Creem Magazine is back from the dead


“I apologize for ruining this fucking magazine. We're just gonna do it and fuck it all.” Dave Carnie


Creem has returned, Lester Bangs has been reincarnated, JJ Kramer might lose his lawyer job, and Jaan Uhelszki's Voodoo dolls probably have something to do with it.


Two weeks ago, I drove to the Grammy Museum in LA for a special screening of the Creem Documentary, directed by Scott Crawford back in 2019. As a rock nerd, I had already watched it but the Q&A with Creem's new team added to the appeal of driving to downtown at rush hour. There was a question that I wanted to ask, and I failed miserably. More on that later.

JJ Kramer, son of Barry Kramer, the founder of Creem, was there. Having become an Intellectual Property lawyer (never better served than by oneself), he finally has relaunched Creem after an arduous battle to acquire the rights. With Jaan Uhelszki, one of the original journalists from the golden years, and Dave Carnie as the new editorial chief, the magazine is embarking on a brand-new chapter.

When Hanging On Sunset launched in 2020, it was clear that we wanted to create a music discovery outlet that focused on rock n' roll. It was also critical to us that it reflects a rock n' roll spirit, embracing a non-apologetic tone. Creem was our inspiration. As Rolling Stone Magazine became broader in the late 1960s, the Detroit journalists took pride in creating antagonizing, subversive and offensive content in Creem. I'm glad they are back because we need bigger allies in our fight for rock 'n' roll.

“Well, I think that when Creem folded in 89, ever since then really, there's been a pretty massive void that has never been filled. And it presents a huge opportunity for Creem to relaunch and what we learned when we were opening the film a few years ago, was the incredible affinity that people still had for the Creem brand and what it stood for. That spirit, that irreverence, that passion, still exists today.” - JJ Kramer

Though it seems like the spirit of the times isn't very keen on humor or antagonizing others, that need certainly exists. Media outlets rarely cover rock n' roll, and when they do, it's usually ancient legends or former rappers turned "mainstream sellouts" (pun intended). All of them seem to be related to the Kardashians for some reason and that's never a good sign.

I had prepared a great question for Creem's team so I was proudly raising my hand during the Q&A after the screening. The problem is someone asked that great question right before me so when my turn finally came I had to improvise. It didn't help that English isn't my native language so when moderator and journalist legend Scott T. Sterling pointed at me I was nervously sweating. I wanted to be funny but nobody laughed in the room. I don't think my humor transcended my French accent when I asked JJ Kramer what kind of scam he had pulled to get the financial backing for that big operation that is the relaunch of Creem, which includes an extensive digitalization of all the archives and a quarterly print subscription. Regardless of my journalistic demise, his response echoed what we have been saying about the data-driven era confining some pretty good artists to the shadows.

“Well, I probably wouldn't call it a scam. Starting point. I would call it a very compelling story about what's happened to rock n' roll over the past 10 or 15 years. It's been micro-genred and micro-niched to death. And there's really no place that any person can go that's sort of like that big tent for rock n' roll. And that's what Creem always was. It ran to the margins in covering punk when nobody else was covering punk. But then it also came right back to the middle and was covering commercial acts as well. Nobody's doing that right now. And rock n' roll is alive and well. They're really good bands out there that nobody's paying any fucking attention to.” JJ Kramer

I totally agree with JJ, except for his statement that nobody is doing that. We certainly do, albeit on a much smaller scale. Hanging On Sunset is Creem’s little broke cousin. I know, I'm making this all about me... I'm sorry, but one can dream!

Creem's first print issue, as well as its Instagram account, shows its commitment to shining a light on artists who aren't necessarily big. Some of the bands they cover have like 40 followers, so what? Music discovery has always been Creem's focus, and they intend to keep doing so.

“Remaining authentic, telling the stories that we feel are the most important to tell. You look at our site, you look at the first magazine, we don't have a whole lot of advertisements in there. That's by design. Right? We started this as a non-newsstand subscription only business because that gives us permission to tell the stories that we feel are most important. And of course, we're going to grow a little bit over time, but we're going to do it smart. We will never ever sacrifice quality for scale.” JJ Kramer

Obviously, Creem isn't the same magazine as it was in the 1970s. First and foremost, its most iconic voice passed away in 1982 when Lester Bangs overdosed on Valium and Darvon. Yet, there are new voices involved with the new edition who share the same "don't give a shit" attitude. Enters Dave Carnie, co-creator of Jackass and founder of the legenday skateboard outlet Big Brother. Asked how he plans to make his mark on the magazine's new direction, Carnie is blatantly clear that he has no fucking clue:

“It's like trying to drive a car down a hill. I take my hands off the wheel and close my eyes and let's see where it goes.” Dave Carnie

Carnie's unapologetic humor and his shared birthday (December 14) with the late Bangs prompted Jaan Uhelszki to speculate that he might be the reincarnation of punk rock moralist.

“I was born in 69 and then Lester died 12 years later, so I'm not sure how that works. I mean, especially because souls don't exist. So that's also weird. But I think in quantum physics, the math can be worked out.” Dave Carnie

Mercury retrograde advocates might be right: the universe sometimes works in mysterious ways, and Carnie has witnessed his fair share of magical synchronicities. Hence his cosmic dumper story:

“I like dumpster diving. And one day I found boxes of Creem magazines. I grabbed a copy and brought it home. First article I read was Jaan's Kiss story. And when I read it, I was just like: “Shit! You want to interview Kiss but you end up playing with them, that is the best idea ever!” It reminded me of Big Brother. It was very similar. I didn't realize at the time that this was an ancestor to what I was already doing. We took Slayer, the meanest band on Earth to Disneyland, the happiest place in the world. We went kart racing with Gwar. I had my beard shaved by Zach Galifianakis.” Dave Carnie

After a few months, Creem's new CEO, John Martin, contacted Carnie and asked if he would like to play. The rest is history. Jaan might be onto something after all... Plus, she claims to own some Voodoo dolls, so who knows?

Whether they can maintain the magazine's irreverence might be a question.

“We're certainly a lot more sensitive to the nuance, or to the things that were a little mean before. I mean, I've read some of the things I wrote and I'm appalled. I wish I could just erase them. But you can't”. Jaan Uhelszki

For Dave Carnie, the ambient sensitivity is actually a delightful opportunity.

“Can we still offend people? The answer is yes. And it seems to be even easier now.” Dave Carnie

Creem's offensive nature was actually always a sign of affection, explained Uhelszki:

"The abuse of love was an ethos of Creem. If we liked you, we would make fun of you or insult you. If we didn't like you, we'd say nice things about you. So that's the key to Detroit. If we're too nice to you, we don't give a shit.” Jaan Uhelszki

I was just asked to cut a chunk of an interview by a former guest because people have said they've been offended by something they said. Earlier this week, another guest requested to listen back to the interview due to fear of being too "aggressive". People have never been so scared of their own opinions. For goodness sake, we're not even a political outlet, we discuss music! Yet, artists seem to fear losing their careers if they express their opinions too strongly. I'm not blaming them, people are getting scrutinized and the Twitter police can take them down a rabbit hole of shame. There's something revelatory about that in a country where freedom of speech is supposed to be sacred... There's no doubt Creem will remain polarizing, and that's a good thing. It may cost JJ Kramer his job as an IP lawyer. We’re not there yet and the other good news is that Creem mag will expand in the future:

“The tip of the spear is the magazine, which is going to be the beating heart of everything else that we do, but there are bigger aspirations. So we've actually positioned the company as an entertainment company, not a media company. Media companies aggregate eyeballs and sell them to advertisers, whereas entertainment companies build long term relationships with their audiences. And that's what we're aspiring to do. We're starting with a magazine. And here's where the whole IP lawyer thing comes in. But it's an IP incubator. There are really compelling stories and voices in the magazine that can live beyond its pages. Now, whether that's a podcast or television show, or graphic novel, or merch, or collaboration with an artist, all of those things are going to kind of happen organically.” JJ Kramer

We'll be here to see that story unfold. Meanwhile, I'm going back to the first issue of the new Creem.


Creem is risen, long live Creem!


- Vincent Walter Jacob


https://www.creem.com/

https://www.instagram.com/creemmag/


Dave Carnie, JJ Kramer, Jaan Uhelszki and moderator Scott T. Sterling at the Grammy Museum. By Vincent Walter Jacob.

Dave Carnie & JJ Kramer at the Grammy Museum. By Vincent Walter Jacob.

Dave Carnie, JJ Kramer, Jaan Uhelszki and moderator Scott T. Sterling at the Grammy Museum. By Vincent Walter Jacob.