Iím A Believer!
Recent reading: magazines
When time is short, or seems that way, and some of the books Iíve bought with good intentions [and usually along with good reviews or recommendations] simply seem to much to bother with, I turn to magazines.

Iím pretty keen on magazines anyway, you might say an avid consumer, but as a quick reader thereís often simply not enough within them to keep me occupied for long. I dream of an intelligent chunky weekly arts magazine or newspaper, full to the brim of music and literature reviews, articles and essays. Nope, calm down, I havenít found it - it doesnít exist - but I have come across some magazines maybe a little bit more out of the loop that are worth getting hold of.

First the music mags. Fact: 05 is a freebie, certainly pretty much everywhere in London last time I was there, and claims to be available from independent record and clothing stores around the UK. I expect it is, I simply havenít been around the UK muchÖ Anyway, this is one of those beautiful full colour on rich paper magazines that you think 1. I must pick this up and then 2. how can they afford to give this away? Then, if youíre like me, you spend a while sniffing the ink on the paper - itís rich, intoxicating aroma [No, Iím serious, this magazine smells awesome]. Really thatís all you need to know, as the contents are the kind of thin, shallow articles review sheet rewrites youíd expect, along with masses of groovy graphics and endless adverts. But there are some nice photos of an early Glastonbury Festival, and an underwhelming piece on the 1960s by Mick Farren. But itís a nice thick spine bound edition to leave lying around on your coffee table or toilet shelf.

Loose Lips Sink Ships 02 is stapled with a fold in cover and smells nearly as good. It has raving hippy folkster Devendra Banhart on the cover, which is a shame as Iím fed up with the hype and his music is bad pub karaoke, but at least Iíve heard of him! Otherwise the raving indy rock crew - some of whose names youíll recognise [stand up Everett True, Steve Gullick and Stevie Chick] - interview and rave about a wild assortment of unknown and should-be-known-better bands from nowhere. Astonishing, dedicated writing with great photos. If you still think rock&roll might change the world, then Loose Lips is for you; if, like me, you donít, then itís probably still for you - a window onto another world.

Cosí my world is tamer these days, and I rarely venture into smokey underground clubs to have my ears pounded, my sides elbowed or my wallet emptied by the barman. Sad I know, but Paste magazineís success would suggest Iím not alone in enjoying music in the comfort of my own home. I havenít seen this anywhere in the UK except Charring Cross Road Borders, but itís easy to get hold of via the web: check out www.pastemagazine.com and its associated music site. This is kind of indie too, but more oriented toward folk, country, singer-songwriter and rock. They donít avoid name bands - the current issue, number 10, features Franz Ferdinand, Cowboy Junkies and Magnetic Fields - but they also root around and find out new and forgotten, up and coming, names, along with intelligent and wide-ranging reviews and news. Their free CD is actually something Iíve listened to instead of binned, and Iím grateful to have been introduced to the music of Pedro the Lion, a bunch of miseries who make Red House Painters or Mark Eitzel seem upbeat.

Bomb is around a little bit more and is a quarterly magazine with the subheading ĎArt and Culture. Interviewsí. [Well, actually thereís no full stop, they use two colours, but you see what they mean I hope.] My friend Bob in New Hampshire often sends copies over when heís finished with them, and itís not something Iíd necessarily rush out to buy each issue. Sometimes itís just too high-falutiní, but thereís usually something to grab my eye, often a new painter whose work they show, or an interview. This issue itís Howe Gelb [of Giant Sand] who theyíre talking too, and heís always good value. But the ĎLiterary Supplementí is dull as ditchwater, a bunch of slick, clever authors I shall certainly not look out for. But, hey, this one comes out of New York, so self-obsession isnít unusual.

Thereís a different kind of self-obsession running as an undercurrent through Black Clock #1, a magazine published by Cal Arts and edited by Steve Erickson. [Take a look at www.blackclock.org] Erickson I hope you know as the stunning author of several apocalyptic, postmodern, sub-Ballardian/Burroughsian fictions [mainly published by Quartet in the UK] who deserves to be known much better. Here he freely gathers up work by mates such as Nicholas Royle along with MFA students and an intriguing and informing interview with sci-fi writer Samuel Delaney into a oversize A4 paperback tome. The design is bizarre and to my eyes unfriendly and distracting, but delve into the coloured yellow boxes, learn to deal with paragraphs that break of in the middle and carry on in the next column before the bottom of the page, and thereís some classy and exciting stuff: Jonathan Lethem writes about his painter father, Rick Moody offers a bizarre 24-part prose-poem for flagellants, and Bruce Bauman invents a dour Jewish philosopher writing post-holocaust. By Ďself-obsessioní I mean Erickson is the sort of editor who puts together the magazine he wants to read; itís the kind of magazine I like to read too. Iím looking forward to #2 although I canít work out if semi-annually means every six months or every two years!

And finally, The Believer, another appallingly designed magazine, this time from the McSweeneys camp. Thereís something in the American water at the moment I think, that is making designer produce truly dreadful pastiche designs that combine the ďbadĒ - often sourced in the 50s - with the ironic and knowing. If you can get past not wanting to pick up the magazine with its pseudo-woodprint images, and its circus-poster typefaces, of avoiding the coloured page edges as you flick through, then youíll find an astonishing and erudite gathering of reviews [including six one-pagers which are models of brevity and concision], rhetoric and articles. I could do without the one-page comic [but then this is from the company who brought us the truly dreadful McSweeneys 13 comic issue - they have an obsession in that area] and ĎThe Tale of Backwater Spiritualism: Eight Years of Folk in the Age of Psychedelic Rockí, which is done as a box flow-chart, simply seems out of place and doesnít do the subject justice, but otherwise itís great stuff. It was particularly good to find Nick Hornbyís relaxed and warm column about reading, where he lists not only what heís read but what heís bought, an idea I may steal for future Tangents or Stride articles.

So there you go. Something for everyone. Something for the beach, garden, bed or toilet, for the deckchair, plane seat, or armchair. Something for all of you.

© 2004 Rupert Loydell