Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #95 (March 1984)

This is my final post for now about Trouser Press magazine. Maybe in the future I'll scan more issue, but this is the final scan I have for the time being.

This particular issue the next-to-last one they did. The very last one, with Joey Ramone on the cover, came the following month. What to say about the demise of a magazine that shaped so many people's musical tastes? I think it's apt to draw a comparison to the career trajectory of the Beatles, since they're familiar to most everyone.

Like the Fab Four, Trouser Press started with boundless enthusiasm and came up with fresh ideas that no one else was doing. Then they both had a middle period that was unassailable. As the end drew near, both raised their standards of professionalism, but a cynical tone started to creep in. With the Beatles, that feeling reached its apogee with the White Album. With Trouser Press, it came with this issue.

The cover story about Big Country seemed like it was more about the writer wanting to make sarcastic comments about the band and its image than imparting why their music was popular. This approach can be amusing, but it gets tiresome. It's also why readers like me had turned from the smart-ass Creem to Trouser Press to begin with. The group's MTV-ready visuals might have been contrived, but their guitar-oriented rock was pretty enthralling. And the songs of the late Stuart Adamson still hold up.

Then there's the article on JoBoxers, who had just cracked the American Top 40 with "Just Got Lucky." This feature was just plain weird, concentrating way too much on the band's groupies, which the writer called "gorgons." Huh? Some of this is so over-the-top that I remember at the time thinking maybe the writer was pulling my leg. This is not what readers should have been thinking.

The fact that these two pieces were penned by writers outside the Trouser Press sphere could account for the difference in tone from the mag's usual articles. But there's also the lead album review of Adam Ant's Strip album. It was basically an "eff you" to the singer and his record company, since there was a feature story on him in this very issue. Yes, the review is funny. And yes, it also makes a point. Heck, the Nov. 1978 review of Boston's Don't Look Back even set a precedent for this type of writing. But that review wasn't the lead item, and it wasn't accompanied anything like the aforementioned feature articles.

So, to conclude my Beatles-Trouser Press comparison, reading this issue is like hearing "Piggies," "Yer Blues" or that creepy "Can You Take Me Back?" snippet, and realizing the band now had a much more downbeat worldview than when they were singing things like "And I Love Her," "When I Get Home," and "A Hard Day's Night."

This seems to be the inevitable effect of being part of any marketplace for too long. Any task, no matter how important or fun, can get to be a grind after a while, especially if there's a downside. More on that below.

With all that said, Jim Green's article on remix artist John "Jellybean" Benitez is not only interesting, but forward-looking considering where music was heading. There is also a now-hilarious reference to "disco/pop/rock crossover hopeful Madonna," which is amusing considering how big she became. Actually, Green's phrase was a pretty good description of a singer who would straddle genres and rewrite the rules of popular music.

Finally, the review section of America Underground column was written by John Leland, one of the magazine's regular writers who would go on to work for the New York Times. It starts with a favorable look at the Rain Parade's now-classic Emergency Third Rail Power Trip and also touches on releases by Sonic Youth and Suicidal Tendencies.

Reading this column (which I praised a few days ago for its top-flight regional coverage) you wonder if these new indie acts were what the editors wanted to assign the big articles on but couldn't due to the economics realities of keeping a glossy magazine afloat. If that's the case (and I remember reading somewhere it was), then I don't blame them for closing shop -- and getting cynical. I just wish I could have had one item published by them before they did. But I was still in my teens and submitted nothing because I felt I was too inexperienced. Who knew that Cameron Crowe got his start at age 16? Apparently not me.

Other scanned issues of Trouser Press:
Trouser Press - Issue #09 (June-Aug. 1975)
Trouser Press - Issue #42 (Sept. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #44 (Nov. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #59 (Feb. 1981) 
Trouser Press - Issue #63 (July 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #67 (Nov. 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #70 (Feb. 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #71 (March 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #72 (April 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #84 (April 1983)
Trouser Press - Issue #85 (May 1983)
Trouser Press - Issue #92-93 (Dec. 1983-Jan. 1984)

1. Paul Young
2. Nena
3. Jason & the Nashville Scorchers
4. Los Lobos
5. Big Country
6. Jellybean Benitez
7. Adam Ant
8. Marc Almond
9. JoBoxers

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #92-93 (Dec. 1983-Jan. 1984)

As the Beatles once sang, "It's getting very near the end." After this, I've only got one more issue of Trouser Press left to post. Then I'll return to music again.

But for those who like to read as well as listen, this issue should have a lot to offer since it's a "Special Year-End Double Issue" with scads of articles, reviews, and columns. Remember my last blog entry, where I went on about the greatness of the America Underground column? Be sure to check it out in this issue, specifically the very last review which falls under the subhead "Noise Annoys" on page 64. I'll leave this a surprise, but I think everyone will get a kick out of what's there.

Beyond that, this issue covers at the German experimental band Yello before their music became known to the masses through the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and the Bad Brains, who weren't yet the legends they'd become. There are also reviews of then-new albums by the Gang of Four, Jonathan Richman, Big Country, the Tom Tom Club, and X. And dig the fab-looking full-page ad for the Jam's Snap! collection on page 54. The band's break-up, which was still fresh in everyone's mind then, might have been disappointing, but their excellent double album send-off sure wasn't.

1. Roman Holliday
2. True West
3. The Alarm
4. Rubber Rodeo
5. Rubinoos
6. Neats
7. Madness
8. Year-End Survey
9. Peter Tosh
10. Blasters
11. Yello
12. Fleshtones
13. Bad Brains
14. Rock Books '83
15. TP Index 1983

Monday, October 24, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #85 (May 1983)

One of the best parts of Trouser Press was its America Underground column, a long-running "department" that reported on unsigned and indie acts. America Underground had dedicated writers, such as Tim Sommer and Robert Payes and started as a sort of round-up of important things that were happening beyond the major labels.

But starting with the Nov. 1982 issue (the one with the Go-Go's on the front), Trouser Press also handed the column over to writers in various localities to cover their hometown scenes. This was one of the best ideas the magazine ever had. In fact, doing regional "scene reports" was revolutionary. No one had thought to do this, at least not in the Trouser Press era.

Because of America Underground's scene reports, music fans got to learn about what was happening in specific areas of the country. This flew in the face of what mainstream radio and the corporate media were peddling then, which were homogenized "national" acts.

If you look at the cover of this issue, up in the top right corner is the list of which areas got coverage for that month: San Francisco, Milwaukee, Tallahassee, and Pittsburgh. Come the next month, there would be write-ups on four different cities. And four more the month after that.

Yes, back in the '80s you could buy fanzines to get info on bands in your hometown. But they were usually only available in bookstores and record stores in metropolitan areas. Kids who were stranded out in the suburbs (ahem) didn't have access to this kind of information, so Trouser Press provided a vital service.

A year after this issue was published, Trouser Press would be gone. When I heard about its demise, I remember thinking "How am I going to learn about all the grassroots music happening across the country without America Underground?!" The sad truth is, I didn't.

Bands like the Minutemen, Husker Du, and even the Beastie Boys, got what was probably their first-ever national coverage in the America Underground column. The rest of us learned about them before anyone else. I've still got a couple more issues of Trouser Press I plan on posting, so keep your eye on American Underground when I do. You just might be surprised at what you find.

1. Blancmange
2. ESG
3. Fan Clubs
4. Pretenders
5. Malcolm McLaren
6. Dexys Midnight Runners

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #72 (April 1982)

Here's an interesting bit of trivia I'll bet most fans of Trouser Press magazine don't know: At one point the magazine toyed with changing its name. That point was in April of 1982, and that month's issue was printed with two separate covers. Some editions bore a new, projected name, the Beat, while others had the standard moniker (see right). Why?

According to the mag's Web site: "(W)e began to tire of the marketing problems (the name) engendered. Newsstands rarely racked us in the right section, advertisers didn't take us seriously, suppliers invariably asked for an explanation." They tried to test market the product under a different name and found that it "proved nothing," so they kept on as Trouser Press.

Did the quirky name Trouser Press damage the brand of the product? It's hard to say for certain. But one thing that can be said for sure is that the actual music journalism inside was head-and-shoulders above anything else on newsstands at the time. As an example, I give to you this issue's cover story on the Talking Heads, which was penned by Scott Isler, arguably the mag's best writer. Isler's piece is well-paced and insightful, and has an introductory set-up that so clever I've never forgotten it after all these years. Even if you're indifferent to this group, I encourage you to read this article. It's truly rock journalism at its best.

Another outstanding piece is Karen Schlosberg's profile of Steve Lillywhite, known for his production work with the Stranglers, Marshall Crenshaw, and U2 among others. What other magazine did in-depth features on cutting-edge producers that actually took you inside the music? Back then, the only producer that got more than a few paragraphs was Phil Spector, who was from a much earlier era.

The Led Zeppelin article mentioned on the cover wasn't an interview but a mock "best of" collection put together by writer Jon Young. Young didn't really need to do an interview, though. The ultimate Zeppelin-related interview was Dave Schulps' massive three-part talk with Jimmy Page that ran in installments in issues #21-#23 (Sept.-Nov. 1977) and went over practically every iota of Page's career. It's still considered one of the most in-depth interviews ever with the rock legend.

Gee, you'd think after that kind of journalistic coup, the name Trouser Press would have been established and a name change would have been beside the point. But the pop world can be fickle, and so we have this lone issue of Trouser Press with an alternate moniker.

1. Jimmy Destri
2. Pete Shelley
3. Fleshtones
4. Blotto
5. Blasters
6. Talking Heads
7. Led Zeppelin
8. Steve Lillywhite

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #63 (July 1981)

And here's still more Trouser Press. There's lots of great stuff in this issue. The cover story marks a departure from the mag's usual features about musical figures. Instead, writer Scott Isler interviews filmmaker Lech Kowalski about his documentary on the Sex Pistols, "D.O.A." Reading it in 1981, I remember thinking what a great idea Kowalski had when he set out to film the Pistols on tour in America. These days, I can't believe the guy was 28 when he was interviewed for this article and that he seemed old to be back then.

But the big thing for me was the revealing interview with the late rock legend Steve Marriott. Writer Jim Green got Marriott to talk about his time in the Small Faces in more detail than probably any other American writer at the time, and this was a revelation to me. Like a lot of Americans, I only knew the group through their lone U.S. hit "Itchycoo Park." This article showed their was much more to them then that, and when I saw the album The Immediate Story on sale I picked it up and became a lifelong Small Faces fan.

There's also an amusing article by Jon Young about the then-popular genre of heavy metal. The genre itself wasn't so amusing if you were in high school who preferred punk and oldies, but metal was pretty much the only music that was "acceptable" to listen to.

Finally, there are some advertisement in this issue that I now consider classic (see right). Punk and new wave might just have been rock's golden era when looked at strictly from a graphic design viewpoint.

One example is the Wax Trax catalog advertisement with its industrial-looking smokestacks. It doesn't explain at all what the company was about, but it was very evocative of a certain "industrial" feel a lot of the new music at the time had. Then there was the Posh Boy Records ad that had an outrageous handwritten "headline" that exclaimed "Music for teenage sex!!" This was just the sort of thing to scare parents and teachers away from punk rock if they happened to spot it when you were reading the magazine. But then, that was part of the music's appeal, wasn't it?

1. Carl Wilson
2. U2
3. Adam & the Ants
4. Rocket 88
5. Dave Edmunds
6. Dick Clark
7. Steve Marriott
8. Sex Pistols Film
9. David Bowie Scrapbook
10. Heavy Metal

Friday, October 21, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #60 (April 1981)

The late, great lead singer of the Clash Joe Strummer gets interviewed by New Musical Express scribe Chris Salewicz for this issue's cover story. I remember this being a huge deal at the time. The Clash had just released Sandinista! (which gets reviewed by publisher Ira Robbins here), and interest was high among new wavers, punks, and people who knew a bit about music.

I have a distinct memory of buying this issue at a short-lived local record store called Blueberries. That same day I also bought a copy of the Jam's Sound Affects, which is also reviewed in this issue. Why do I remember the exact details of music mags and albums I bought as a teenager when I can't even remember what I did last week? Guess it's that adolescent "memory bump" that Dr. Helen Fisher has spoken about. But I digress.

From what I recall, this issue also inspired me to write some things about the Clash in our school paper, which annoyed the hell out of the punk-averse popular kids who were very into AOR groups around this time. A year later, when the Clash exploded with their hits off Combat Rock, these kids were not only apologetic to me, but started treating me like something of a musical sage ("How did you know?!").

I've told this story before on this blog, but I can't help but tell it again. The memories of cheerleaders who went from despising me to hanging on my every word and asking me to go to local clubs are too good to ever forget. I got invited to a lot of parties in the summer of 1982, and have this magazine partially to thank for my transition from Teenage Outcast to Popular Kid. I kid you not.

Wow, was that ever a digression. Then again, who wants to read someone writing about other writers? If you wanna know what's inside the magazine, check it out for yourself. It's definitely one of the best issues they ever did, and I especially like the look that Trouser Press developed around this time. Even the advertisements have a classic feel about them.

Before departing, I should also single out Mick Farren's column on the tragic fate of the late Steve Peregrine Took for special praise. This was the first time I'd ever heard of the concept of self-sabotage and I took it to heart. Farren died a few years back and there was a massive outpouring of grief on Facebook. While he was beloved as a performer, this insightful column is the perfect example of why he was also praised as a writer.

Related posts:
Trouser Press - Issue #09 (June-Aug. 1975)
Trouser Press - Issue #42 (Sept. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #44 (Nov. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #59 (Feb. 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #67 (Nov. 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #70 (Feb. 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #71 (March 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #84 (April 1983)

1. The Vapors
2. Grace Slick
3. Martha and the Muffins
4. Fischer Z
5. Chas Jankel
6. The Clash
7. Son Of Stiff Tour
8. Female Rock Audience
9. Clone Rock
10. UK Independent Labels

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trouser Press - Issue #59 (Feb. 1981)

My scans of old Trouser Press issues now bring us into the 1980s. Actually, I've posted issues from the '80s before. It's just that with this new batch I'm doing it chronologically, so here we are back in the Reagan Era again.

One of the most interesting aspects of this issue are that it contains several "best of" lists for the year 1980. The magazine's critics voted London Calling by the Clash as the year's best album and "Going Underground/"Dreams Of Children" as the best single, two choices I'd definitely agree with. The album review section leads with a look at Double Fantasy in the immediate wake of John Lennon's assassination. Page two also includes a tribute to Lennon.

Even though Rockpile was showcased on the cover, most people probably bought this issue for the article on the Police, who were just starting to really take off in America. It closes with a quote from Sting that was funny then and remains funny now: "By the way, if I give you my trousers today, do you think you can have them pressed by tomorrow?"

Related posts:
Trouser Press - Issue #09 (June-Aug. 1975) 
Trouser Press - Issue #42 (Sept. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #44 (Nov. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #67 (Nov. 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #70 (Feb. 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #71 (March 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #84 (April 1983)

1. Tips for the Top, Middle, and Bottom
2. Top LPs of the Year
3. Top 45s of the Year
4. The Underground's Best
5. Siouxie & the Banshees
6. George Thorogood
7. Monochrome Set
8. Bad Manners
9. Rockpile
10. Rock On Tour
11. Police
12. Gang Of Four