“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long … and you have burned so very, very brightly.”
Much like the publication it profiles, the 75-minute documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” hits hard right out of the starting gate, but also lives up to Eldon Tyrell’s aforementioned summation of Roy Batty in “Blade Runner.”
Every idea almost inevitably inspires the creation of what the ancient Greeks referred to as its nemesis, and with the coastal and cosmopolitan Rolling Stone making its debut in 1967 under the supervision of such a blandly Wonder-bread wunderkind as Jann Wenner, it’s no wonder that Creem was born in 1969, to give a more insouciant voice to the gritty Midwestern music scene.
Watching the magazine that would become Creem unfold, from the perspectives of the surviving principals involved, reminded me a great deal of 2018’s “A Futile and Stupid Gesture,” a heavily embellished comedic dramatization of the genesis and early years of National Lampoon.
By which I mean, both publications felt like nothing so much as the inmates running the asylum, and their output seemed almost fueled by the hazardous drug use and punishingly dysfunctional internal relationships of their respective editorial staffs.
Moral scolds who would condemn such workplace methods grow frustrated when forced to admit that they can actually effectively generate great material, but those who champion the creative value of such debauchery grow quiet when it’s pointed out that such stress-inducing systems only work until they don’t anymore.
Creem was started by Barry Kramer, a Detroit record store and head shop owner who had achieved only middling success as a concert promoter and band manager, when his raging inferiority complex caused him to lash out when the local alternative paper rejected one of his concert reviews.
Tony Reay, a clerk at Kramer’s record store, stuck around long enough to become the magazine’s first editor and christen it “Creem” after his favorite band, Cream, but it was then-19-year-old Dave Marsh, whom everyone else at the magazine freely conceded had no business working as a writer, and a refugee freelancer from Rolling Stone, named Lester Bangs, who would give Creem its distinctive voice.
Marsh coined the term “punk rock” in a 1971 article he wrote about Question Mark & the Mysterians, while Bangs was fired from Rolling Stone by Wenner for “disrespecting musicians” after penning an especially unkind review of the group Canned Heat.
As editors and reviewers for Creem, both Marsh and Bangs savaged rock stars as often as they lionized them, and butted heads with Kramer, their publisher, as a matter of habit.
Due to the same inferiority complex that even Kramer’s best friends admitted drove him, he was notorious for goading his employees and partners into fights; yet, the in-house conflicts of Creem only made the rock magazine seem all the more like a rock band itself, which is especially true in retrospect, given the glowing plaudits it receives in the documentary from rock legends like Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Michael Stipe.
Of all people, actor Jeff Daniels, who is highly competent but no one’s idea of “rock,” perfectly encapsulates the defiant underdog spirit of Midwestern rock (“You feel like you’re starting out with one, maybe two strikes against you”), and he and Stipe are both hilariously frank about Creem’s appeal to adolescent boys of a certain era.
Because for roughly a dozen years, Creem really did work for what it was … until it didn’t anymore.
The reason you hear so much on the documentary from Marsh and Cameron Crowe, the journalist-turned-filmmaker who was among Creem’s contributors, is because Kramer and Bangs both died of overdoses, in 1981 and ‘82, respectively.
Barry Kramer was 37 when he died, and Lester Bangs was only 33, having also written for The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express and a number of other publications, and earned himself a status as the Pauline Kael of rock criticism.
Creem itself limped along until its final issue in 1989, but the documentary makes clear that its spirit left the building along with Bangs, Kramer and Dave Marsh, who resigned from the magazine at the outset of the 1980s.
Fittingly, rather than end on a maudlin note, “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” wraps with Marsh taking a final potshot at Ted Nugent, which I have to think is what Kramer and Bangs would have wanted.
“Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” is streaming at the Rose Theatre at RoseTheatre.com.
As the PBS pledge drives say, they can’t air the programming that audiences love without support from “viewers like you,” and right now, the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend is facing a similar situation.
Since COVID-19 forced him to close the physical doors of the Rose Theatre and the Starlight Room on March 15, owner Rocky Friedman has been able to cover his fixed expenses by drawing from savings, three loans, one federal grant, four theater grants, temporary rent abatement, numerous donations, movie streaming purchases, and sales of gift cards, memberships and popcorn, even after his application for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan was denied.
“But some of these resources are no longer available, and with no end in sight to our closure, just getting by for the next six months is unlikely,” Friedman wrote in a Sept. 3 statement on the Rose’s website.
Under Washington state’s phased approach for business reopenings, movie theaters can only open in Phase 3, and even then, only at 25% of their seating capacity, which Friedman pointed out would equal 69 people between all three venues of the Rose, the Rosebud and the Starlight.
“Assuming a ‘sell-out’ with that equation, operating expenses would exceed income,” Friedman said. “It’s a no-win scenario.”
So, Friedman has launched a GoFundMe campaign, not just to cover the Rose’s bills through February of 2021, but also to help cover the numerous expenses that will be incurred by its eventual reopening, including an updated air filtration system, touchless sinks, increased capabilities for cashless interactions, Personal Protective Equipment for employees, plexiglass for the concession counters, disinfecting supplies and more.
“It is essential that you, and our staff, be safe and comfortable when the lights go down and the show begins,” Friedman said.
Visit gofundme.com/f/rose-theatre-covid-support-fund to donate or learn more.