Entries in fishwrap (5)


December 20, 2011

I haven’t written a short story for a while and tonight I’m in the mood to do so, so that’s what I’m going to do. And there’s nothing you can do about it...so there! (All photos in this post are by David Dalton.)

Last week it was announced that the Beach Boys were going to reunite for a 50th Anniversary tour. I’m a big Beach Boys fan, but I have mixed emotions about it. Both Dennis and Carl Wilson are dead, and to me, they were the heart and soul of the band, much in the way that Keith Moon embodied the true spirit of The Who. One cool thing coming out of this, is that original guitarist, David Marks is going to be part of the band for the tour and I think for the new recording they’re working on. He played guitar and sang on the first four Beach Boys albums and played about 100 shows with them. He quit after he and his parents had several arguments about money with Murry Wilson, Brian, Carl and Dennis’ father who was their manager at the time and an uncontrolled lunatic. I’ve always thought of David Marks as the “Pete Best” of the Beach Boys and it’s nice to see him get a decent payday out of the deal. Maybe they should call the tour: “The David Marks Can Finally Pay Rent Again, Tour!”

This was also the year that they finally released the legendary SMiLE album and sessions. I was happy about this as I’ve been dying to hear the original tapes, put out in a well produced and engineered manner.

Anyway, all this news made me think about the very last issue of fishwrap, which was a magazine version of the aforementioned Beach Boys legendary SMiLE album.
I started writing and publishing my magazine fishwrap in 1994. I’ve written about the magazine before, but it was basically devoted to satirizing and making fun of the world of mainstream magazines. It started out as a 14 page black and white fanzine and eventually grew to a 48 page, glossy magazine with distribution out of San Francisco from BigTop Publishing. The magazine had gotten nice write-ups in the NY Daily News, Spin Magazine, Sassy magazine, NY Post, Men’s Journal, USA Today and my hometown paper, the Peoria Journal Star among others and it had built up a loyal cult following.

Every issue sold between three to five thousand copies and that wasn’t too shabby considering I did the bulk of the writing and my friend Clare did the layouts and we were both working fulltme jobs. I was always hoping that someone would back the idea, put some money behind it and we could take fishwrap to the next level and maybe break even or even—gasp—make money doing it. I had gotten a few meetings, but none of them panned out and by 2001, I was really burned out and was thinking about putting fishwrap to bed for good.

Then September 11th happened and after that, I was totally bummed out and I decided it was time to move on. At first I wasn’t going to do a final issue, but one night in October I was home listening to a bootleg version of SMiLE, by the Beach Boys.
One of my favorite albums of all times is Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.
It’s right up there with Revolver by the Beatles and other classic albums from the sixties. It kind of tanked here in the states, because Capital records didn’t get behind it, but it was huge in England and Paul McCartney has said it was an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The follow up to Pet Sounds was a project that Brian Wilson called, “a teenage symphony to God.”
The working title was, “Dumb Angel” but eventually it was going to be called “SMiLE.” It was really an ambitious project and the songs and sounds were as far away from what the original Beach Boys surf and car songs could be. It was an album that was highly anticipated, but never came out.

Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks were doing a lot of drugs and there was some resistance to the new songs, particularly by Mike Love, who berated Van Dyke Parks so badly, he walked away from the project. Finally, Brian Wilson pretty much had a breakdown and shelved the tapes and retreated to his bedroom. SMiLE never came out till this year, but there’s been plenty of bootlegs of it released and I had one and it's what I was listening to on that fateful night.

About halfway through the album, the lightbulb went off over my head while listening to it and wishing they would’ve released it: “Why not do a magazine version of SMiLE?” SMiLE would finally be released but in magazine form instead of a musical entity. I thought it would be a fun way to end fishwrap and decided to do it.

Instead of myself doing all the writing, I decided to pair up writers and artists and have them take a song from SMiLE and write a story or essay about it and the artist could do a piece of art inspired by the song. Then I’d pair them up in a layout. I decided not to write much myself, but rather act as the “producer” of the magazine and put it all together.
Two people that were key in putting this together were Domenic Priore and Gary “Pig” Gold.
Domenic is a well-known Beach Boys historian and Gary “Pig” Gold is a writer who also played in Endless Summer, Canada's only authorized Beach Boys tribute band. Both of them, especially Domenic had contacts that would prove to be key to this project and led to a happy surprise at the end of it.

Domenic had a slew of emails including two people I was sure I’d never hear back from.
The first was Van Dyke Parks, a legendary musician in his own right and he’s the man who penned lyrics for a good portion of the SMiLE songs. The other was David Leaf, a longtime associate and friend of Brian Wilson as well as one of his managers. Well, I sent off emails to both and was shocked to hear back from both of them within 24 hours!

I had asked David if he thought Brian Wilson would be at all interested in contributing anything to this project and I also asked him if it was okay to do it. He sent me back a nice email, wrote that Brian was busy, but it sounded like an interesting project and wanted to know if I would send him a copy when it was done to show to Brian Wilson. Holy shitballs, Brian Wilson was going to look at it, talk about putting the pressure on!

Shortly after that an email from Van Dyke Parks rolled in.
He said he was too busy to contribute anything, but thought it was a great idea and wished me luck. Never in my life did I ever expect to get an email from Van Dyke Parks, really crazy!

Another person I immediately contacted was my friend David Dalton.
David used to write for Rolling Stone and has written many books including: Faithfull, the Autobiography of Marianne Faithfull, (co-written with Faithfull), El Sid, Mr. Mojo Risin’ and To Hell and Back, Meat Loaf's autobiography (co-written with Meatloaf). I knew that David was friends with Dennis Wilson and I called him and he signed on and wrote a great story about the first time he met Brian Wilson. And as an afterthought he asked if I’d like some photos he took of Brian and the Beach Boys back in the day. And then he told me that some of them had never been published! I had hit the jackpot. (The photos are the same ones used for art in this post.)

And speaking of hitting the jackpot, another contact Domenic had was Frank Holmes, the artist who designed the SMiLE cover. I sent Frank an email and he agreed to do an illustration to accompany Gary “Pig” Gold’s story on the song, “Wonderful.” That was really the cherry on top of the sundae.

Everybody did a great job and I was thrilled with the issue when it came out.
I nervously mailed six copies to David Leaf and anxiously awaited word from him. Part of me thought that maybe he wouldn’t even bother to show Brian, because I know there was always mixed feelings about the album that never came out.
Immediately it started getting attention on the internet and it started selling like crazy.
I was getting emails from people in other countries asking for copies and in the end, Tower Records sold out of three separate orders. It kind of took on a life of its own. One thing that happened was someone put up a website about the magazine without my knowledge, this really cracked me up, a bootleg website devoted to a magazine that was inspired by a bootleg CD. That’s really going full circle!

About two weeks after I had mailed David Leaf’s copies out to California, I got a package in the mail and the return address was from David Leaf. I was curious as to what he was sending me and ripped the package open and I was staring at the back cover of the SMiLE issue of fishwrap. Immediately my paranoia kicked in full blast and I thought of the worst.

“Fuck, this must be his way of saying he hated it,” I thought to myself and breaking out in a sweat.

I flipped the magazine over and there was some writing up top in a black magic marker. After looking at it closer, I realized it said, “Brian Wilson.” I couldn’t believe it and fired off an email and asked him if that was really Brian’s autograph and he wrote back and said it was. He told me Brian liked it and thought the idea and the magazine was really cool. I couldn’t have been happier.

The issue ended up being the best selling issue of all the fishwrap’s. It was wonderful to go out on top. And with a SMiLE.

Special thanks to all who participated in the issue: Domenic Priore, Gary Pig Gold, Jim “Swami” Wombacher, Frank Holmes, David Dalton, Mark Johnson, Frank Scott, Jonas Land, Anissa Mack, Jaime Chirinos and Rich Ruggerio.

Further Reading: Fufkin, Gadfly Online and BrianWilson.com.


Rock, rock and roll,
Plymouth Rock, roll over.

(Surprise link, click on it...I dare you!)


September 13, 2011

A few weeks ago, I went out in search of porno magazines for my Monday “Six Pack” night. Tonight I think I’ll go to a late night magazine and newspaper store and pick up some random magazines and write about them. It’ll take me back to my fishwrap days. I remember back when I was publishing and writing fishwrap, I subscribed to about thirty magazines and would take trips to magazine stores and sometimes buy a pile of around twenty magazines to make fun of. But tonight, it’s off for a six pack of magazines and a bit of a fishwrap flashback.

There's a full moon out tonight. Awoooo!

And we head down Sixth Avenue to get a six pack of magazines. Perfect!

The Universal News Cafe. It's open till midnight and it's loaded with magazines.

See what I mean?

Okay, the magazines have been chosen and rung up, let's go home and take a look at them.

How They Bill Themselves: “The Magazine The Stars Trust.” What that means: It’s ghost written by publicists.
Cover headline: “A Baby At 47.” Wow, that’s one old baby!
Number of Kim Kardashian photos: Seven.
Scary Headline: “Hugh’s Kid-Tossing Workout!” Wow, and we thought dwarf-tossing was scary! Sheesh!

Woman’s World
How They Bill Themselves: “A great week made easy!” What that means: Prozac, Prozac, Prozac!
Cover Story: “Dr. Travis Stork: H2O Dissolves Fat!” Yeah, like I’m going to believe Dr. Seuss’s bastard child about anything!
Number of Kim Kardashian photos: none. But there is one of Angie Harmon, proving that the editor of Woman’s World is 86-years-old.
Article that’s worth buying the magazine for: “Anti-Aging Tricks! Drink Beer To Prevent Alzheimer’s!”
True fact that proves that that article is a lie: I forgot what I was going to type here.

How They Bill Themselves: “Fun With A Purpose.” That’s how I describe masturbation.
Number of Kim Kardashian Photos: None, but there are ten scary drawings of The Timbertoes learning to golf.
A Poem In Highlights That’s a Total Lie:
“My Puppy
By Aileen Fisher

It’s funny,
my puppy
knows just how I feel.

When I’m happy,
he’s happy,
and squirms just like an eel.

It’s funny,
My puppy,
knows such a great deal.”

Uh, I hate to be the one to break it to you, Aileen, but your puppy only knows two things: He’s hungry and he wants to dry-hump your left leg. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

How they bill themselves: “En Su Entrevista Mas Esperada.” Huh?
Cover Story: I’m not sure because I don’t know how to read Spanish, but I think it’s something about how Courtney Love hasn’t aged well.
Number of Kim Kardashian photos: Thirteen. ¡Adiós!

In Touch
Cover Story: “A Wedding To Save The Relationship. Exclusive Photos: Despite Joe’s drunken bullying, Teresa refuses to lose him. Inside their emotional, over-the-top second wedding.” Are you like me right now and are you saying: “Who the fuck are these people and why are they on the cover of a magazine?”
Number of Kim Kardashian photos: Only one. But don’t worry, there’s two of Kourtney, so your $2.99 wasn’t spent in vain.
Photo caption that sums up this magazine: “Anybody got a barf bag?”

Every Day With Rachael Ray

Further reading: Philadelphia City Paper, Chicago Tribune, NY Daily News and New York Press.

You Might Also Like: Hair of the Dog, Sick  as a Dog and How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

I tried to keep her on a short leash,
I tried to calm her down.
I tried to ram her into the ground, yeah.

(Surprise link...click on it...I dare you!)


April 8, 2011

One of the things I like about this blog is it forces me to go to different spots in the city. When I first moved here in 1993 I was running around the city like a Marathon runner gakked to the nines on crystal meth. I love this city and just couldn’t get enough of it. Then after a couple of years I slowed down a little and then when I moved into my apartment on 16th Street pretty much every thing I needed was within a six block radius. I found myself going to the same bar, the same deli, the same diner...well, you get the picture. I had gotten a little jaded and forgot what a great city I was living in. Every year I swore I’d start getting out more and it didn’t happen till last year when I did my 365 Bars blog. I re-discovered the city and decided that my next blog would be running around New York. I just don’t have to go to a bar and drink every night with this one. I could stop and smell the roses and maybe take drugs every now and again. Life is pretty good!

And that leads me up to tonight’s entry. My second entry here at MAD, back in the black and white days...err...nights, was a trip to 53rd and 3rd, a corner immortalized by Dee Dee Ramone on the Ramones first album. Well, Dee Dee’s not the only Ramone in New York City with a corner, on November 30th, 2003 the city of New York officially named the corner of 2nd Street and the Bowery, Joey Ramone Place. I went there back in 2003 and I don’t think I’ve been back since. So let’s go check it out. Hey he, let’s go! (And I know you saw that coming about a three miles away. Gabba gabba hey.)

I had to work a little late tonight, so I'm over here on Fifth trying to hail a cab. It's almost midnight.

This guy crossed two lanes and just about plowed into me. Sheesh! Desperate for a fare, pal? Oh well, he's going our way, let's get in.

And we're off!

And with incredible-like taxi speed we're here! The sign is across the street, let's go check it out.

Okay, here we are at the corner, now where's the Joey Ramone sign, you may be wondering.

It's been stolen so many times by fans, they had to put it up beyond reach. I think they went a little overboard, but I bet Joey would get a kick out of this! Let's try and get a better shot.

And there we go, Joey Ramone Place. The thing about doing these corner stories is once you get the shot, there's not a lot else to do. Oh well, let's wander back towards where I live and take some random photos around the city.

One of my pet peeves, right behind slow-walkers that fan out all over the fucking sidewalk are assholes that bunch up in a group on a sidewalk and block everyone from walking down the street. Don't worry about getting out of my way, assholes, I'll just walk out into the street and almost get hit by a cab again. Jerkoffs!


Speaking of graffiti, here's the infamous Jim Joe tag. This guy leaves his mark all over town.

Wow, thanks for that information! I don't know about you, but I'm guessing the person who made this sign has the last name of Einstein!

Hey, we're not in Flushing, Queens, what's this doing out here?

These two were also admiring the toilet in the trash. We had a nice chat and it turned out they're from Hamburg, Germany and this was their first time in New York. At first they were a little camera shy, but then they loosened up a little and posed for this photo on the street near Broadway.

And then it got really loose and she agreed to hover over the toilet! Good times! Welcome to New York City, ladies!

I stopped and looked at the magazines on display here. Hey, check out the upper right hand corner.

The Ramones! We've come full circle here, so goodnight everybody and see you tomorrow after dark.


Hanging Up On Marky Ramone
In 1995, I decided to upgrade my publication, fishwrap from a 12 page black and white fanzine, to a 48 page magazine with a four color cover. I wanted a theme for the issue and I decided to devote the issue to rock ‘n’ roll magazines. I had gotten to know Bob Guccione, Jr. who was the editor of the highly successful Spin magazine at the time and thought he’d be a good interview. He liked fishwrap and I was pretty sure I could score him for the cover story. Another idea I had was to talk to people in rock ‘n’ roll bands about what they thought of rock ‘n’ roll magazines. I thought I’d call the piece, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Jury.” The only problem was when I went to my Rolodex—yes, Rolodex, this was 1995—and looked under “R” for rock stars it was blank.

While I was wondering how to solve this dilemma, I was listening to Adios Amigos by the Ramones. I had read where this was the last album they were putting out and they were retiring after their last concert tour that year. All of a sudden I decided I wanted to interview one of the Ramones for my rock ‘n’ roll fishwrap. I looked at the back of the CD booklet and in the list of credits it said, “Publicity: ISL Public Relations” and there was a phone number. I walked over to the phone and dialed the number and a woman answered and said: “ISL, can I help you?”
“Uh...hi, um...I’d like to interview a Ramone,” I stupidly said. I hadn’t thought before I dialed and just spit that out. It really sounded dumb and the woman on the other line laughed a little.

“Excuse me?” She said after the chuckle.

“I’m sorry, I publish a magazine and I’m a writer and I’d like to interview one of the Ramones for the next issue,” I said a little more cohesively.

“Oh, sure, hang on a second please,” she replied and I was put on hold.

Now I tensed up, were they summoning a Ramone to do the interview? Did they have the power to produce a Ramone at their beckon call? Gabba gabba hey now!

My questions were answered seconds later. A woman came on the phone and identified herself as Ida Langsam. This was her company and she handled all the publicity for the Ramones. She was really nice and I told her about fishwrap and asked if I could interview Joey and ask him about rock ‘n’ roll magazines. She explained that Joey and Johnny weren’t doing interviews, but I could  have my pick of CJ or Marky.

CJ took  over the bass duties from Dee Dee in 1989 and to be truthful, when Dee Dee quit, I thought it would be the end of the Ramones. But just the opposite happened when their new bassist entered the punk rock quartet. CJ was young, a dyed in the wool...or should I say black leather, Ramones fan. I’ve read in interviews where all the Ramones say he brought a new fire to the band and brought back some of the old spirit. And while he had been in the band for six years back then, Marky was the Ramone I picked to interview.

Marky had a long history with the  Ramones and a lot of people think he’s the original drummer. He wasn’t and all in all, there have been four drummers sitting in the somewhat Spinal Tap like revolving drummers stool. But Marky drummed with them the longest of all four (Clem Burke, the drummer from Blondie only lasted about a week!) so I was thrilled to score an interview with him for fishwrap.

Ida told me that they were out playing shows and that everyday they each got a sheet of what they had to do. Ida said I could call him the next day. Perfect! She instructed me to call the hotel they were staying at and gave me Marky’s room number. She said to call at 5:30 pm sharp and try to keep the interview to between 15 minutes to a half an hour. I told her it wouldn’t take that long and thanked her and promised to send her a couple of copies of the magazine after it was printed.

The next day I was in my apartment and it was just about 5:30 in the afternoon and I was a little nervous. I knew Marky had never heard of my magazine and hoped it wasn’t a drag for him to have to do a phone interview with me.

I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and dialed his number. A guy at the front desk answered, I gave him Marky’s room number and on the second ring he picked it up.

“Hello,” he said in his distinctive Brooklyn-flavored voice.

“Hi, is this Marky?” I asked, even though I knew it was.

“Yeah, speaking,” he replied back.

“Hi Marky, this is Marty Wombacher...”

“Oh yeah, the magazine guy, who do you write for again?”  He asked.

I explained how it was my magazine and it started out as a zine and Marky started asking a lot of questions. He asked me if it was political and I told him it was more on the humorous side and cited the National Lampoon and Spy as influences. He told me he liked that and then he asked me if I knew of a few zines he read and I did and the conversation evolved into talking about See Hear, a magazine and book store in New York that sold lots of zines and writers that we both enjoyed reading. I told him I knew Legs McNeil one of the co-authors of the legendary punk rock book, “Please Kill Me” and Marky asked if I had his phone number and I did. He said he wanted to get in touch with him about writing some liner notes for a CD he was working on, but didn’t have his number out on the road. Before I started digging through the rolodex for Legs’ number, I looked up at the clock. Fuck, twenty minutes had gone by and I didn’t really have anything on tape that was usable for the interview. I hadn’t even asked him about any rock ‘n’ roll magazines!

I gave him Legs’ phone number and asked him what he thought about Rolling Stone and that set him off on a diatribe. He told me he liked some of their political writing but said they were never fair to the Ramones and to punk rock in general. I agreed and he talked about Rolling Stone for a good twenty minutes. Now I was ten minutes over Ida’s deadline and Marky was really on a roll. This guy really liked to talk, but I had to get to my night job soon.

I cut in and asked him what he thought about Spin magazine and that led to another rant. Halfway through I realized I had to leave for work or I was going to be late. I jumped in on Marky’s thoughts about Spin.

“Hey, Listen Marky, I think I’ve got plenty of great stuff here,” I explained, trying to end the conversation, “I really don’t want to take up any more of your time...”

“Don’t worry about it,” Marky said, “I’ve got nothing else to do till the show. I can talk a while longer.”

The only problem was I couldn’t, I had to get to work!

He kept on jabbering away. Twice I tried cutting in and saying I had to go to work, but it’s kind of like he didn’t hear me. This guy really liked to talk!

One of my many little quirks is that I can’t stand being late.
It really stresses me out and can even bring on a panic attack. I realized that even if I left that second I would be late getting to work. I tried in vain to end the conversation, but he kept on talking. The last I heard was him going off on yuppies. I was now officially late for work and was about ready to jump out of my skin knowing this. I had to get going.

So I simply just hung up the phone in the middle of his latest rant and ran to the subway station. I felt bad, but I had to get to work. I imagined he chattered on till he heard a dial tone and then assumed that somehow we had a bad phone connection that ended. He was a nice guy and I hoped he didn’t know that I hung up on him. It was quite rude of me to do, but it sure beat having an anxiety attack over being late for work.

When I finally got to work, Giovanni, the daytime manager was a little pissed. He couldn’t leave till I got there and I was about a half an hour late.

“Where have you been?” he asked gruffly. “You’re never late!”

“I couldn’t get Marky Ramone off the phone,” I shot back.

Giovanni looked at me weird and said, “What?”

“It’s a long story,” I wearily answered, throwing my hands up in the air.

Giovanni patted me on the back and said, “My friend, with you, the story is always long!”

We both laughed and I went to work.

Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey Ramone are all dead now. Marky continues to play music and came out with his own pasta sauce last year. I still work nights and haven’t been late to work since that fateful day in 1995.

Further reading: EV Grieve, The Villager, Grub Street (note the third comment from yours fooly) and ISL Public Relations.

You also might like: Grape Jelly, Slinky and Fred Garvin: Male Prostitute.

Four Ramone Drummers

Jackie is a punk,
Judy is a runt.



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Walking Down Fifth Avenue/fishwrap: The Zine Years @11:02 pm
Fifth Avenue/My Apartment/Union Square

Okay, it’s Tuesday night and that means it’s the night I walk home and write a short story. I thought we’d walk home via Fifth Avenue, because that’s a route I haven’t taken yet on this blog. And so, it’s off we go.

30th and 5th, a street I walked down many times at the 365 blog and the maiden voyage for this one.

A familiar sight as we head homeward bound.

Upcoming joke alert that will only be understood by people I work with and cp: Jesus Christ, it never ends!

I'm not the only one out on the streets with a camera. This is Stanislov who was taking some shots near the Flatiron Building.

Hello, Bongo! They're the ones with the short, fat, hairy legs!

Okay, home sweet home, computer, sweet computer. Last night being on the Upper West Side made me think about when I started my magazine fishwrap. However, it didn't start as a magazine, it started as a zine. Let me tell you all about it.


Fishwrap: The Zine Years

I published, wrote and edited a magazine called, fishwrap, from 1993 to 2000.
It evolved out of a fanzine I started which itself was born out of frustration at trying to get a staff-writing job here in New York City.

When I moved to New York City I got some freelancing writing assignments right off the bat.
However, I soon found out that it’s not so easy to get a staff-writing job. After having interviews at People magazine and Entertainment Weekly and failing to get a job at either one, I aggressively sent out portfolios and writing samples to editors at magazines and writers all over town. The response was as lively and loud as one hand clapping in an empty theater. I got close to a job at New York Newsday after writing three lengthy features for them, but my editor was shocked when I told him I hadn’t gone to college and he stopped communicating with me. After a few months and with my income going in the reverse direction of my expenses—it’s not cheap to live in New York, even if you limit your drinking to six packs of Meister Brau and subsist on a steady diet of macaroni and cheese and hamburger—so the writing was on the wall that soon I would have to get a night job. I was a little depressed, but at least I was in New York City and my writing was getting published.

I remember thumbing through magazines one day and thinking how stupid a lot of the articles were in them. A lot of the writing was just shameless, celebrity ass-kissing. It was that day I decided to do a zine that would be a big “fuck you” to the world of mainstream magazines and publishing.

Zines were big at the time (zine is short for fanzine), although most were published and written by kids decades younger than me. They were usually focused on one thing or subject matter that the publisher was interested and/or obsessed with. I was no different. I wanted to produce a zine that would ridicule all these magazines that refused to hire me. The catch-phrase I always used was, “I was going to bite the hands that refused to feed me.”

I had published and edited a magazine for three years in Peoria, Illinois called, POP, so I was no stranger to the publishing world. I had lost buckets of money on POP and was determined not to do that again. I decided to go the cheap fanzine route and drop it off and mail it to every single editor and publication that refused to hire me. I called my friend Clare who helped me with the art direction and layout of POP, told her my idea and asked if she was interested on working on it with me. Of course, I didn’t have to tell her there would be no pay. She loved the idea and said it sounded like fun. All I needed now was a name for this fanzine. I obsessed over it for a day or two and then it hit me, like so many good ideas, right out of the blue. The name “fishwrap” just popped into my brain.

“Perfect,” I thought.

I called Clare and she loved it. She started working on a logo and some layout and cover ideas and I started writing and coming up with ideas for columns and short feature articles. Within a month the first issue was done. I output it at Kinko’s (I had some problems and couldn’t use Clare’s logo on the first issue, which I always felt bad about) and took the master pages to a cheap copy shop in my neighborhood.

One thing about zines is, you had to be a little off your rocker to publish one and you certainly didn’t do it for the money. There may have been an exception to the rule, but 99% of all fanzines lost money. And unless you had a friend who owned a bookstore, the odds of getting some place to stock it was tough. And making a fanzine was a ton of work. Not only did you have to write everything, you had to lay out the pages, get copies made and then put the fucking things together.

For the first issue of fishwrap, I had to get a long stapler and it took me hours to staple and fold all the pages into separate issues. Finally they were all put together and I was pleased with them. The pages were packed with sarcasm, bitterness and even more sarcasm. Did I mention it was sarcastic?

There was one column called, “Other People’s Mail,” where I answered letters sent in to other magazines; “Page Turning’s” was a two page section that mocked writer’s and the bullshit they wrote, “The Questions Mark The Spot” was a page that made fun of interviewers asking stupid questions and there was a lot of other smartassery stuff packed in those twelve black and white pages. I made fun of writers, edtors and stories in Entertainment Weekly, People, Details, Playboy, Ebony and dozens of other magazines. I was happy with the writing and felt I had found a real “voice” while writing it. It was pretty abrasive, but always done with humor and a sarcastic edge.

I compiled a mailing list of about 150 writers and editors at magazines around town. Anyone who had ever rejected me was on the list, along with editors who had used me for freelance and friends of mine. On top of that I added anyone who I had made fun of in the first issue and picked some random writers and editors from mastheads.

I had mailing lables printed up at Kinko’s (this was pre-home printer days), stuffed the magazines into envelopes, plastered the labels on them and then I set the next day aside for dropping them off all over town. Like I said, this wasn’t an easy thing to do. It took me an entire day, but I got them all dropped off and those that weren’t in Manhattan I mailed. All in all, I think it cost me a couple hundred bucks. The reaction from most people I knew was universal. Everybody thought I was fucking nuts!

The most common comment I got from people was: “You’ll never get hired now.”

My way of thinking was I wasn’t going to get hired anyway, so I might as well tell them what I think of them and their sorry-ass magazines. Years later after fishwrap grew into a 48 page magazine, I told a writer who was interviewing me that fishwrap was kind of like a small child throwing a tantrum. In a way, I was a precursor to Charlie Sheen! I was winning!

I ended up getting a night job at a pre-press service bureau. The good news here was that I could output the master pages for free and the quality was better than Kinko’s. That alone saved me about 75 bucks per issue. Winning! The one thing most zine people had in common was that most of us worked in print shops so we could cut costs on our zines. That was another thing I liked about doing zines, there was a real community of people doing them and I got to know a lot of other zine publishers. Most of them were quirky, eccentric and really interesting people.

I had mainly heard from friends of mine I had mailed it too and was curious as to what the editors and writers thought of the first issue. A friend of mine was the receptionist at Spin and she told me that a lot of the writers there weren’t too thrilled with it. Especially the one’s I had made fun of. The editor of Spin, Bob Guccione, Jr. loved it though and sent me a note saying I was doing a great job with it and he found it hilarious. He told me he was putting me on their comp list and if I wanted to submit freelance ideas I was more than welcome. He told me to send a ptich list of ideas to one of the editors there, Jay Stowe.

The only problem was I had made fun of Jay Stowe in the first issue of fishwrap. I had mocked a review he had written of a Jimi Hendrix tribute album. I sent him a pitch list anyway and it came back almost in about two days (this was pre-email days.) The note he sent me along with my rejected pitch list was simple and to the point. It consisted of two words: “Forget it.” Poof, it looked like I had burnt some bridges!

After I had written and published three issues, I had been in New York for over six months. I kind of thought about stopping the production of fishwrap. It was costing me money and between working fulltime and doing fishwrap, I didn’t have much time to do freelance writing. Although by then, the thrill of a New York byline had long worn off. I had been published in a slew of the weekly papers and in the NY Daily News and Newsday, two of the biggest papers in New York and I wasn’t always happy with the cuts and edits that copy editors made. Sometimes I felt like they had wrecked what I had written, but my byline was there, so it looked like I wrote what the final edtied copy turned out to be.

Truth be told, I was a lot happier losing money on fishwrap.
At least it was all mine, along with Clare’s help in the art direction and page layout and I was proud of it. In the end, I did what I usually do. I just said, “Fuck it,” and kept doing fishwrap and working nights.

I had even gotten it into a store. There was a magazine and book store in the East Village called “See Hear” and they stocked all the best fanzines from all over the world. They didn’t take just any fanzine and I left one with the owner so he could check it out. He called me the next day and said he wanted to stock it and that really made me feel good. Not so much that it was going to be sold somewhere, but the fact he deemed it “See Hear” worthy. That gave me some status in the zine world.

Then one of the highlights of the fishwrap run happened. One of the magazine’s I consistently mocked was Sassy magazine. It was easy fodder and I ridiculed them from the first issue. In actuality, I actually kind of liked Sassy. I had never read it before fishwrap, but since I wanted a variety of magazines to make fun of, I included in the mix. The cool thing about Sassy was, it didn’t talk down to their teen audience and they wrote about things like drugs and birth control, which no other teen magazine would touch.

I had made fun of Sassy in every single issue, so imagine my surprise when I came home one morning after work and got a message from Christina Kelly, who was the managing editor of Sassy. In a voice that sounded like she was crying she said, “Marty, this is Christina from Sassy...why do you keep making fun of us?” Then she laughed and said, “Hey Marty, call me when you get a chance, we all think fishwrap is hilarious here.” She left her number, so I stayed up till ten in the morning and called her.

She was really nice and told me everybody at Sassy loved what I was doing. She said they didn’t know what to think when the first one came out, but after the second issue, they thought what I was doing was funny and much of the time was right on the money as far as my criticisms were concerned. Christina said they were going to make fishwrap the “Zine of the Month” and asked me a few questions. One thing she asked me was how much was a subscription. I told her it was twelve bucks for twelve issues, but that was a lot of money for a teenager. I told her that she could put in there that if anybody wanted a sample copy, I’d send them one for a buck. I didn’t really expect to get any replies, but I was excited to get the press.

All of my friends made fun of me for being excited about being the “Zine of the Month” in Sassy, but I didn’t give a fuck.
It was a national magazine and I was happy they got the joke and liked what I was doing.

I was anxious for the new issue of Sassy to come out and the day that it did, I ripped it open at the store I was in, flipped through it till I found it and there it was. “The Zine of the Month!” They used a cover for art and wrote a positive review of fishwrap, noting the fact that I made fun of Sassy and about every other magazine out there. They included a line saying Sassy readers could order a sample issue for a buck and put my address in there.

I was thrilled and bought six copies. I immediately called Clare and told her I’d send her a couple copies.

The next week letters started showing up in my mailbox. All of them had a dollar in them and most of them had hand written notes, with circles dotting the “i’s.” The average Sassy reader was between 13 and 15-years-old, I was probably older than a lot of their parents. Another Charlie Sheen moment! One letter was in pink magic marker and there was a drawing of a boy with Mickey Mouse ears. Below it, the caption read: “Marty.” Ha! One girl said she couldn’t wait to read fishwrap and asked what grade I was in. That one made me laugh out loud!

When all was said and done, I received over one hundred requests for a sample copy. I thanked all of them in a note when I sent the sample issues out and said if they liked it and wanted a subscription they could send me twelve bucks and I would send them the next twelve issues. I got over fifty subscriptions. Without really trying, I was hurled back into the publishing world.

A couple weeks after Sassy came out, I got a call from a guy who worked for a distribution company called Desert Moon. It seems some girl had pitched a fit in a Barnes and Noble because they didn’t carry fishwrap and she didn’t want to bother sending away for one. Desert Moon specialized in fanzines and the manager called to see if they had fishwrap available for distribution. He told me he’d like to see a sample copy, so I sent him one and got a distribution deal and fishwrap was being sold in stores. Desert Moon turned out to be crooks and burned me for about five hundred bucks, here’s another guy who got stiffed. But the guy who worked there quit and started his own distribution company and I got an even better deal with him and he wasn’t a crook.

After a year, I upped the pages, went with a four color cover and fishwrap morphed into a full blown magazine with national distribution. And yes, even though I swore it would never happen again after POP magazine, I lost buckets of money on the thing. But I loved doing it and how often in life do you get to do something you love?

I published fishwrap for about seven years and we got a lot of press: Spin magazine, NY Daily News, NY Post, Men’s Journal, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today and even my hometown paper the Peoria Journal Star all did positive stories about fishwrap. But my favorite piece of fishwrap press was always that Sassy piece. Some of the girls who subscribed told me they were going to start their own fanzines and I often wonder what they’re doing today.

They probably all have blogs.

Further reading: NY Press, Dan London Lulu Interview, Zits Are Beauty Marks, n+1 and Not Martha.


A time to cast away stones.



Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Walking Home/Michael and Me @11:27 pm

I really enjoyed writing that story about Mr. Bard last week. Last year I didn’t write at all, because between 365 Bars and work, there was not enough time in the day. With MAD, I can do whatever I want, so I’ve decided every Tuesday will be Short Story Night. I’ll snap a few photos on the way home and then write a story when I get there. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen right now.

And we're off.

I've walked by this sign thousands of times by now and the hair part always freaks me out. Someday I'm afraid it's going to say, "Wigs & Hair & Thumbs."

The mannequins in the window always scare me as well, but I can't resist looking at them. It's like when a car crash happens.

Why hello, Justin Bieber. Or are you a lesbian who looks like Justin Bieber? I'll never know as I have to move on.

Where there's smoke, there's fire!

Okay, almost home.

Okay, time to crank this story out.

Michael and Me

When it comes to filmmaker Michael Moore, people usually either love him or hate him. I happen to be a fan of his films and like the guy and not just because I think he’s a fantastic documentarian, but because of something he did for me once. Whenever someone is railing about how they hate Michael Moore, I tell them this story. Not that it would change someone's mind who hate’s Michael Moore’s guts, but just because I’m a motormouth and I like to tell stories. So, there! Here it is.

I think the year would’ve been about 1997 when I was still living on the Upper West Side. I had been publishing my magazine fishwrap for about three and a half years. I was proud of the work I had done with it and the magazine had gotten a decent amount of press through the years. Both the NY Post and the Daily News had written favorably about it, but it also got coverage in the Chicago Tribune, Folio magazine, the NY Press and my favorite piece of press was being the “zine of the month” in Sassy magazine. And I’m not kidding about that either, I made fun of Sassy within fishwrap and I thought it was cool that they got the joke.

The magazine had grown from a 12 page, black and white fanzine, to a 48 page glossy magazine with a four color cover. I got a distribution deal with Big Top publishing and while the print run was small at 5,000 copies, it was still being sold all over the country. And every time I put out an issue I’d lose about a thousand bucks.

I could never sell advertising for the magazine, even though it had gained a cult following. You need big numbers to sell ads and mine were small because I could only afford to pay for the printing of 5,000 magazines. Here’s the way the magazine business works: You print an issue and send them to your distribution company. Then you get your printing bill which usually would have to be paid within 30 to 45 days. The magazine retailed for $4.95, but you don’t get that, the newsstands and book stores get 50 percent of the newsstand sales. And there was nothing you can do about that, without them, no one but your friends would see the magazine. The magazine stays on the stands till the next one goes out. Fishwrap only came out about three times a year because pretty much it was just two of us putting the whole thing together and it’s a lot of work to put together a 48 page magazine with no staff.

I wrote 95 percent of it and my friend Clare was the art director and designed the logo, the covers and laid out most of the pages. When the deadline came close, I’d layout the rest. Then I’d ship the film (yes, this was back in the days when you still used film to print from) to the printer, the printer would send the issues to the distribution company who would ship them to the newsstands and then the newsstands would send back the returns and finally I could get paid for the issues that had been sold. But newsstands take their time to pay, for the same reason Oprah takes a shit on a solid gold, 24-karat toilet. Because they can. So usually it would take you at least a half a year to get your money, and then that didn’t even cover the printing bill.

I had tried to get backing for the magazine and had a business plan, but fishwrap never would’ve been more than a decent little niche magazine and people who back things aren’t usually interested in niche items these days or those days. That’s why slowly but surely everything is starting to suck and look the same, but that’s a whole different story and one I briefly touched on yesterday.

You can’t count on making money off subscriptions and newsstand sales, you have to make it by selling ads. In the seven year run of the magazine I had only been able to sell one successful ad. That was a back cover for Matador records. And they never paid their bill. Why they didn’t pay it is a long story, maybe one I’ll write up next week.

I tried selling ads but was hopeless at it and I barely had time to produce and write the magazine in addition to working my full time job. A rep from Absolut Vodka called me once when USA Today wrote about fishwrap within an article they published about the zine revolution at the time, but when I told him the print run was just 5,000 he told me to call him when it was up to 30,000 and they’d definitely be interested. But I couldn’t print that many without ads. I was stuck in a real catch 22. So I just plundered on and hoped for a miracle.

And that’s when Michael Moore enters the picture.

As I said, the year was 1997 and I was living on the Upper West Side. I was working nights at a pre-press place in midtown and took the subway there every evening. My shift started at 7 pm, so most nights I would head out around 6:15 pm.

I think this was in September of that year and I had an issue of fishwrap in the can. And it was a doozy. I had a cover story with the publisher and editor of High Times and had a great photo of the staff of High Times smoking a joint up on the roof of the building. I decided to make it a drug-themed issue and it was titled the “Just Say Dope” issue. We had some other dope-related stuff in the contents and since High Times had a marijuana foldout every month with the title of “Bud of the Month,” we had our own “Bud of the Month.” Ours was a photo highlighting Bud from “Father Knows Best.” I also had done an oral history of the making of “Please Kill Me” by interviewing the authors, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Legs was one of the first people I had met when I moved here and I loved that book. I thought I had done a good job on the oral history and couldn’t wait to get the issue out. The only problem was money. I didn’t have enough to cover the printing and was saving up so I could get the thing out. It was really frustrating waiting and praying for overtime at work so I could get this issue out.

Anyway, I was heading towards the subway station at 72nd and Amsterdam and I was almost there and looked across the street and there on the corner was Michael Moore talking to some guy. Moore lived on the Upper West Side at the time. I had a bag with some copies of fishwrap in it and really wanted to give him a couple. But I didn’t want to butt in when he was talking to someone. Plus I was running late for work.

“Aw fuck it,” I said under my breath and I walked into the subway. I had my token out (yes, this is back in the days when you still had subway tokens), I looked at it and then said, “Aw fuck it,” again, put the token back in my pocket and walked back out to the street.

Michael Moore was still there, but he was still talking to the guy. I figured I’d give it five minutes and if they were still talking, I’d give it up and go to work. Luckily about three minutes in they shook hands and started walking in opposite directions.

I ran after Michael Moore and when I got about a foot behind him I walked about a block and caught my breath and gained whatever composure I usually have.

I walked beside him and acted surprised when I looked in his direction and said, “Hey, Michael Moore! I’m a big fan!” Little did he know I had been stalking him for the last fifteen minutes.

He smiled and said, “Hey, thanks! I appreciate that.”

“Can I ask you something,” I asked him as we walked down the street. By now I had forgotten all about my job.

He stopped walking and said, “Sure, what’s up?”

“Whatever happened to Ben Hamper?” I questioned. Moore’s face lit up when I asked that. Ben Hamper is shown in the beginning of the movie, “Roger and Me.” He’s a friend of Moore’s and he wrote a great book called “Rivethead,” which was the tale of how he had had a nervous breakdown while working on the line at the GM plant in Flint, before they shut it down.

“You read his book?” Moore asked, squinting his eyes.

“Yeah, I loved it,” I told him, “I can really identify with that guy.”

Now Moore looked a little nervous. “Why, have you had a nervous breakdown?”

I laughed and told him no, but I could identify with him, because I was a writer who worked nights to get by. He asked who I wrote for and I told him I had done freelance writing in the past, but these days I was publishing my own magazine. I told him I knew he started out in print and I really wanted him to have a couple copies. He looked through them and was reading stuff here and there and it was nerve-wracking to have Michael Moore reading my writing. I felt great when a couple times he laughed out loud.

“This is great,” he said smiling while perusing an issue. “So, how’s it going for you?” he asked.

That question unleashed an avalanche of whine. I told him it was horrible. I explained I had gotten a lot of press and had a real loyal cult following, but I lost about a thousand bucks everytime I put one out, how I was working a full time night job, I couldn’t find backing and how I had an issue in the can, but couldn’t afford to have it printed.

When I finished my whine-fest he asked me the following question: “Would three thousand dollars help you get it out?”

I’m not sure, but I bet my mouth went into fly catcher mode as I said, “Well, yeah, that would just about pay for it, why?”

With this he took out a scrap of paper, and wrote a phone number on it and said, “I have a foundation where I give out three thousand dollar grants to filmmakers. You’re not a filmmaker, but I like what you’re doing and want to help you out. Call this number tomorrow and a woman named Melissa will answer. I’ll tell her about you and she’ll take your information. I hope you don’t take this wrong, but I don’t know you and can’t cut you a personal check for three grand. What I’ll do is send it to your printer, if you can give Melissa the information.”

I was stunned. It’s one of the few times in my big mouth life where I was truly speechless.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said taking the piece of paper with the phone number and his email on it. Below that it simply said, “$3,000.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said smiling and smacking me on the shoulder. “Just keep doing the good work!”

“I will,” I promised. “Thank you so much,” I said sticking out my hand.

We shook hands and he took off.

I went in to work and told the story to anyone who would listen and even those that wouldn’t.

That issue came out and since I didn’t have to pay for the printing, I was able to save up some dough to keep the momentum going till 2000 when I pulled the plug on fishwrap when the magazine had run its course.

Michael Moore is still making films and I’m still writing. After all, a promise is a promise.

Further reading: City Paper, Wikipedia, The Gazette.


Now it's time to say, "Goodnight."