Are you ready for some nostalgic "ha-ha's" at my expense? Embarrassing ones? Good. Way back in 1980/81, my 9th grade friend Curtis and I made a Xeroxed cut-and-paste "New Wave" magazine called Propaganda, and gave it away to all of our friends at Clark High School in Plano, Texas (click below to see each page). I had forgotten about it until a few years ago when somebody sent me copies of some of the pages they'd stashed away (which were already copies of copies of copies). The pages were washed out, gritty and hard to decipher, but I definitely remembered the whole thing. Then I forgot about it again. But recently, someone sent me crisp scans from some of the original "master" pages, which look even better than the original photocopies probably did (what is it about Xerox paper that doesn't ever yellow, even after a quarter of a century?) Now, kick and scream as I click and drag you through my cut and paste past...
(click each page for a larger view)
Categorically, it was a "fanzine," but the term "fanzine" hadn't really been coined yet. Original? Kinda-sorta. We got the inspiration from similar homemade punk magazines (of much higher quality) that we had seen in record stores and as freebies in the lobbies of art theaters. We were obviously really into punk and new wave music as a culture (or more honestly, as consumers), and that was pretty much how we defined ourselves back then. We also drew from the cruder-end of magazines like early 80's-era Creem (and even Thrasher and MaximumRock'nRoll, which we never actually saw copies of, but we did see small ads for in the back of Creem and imagined what they must be like). All of it was filtered and regurgitated through our pubertistic-cream-puff gaze. We never hit a bulls-eye on "cool," but our aim was true, and we ventured with the tools we had. Case in point; we really didn't know exactly what the word "propaganda" meant, we just thought it sounded great—and looked neat spelled out in a pointy 'new wave' typeface, hand drawn with magic markers (our editorial aesthetic in a nutshell).
Most of Propaganda was just haphazard cut-outs arranged spastically on the page, or clip art collage for the sake of clip art collage. Every page was an homage to things that we liked. We obviously had a recurring disposition towards the Plasmatics, Divine, the film Times Square, Ronald Reagan (always with a black rectangular box over his eyes—we liked to put black rectangular boxes over everyone's eyes) and, for some reason, the royal marriage of Charles and Diana.
Several of the pages had actual original "articles" written by us (these examples will be excruciatingly obvious). Most of the best pages consisted of little hand-written quips, cartoon bubbles and visual gags laid out amongst thoughtfully arranged collages (like Kurt Schwitters crossed with Mad Magazine through the eyes of Jamie Reid). But some of the "writing" was appropriated in the most numskull way possible; we would just cut out little articles from other publications (or re-type them), glue them on top of a hand-drawn black and white checkered background (or a Bridget Riley-esque pattern Xeroxed from an art book)—and voila—it instantly became our creation! Plagiarism? Appropriation? Stealing? The terms meant nothing to us for no other reason than the fact that we didn't know either or. Besides, even if we didn't know what those terms meant—we liked them because they sounded like "crimes." And after all, Propaganda was our underground press, and terribly, terribly important. We were magazine editors of the highest order! It was a call to arms!
What were we rallying about exactly? Oh... lots of important issues! Like the fact that Wendy O. Williams had been on Solid Gold recently and "...she is so ohmygod! Have you seen her taped boobs!!?" To us, Dale Bozzio was an icon of rebellion. The word "grody" was a dead-serious adjective. We lived in a sparse suburb in the middle of nowhere. It was the 80's. We were thirteen! There wasn't much to stand up to, but posing felt really good. So why not?
Growing up in Plano, Texas (when the city was still in it's infancy) was always a cultural treasure hunt. Plano was a series of "sprawl" patterned neighborhoods spread across a flat, tree-less, sun-drenched expanse—dotted by the occasional strip mall at an intersection. Clusters of neighborhoods and strip malls were erratically alternated by huge expanses of undeveloped nothing, flat fields which sometimes already had grids of white concrete streets, alley and drainage-sewers built into them awaiting houses. Clark High School had literally opened the year before we began attending. And the "big" local indoor mall (Collin Creek Mall) and the local library (L.E.R. Schimelpfenig Library) opened the same year my family moved into the neighborhood. Curtis and I used to ride our 10-speed bikes to the mall and go to the record store, which had a very small "imports" section at the back. Back then, the "imports" section at a record store used to stock bands from overseas, consisting mostly of new wave and punk acts from England, always wrapped in loose plastic sleeves because the distribution didn't call for shrink wrap. Anything else too "odd" to be available domestically, like strange synth records by Tomita or even the soundtrack to the French film Diva, got lumped in there. Domestic acts on independent labels were put in the "imports" section by the store's staff because there was nowhere else for them; the occasional weird record from New York (acts like Y Pants), or even hardcore 7" singles from Los Angeles (which were our shocking first introductions to labels like Alternative Tentacles and SST), and even stuff from the Ralph Records label in San Francisco all got thrown in. Because the store knew that (the few) people who bought records in this lonely section liked similar kinds of music, domestic major label acts of any sort that were even casually associated with the genre (from Toni Basil to Pere Ubu) had their own additional separate cross-sections in there as well. How big was the "imports" section? About four album covers tall and four wide, laid out in a kind of descending stair pattern. The section held about 50 records (maybe) when it was full. Since sales were almost nil, the store would usually only stock one of each item, which would usually just sit there for months until they were moved to the cut-out bin. We would go into the store several times a week, and had the section practically memorized (it acted more like an art museum than a music section to us, with repeated visits to look at the 'paintings' that were the covers). The album covers that were the most (shallowly) shocking or (superficially) bizarre always got the most attention. We would just study the covers at length while in the store, then imagine what they sounded like, or maybe read about them in the odd issue of Creem while in the bookstore next door. We barely had enough money to buy anything, purchasing just one album was a major financial grappling requiring lots of crumpled-up dollar bills and counted-out change tossed on the glass counter in front of an annoyed clerk. The clerks at the store obviously got to know us, and would play many of the records for us on request—and we prided ourselves on knowing more about the artists than they did, even if we hadn't heard them. This "imports" section at the record store in this town in the middle of nowhere wasn't much, but it was all we had. It was our cultural landscape. We had no concept of what was "cool" and what wasn't, what was "real" and what was fake - and it didn't matter. The Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables LP was as important an artistic statement as Total Coelo's I Eat Cannibals 12" single. There was no distinction. It was one, flat, even playing field. As the years would go on and we continued along the same arty paths, snobbery and elitism set in and we understood beyond a shadow of a doubt what was "cool" and what wasn't. But for that brief moment in time it was one trouble-free, blissfully crass candyland.
While looking at the pages of our fanzine, I see we were familiar with art movements and figures from important moments in the 20th century. Despite our hopelessly naive take on what revolutionary music was and what had happened in music before 1980, somehow bits and piece of modern art had sunk in. We knew who the Futurists and Dadaists were, we obviously could identify characters from the Warhol scene, and even seemed to be fans of Chris Burden and his 1971 performance piece Shoot. This exposure was undoubtedly not learned from Mrs. Bunn's 4th period art class at Clark High School—but from gargantuan books on modern art history that we checked out from Schimelpfenig Library. I remember us wanting to check out these heavy tomes intently because we noticed, while giggling and leafing through them in the never-crowded library's art section, that they contained extensive descriptions and pictures of the "avant garde" through the ages; like photographs documenting performance-art "happenings" where naked hippies covered in spaghetti made love on top of Volkswagens in front of a seated 60's audience (what kid wouldn't want to take that straight home and pour his eyeballs over every detail?) I also remember checking out Warhol's book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) from my library repeatedly, which you can see quoted (incorrectly) on some of these pages. Our familiarity with the Andy Warhol crowd was learned mostly through Jean Stein and George Plimpton's graphically detailed Edie: An American Biography, which my mother surprisingly bought for me when she saw me leafing through a copy in a book store, probably because she thought the cover looked nice, and was interested in getting me to read anything. Boy was I ever.
We also seemed to have a general knowledge about outsider films which, again, was gained from a book about them. The book was Danny Peary's one-of-a-kind Cult Movies published in 1981 (I think Curtis received a copy for Christmas that year, he was the initial film buff between us). Some of the photos in this fanzine are straight from his well-worn copy. There are also a lot of little graphics and short descriptions of films like Ciao! Manhattan, Christiane F., Rock and Roll High School and others. These are cut out from the monthly schedules of a fantastic repertory theater that existed then in Dallas called The Granada (it's still there, now a music venue). They used to show excellent double features that changed every few days, and would put out schedule calendars which were actually huge, two-color fold-out posters that graphed out the month into days and had cut-out pictures and long descriptions and reviews of each film within the boxes of the days they were showing. The Granada was way too far to get to on our bikes, but we collected the calendars from a comic book store (called Remember When) located a few towns over that stocked them. We hung them proudly on our walls and studied them at length. Had we seen any of these films? No, but we knew allllll about them.
In particular, we were obsessed with Alan Moyle's film Times Square. We dreamed of running away to New York and living in a warehouse and becoming notoriously famous just like the The Sleez Sisters. One day Curtis and I wore trash bags and square black-out eye make-up to school. We both had the soundtrack memorized and, in a weird move, Curtis actually had a recording of the audio only of the entire film, on two sides of a 110 minute cassette (I think his sister made it for him with a tape recorder placed in front of the TV during a late night with HBO—this was obviously before people had VCRs). So we would walk around our neighborhood with the unedited, second-generation sound of the film blasting distortedly out of a hand-held Radio Shack tape recorder at full volume like a jam box, thinking we were blowing the minds of people who were out watering their lawns. We also had audio cassettes of Polyester, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, for some reason, Louis Malle's Atlantic City.
Some of the clip art comes from a mail order catalogue called Punks 'n Mods, from a company based in Los Angeles. I remember being able to send away for it for free, via a little ad in the back of Creem. They mail-ordered stuff like t-shirts, bondage pants, zipper vests, badges, wrap-around sunglasses, pointy Teddy shoes and studded bracelets. We used to get the catalogues in the mail and ravenously pour over every inch of them (to this day I still have a small collection of buttons I ordered from them, tucked away in a little box in my closet). The Punks 'n Mods catalogues were nicely put together works of art unto themselves; humorous, high quality Xerox jobs that used cut-out heads and figures to model the clothes and stuff. Page 15 of our fanzine is made up entirely from a cut-up copy of Punks 'n Mods.
Also, our fanzine contains advertisements from early-era Dallas record stores VVV and also Bill's Records (which years later I would become an employee of), just cut out of other papers and pasted into our pages.
A bit of high school "clique" reference explaining: obviously all high schools in America have different names for certain cliques, like the "jocks" or the "stoners" or the "trenchcoat mafia" or whatever. In our school at that time, the (forever despised) cheerleader/jock/school-spirit crowd were called "socials." You'll also see we refer to "ropers" a lot, which was a clique that was probably Texas-centic (or midwest U.S.-centric). This was the large group of kids in the Future Farmers of America school path program, which put them through classes on agriculture, farm animal care, crop sale economics, etc., in addition to the regular school stuff. They all dressed the same; jeans, cowboy boots, western shirts, snake skin belts with huuuuuge silver and pearl belt buckles with designs in them, fancy cowboy hats (which they couldn't wear in class) and denim jackets (wool-lined in the winter) that had the huge official F.F.A. logo patch sewn onto the center of the back. Male and female dress amongst them was nearly identical. They also all used chewing tobacco, even some of the girls—and had permanent rings worn in one back pocket of their jeans from the round cans of Skoal that they always kept there. Some of them carried a rope lasso looped to the side of their belt, and at the beginning of the first year (which was our actual school's second year in existence) they carried elaborate pocket knives—which were quickly banned. They would drive around in pick-up trucks blasting country music. We used to laugh about them (never to their faces), but looking back I remember them as being, at least appearance-wise, some of the most romantically frocked and brandished kids at the school. True Texan peacocks.
What clique did we belong to? Outsiders, I guess. Not dull enough to be pawns, but just odd enough to "get noticed." Actually we were kind of popular only because lots of people knew me and my friends at school as the token "gay guys" (a boy coming to school in a black trash bag with green sparkle spray in his hair doesn't get him invited to the Sadie Hawkins Dance—trust me). Oddly, we hardly ever got harassed in school for our fashion-y, drama-y, super gay behavior. Our school was actually a rather peaceful place, fights and scuffles were rare. Everyone was trying to act mature because we were nearing senior high, but Plano was so big that 9th-10 and 11th-12th grades were separated into totally different schools (of which there were several pairs), so we were basically still in junior high. I think the actual reason was because the town and school was so brand new that everybody was a wide-eyed newbie. Long-time clans, year-to-year animosities and turf wars hadn't had time to develop.
Was there any "fallout" the day we debuted Propaganda at school? Earlier in the week Curtis' mother was very kind in offering to make copies for us at her workplace (a psychiatrist's office). We probably ended up with about 50 copies which we stood in the halls with one morning, red-faced with adrenaline, frantically handing them out to anyone grabbing. They were gone in minutes... our sinister, nerdy creation spread throughout the school's population, no doubt already sowing seeds of dissent and warping the minds of people we didn't even know—all before the day had even started! I remember it being quite a rush. Throughout the day we kept finding copies tossed in hallway trash cans, and the occasional copy would breeze by our gaze in the hall, tucked under someone's arm. One stoner girl near the smoking area at lunch held up a copy at us and yelled "You look stupid!" (huh?) My art teacher Mrs. Bunn said something like "Mark you should put this in yer pert-few-lio!" Two separate groups of students told us that the teacher in their class had "confiscated" their copies, and the faculty hunt was on to see who was distributing copies "...of a book with nazi women's boobs in it" ...but I think they were just caught up in the moment. At one point in the day a very tall roper, who I suspect had been held back a year or two, started walking along beside me and a friend in the crowded hallway, holding a copy in front of my face and pointing to a picture of Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver on the page (that we had referred to as a 'roper'), grinning with goofy menace and inquiring "Did you make this? I'm a roper and I don't have a mohawk, 'cause you know why? Guys with mohawks are FAGS!" then throwing it on the ground and stomping on it as my friend and I walked briskly along, staring stone-faced forward with our textbooks to one hip, absolutely rebuttal-less. People seemed to notice the very few blurry pairs of breasts in the magazine more than anything else.
My parents on the other hand; my mother breezed through it and thought it was "just great," but I have the vivid memory of my father standing in our foyer looking through the pages with an eventual stroke-red face, barking "I'm not done looking at the whole thing yet" through arched eyebrows when I squeekily asked him what he thought of it. Minutes later we had a "family meeting" and he told me that this kind of thing was "not what this family is about." He was particularly angry about the page with the song lyrics about JFK's assassination and said it was horrible that we were mocking "one of the great leaders of our country." He asked me to call Curtis and figure out who we had given copies to at school so we could get them back and throw them all away.
I think many of the later pages in the issue may be strays that were done later, as worked on for a planned Propaganda #2 that never happened. I'm pretty sure the page with Dale Bozzio and Susan Sarandon driving the pick-up truck was supposed to be the second issue's cover. I also still think there are some missing pages. The end of the issue also includes a really embarrassing invitation for a "punk" party that I had at my house, and that I remember my parents quietly chaperoning from their bedroom (obviously channeling my inner-Marilyn Kagan from Foxes). Oh Jesus.
Actually, the pages that I received years ago that were copies of copies of copies, which I found were hopelessly washed out. When I was scanning them I did the best I could to adjust the contrast so they would at least be legible. Eventually on a few of these pages, I actually re-typed the text in Photoshop (courier) and replaced it on the page, without changing the wording one iota (horrid spelling mistakes and overuse-of-exclamation-marks included). Hey, if George Lucas can spend a billion dollars on CGI animation to make his late 70's films look more "current" with his 90's sequels—I think I'm allowed to spend a few minutes in Photoshop to make my 80's homemade Xerox new wave fanzine from the 9th grade look at least half-way legible for the internet. You'll obviously be able to spot the difference between these pages and the ones that were scans from the masters.
My consensus? Our Propaganda magazine project was moronic—cheap thrills for vulgar sissies—but it was nature's way. We were pinko commie square pegs. Thank god I got copies of it, because I might have never remembered the whole thing. I could lie and say that when I saw these pages I rolled with nostalgic laughter and was embarrassed in the warmest way possible. But when I saw them all I just stared blank-faced, shuffling through each page, emotionally zombified. My embarrassment at them mixed with the nostalgia, and flat-lined my brain into a kind of "memory lane ennui," if there is such a thing. But I guess that's what this is. It's not a stroll down memory lane—but a late-night brisk walk through memory lane's back alley, sneaking over it's neighbor's fence, across it's empty parking lot, and rummaging through it's dumpsters.