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Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 21, 2022


Featuring Dave Marsh, Connie Kramer, JJ Kramer, Jaan Ulheszki, Dave DiMartino, Susan Whitall, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, Roberta “Robbie” Cruger, Wayne Kramer, Cameron Crowe, Jeff Ament, Chad Smith, Niagara Detroit, Ted Nugent, Peter Wolf, Jeff Daniels, Ann Powers, Michael Stipe, Lamar Sorrento, Michael N. Marks, Resa Jannett, Robert Stark, Robert Duncan, Lenny Kaye, Alice Cooper, Suzi Quatro, Mitch Ryder, Bebe Buell, Thurston Moore, Chris Stein, Kirk Hammett, Joan Jett, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Don Was, Scott Kempner, Legs McNeil, John Varvatos, Billy Altman, Johnny “Bee” Badanchek, Michael Des Barres, Dan Carlisle, Patrick Carney, Chuck Eddy, Shepard Fairey, Ben Fong-Torres, Bill Holdship, John Holmstrom, Craig S. Karpel, Jack Kronk, Toby Mamis, Neal Preston, Patti Quatro, Scott Richardson, Wayne Robins, Linda Barber Roach, John Sinclair, Scott Sterling, Gregg Turner, Sandra Stretke van Landingham, Ed Ward, James Williamson and archival footage of Barry Kramer and Lester Bangs.

Written by Scott Crawford and Jaan Ulheszki.

Directed by Scott Crawford.

Distributed by Greenwich Entertainment. 75 minutes. Not Rated.

I wrote some articles for the legendary rock magazine Creem. Not in its DIY heyday, but in the 1990s when the magazine was rebooted as a glossy music version of Andy Warhol’s then-popular Interview magazine. Still, it is an honor to this day to have played even a small part in the fabulous Creem story.

In the early days, Creem was like a National Lampoon about music. And yet, Creem was also stubbornly unique, a triumph of attitude and inexperience which became a defining totem of the rock and roll lifestyle. It was never as popular as Rolling Stone. In fact, it struggled to stay afloat for years before finally succumbing to economic and personality pressures and the loss (through quitting, or death, or both) of three of its figureheads. Then again, Creem never wanted to be another Rolling Stone. In fact, it was a rebellion against Rolling Stone.

Creem was an escape for the outsiders and unaffected. It helped expose punk, glam, metal and new wave to the world, and yet it was hip enough to only partially ironically put “John Denver is God, Bruce Springsteen is not God” on a cover. Creem was willfully anti-establishment, except for when it was more fun to wallow in pop culture. The interviews were often combative. The record reviews often barely even mentioned the music on the album they were supposedly discussing.

Creem was a triumph of attitude and style. It was an immature little boy’s club (as the female writers and editors readily acknowledge here) that became the epitome of cool for a generation of outcasts and losers. It had music. It had cars. It had alcohol. It had tits. It had life, passion and an offbeat point of view which appealed to an audience that had felt misunderstood.

Creem was so uncool that it somehow became effortlessly hip.

The crazy backstory of Creem is celebrated – mostly successfully – in the new documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine.

This fascinating documentary takes a look at the wild west days of the magazine, when it was an amateur startup in the Detroit area which was run by such outsized personalities as owner/publisher Barry Kramer, editor Dave Marsh and legendary rock journalist and professional provocateur Lester Bangs.

The magazine was an unabashed celebration of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and the film about the world of Creem obviously has the same passions. Put together by Kramer’s widow and co-worker Connie and son JJ – who was just a child when his father died and has just recently gotten control of the magazine’s archives – this is a warts and all look at a business model which just could not work in the current world.

Creem was blissfully anti-PC – some of the writers and editors acknowledge some of the things they said could be mean, or at least insensitive – but it was also a lot of fun to read. Also, to work at, though this film doesn’t overlook the combustible personalities in charge. Kramer and Bangs had more of their share of demons, and Marsh could also go off at a moment’s notice. Still, that very unpredictability makes this much more intriguing than most workplace documentaries.

There is an entire extended section in which a bunch of people lay into Rolling Stone, calling it a staid establishment magazine while Creem was hipper and edgier. This may even actually be true. In fact, it undoubtedly was. But still, seeing about five to ten minutes of Creem people taking pot shots at their more popular, older, more mainstream competition comes off as a little petty and juvenile.

Then again, as this documentary shows, Creem was never above getting a little petty and juvenile when it suited them.

Interestingly, the film doesn’t even mention the 1990s reboot of the magazine for which I wrote. (The film closes the door with Creem originally going under in 1989.) It barely even acknowledges the mid-late 1980s new wave continuation of the mag under different management; dismissing it with a brief statement in which former co-founder Connie Kramer philosophically says that it was fine for what it was. It is probably for the best, on both counts. The legend of Creem is in the Barry Kramer, Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs years. Everything else was fine, but just not the same.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: August 7, 2020.

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