I wrote for zines for a little while before I wound up here. I like zines. I have a sickening amount of them in various places in my house. I like that your hands are black when you finish reading one that’s newsprint, I like that no one with a remotely open mind has ever written one, I like that usually a few letters get chewed off by the margins, I like that I can see where the glue that holds the text blocks down has smeared the back ground or the borders, I like that almost no one realizes or cares that you have to do some footwork to get a color picture that is dark to convert successfully to black and white and be visible as something other than a blob, and most of all I like that they’re a labor of love that usually results in the maker having a daunting xerography debt that is somehow justified by the finished product and the dialogue, friendships, and experiences that result from it. I have been relatively unfortunate when it’s come to working for zinesters, but my love for the art form persists…somehow. It probably has something to do with my commercial graphics/printing degree.
But Zines are a thing of the past for most people. Anyone can get some opinions and thoughts together, open a WordPress account and through some clever social networking, they can build a following that exceeds the wildest dreams of any of their newsprint predecessors. Sad but true. It’s just one more case of the internet making the world smaller and taking some of the mystery out of the underground. I like the access aspect of that, I really miss the mystery.
But I’m rambling. I’m sorry.
What my intention was with this was to tell a story about one of the zines I wrote for and the characters that I met through it. The names are changed to protect the innocent and the guilty…and me from legal recourse.
A regular customer of mine dropped off a giant stack of this zine at my store. I looked at the cover and saw artwork that resembled Conan the Barbarian as drawn by Beavis and Butthead. I showed it to a co-worker. We laughed and decided that it belonged on the back of the toilet so we could check out the clearly terrible writing inside. And it was terrible. My customer wrote a short story for it, which was well written- and that was the only highlight. I can’t knock her input. When I talked to her again she mentioned that the zine needed people to review CDs and I should email Rob, the guy who put it all together. I said I’d think about it. I thought about it for probably a month and decided to give it a go. What the hell? I get free CDs and all I have to do is write a paragraph detailing if it was great or garbage. Why not?
Rob emails me back 4 days later, unloading all this spiel about the “ideology and greater purpose” of the zine. I can’t think of another thing I’ve ever read that I mentally said “whatever” to more than that email. He asked at the very bottom of this doctoral thesis on the deeper devices and intent of a music zine what kind of stuff I’d be interested in doing and how much I’d want to do it. I said I was game for about anything he’d send (mistake) and 25 bucks a piece would be fine (also a mistake). He agreed in the next email, 3 days later. Rob was horrible at responding to anything, but you had better respond to him in an hour if he sent you anything or you’d get emails asking about the emails that asked about the other email that he initially sent to ask about an email. My customer warned me after I’d been “hired” to never give Rob my phone number unless I wanted to get calls at all hours of the night. I had already given him my number. (BIG mistake).
Rob calls me at 1am on a Monday soon after this. He wants to know how I’d feel about interviewing someone. Through the anger and Tylenol PM induced fog, I said I would do it, but I wanted to know who it was. He tells me it’s something like Lord Abaddon Von Van Der Satan of the Ordo Templis Infernicus. I laughed. He didn’t. I asked what kind of band the Ordo Templis Infernicus was. They aren’t a band. They are an occult lodge and his Lordship was the top dog over there and it was an important interview and a feature in the next issue. I laughed. He didn’t. I just told him that I wasn’t doing that one and I’d just wait for the first box of CDs to arrive and that I’d gladly interview musicians, and only musicians. He said ok. I asked him to call me before midnight next time, which he promptly forgot about or entirely ignored.
The first box of CDs arrives. It smells from the outside like it contains 23,000 Marlboro Red cigarette butts and a gallon jug of cat urine. I open it to find that the inside smells like 230,000 Marlboro Red cigarette butts and 55 gallons of cat urine and contains only 3 CDs. The box was big enough to have contained 3 pairs of combat boots. I listened to all the CDs, though I couldn’t review any of them because they were labeled in crazy black metal lettering and in Vietnamese. I figured out one was named Wolf something and another was something Frost. I emailed Rob about the names of the discs, he got back to me a few days later about it. This box was even more remarkable for having a 25 dollar check in it as an advance on the reviews. This was effectively the very last check I’d ever receive from Rob, everything else was promises.
A few days after I finished the contents of that box, Rob calls me at 1am. He informs me that he’s being stalked by a psychic vampire and that he thinks his ex-girlfriend has cursed him using the Necronomicon. I laughed. He didn’t. I told him that the Necronomicon doesn’t exist, it’s just something that HP Lovecraft thought up as a plot device for his stories. He swore it did exist and his ex had it. I told him that if psychic vampires exist, he should try to surround himself with more positive people. He said he’d seen its dark shadow leap from his window one night, taking all of his energy with it and leaving him sick for days. “Goodbye, Rob” was the next thing out of my mouth. I stayed awake for a few moments trying to wrap my head around what kind of nut job goth kid I just signed up to do reviews for. I emailed my customer/friend who informed me Rob wasn’t a nut job goth kid. He was a nut job 45-year-old. I laughed. She didn’t. She did, however, remind me that she warned me not to give out my number. I told her that warning was late the first time. She said “May God have mercy on your poor soul, I am sorry”. She quit working for Rob a week later over unpaid work.
A month, maybe 2 goes by. No contact with Rob. No emails, no phone calls. Nothing. I figured I was rid of him and his stupid Zine. I checked my MySpace for the first time in 6 months and there were nothing but messages from him in my inbox. I deleted them all. He calls me out of the blue a few weeks later. “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get hold of you for months! I sent messages to your MySpace and you never replied!” I asked if he had called. He said no. I asked if he emailed me. He said no. I asked why he’d pass over all those very good, solid, viable forms of contact for MySpace. He says “EVERYONE uses MySpace!”. It was 2010, no one used MySpace except lame garage bands,Chris Hanson from To Catch a Predator, and the predators he was trying to catch….AND Rob. He asks for my home address to send me a new package of CDs and the Zines he just printed up with my first 3 reviews in it. I gave him my store address. No way I’m giving that guy my home address.
Box arrives. 572,000 Marlboro Red butts, 110 gallons of cat urine, 2 rotten vegetables and hint of Pinesol. 23 CD’s, 2 DVD’s, 20 copies of the Zine and a note explaining that he couldn’t pay me for the reviews from the last issue and he’d make it up to me. It threw up all sorts of bright and obvious red flags, but I understood how Zines operated and the fact that I was getting paid at all was impressive. I knocked out the reviews in a few afternoons, sent them off, and, in that email, told him I was out and that he could just sent me a money order for the balance he owed. I was happy to be rid of the whole thing. If I got my check, I’d call it a gain. Otherwise, I’d write it off as a gross waste of my time.
9pm the day I sent the email, Rob calls. He’s crying. Dude tells me that I was the last writer he had and his only friend. This is a strange situation to be put in. I’m a pretty friendly guy for the most part and I understand what lonely feels like: it sucks and it’s not a place where your mind fires on all cylinders and irrational thoughts can seem very rational as they beat around in your skull. I knew he was kind of out there before, so he might be on the edge of hurting himself or worse, somebody else that he has projected the possession some imaginary “occult power” on to .He mentions the psychic vampire, the curse and how maybe if he dies he will be rid of them. I tried to talk him off the ledge, he kinda sniffles and thanks me for taking the time to talk to him while he’s having a hard time. He then says “So, I guess you’ll write for the next issue?” I was furious. He basically tried to pretend to be suicidal to get me to write for his photo copied vanity project about witches, wildebeests, wizards, Satan, metal, techno, sadomasochism and the Simpsons. I tell him not just no but hell no and not to publish what I had already sent. I hang up. This was the last contact with Rob.
Over the next 3 months I got 2 more boxes that each smelled worse than the one before it. I was waiting for the Van Gogh box with an ear or a finger or something in it. I snagged the CDs out of them, dumped the boxes in the trash, and just blew it off. I guess he figured if he kept sending stuff, I’d feel bad and write it up anyway. If he hadn’t pulled his suicide trick, I might have. I never saw another cent. I never heard another word from Rob or anyone else associated with the zine. I’m sure I’ve got a MySpace inbox full of “Dude, what gives!” messages from him. I never met in person, and it’s a good thing I didn’t. If I had, it would have shattered my image of this 45-year-old dude with a quickly receding hairline, in a Type O Negative shirt and a poorly distributed mustache, referring to himself as the Dungeon Master General, while sorting through his giant black leather fanny pack for his lighter.
Despite my rough experience with Rob, I encourage all fans of all music- or anything at all, really- become the media. Make your voice known, make your mark. You may not get to write for one of the big newsstand magazines or get to host a show on VH1 Classic, but you’ll have your say. You’ll get to be a vocal advocate for what matters to you. No one speaks for you as an individual better than you do. Do it in print, do it on the internet, or do it on the stage. Let your story be told. If Rob could get it moving, so can you. Metal D is the product of a similar dream. I’m happy to be even a small part of that. If you are already writing a blog, a zine, or whatever- post your links in the comments, I’d be happy to see what you’ve got going on and I know I won’t be the only one who checks all the links out.