Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles 1977-80
Edited by Brian Roettinger and J.C. Gabel
[Hat & Beard Press]
The 1980s was a weird era. At the time, we were too fucked up to realize that it was an era of sociopolitical and/or cultural significance. At the time, the ’80s was just the present, another stinkin’ decade that came after the ’70s, not “The ’80s.” We were young and, like, fuck it, man. Nuclear annihilation was inevitable, so let’s party hard, live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse. I mean, hey. When we were 18 the very idea of living to see 30 was unthinkable. Not because we were necessarily living lives of death-defying abandon (I was, but that’s another hackneyed and pathetic story), but because we were too busy raising hell to think about next fucking week, let alone a decade plus down the road. Life’s funny like that. Youth is wasted on the wasted young. C’est la vie.
OK, I’m not going to go into a longwinded tirade about when or where punk really started. Let’s just say that punk crystallized and was commoditized as a pop culture phenomenon writ large in Britain around 1977. Sure, there were punk enclaves in larger American cities too. But it wasn’t popular in the U.S. – so you couldn’t classify it as a popular culture per se. American punk didn’t start big. It was an isolated urban phenomenon that burned out fast. And then, after the burnout, punk kind of festered as hardcore in the suburban sub-underground, later to be appropriated and amalgamated by speed metal and grunge – and finally to be regurgitated, post-grunge, to great commercial effect by pop punk hacks like Green Day and Blink 182. (Granted, Green Day, Blink-182 and the like do have their charms, which seem to resound exponentially in hindsight. Again, life’s funny like that. I digress.)
Sure, American punk started in NYC. But that was kind of a bohemian, artsy thing played by former glitter rockers who were by then pushing 30 – which seemed ancient. American punk for “the kids” gained real momentum in Los Angeles at the waning of the ’70s.
This was the milieu of Slash, the gritty, tabloid formatted zine that chronicled proto-hardcore bands like X, The Germs and the Flesh Eaters. Slash was an angrier, funnier, less sophisticated cousin of the New York Rocker. Slash was really important. And, sadly, Slash is all but lost in the sands of time.
Thankfully, the good folks at Hat & Beard Press have seen fit to bust all of the yellowing, crumbling issues of the zine out of the vault for posterity’s sake with Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles 1977-80. And this is a cause for celebration – but perhaps not as much celebration as I’d hoped because the bulk of the lavishly illustrated 496 page book is about the magazine. What I’d hoped for (and what I thought I was getting – because, hey, 496 is a huge page count) was all of the zines themselves combined in a single volume. Instead, what we have here is a really cool coffee table book with a lot of great pictures and rose-colored, retrospective commentary from usual suspects like Keith Morris, Jenny Lens, Nicole Panter, Richard Meltzer. I mean, this is cool. The thing is, I already knew Slash was a cool zine. I wanted the zine.
Well, I’ll qualify this. All of the zine is reprinted. But the reprints are four tabloid size pages reduced to approximately 3 x 4 inch size each stuck on a single page – which is to say that while the reader can indeed see what the zine itself looked like, the print is still too small to actually read. This ain’t workin’.
Slash covered cool bands, some of which are all but forgotten. But the best thing about Slash was the editorials by Kickboy Face (Claude Bessy) and the letters section. You can’t read a word of the letters. And only a paltry 10 pages of Kickboy Face’s screeds are reproduced at a print size that is discernible to the human eye.
Slash was utterly nihilistic. But Slash’s nihilism wasn’t exactly the black-clad, Gauloise smoking, poker-faced nihilism of black-clad French existentialists – even though Kickboy Face was actually a Frenchman who may well have smoked Gauloise cigarettes. (He certainly smoked cigarettes, as is evidenced in the recently [finally!] re-released Decline of Western Civilization.) Slash’s nihilism was fun nihilism. It was so over-the-top, you couldn’t take it seriously. And anyway, at the time we were young and, like, fuck it, man. Nuclear annihilation was inevitable. So bring it on!
Kickboy writes: Music for now means just that. You live it you experience it, you consume it and you discard it. The record is a disposable item. The music magazine is another disposable item. Slash no. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are useless yellowing pieces of paper holding no interest but for the nostalgia buffs. A lot of work went into them but so what? There was nothing else to do with our time anyway, except run around making a stupid living, mouthing stupid conversations and waiting for old age.
So I guess the joke’s on me. I myself have become a nostalgia buff and am no longer waiting for old age – it’s upon me.
The best that we can hope for in postmodernity, I suppose, is a reduced-sized, shoddily reproduced simulacrum of the original artifact. What I wanted was Slash magazine. What I got was a coffee table book, albeit a nice one. I’m still glad I got it. Diminished expectations yield acceptable results, I guess. Live fast, die slow and all that.