Now a new documentary, Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine, recreates those lost days of challenge. It opened on Virtual Cinema on Friday and you can stream it here!
Founded in 1969 by Detroit headshop mogul Barry Kramer, fans and stars quickly pushed its circulation to over 200,000, likely because it didn’t have the pretense of rival Rolling Stone.
REM’s Michael Stipe loved the magazine because it directly addressed his readers looking for 411 on Kiss, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, and dozens of other stars in the rock pantheon.
Among the colorful anecdotes of the doc:
– Kramer once threw a garbage can at the head of proto punker Iggy Pop.
– Joan Jett showed up at the offices of Motown magazine, threatening to hit the critic who blasted the Runaways debut album.
– The magazine also published the first poems of future star Patti Smith.
“My whole life has radically changed [when he saw Smith after she broke out on the cover]. I found [my gang] in Creem magazine, ”Stipe said.
“It’s strange how much we were like our readers,” Jaan Uhelszki, former staff member and writer / producer of the doc, told the New York Post. “We had no other place to go and the letters to the editor had weird rock star fantasies.”
And what the magazine writers had: Lester Bangs, Nick Tosches, Cameron Crowe [Fast Times at Ridgemont High] et Charles Bukowski.
Creem’s writers were involved in rock excess too: Bangs wrote a review of the J. Geills Band while they were still playing, then smashed his typewriter at the end; Uhelszki convinced Kiss to let her take the stage, all made up, and the writer even performed on the group’s seminal Rock and Roll All-Nite.
“It changed my life,” she says. “It was my escape story and I came to understand the draw of the scene. I understood why people don’t give up on performances.
But like a cocaine crash, things at the magazine started to deteriorate in the 1980s as its best writers left and Kramer turned to drugs. In 1981, he did an OD on nitrous oxide with a dry cleaning bag over his head. The magazine published its last issue in 1989.
Oddly enough, he left the ownership of the famous magazine to his then 4-year-old son JJ, now an intellectual property lawyer. Using his legal skills, he re-acquired the stories and photos from the magazine.
JJ Kramer now has plans for Creem TV, a website – and possibly a relaunch of the magazine.