Richard speaks to “CTV News at 11:30” anchor Andria Case about television and movies to watch this weekend including the musical drama “The Cuban,” the meta horror film “Random Acts of Violence” and the rock ‘n’ roll documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine.”
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with guest host Matt Harris to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the soulful drama “The Cuban,” the meta horror film “Random Acts of Violence,” the rock ‘n’ roll documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine” and the new Nicolas Cage movie “Primal.”
Like much of the music it chronicled in its 1970s heyday, Creem Magazine was rough n’ rowdy and self-destructive. “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine,” a new documentary, now streaming courtesy of Virtual Cinema, has a close look at the magazine that embodied an irreverent but fervent rock n’ roll attitude. “Nearly fifty years after Creem’s first issue published, it still stands for something,” says JJ Kramer, son of the founding publisher Barry Kramer. “Either you’re in on the joke, or you are the joke.”
Creem began as something different than the scrappy, politically incorrect screed that once so savagely reviewed a Runaways album that Joan Jett stormed the offices looking for revenge and created the term “punk rock.” Under guidance of co-founder Tony Reay the Detroit magazine was conceived as a blues-rock forum but within a few issues Reay was on the curb and publisher Barry Kramer had hired Dave Marsh, a rock n’ roll misfit who brought a blue-collar street cred to the magazine’s content.
A fiercely opinionated champion of the take no prisoners approach to music journalism Marsh became the cornerstone of a gritty group of writers, like Lester Bangs, Jaan Uhelszki and Robert Christgau, who redefined how the music was discussed in the press. “It was like it was written by a bunch on convicts in Joliet State Prison,” says artist and musician Lamar Sorrento.
As a poke in the eye to the staider Rolling Stone, the renegades even subtitled their mag “America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine.”
Their distance from taste makers on the coasts and proximity to Motor City music scene gave them a unique take. Working above a rundown record shop in inner city Detroit, and later on a rural commune, Kramer and Company created music journalism fuelled by passion, drugs and physical disagreements. Fights over content were not uncommon. Envelopes were pushed, breasts were exposed, leading former fan Jeff Daniels to say buying the magazine was like “buying Playboy, you didn’t want your parents to see either one of them.”
The unconventional group advocated for Alice Cooper (despite labelling their debut LP “a waste of plastic.”), MC5 and The Stooges, bands with a similar swagger and anti-commercial instincts as the writers themselves. Members of R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and many others appear in the movie and were fans, and later went on to create idiosyncratic music like the punk, new wave and hard rock they read about in Creem.
The deaths of Kramer and Bangs and the defections of Marsh and Christgau to rival Rolling Stone spelled the end of the mag’s influential run and by 1989 it had been bought and sold, and ultimately shut down, leaving behind yellowing pages of some of the best rock n’ roll writing of the 1970s.
To capture the counter-cultural impact of Creem director Scott Crawford has assembled many of the original players, including the iconoclastic Jaan Uhelszki, one of the first female rock writers and now, one of the co-producers on the film. It’s slickly produced, makes good use of archival footage and zips along at a rapid pace. Perhaps too rapid. Crawford covers two decades of history in under eighty minutes, briskly walking us through the tumultuous timeframe. It is entertaining, particularly for those old enough to have bought the magazine on the stands, but although complete, it feels rushed. This cast of characters feels like each could warrant their own movie, and hell, I’d pay to see a movie about the contentious relationship between Lou Reed and the gonzo Bangs alone.
“Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine” isn’t as rough around the edges as the magazine it documents, but it does display why a scrappy upstart from Detroit was able to make and leave its mark. In the film legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen says that rock ‘n roll is about the freedom to express yourself very loudly. “And I think that’s what Creem did.”
Starting July 31, 2020, support independent Canadian cinemas closed due to COVID-19.
Proceeds from virtual ticket purchases of CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine will help sustain programming and support efforts to reopen these participating theaters: