discontents zine

Some of my old zine-making friends (namely Patrick Barber and Craig Gates) and I recently decided to return to our roots and make a new zine. The pilot issue is available from Impeller Press.

Cover art by Tae Won Yu.
Cover printed by Patrick Barber.

Table of Contents:

Features:

  • Ceremony by Roy Christopher
  • STILL: A Tribute to Hsi-Chang Lin by Roy Christopher
  • Secret Bike-Riding Club by Cynthia Connolly
  • Chipping Shins by Greg Pratt
  • Drawing Lines by Andy Jenkins
  • Michael Cooper by Spike Jonze
  • James Ward Byrkit Interview by Roy Christopher
  • Two Poems by Peter Relic

Columns:

  • Preface: This is the pilot by Roy Christopher
  • UNSUNG: Unwound by Roy Christopher
  • BILF: Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown by Roy Christopher
  • Music Ruined My Life by Timothy Baker
  • 1Q with Fatboi Sharif
  • Exit Interview: Marnie Ellen Hertzler

Get yours from Impeller Press before they’re all gone!

HEADTUBE zine

In the early 00s, I was trying to pull together a lot of influences. HEADTUBE was my attempt to return to BMX zine-making while maintaining my other, newfound interests.

The original idea driving HEADTUBE was to unify the bicycle-riding attitude across styles. Cyclists, mountain bikers, fixed-gear heads, and BMX all have different styles and terrains, but there’s still a view they all share. That shared space was where HEADTUBE was going to live.

I started a website for it around the same time as this first issue, and I ran that pretty diligently for a few years, then I moved on to other things. I never made another print issue, so here is a .pdf of the only one.

15/51

Inspired by Brian Tunney and his zine Larry’s Donuts is Dead, I’ve been wanting to restage this photo from a year-book shoot in 1986. Though you can’t tell from the background, I went back to the same church parking lot where the original was taken and did the barhop again. 

Tunney does this with famous BMX photos and spots from old magazines. Despite my impeccable fashion sense, this picture didn’t even make the yearbook!

Walk This Way

I was in the tenth grade when Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” came out. I remember hearing it and feeling like something truly unique was happening. Raw, raucous, and rocking. It brought together fans of both traditional rock n’ roll and rebellious hip-hop.

Recently, I pitched the song to a book series specifically about individual songs, but they didn’t agree on the impact or the import of it. Well, while I was factchecking my memory, I found out there’s already a whole book about it! There’s no doubt it was a special moment in music, a new node in a burgeoning network of sound.

Notebook cover I made from the sleeve of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell (1986).

Aerosmith’s original version of “Walk This Way,” from their 1975 record Toys in the Attic, starts with a few measures of just the beat. It’s just the kind of clean drum beat hip-hop DJs scour recordings to find. With two copies of the record, one can loop it back and forth, providing a seamless backbeat to rap over. Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay had already been using the record in this manner.

In 1986, Aerosmith was in shambles. Their 1985 reunion record Done With Mirrors had not met the expectations of their fans or their label, and their personal lives were in decline due to persisting drug problems. Starting with singer Steven Tyler, they would all enter rehab over the next couple of years. If not, they knew they were likely over as a band. After rehab and collaborating with Run-DMC on “Walk This Way,” Aerosmith followed the song with a string of multi-platinum albums and Top 40 hits, entering the most successful era of their careers and becoming one of the biggest rock bands of the 1990s. It was a miraculous turnaround.

Though they hated the idea at the time, Run-DMC’s version of “Walk This Way” is a testament to the ear of their producer Rick Rubin. His production style, which he’d already used on previous Run-DMC records, as well as records for T La Rock & Jazzy Jay, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J, was credited as “reduction” instead of production. He stripped their sound down to its basic elements: boom-bapping 808 drums, classic-rock guitar riffs, the shouted voices of Reverend Run Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and the nimble cuts and scratches of Jam Master Jay.

As a nascent record label mogul and producer, Rubin was only getting started. The iconic sound he developed with early hits like “It’s Yours,” “Rock the Bells,” “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and “Walk This Way” keep him in demand to this day. He’s gone on to produce everyone from Public Enemy, Ghetto Boys, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Kanye West to the Mars Volta, Metallica, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Lana Del Rey, and Adele, and he’s redone the reduced style of his early work on everything from Jay-Z’s double-platinum “99 Problems” (2003) to Eminem’s Grammy-nominated “Berzerk” (2013), even appearing in the videos for both songs.

Speaking of, the video for “Walk This Way” was as iconic as the song. It starts as a fight, with Aerosmith practicing loudly in one room, disrupting Run-DMC’s session next door. Run-DMC then turns up the volume on their equipment and launches into their version of “Walk This Way,” confusing the aged rockers. By the chorus, the wall is torn down (inviting more than a few interpretations), and the two groups are ripping through the song together. The video was even parodied in 1994 by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on their song “Flavor” which features Beck in the practice space next door.

For better or worse, “Walk This Way” also sparked the further mixture of rap and riffs, giving birth to collaborations between rap groups and rock groups and a start to acts firmly on the fence in between. Public Enemy and Anthrax covered PE’s “Bring the Noise” in 1991. The two groups even toured together that year. I saw them at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a chocolate-and-peanut-butter package that also included Young Black Teenagers and Primus. In 1993, the infamous Judgement Night soundtrack featured collaborations between Slayer and Ice-T, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, and Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien, among many other embarrassing pairings. And, as if reading “Walk This Way” as a blueprint to success, acts like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Rage Against the Machine also emerged in the 1990s.

“Walk This Way” was an unavoidable song and an undeniable hit, Run-DMC’s biggest, peaking at #4 on the Billboard chart. It was bigger even than Aerosmith’s original, which just broke the top ten. Run-DMC is one of the core groups of the first recorded era of rap music and hip-hop culture. They were successful and respected before and after this song, but they never saw heights like “Walk This Way.” The song was the nexus of several trajectories and the birth of a hybrid new life form that still stomps around today.

wow&flutter

In 1997 I put out a zine called wow&flutter [.pdf]. It was an attempt to merge two of my main musical interests at the time, turntablism and experimental noise. I interviewed DJ QBert, DJ Spooky, John Duncan, and Daniel Menche, and reviewed records from the rapidly expanding releases of ambient, noise, and turntable artists. I lived in Seattle at the time, and there was so much going on in all of these areas. There were regular live events and several specialty stores, and I tried to bring them all together under the banner of sound experimentation.

wow&flutter was intended as part of a series, but the second issue, attack&decay, featuring interviews with Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto and Warren Defever of His Name is Alive, among others, never made it to press. I still love the idea of noise and hip-hop coming together, and there are others who’ve merged them in the meantime better than I could have imagined (e.g., dälek, clipping., Ho99o9, Death Grips, Cloaks, Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin, et al.)

It’s been 25 years since its release, but maybe it’s worth another look. Download this .pdf of the first issue, and you’ll see the seeds of my future projects like Dead Precedents and Boogie Down Predictions.

 

“Hope for Boats”: A Prologue Reading

On October 11, 2022, I read the Prologue of my story “Hope for Boats” to the Rotary Club of Elba, Alabama, on which the fictional town in the story is loosely based. You can read the excerpt along with me below. 

 

 

The town of Elbo was built in a crook of the Pea River. If you think that’s where it got its name, you’d be one of the many that are misinformed about this town’s origins. One of the area’s early residents was reading Herodotus’ Histories, in which he describes an island “ten furlongs by ten furlongs, built of ash and earth.” Elbo is named after this island as it was drawn from a hat before any of the other suggestions.

And if you have a joke about the Pea River, save it. From Linda Blair to urinal cakes, we’ve heard them all.

The water flowing by in that crook in the Pea River sometimes tries to straighten out, flooding the town of Elbo, but not before the area around its original downtown intersection becomes an island. The citizens have built bridges and walls, but when those two sides wish to meet, there’s no stopping them.

Two warring families settled in this area before there was a town. As there often are, a young son and a young daughter from each just had to be together in spite of their families’ differences. That young love, the fires of which have long since ceased to burn, belonged to Fannie Demer and Thomas James Hickok. Theirs was a short courtship, but a long engagement. As Thomas James was fond of saying, “I can put a ring on her finger, but I can’t make her an honest woman.” More than anyone, they are responsible for establishing what we now know as Elbo, Alabama. 

Have you ever watched a bird build its nest? They gather pieces of limbs, leaves, detritus, debris, dirt, mud, and plastic—piles of the past culled for a cradle for the future. Birds put all of their eggs in one makeshift basket. 

That was him.

Have you ever watched a spider weave its web? They’re as meticulous as they are calculating. Once they pick the right spot between the limbs of trees or fence posts or poles, they spend as much time as it takes building their lattice trap. Spiders then hang in the middle, waiting. The very picture of patience. 

That was her.

Today is his funeral.

Today there is a parade in her honor.

Either event would halt the town for the day. Both will bury it. The lines are drawn. Sides must be chosen. Maybe it won’t flood again.

 

 

Many thanks to Courtney Pelham for setting this up, the Rotary Club for their time and interest, Malarkey Book for publishing this Prologueand Cindy Bayer for filming. 

The story remains in-progress.

The Medium Picture Object: A Photo Essay

Released in 1979, Douglas Hofstadter’s first book, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, is an expansive volume that explores how living things come to be from nonliving things. It’s about self-reference and emergence and creation and lots of other things. It’s well worth checking out.

For the cover of his heady tome, Hofstadter carved two wood-block objects such that their shadows would cast the book’s initials when lit against a flat backdrop. He went the extra step of working in the initials for the subtitle as well.

Earlier this year, I was inspired to emulate Hofstadter’s sculpture. I found a way to put the initials for my media-theory book-in-progress, The Medium Picture—TMPinto a similar configuration. This is one of my early sketches.

The sketches I did at least made the thing appear possible, so I started exploring physical options. After trying different materials and digging around craft stores, I finally found some letters that were about the right shape and would save me a lot of time toward the final object.

I was fortunate to find letters with similar proportions to the ones I’d been drawing. The first thing was to cut the M to make the P the top of the T. Like so:

 

After some papier-mâché tweaking, calk to round the leg of the M, and a coat of white paint, the object was ready to test.

 

Now that it physically existed, I knew the real test would be hanging it, lighting it, and capturing its shadows correctly. I built a contraption for just that out of things found around my parents’ house.

It was as sketchy as it looks. The object was suspended with two pieces of fishing line, and I had to turn off the air conditioning to get the thing to hang still for the picture. I found some pieces of foamcore in my sister’s old closet for the backdrop and gathered up tiny flashlights from all over the house.

With the LED flashlights propped and taped in place, this is the final set-up.

And this is the final shot. It’s not quite as intricate or as elegant as Hofstadter’s, but I’m pretty stoked on it. I think it will make a striking cover image and a fitting tribute to his work.

I belabored this process here because about half the people who see the final image ask me what software I used to make it. I know this could’ve been done digitally in any 3-D imaging suite, but I wanted to make it for real, just as Douglas Hofstadter had done.