Saturday, August 28, 2010

TOUCH AND GO: THE COMPLETE HARDCORE PUNK 'ZINE '79-'83 (547 pages; Bazillion Points/2010)
This has been waaay too long in coming. Touch and Go - the fanzine - had already reached mythological status by the time the 1990s rolled into gear. By last year, I figured that the periodical once known as Touch and Go was a myth. In all my years of being a raging fanzine dork/hoarder/collector - 25 years and counting - I have never once come across a copy of a single issue. I don't even know anyone who's ever seen an original copy. Now that this compendium is out, I can see why (likely) next-to-no copies ever found their way Down Under: I was unaware that, despite its legendary and influential status as a publication, for most of the 22 issues published between 1979-1983, the print runs were never more than a few hundred. The first few were a mere one 100 copies each; the final issue finally reaching a print run of 1,000. It speaks volumes of the greatness of T & G that something of such miniscule distribution can have such a long-lasting legacy.
T & G was started in Lansing, Michigan, in 1979 by old high school buddies (actually, it's told that they weren't actually buddies at all in high school, but came to be many years later) Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson. Vee, I've read, was born in 1952, so that'd make him roughly 27 when the 'zine was started: a little older and wiser than many of his punker friends, Vee had already finished college and was working as a school teacher when punk rock hit, having spent the previous decade as a mad-keen collector of all manner of rock: garage, psychedelia, prog, krautrock, heavy metal, etc. His knowledge and slightly more wisened approach shows: T & G, whilst obnoxious to the nth degree and littered w/ tasteless dick/homo jokes, was never merely a fuck-you HC zine for the baldies. Throughout, both Vee and Stimson wax enthusiastically on all manner of music, from the good, the bad and the ugly.
Vee, for one, had a major boner for nth-rate UK punkers, 999, so much so that he produced a fanzine dedicated to the band prior to T & G (reprinted here; Vee makes note of its slightly embarrassing nature, stating "at least I've got the stones to reprint it!"); he was also big on the new "industrial" sounds coming out at the time from Throbbing Gristle (his nickname is a reference to the infamous TG photo of the band standing outside's Tesco's supermarket), Cabaret Voltaire and SPK, and T & G could also wax enthusiastically on everything from The Feelies to Saccharine Trust to CRASS. If you read this from start to finish - something I highly recommend, as you see the development of their tastes and the music scenes surrounding them as it continues throughout a fairly crucial (I'd say the crucial, but let's not argue) period in the development of underground rock - it makes for a pretty goddamn fascinating read. Both editors were right in the thick of the HC boom, as the dots were being joined between the two coasts, and small, seemingly isolated scenes were popping up throughout the US and coming into contact w/ each other. The story of Ian MacKaye sending a copy of Dischord's debut release to T & G, the Teen Idles 7" EP, only to have it broken in half c/o the postal service but still get a rave review from Tesco, so excited he obviously was to find kindred spirits hundreds of miles away, is the kinda folklore which needs to be passed onto The Kids.
Vee had idolised west coast wildmen such as Slash magazine's Claude Bessy and Chris D., and was enthralled with the sounds of the Avengers, Weirdos, Screamers, Flesh Eaters, Germs, Black Flag, etc. He also made contact w/ these people early on and one more crucial link in the chain was forged. By the time the Necros, Fix and Negative Approach were blazing up halls throughout the mid west, it was pretty obvious that this obsession of theirs was bigger than just two bumpkins from Michigan penning vitriol or praise for all those around them.
There is simply too much in here to write a succinct review which does it justice. There's over 500 pages (it'll take a long time to get through it all: I bought it a month back and still haven't tackled the whole thing), and it's an essential document for those w/ an interest not only in the early HC scene, but also the development of the smart-arsed fanzine aesthetic, as it filtered through to obvious fans such as Jimmy Johnson and Byron Coley, but also other mainstays Gerard Cosloy from his Conflict days and Mike McGonical of Chemical Imbalance (whether you love or loathe any/every one of those folks).
What is particularly interesting is the unexpected praise heaped upon some unlikely subjects: U2, The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy, Danse Society and all manner of goth fops. Hell, even Big Country get a rave from Stimson, something possibly brought on by his undying devotion to whatever BC front man and ex-Skids member Stuart Adamson did w/ his music career. I can only assume that just about any import record which didn't sound like Styx or Foreigner must've been sweet relief to two midwesterners who'd just survived the cultural vaccuum of pre-punk America. Funnily enough, none other than Venom also get a huge rave from Tesco, a fandom which caught on like the plague in the US HC scene, as Forced Exposure soon followed suit in their love for the moustachioed geordies and their Satanic din. "Rock 'n' Roll Bank Robber" Shane Williams does a number of guest columns - from the clink, of course - something which took me by surprise, and even Byron Coley contributes to the last couple of issues, including a particularly nasty attack on the ageing commies at the-then newly birthed Maximum Rock 'n' Roll zine. All was eventually forgiven, as Tesco would later go on to write for MRR, and even Coley once penned a friendly column for Jeff Bale's Hit List mag, explaining the reason for his original vitriol.
Stimson didn't contribute to the last 5 issues and Vee went it alone, before packing up everything and moving to DC. By then HC was a pretty big deal and his band The Meatmen were making vague inroads into gaining a slightly wider audience (don't ask me why... they were terrible!), so he called it quits w/ the mag and hit the road, meanwhile letting a young Corey Rusk of the Necros take control of the record label he started under the T & G name. Tesco has noted since that he probably should've asked for a cut on all future T & G profits, but has also said that he's glad that Corey made it a success, as he remains, from all accounts, one of the nicest, fairest and most honest guys in the biz for nearly 30 years. I'd be willing to bet that 99% of Coco Rosie's fans have zero idea of the label's beginnings, so hopefully the success of this anthology will give the clueless a little history lesson. When information was so scarce, something like T & G was a vital lifeline (something the kids of today just don't understand [he says waving a stick in the air grumpily]). Also featuring some illuminating introductory interviews w/ Byron Coley, Ian MacKaye, John Brannon, Henry Rollins and the editors themselves, my summation is obvious: essential for any punker. Music book of the year.


scum said...

good write up. I've flicked through the book; fucking sweet

Brushback said...

I don't think Mike McGonigal really had a hand in developing the "smart-ass zine asthetic", he was one of those people (like Art Black and others) who jumped on the bandwagon years later and copped the style once became "popular"... a flip through any of the earliest issues of Chemical Imbalance (when it was still in Florida, I think?) will show you that. It was basically a femme-ed up poetry zine, as far as I remember it.