certain Mondoids' personality flaws, giving each a verbal slap with antique velvet-gloved condescension, until I point out that the situation isn't that black and white. Many of the people I interviewed also have nice things to say about her, and admit they owe her for the opportunity. This produces a tranquilizing effect, and we arrange to have tea later in the week.

The day after our conversation, a flurry of panicked phone calls bounces among Queen Mu, myself, and SF Weekly. The story -- the cover art by Bart Nagel! -- infuriates her.

Staff members -- past and present -- say that no Mondo article was ever sent to press without her pencil going over it. It is becoming obvious to Mu that this Mondo story is one of the few the Domineditrix will not be able to edit. Referring to powers that will not be pleased by this article, she cancels our date for tea.

More than seven months after the appearance of Mondo No. 13, Mondo No. 14 is now on the newsstands. Its look is still sleek, still printed on heavy coated stock, and even more saturated with photography, courtesy of new Art Directors Thomas Pitts and Heidi Foley (Foley paid her dues for years as an assistant in the Mondo art department). Getting this edition out was obviously a chore -- one ad announces a new CD available in January 1995, another promotes a Macintosh music festival that ended in July, indicating the issue's tardiness.

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