The Untold History of Zines…. Julee Peezlee on McJob

In an attempt to better document the little sliver of the American underground press that worked its way into my heart in the early ’90s, I’ve given myself the task of reaching out to all of those former zine publishers that I know, and asking them about their motivations and experiences. Today’s interview is with Julee Peezlee, the woman behind “the zine for the disenchanted wage slave – overworked, underpaid and bored to death” – McJob.

JuleePeezlee

MARK: Let’s start at the beginning… Do you remember the first zine you ever read?

JULEE: This is a hard one. I think it might be the zine that my friend Mark Brooks was doing when I met him as a freshman in college. He would go to Kinko’s and make it, and I was never the same again after seeing how easy it was to self-publish… This would have been 1988.

MARK: Where did you go to college?

JULEE: University of Colorado, Boulder.

MARK: Were you born in Colorado?

JULEE: I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in Denver. I moved to Boulder for college and lived there a few years after graduating.

MARK: And what was Mark’s zine about? Do you remember?

JULEE: It was a comic book called “Mongo Boy.” It was little… like a few pages long, and about an eighth-of-a-sheet-of-paper in size.

MARK: Was McJob your first foray into publishing, or were there other publications that preceded it?

JULEE: There were many other zines. I published several chapbooks, art zines, copier manipulation pieces under the name “Dyslexic.”

MARK: And this all started in ‘88, right after being exposed to your friend’s zine?

mcjob4JULEE: I think I was self-publishing by 1989, and by 1990 I’d sent a few things out to Factsheet Five.

MARK: Why did you choose to operate under the name Dyslexic? Are you, in fact, dyslexic?

JULEE: No, I’m not at all dyslexic. And I can’t for the life of me remember how I came up with that name. I’m going to say that maybe the word just sounded cool.

MARK: Thematically speaking, what kinds of material were you dealing with in those early forays in the underground press? Was there, for instance, a political motivation of some kind? Were you rebelling against something in particular?

JULEE: I just wanted to do something very different from the zines I saw in Factsheet Five. My first zine was called “No Poetry.” I called it that because I found that most zines included at least one bad poem. I was an art major in college at the time, so my motivation was an outlet for my art. The cut-and-paste xerox art medium was new at the time, so I was experimenting with that. Xeroxing one piece over and over to get an effect. Cutting, pasting, collaging, and then mass-producing through xerox. The content was secondary. With McJob, the content was primary, and the medium was secondary.

MARK: Did you make that shift consciously?

JULEE: I think McJob came about after I had more exposure to Factsheet Five and the “zine explosion” at the time. I wanted to get in on the zine train and what better way than to vent about my miserable job, and get others to do it too.

MARK: Not too long ago, I was interviewing Greg Hischak about the evolution of his zine Farm Pulp, and, when I asked him about making the transition from found text to his own writing, he said that it was surprisingly easy, due in part to the relative anonymity inherent in the format. Did you find the same thing? Was it easy for your start including your own voice?

JULEE: Yes… I agree that the anonymity was key. I’ve always been a better writer than speaker, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to lay out a zine, copy it, and send it to people. Before the internet, that was extremely novel.

Peezlee90b2MARK: When did you release the first issue of McJob?

JULEE: Hmmmm… 1993?

MARK: For folks who may not have ever seen an issue of McJob, how would you describe it in six words?

JULEE: Dissatisfied, low-wage workers vent their stories.

MARK: Now, what if I were to give you unlimited words?

JULEE: That makes my brain explode.

MARK: And what, if you recall, were you thinking when you launched McJob? Did it occur to you that, after exploring different ideas under the Dyslexic banner, that you’d hit upon an idea that needed to be nurtured and explored in more depth?

JULEE: Yes. I was just tired of working at humiliating, low-wage jobs. I felt I was smarter than that, and yet I wasn’t able to get a job that I liked. The quintessential art student dilemma. I just wanted to be paid to do my art, but of course that’s unrealistic for a college freshman just starting out. So I collected other people’s stories as a way of dealing with the anger. Also, I was interested in writing, and it was a vehicle to do my own writing. I think I said in an interview at the time that, as a shy woman, it was difficult for me to express myself verbally in conversation. Other opinions would drown me out. So McJob was my way of having a voice and saying, “fuck you”.

MARK: And was it liberating? Did you accomplish what you’d set out to do?

JULEE: Yes, for a few issues. Then I got bored of it. It became a chore, work. I guess I took it as far as I could for myself.

MARK: Do you remember the moment you decided to call it quits?

JULEE: After the last issue of the zine came out, I was contacted by a literary agent in New York City… Or did I contact her? I can’t remember… Anyway, with her help, I put together a very serious book proposal to make McJob into a published book with glossy cover, etc. I spent a good six months researching how to write a book proposal, organizing the outline, writing the proposal itself and tweaking it until it was perfect. The literary agent sent it around to six major publishers (Avon Books, Simon & Schuster, Hyperion, Random House, Thomas Dunne Books, and Bantam Dell). It was rejected across the board. My dreams of being a published author, working in my pajamas from home, and going on glamourous book tours were squashed. Soon after, I completely lost interest in the whole McJob thing. This was 1999.

MARK: Was McJob your last zine, or did other self-publishing projects follow it?

JULEE: I think McJob was the last self-publishing I did.

MARK: Let’s talk about jobs. What was the first job you ever held?

JULEE: Babysitting. Then, starting when I was 16, I worked in one-hour photo labs. I did that for many years.

MARK: Did you ever publish photos that came through your lab?

JULEE: No, but I printed out many photos of my art for myself, and sometimes inserted them into my zines for color and effect.

MARK: Speaking of workplace discounts, did you ever do a stint at Kinko’s?

JULEE: I didn’t. But my friend worked the nightshift at the Boulder Kinko’s when I was in college, and he’d let me have full reign of all the copiers for free while he took a nap in the back. I would even help a few customers to give him a break. Anything for free color copies! They were like a dollar each back then!

MARK: I heard, several years ago, that Kinko’s had started cracking down in a big way, in an attempt to ferret out the self-publishers on staff. It got to the point, from what I understand, that they began weighing their waste paper in hopes of discovering when good copies were leaving their stores without being charged for. Back in the day, though, it was kind of awesome. Kinko’s really (unknowingly) started a revolution.

JULEE: Weighing trash baskets! Ha! I’d never heard of that but I wouldn’t be surprised. They really did enable the copier revolution. And when color copiers came out, I went crazy. I remember laying on the top of machine in the middle of the night when no one was there xeroxing my yellow and green colored hair. Whenever I would get a new shade of hair color, I’d return for another session.

MARK: How did McJob evolve over time, both physically and content-wise?

JULEE: I think it pretty much stayed the same format. I only put out four issues. I eventually just got bored of collecting and publishing other people’s work stories. Other zines were doing it better and were more politically motivated. I’ve never been very politically engaged or activist-minded.

MARK: Are you referring to Jeff “Keffo” Kelly’s Temp Slave, for instance?

JULEE: Yes. I remember liking that one.

MARK: So, you weren’t looking to start a revolution? Did you just want to vent?

JULEE: Nope, no revolutionaries here. Just honing my writing skills, following the “write what you know” thing.

MARK: What was Julee Peezlee like as a kid? Were there warning signs early on that she’d turn to the alternative press?

LittlePeezlee2JULEE: Haha! I guess I was a smart, shy kid. Always got good grades and liked art and animals. I was the only child of an independent, single mom so that probably influenced me to be DIY.

MARK: What can you tell me about your mom?

JULEE: She’s great. She always worked clerical jobs and raised me singlehandedly (some boyfriends would step in from time to time) since I was 9 months. We had great times!

MARK: What was the best thing to come from McJob?

JULEE: I got to meet (via mail) a lot of other like-minded people, some of whom I’ve since found on Facebook (like you!). So I’d say the best thing is the long-term friendships.

MARK: I always thought of zine publishing as the modern day equivalent of putting a message in a bottle and casting it into the sea… You write something, you chuck it out into the universe, and then you wait to see what, if anything, comes back to you… At least I think there was that kind of zen-like kind of side to it for me. (Of course, for the most part, that was obscured by my obsessive mailbox checking, constant fear of not being liked, and general free-floating anxiety.) I’m curious if you have an an alternate metaphor that you think better sums up the the whole thing up…

JULEE: Your’s is a good analogy… My favorite aspect, though, was having complete control over my project, getting to do it exactly as I liked, and not having to answer to anybody.

MARK: My sense was, back in the day, there were a lot fewer women involved in zines than there are today. Was that your sense as well? And, if so, did that present particular challenges for you?

JULEE: I actually disagree. I remember going through Factsheet Five and never thinking that there was a disparity in terms of sex. But, it could also be that I’m remembering the mail art scene, as mail art and zines were always kind of intertwined for me. Maybe, strictly speaking, in terms of zines, there was a disparity. But I remember it being like artists today, about 50/50.

MARK: It’s interesting that you bring it up, as I’d kind of forgotten about the dividing line between mail art and zines. The cultures of both were pretty well documented by Factsheet Five, but they were pretty distinct groups. There was certainly cross-over. You’re a great example of that. But they were different animals.

JULEE: Yeah, two camps that overlapped at times. Mail art has such a rich history going back to the Fluxus artists of the 60s. I felt zines were more a newer phenomenon, but of course people had been self-publishing for years. The cheapness of photocopies really amped it up. But I think as long as there’s been the post office, there’s been mail art.

MARK: When you first had the idea for McJob, what did you do? How did you get word out to folks that you were looking for submissions?

JULEE: Good question. I don’t remember. Probably just through my network of zine friends and mail art people. It was all people I’d never met. I don’t think anyone I knew in person contributed. I liked to keep those worlds separate.

MARK: Just how separate did you keep things? Was it just that you didn’t ask your “real” friends to contribute, or did they not even know that McJob existed?

JULEE: I spent so much time alone in my room writing to people and making correspondence art that I think I inadvertently only looked there for contributors. I do remember that, when I traveled, I would always visit the people I wrote to, if I were in their area. I actually met a lot of people I wrote to that way, and even ended up dating one long distance. I did run ads for some of my “real” friends’ businesses in McJob. And I believe they knew about it.

MARK: Had you heard the phrase “McJob” prior to launching the zine, or, to the best of your knowledge, did you come up with it?

JULEE: Another good question. I think I’d heard of it, but it was still a new term. Actually, it might have been from Douglas Coupland’s book Generation X, which was a big influence on me at the time.

mcjobMARK: What was it about Generation X that resonated with you?

JULEE: It was the first book to speak to how I was feeling at the time. I remember in the margins of the book were words Coupland made up to describe our generation like “Boomerang Baby” (or something) whose definition was “when, after completing college, the child returns to live with the parents due to financial instability or lack of ambition” (or something). I had just done the same thing. After graduating college, the only job I could get was as a newspaper boy (I mean girl, I guess). It was a miserable job, and I moved back home because I was broke. Probably the most depressing time of my life.

MARK: So, were you publishing McJob when you were living with your mom?

JULEE: I was only home for about six months, and it was before McJob.

MARK: Do you remember your first Factsheet Five review for McJob?

JULEE: Hmmm, I don’t. But anytime you got reviewed in Factsheet Five, a slew of orders or at least correspondence was sure to follow. I loved that!

MARK: What, in your opinion, was the best piece you ever ran in McJob?

JULEE: My own!

MARK: Is there a specific story that comes to mind?

JULEE: Maybe I wrote about the above newspaper job – I sure hope so!

MARK: You mentioned to me before setting out on this interview that you were somewhat reluctant to dredge up the past. I believe you said that you weren’t proud of the work you did back then. Do you care to elaborate on the subject? And, before you answer, I should add that I had a zine before Crimewave that I would be mortified if anyone saw today, so I’m totally sympathetic.

JULEE: Oh… now that you said that, you have to share your mortifying zine! …Well, I’m just a completely different person with completely different goals than back then. And my aesthetic sense is different. I don’t really stand behind some of my projects because they were gross, immature, lowbrow and badly designed. I cringe when I see some of the things I wrote. I don’t regret my zine days, but I think others’ zines were better organized and focused than my lot of weirdnesses. I had anger toward things that I don’t have anymore. It was exercised in McJob. I don’t feel the need to do that anymore. I’ve worked many a corporate jobs in the years since, and I’m fine with it. Though now I’m happy to be working for myself, where I have complete control over my projects, just like in the zine days.

peezleehologramMARK: So, if you don’t mind my asking, what are you doing these days? …When you search “Peezlee + McJob,” this is one of the first images to come up. Are you now an airport hologram?

JULEE: I have no idea who that is…. I have my own company. For many years I was a graphic designer. I have to say that for the last six years, being my own boss with my own business, I LOVE my job! Finally!

MARK: If you don’t mind, can I ask what you do?

JULEE: I sell hand-sewn toys.

MARK: Do you have any old copies of McJob in a box somewhere? I just discovered that a copy of issue three is selling for $75 online. You might be sitting on a goldmine.

JULEE: I had no idea and I have to say holy fuckin’ shit. But I think I know who that seller is. It’s a person who I used to trade zines with back in the day. Good luck getting $75 for that, my friend! Too funny. And slightly weird. There are a few boxes in my apartment that might contain the last remnants of the Dyslexic empire but at this moment in time, I am too lazy to even stand on the table and reach up to the top shelf and pull them down. Maybe tomorrow. Right now, I’ve got sewing to do.

UPDATE: Here, for those of you who have never seen an issue of McJob, is a bit of detail from issue #4.

mcjob2scan

UPDATE: Interested in more? Here are links to a few more pages: I, II.

[If you like what you’ve read and want more about the underground press and the people behind it, be sure to check the other interviews in the History of Zines series.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Crimewave USA, Special Projects, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Water Street Flats… What are your thoughts?

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 10.12.08 PM

At tomorrow night’s Ypsi City Council meeting, our elected officials will be considering a proposal concerning the development of 3.14 acres at the intersection of South and River streets, on the 38-acre downtown parcel commonly referred to as Water Street. The proposal, which you can download on the City’s website, outlines the intention of Indiana-based developer Herman Kittle Properties (HKP) to construct a 76-unit, multi-floor affordable housing complex on the banks of the Huron River. The project isn’t exciting in any aesthetic sense (see image above), and it’s a long way from the higher-end single-family housing our elected officials had been aiming for 14 years ago, when first setting down the path toward remediation and redevelopment, but it’s hard to imagine any scenario where our City Council would say no. We’ve just got too much debt to hold out any longer, waiting for the truly transformative project that would help turn the City around and bring good jobs in the process.

wsflatsHere, with the specifics as to what we currently owe on the property, which we went so far into debt to acquire in 1999, is a clip from today’s Ann Arbor News.

…The city still owes around $24 million on the Water Street debt, a decrease from 2006 when the city owed close to $30 million. The principal amount owed on the property was $15.7 million, but due to interest, the costs ballooned.

In 2014, the city will have to pay $1,340,727.50. The interest rate will rise to 5.75 percent in 2014 and continue to increase unless the city is able to refinance the debt, which it plans to around 2016.

The land has lost $1,995,335 in value within the past year, but the city has successfully committed $4.6 million in fund balance for the next five years to pay for the annual debt payments resulting from the sale of bonds to finance acquisition and demolition on the site…

Assuming we go forward with the HKP proposal, they would give us $157,000 upfront, for the 3.14 acres, and invest another $1.7 million in bringing roads, sewers and other infrastructure elements to the site, which would ostensibly make it easier for the City to then sell the adjacent properties. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s estimated that the building owners would pay approximately $73,000 a year in taxes, based on a taxable value of $2 million. Also worth noting, it sounds like they want to get moving on the project as soon as possible, which means that those tax revenues would likely start rolling in by the end of 2015. (HKP wants to have a signed purchase agreement with the City by April, break ground in October 2014, and begin leasing units in August of 2015, according to the Ann Arbor News report.)

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 10.11.21 PMThe entire project is estimated to cost $12.1 million, much of which would be financed by way of Rental Housing Tax Credits and tax-exempt bonds from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. And, as that’s the case, rents, in accordance with the terms of these programs, will be set at a level deemed affordable by the State. According to HKP, that means rents would range from “$597 for a one-bedroom (unit) to $1,125 for a four-bedroom (one).” (The current plan calls for 13 one-bedrooms (738 square feet), 21 two-bedrooms, and 21 three-bedrooms (1502 square feet).)

A few years ago, I think I would have had quite a bit to say about this. Now, though, in the wake of the Family Dollar announcement, I think I’ve come to accept the fact that Water Street isn’t going to become what I’d wanted it to be. For a while – and I think this was true for a lot of us – Water Street was a beautiful blank canvass that we could project our dreams for the future of our community on. We all, of course, had different visions for what should ultimately be there. We all had our own ideas as to what would right the ship and get Ypsilanti heading in a more sustainable direction. And we were all passionate on the subject. Personally, I’d envisioned a co-housing development, a year-round farmers’ market, an expanded food co-op, a thriving public arts park, and space along Michigan Avenue for locally-owned businesses. There were a million ideas, and they all shared a common attribute… They were hopeful… The unpleasant truth, however, is that those with money aren’t from our community, and the way they see Ypsilanti isn’t the way that we see it. And, as a result, we’re not talking about indoor farmers’ markets, but dollar stores, fast food franchises and more Peninsular Place-like apartment complexes. To those outside our community, we just represent money that can be siphoned off. They don’t, in short, see our potential. They don’t care about our long term viability as a community, only what they can get from us today. And that’s sad. Sadder still, though, is the fact that I’ve come to accept it.

Here’s the thing, though… Regardless of what happens on Water Street, life will continue and people will still keep fighting to make Ypsi great. It just won’t all happen on that 38 acres of downtown real estate. And maybe that’s OK.

What are your thoughts? I’d like to know.

update: I didn’t intend for this post to sound fatalistic. I haven’t “given up” on anything positive ever taking root on Water Street. I just meant to say that I’ve come to terms with the fact that Water Street isn’t going to be the thing that gets Ypsilanti moving in the right direction. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not altogether down on the idea of this housing project. Density is a good thing, as is affordable housing. I’d like to know more about the company, though, and how they manage their other properties.

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Ann Arbor to millennials… “We hear you like trains and tall buildings. How many of each do we need before you’ll look beyond our sexism and homophobia and move here?”

I was hoping that this kind of thing had died with the career of Richard Florida

millenialsA2

I understand that it’s well intentioned, and I don’t disagree that Michigan needs to find a way to keep bright, innovative young people in the state. With that said, though, this reeks of desperation. And it brings back painful memories of that time when Jennifer Granholm, after hearing someone speak about the importance of the “creative class” at a meeting of the National Governors Association or something, got the bright idea to start labeling a good number of our failing cities as “Cool”, in hopes that maybe some percentage of 20-something professionals would suddenly stop moving to Chicago because of it. As though a banner pronouncing a place to be “cool” was enough to make it so. And it depresses me to learn that Ann Arbor is now seeking “expert advice” on how to be more attractive to this same elusive class of people, who, if we could just keep them here after graduation, would magically make everything better. It brings to mind images of sad and lonely men paying to attend lectures on how to “pickup hot young women” by employing tricks, rather than dealing with the more substantive underlying issues. If this is what it takes to make the increasingly conservative old guard in Ann Arbor invest in mass transit and allow greater downtown density, I guess I can stomach it, but it’s painful to watch old white men, like myself, saying things like, “(these millennials) want to live in tall buildings,” as though these mythical beings can only exist a certain number of feet above sea level. It’s like they’re describing newly-discovered animals of a different species.

With all of that said, though, you don’t have to be a certified expert in millennial psychology to see which way the wind is blowing… If you’re young, you want to live in a community where there’s mass transit and density. You want an opportunity to earn a decent living. You want to live in a place with a critical mass of people your own age, so that you might be able to find potential partners. And you want to be in a community where interesting things are happening. All of that is true. It’s also true, however, that you likely want to live in a community where you feel as though you’re respected, and your contributions are appreciated. So, yes, by all means, push for more public transit, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that trains alone will bring an army of young entrepreneurs into a state where gays are constantly under attack, the rights of workers are being systematically dismantled, and women are seeing their reproductive rights systematically rolled back. In short, all the trains in the world can’t make someone forget that they’re living in a state where they need to purchase rape insurance… So, by all means, go out and buy that new skinny suit, grow some ironic facial hair, and memorize a few new pickup lines. Until you improve your personality, though, you’re never going to find love.

[The Ann Arbor News article responsible for this mini rant, can be found here.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Observations, Other, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Introducing the Matthew Stafford Turnover Machine™

I read today that George Foreman has made twice as much money from the grill he lent his name to than he has from being a two time heavyweight boxing champion. And it occurred to me that if Detroit Lion’s quarterback Matthew Stafford had a product like that, he might not need his Lion’s paycheck anymore, making it possible for us to explore other options come next season…. Here’s the best idea I could come up with.

Who wouldn’t want their very own Matthew Stafford Turnover Machine™?

staffordturnovermachine

“It’s not just for Sundays!”

[note: Personally, I like Stafford, and I want to see him be successful here. And I hope that begins to happen now that the Lions have a new coaching staff in place – one that might command a bit more respect, and have a better idea as to how to motivate players. With that said, though, I’m not terribly hopeful given our history… And, yes, I know I suck with Photoshop.]

Posted in Observations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Untold History of Zines…. Russ Forster on the 8-Track Mind

In an attempt to better document the American underground press, or at least the sharp, tiny sliver of it that I find most interesting, I’ve given myself the task of reaching out to all of those former and current zine publishers that I know, and asking them about their motivations and experiences. Today’s interview is with the man behind 8-Track Mind, Russ Forster.

Russ8TMheader

MARK: Was 8-Track Mind the first thing you ever printed and distributed?

RUSS: Not quite. In 1985 I circulated a free 2-page zine called Positive Force that pushed some naive but sincere lefty-political-punk sentiments. It only lasted one issue, probably because it wasn’t a whole lot of fun to read.

MARK: Can you give me an example of what made it un-fun to read?

RUSS: Über-progressive politics can be dreadfully dull, especially when it leans toward the naïve. It becomes preachiness without the soul. Kinda like Tea Party politics these days.

MARK: How old were you when you started 8-Track Mind and what was your situation at the time?

RUSS: The first 8-TM that my 8-track enthusiast (or “tracker”) friends and I worked on came out in 1990, when I was 27. That first issue was #69, as we were told that there were 68 issues published in the 1970s and early 1980s by an unbalanced gentleman by the name of Gordon Van Gelder. I got interested while on tour with End Result in 1989, after running into fellow “trackers” in Boston and New York, and saw the magazine as a way to bring 8-track enthusiasts together across the country. The first issue “sold out” of its initial run of 100 within a month, and was reprinted several times to meet the unexpected demand. I moved to Detroit soon afterward, but decided to continue to publish 8-TM from that unlikely location and did so for the next 9 years.

MARK: What else can you tell us about Gordon Van Gelder…

RUSS: We came to believe that he was a master manipulator who used a bogus story about the “pre-history” of 8-TM to become a contributor to our version. No one has ever seen any 8-TM issue before #69, and some people have looked pretty hard for one.

MARK: That’s one thing that Crimewave lacked… a good origin myth. From now on, when people ask, I’m going to say that an angel led me to the first issue, which was etched in gold tablets, inside a buried stone box… Not that I don’t believe you about Van Gelder… I’m just going off on a completely unrelated tangent.

RUSS: Oh, ye of little faith… You can read his entertaining blathering in issues #69-73 if you don’t believe in his existence.

MARK: You mention that your first issue of 8-TM (#69) sold out in a month, which leads me to believe that sales weren’t generated, at least at first, by reviews in publications like Factsheet Five. I’m curious as to how, at the beginning, you were selling them. Were you touring with them, and selling them at shows, or did you, from the very start, have them in record stores and the like?

8trackMind100RUSS: Contributors worked to distribute magazines as well. That first issue ended up in bookstores, like the one at the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and some more discerning record stores (especially ones that were still selling 8-tracks, like Records Records Records in Villa Park, Illinois). Probably most copies were giveaways, truth be told, but we weren’t that worried about money at the beginning. Eventually it did make its way to Factsheet Five, where 8-TM was always given positive reviews (and it was often the first zine listed alphabetically, which doesn’t hurt!).

MARK: By “End Result,” I’m assuming you mean the Chicago punk band, right? When you say that you toured with them, do you mean that you were playing in the band, or were you in another band that happened to be traveling with them?

RUSS: I was a member of End Result off and on from 1986 to 1989. I’m not that fond of the recordings I made with the band during that time, but I remember the live shows being pretty compelling.

MARK: Granted, I didn’t know you as a young man, but you don’t exactly exude what I’d call “punk rock energy.”

RUSS: I’m not sure End Result was a “punk rock” band. I’m not sure any band I’ve ever been in would be considered “punk rock.” I’m more the “art-damaged pop” kinda guy. And my hands have bled a lot after beating stringed instruments to within an inch of their lives onstage.

MARK: When I see you, you must always be in Energy Conservation Mode…

RUSS: I’d probably just driven 8 hours or the like after trying to catch some quick sleep in my van. And Ypsilanti always had a soporific effect on me.

MARK: For the younger folks in the audience, maybe we should begin with a definition… What’s an 8-track?

RUSS: 8-track tapes and players (not to be confused with 8-track sound recording equipment) were invented for use in Lear Jets in the mid-1960s, but found their greatest popularity as the first pre-recorded sound format available in automobiles. 8-track cartridges were about twice the size as compact cassettes, and were designed to hold an “infinite loop” of 1/4″ audio tape with the tail of the tape attached to the head by a tape splice. They were complicated and prone to failure, and became a symbol of the more laughable aspects of ’70s culture.

1964Lear

MARK: And what was it, or what is it, that you found so compelling about 8-tracks?

RUSS: I personally loved the “ugly duckling” aspect. In the mid-to-late 1980s 8-tracks were ubiquitous and plentiful in thrift stores, allowing me to build a huge collection of great tapes for less than the price of a CD player and a couple of CDs. I also loved poking the purveyors of music technology in the eye by eschewing their barely veiled attempts at making people re-buy their music collections on a “new, improved” format to boost corporate profits. It was also nice to recycle tapes and players rather than send them to the landfill.

MARK: Does the fascination continue, or are there new obsessions?

RUSS: I still have a collection of over 2000 tapes and about a dozen players. I’m not interested in acquiring any more, though. My current obsessions are exercise VHS tapes and lousy pop LPs.

8thscreenshotMARK: What was childhood like for Russ Forster?

RUSS: Broken home, broken heart — the usual white privileged suburban experience.

MARK: But it wasn’t all bad… As I recall, you spent several weeks each year with your grandmother at Disney World, even well into your adult years, right? Or at least I remember getting postcards from you… “Rubbing Grandma’s feet after another long day in the Magic Kingdom.”

RUSS: That was a truly difficult and disgusting time, orchestrated by my mother. I think my grandmother had a good time, but three weeks on Disney property left me scarred for life.

MARK: What was your mother trying to accomplish by sending you and your grandmother away?

RUSS: Pure escapist bliss? It was a way of denying the State Of Illinois money that would have gone to the nursing home instead. Better in Disney’s cold, corporate hands, I suppose…

MARK: Have you ever talked with your mother about this? I’m getting the sense that there may be some unresolved issues.

RUSS: I’m fine with un-resolution.

MARK: What did your parents do for a living?

RUSS: Dad: Educational Computer Software Production, Gresham, Oregon; Mom: Professor of Sociology at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois.

MARK: So, you grew up in the suburbs of Chicago?

RUSS: Elmhurst, Illinois, about 30 miles due west of Chicago. Land of “broad lawns and narrow minds” to quote Hemingway (who actually grew up in Oak Park, Illinois).

MARK: What kind of kid were you?

RUSS: Precocious and painfully shy.

MARK: Were there warning signs early on that you might pursue a life in the underground press?

RUSS: I wanted to be a hippie at age 10, and started reading Rolling Stone and other music mags religiously. Creative control was always key to me, and the underground was the only place that seemed to offer it.

MARK: Do you remember your first brush with real counter culture… something a little harder than Rolling Stone?

RUsseatingRUSS: Is Creem magazine hard enough? It kinda freaked me out.

MARK: What freaked you about Creem?

RUSS: That extreme, irreverent Detroit sensibility that’s become all the rage in years hence.

MARK: Do you remember the first zine you’d seen?

RUSS: Nope. It was probably something handed to me at a hardcore punk show in Chicago circa 1983 or so.

MARK: My memory is notoriously bad, but I believe we first met in Atlanta. It would have probably been around 1995, and you were traveling around the U.S. on some kind of 8-Track Mind tour. I believe you were living in Chicago at the time, and making your living as a mover and hanger of art. Is that right?

RUSS: It was probably 1996. I was back and forth between Detroit and Chicago and homelessness, and I don’t think I made much of a living. I did get some work as an art handler/installer for a bit somewhere in there.

MARK: When you say homeless, do you mean crashing on the couches of friends, or literally living on the street?

RUSS: Living in my van, mostly on the west coast somewhere.

MARK: Do you look back at that time in your life fondly?

RUSS: It was hell with glimpses of heaven. And a whole lot of celibacy.

MARK: On that tour which brought you through Atlanta, I remember that you sang and played guitar. I don’t remember the content of the songs, though. Were they about 8-tracks?

RUSS: I wrote a song in 1995 called “8-Track Love” which I still perform on occasion as my extreme-solo act Rakehell. It’s featured on the debut Rakehell LP, Pure Pop Poison, which is available on vinyl only.

MARK: What makes an act “extreme solo” as opposed to just “solo”?

RUSS: Sounds much more exciting, doesn’t it? “Solo” could connote me at the forefront of a group of musicians; “extreme solo” is me alone with a bunch of broken down equipment making noise somewhat reminiscent of pop music.

MARK: What are the lyrics of “8-Track Love”?

RUSS: Something about Heaven 17 tapes and making babies while listening to Barry White on 8-track. “8-track love/with 8 different people/in 8 different places/with 8-tracks playing the whole time.” Vaguely erotic, with a geek edge.

MARK: Have you made babies? And, if so, what was that experience like?

RUSS: By “babies” if you mean records, then the answer is “yes,” and it’s excruciatingly painful and emotionally traumatizing. If you mean humans, the answer is, “almost but not quite.” It was bad timing in both cases.

11390349774_f20ce6fcbcMARK: At some point in the evolution of 8-Track Mind, you made a film called So Wrong They’re Right, about 8-track collectors. At what point did you know that you wanted to make a film?

RUSS: In 1993 I was finding my P.O. box constantly filled with fan mail and unsolicited submissions to the magazine, and the demand for 8-TM was increasing amazingly across the country. By this time I’d already made two short films and was trying to come up with a concept for a third. I decided that I could make a documentary like I edited the magazine, as a collaborative effort with other enthusiasts, and when I floated the idea to the 8-TM community the response was overwhelmingly positive.

MARK: I think I feel a long-buried memory concerning your earlier film work coming to the surface… I don’t know how to say this… Did it involve you performing an act that most people probably wouldn’t commit to film?

RUSS: Masturbation and ritual castration was part of the G-Rated Porn world I documented with my first two films.

MARK: Seems like a natural progression from ritual castration to 8-track collecting… Are you working on any film projects at present?

RUSS: I’m putting together a series of impossible exercise videos, two of which are available on my YouTube channel.

MARK: Can you give me an example of an impossible exercise?

RUSS: Any aerobics done to the beat of speed metal is a pretty likely foray into the impossible.

MARK: You recently brought 8-Track Mind back to life. How’s it different now than it was at the beginning?

RUSS: There’s much less emphasis on 8-tracks per se (partially because they’ve become so hard to find these days) and more on the philosophical themes of the “old” 8-TM like anti-corporate-consumerism and love of analog technologies. The voices have changed but the ideas haven’t.

MARK: Do you keep in touch with any of your old tracker friends? It’s been 15 years since I watched the movie, but I’m curious what happened to the folks you interviewed… like that girl.

RUSS: Ah, short eyes have you? Christine Williams was only 14 when she submitted her first piece to the magazine, and was 17 in the film. I think she thought some wild filmmakers would take her away from her North Carolina hell, but her sex kitten moves only made us nervous. When I talked about visiting her a few years later with Malcolm Riviera as chaperone, she refused, and then repudiated all ties with the magazine and film. I heard she did take some LSD along the way somewhere, and that seemed somehow hopeful to me… Issue #103 (Summer 2015) will give the full So Wrong They’re Right update, 20 years after the film’s release. Then I think I’m done.

MARK: How did the idea come about to start clipping the corners from 8-Track Mind, so that the magazine resembled an 8-track tape?

RUSS: I’ve always liked the idea of personalizing product, so the idea of changing the shape of the magazine by hand has always excited me. I’m not sure who suggested making the magazine mimic the shape of an 8-track tape, but it was a stroke of brilliance.

MARK: What’s the best thing to come from 8-Track Mind?

RUSS: The friendships, the philosophy, the cognitive dissonance. It was a wonderful, fun bit of performance art that grew into something much more deep and meaningful. And it has helped preserve and demystify a bit of American history.

RussForsterQuote

MARK: What was the most intriguing thing you discovered in your quest to demystify 8-tracks?

RUSS: That 8-track was originally conceived of as an audiophile format for fat cats with Lear Jets, and that 8-tracks were produced commercially in some form until 1987 (giving them an over 20 year run).

MARK: What was the last 8-track ever mass produced?

RUSS: There is much debate, but most enthusiasts have concurred on Chicago 18 in 1987.

MARK: What was the first?

RUSS: Probably some classical tape for the Lear Jet set. RCA Records was the first to embrace the format. My oldest tape is The Sound Of Music soundtrack.

MARK: Are you aware of any bands still releasing stuff on homemade 8-tracks? That was a thing for a while, right?

RUSS: Cheap Trick put out their last record The Latest on 8-track in 2009. A beautiful piece, but it’ll run you $30.

MARK: So, what’s Russ Forster up to these days, when he’s not publishing the new 8-TM?

RussNurse2RUSS: Helping people pass to the next plane of existence as a hospice nurse.

MARK: So, do you have any deep insights that you’d like to share with us, having been with a number of people as they pass on?

RUSS: The worst kind of devil is the one inside your head. Free your mind and your spirit will follow.

MARK: What do people generally talk about at the end, if they’re still capable of talking? Are there common regrets that are expressed?

RUSS: There’s often very little talk at the end, but a lot of listening. The brain keeps chugging even after the energy to speak and respond is gone, and hearing and touch are senses that seem to continue on pretty much to the end. Families and friends generally do much more regretting and fretting, but when that turns to remembering the healing begins.

MARK: How, if at all, has that line of work changed you?

RUSS: It’s made me appreciate a life well-lived, filled with joy and love… Oops, that’s a line from Love Story, isn’t it?

MARK: Just curious as to how this change has manifested itself in your life. What are you doing differently?

RUSS: I’ve learned to celebrate when a passing brings families and friends together instead of tearing them apart. I can see how that works now better than ever.

MARK: Any regrets? …If you could go back in time and pass along one bit of advice, especially as it related to 8-TM, what would it be?

RUSS: Not many regrets. It was a great adventure, even when it was incredibly tough and seemingly unrewarding. All it took was a lot of elbow grease and no small amount of naïveté, mixed with a decent sense of humor. Maybe a bit of cash too… Embrace adventure at least once in your life, kids!

MARK: Assuming people want to check out the film, or back issues of 8-TM, is there a way they can contact you?

RUSS: Oh boy, I still don’t have a website after all these years. Being a cyber-luddite doesn’t pay in some ways. But the 8-Track Heaven site run by my good friend and confidant Malcolm Riviera is still alive and kicking, and I have a Facebook page with some cryptic information on it.

MARK: What was the most surreal thing to happen in connection with 8-TM?

RUSS: Finishing the film and then having a “film industry” guy tell me it was the best thing he’d seen that month. But then he added that he didn’t see any money in it, which may have seemed harsh at the time, but was absolutely true.

MARK: Where did your “8 Noble Truths” come from? And why are there 9 of them?

RUSS: Ah grasshopper, the question is itself the answer.

8_tracksTruths2

MARK: If you could have just 1 Noble Truth, what would it be?

RUSS: Impermanence is eternal.

MARK: When you were in Chicago, you were friendly with a woman named Cynthia Plaster Caster, who’s famous, among other things, for having documented in plaster the penises of a generation of male rock stars. I’ve never seen it, but it was once whispered in my ear, at a party that both you and she were at, that a cast exists of your penis and that it looks like a twisted, tentacle-covered tree trunk… something out of a horror film. Do you care to comment?

RUSS: The casts look like friendly, funny mushrooms. Could be the smallest in her collection!

UPDATE: Here, for those of you sorry sons-of-bitches who have never seen a copy of 8-Track Mind, is a bit of detail from an issue published in 1991. The full, two-page layout can be found here.

DouglasFeral8TM2

[If you like what you’ve read and want more, be sure to check the other interviews in the History of Zines series.]

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