CREEM of the crop: Rock mag maintains hip status in new book

Rock photographer Robert Matheu once wrote that a prepubescent diet of Hot Rod and MAD magazines prepared him for a teenager's obsession with CREEM. Brimming with the same chest-thumping machismo and eye-winking humor, the Detroit-based music magazine served as the offbeat alternative to more established periodicals. The publication's 19-year history is showcased in CREEM: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine, a compendium assembled by Matheu and Brian J. Bowe, the pair who helped resurrect the publication as an e-zine.  

Former writers and editors — and even the artists they once feted and/or flogged — offer testimonials, expounding upon what made CREEM's approach to rock crit so singular: prose that was stripped down and free of pretensions, the ability to combat cynicism with wit, and a Midwestern penchant for the underdog. Like Lester Bangs, the magazine's most renowned byline, CREEM viewed pop music and literature as twin paths for spiritual transcendence. The frequent result was long-form writing both inimitable and inspiring: the bibulous Bangs and his alternative future piece on the Count Five; Cameron Crowe on the personable egomaniac that was Marc Bolan; Patti Smith's disquisition on how we honor dead rock poets.

Meanwhile, Charlie Auringer's legendary concert photos showcased CREEM's unique approach to art direction (basically, anything goes), with his stills of Detroit deities Iggy Pop and the MC5 the highlights.

Regrettably, the desire to intensely catalog the magazine's gimmicky features (“CREEM's Profiles,” featuring artists quaffing the fictitious Boy Howdy! beer, and “Backstage,” with its litany of chin-touching cutline gags) means countless inches of bloviating copy got the bump.  

As staffer Dave Marsh once said, “When we saw something that scared us, we moved toward it.” Quite often, that included Katrina and the Waves, Howard Jones, and Loverboy. Conveniently, such devotion was glossed over, meaning this book confirms the publication's much-pushed bible-of-cool aura.

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