Rock History

The Battle for the Soul of Creem Magazine


A few weeks ago Doug Ford, the creator of the Drastic Plastic Program on CKUT 90.3 FM where I host Rock and Roll Report Radio was reminiscing what it was like creating the radio show in the pre-internet age where music, especially the more eclectic brand of rock and roll was very difficult to come by. For those of us who remember it well, collecting and writing about rock and roll was a whole different experience before things like MySpace came around. Searching out those tiny record stores that always had those cool 7 inch vinyl imports, scouring the used record bins, writing away for and collecting numerous poorly printed fanzines and buying magazines. Loads and loads of magazines from Rolling Stone to Circus to Hit Parader to the NME but most of all to Creem.

Creem magazine was a vital piece of rock and roll intelligence, a definite link to some of the coolest rock and roll, especially in the early to mid-seventies when the Creem stable of rock writers was unparalleled. But as with all things rock and roll, good things grow stale and whither for lack of funds, interest or just bad luck and Creem was no exception when it finally wound down in the late eighties amid massive debts and dwindling readership.

Recently, a former freelance photographer named Robert Matheu has released a retrospective book of the mag called Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n Roll Magazine and it has raised quite a ruckus amongst old time staff members of the mag. Dave Marsh, who along with writers like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Richard Meltzer and Greil Marcus were responsible for what some may term the glory years of Creem has been adamant in his criticism. In a recent article in The New York Observer Marsh complained that he has felt “like Trotsky being rubbed out of the photograph.”

The rub according to Marsh is that Matheu has almost completely downplayed the early years of the mag for the later, somewhat lackluster years when Creem seemed to have lost its way and he is not the only one who apparently things that.

“It’s not Creem as it really was,” Susan Whitall, a writer at the Detroit News who edited the magazine from 1977 until 1983, told The Observer. “I look at it and it’s like looking in a funhouse mirror, because I’m looking at something I was involved in, but it’s not quite right, it’s not quite in focus.”

“John Mellencamp?” she said with incredulity. “He’s in there. Come on! He’s so un- Creem. Also, Duran Duran? I mean, what?”

The whole story is a fascinating rock and roll soap opera, especially when you throw in an apparent physical altercation between Matheu and Creem founder Barry Kramer’s son J.J. Kramer during the recent launch party for the book. It all makes for fascinating, if somewhat sad reading as this once proudly degenerate rock institution goes through the spin cycle, but probably the most telling comment that describes the difference between the pioneering Creem of old with the later version is this by former senior editor Jaan Uhelszki: “It’s like two separate magazines. The later one is like proto-Spin.” Ouch!

Check out the links for all the grisly details.