Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Greg Shaw and the Roots of Rock Fandom

Three years ago, Suzy Shaw and Mick Farber produced a book called WHO PUT THE BOMP: SAVING THE WORLD ONE RECORD AT A TIME (Ammo Books, 301 pages, $34.95), which collected the cream (or creem) off the top of the late Greg Shaw's seminal rock fanzine WHO PUT THE BOMP (1970-79). To be honest, I still haven't seen that book, so I must imagine its pros and cons from the largely enthusiastic customer reviews at Amazon.com, and some idea of that book is probably necessary to reach a fully accurate assessment of the recently released follow-up volume, BOMP 2: BORN IN THE GARAGE, subtitled "Greg Shaw and the Roots of Rock Fandom 1970-1981," edited by Suzy Shaw and Mike Stax (Bomp & Lit Publishing, 312 pages, $15.95). That said, I found myself completely and utterly absorbed in reading its articles and perusing its discographies, first as a reader and music buff, but foremost as a former fanzine publisher myself.
I don't know how the first BOMP book handled the backstory of the fanzine that, along with Paul Williams' CRAWDADDY!, launched serious rock criticism and inspired the likes of CREEM and ROLLING STONE, but BOMP 2 does a very thorough and self-contained job. The Foreword is by rock reissue producer Alec Palao (you can thank him for the ZOMBIE HEAVEN CD set), which in itself already says something about the fertile impact of WPTB on its readers; he reminisces about his early exposure to photocopies of the zine circulated among friends, which he consulted like "an oracle, where discographies are ancient runes, and the fragments of commentary, pearls of an ancient, knowing wisdom." The introduction by Kinks biographer Jon Savage deals more specifically with WPTB as a product of Greg Shaw (1949-2004), and as a product of its time, a time that also saw the issue of such classics of rock archaeology as the NUGGETS compilation, an album that might have been unthinkable without the audience Shaw had organized. In just a few pages, Savage covers a lot of frontal ground and also subtle subtext, such as how Shaw's enthusiasm was dissipated over time by the fluctuations of what was happening in music in the present tense, as a business and as a mutating beast of the music he loved. Then there's Mike Stax's amazing 12-page overview of Shaw's entire publishing history, including WPTB, the APA zines METANOIA, LIQUID LOVE and ALLIGATOR WINE, and the newsstand-circulated BOMP (including its unpublished 22nd issue).
Ken Barnes follows this with a detailed history of his own long involvement with Shaw and his creation, and other key personalities behind the scenes, capturing perfectly the feel of a time when records were a rare addiction and knowledge of bands like The Velvet Underground or The Seeds was like a secret handshake among a cognoscenti only able to identify itself being cultivated by rallying points like WPTB -- an audience largely recruited from the subcultures of comics and science fiction fanzines. Much of what Barnes writes about Shaw strongly resonated with my own memories of meeting and working with Frederick S. Clarke of CINEFANTASTIQUE, which was in its own way a cinema analogue to what Shaw was doing for rock. Artist William Stout (who also provides a magnificent cover) writes about Shaw's tenebrous involvement in his past life as the artist for some classic bootleg album covers, such as TALES FROM THE WHO. And then Greg's widow, Suzy Shaw, offers her own compelling, frank memoir of Greg and what has happened with the Bomp empire (which went on to include its own record label) since his death. All this accounts for only the first 40 pages of the book, which amply rewards your $16 investment (cheap)!
What constitutes the bulk of the book are scanned pages from WPTB's ten-year history, focusing on material germaine to what Shaw considered the bread and butter of his musical ethos: garage rock: The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Seeds, The Flaming Groovies, The Shangri-Las, The Cryan Shames and Dave Edmunds -- but also curiosities like Shindig, producer Jack Nietsche (Ken Barnes delivers the definitive study of this guy), Dutch rock and Beatles novelties. There's a LOT of information here, perhaps not ideally organized for quick retrieval, but the book certainly projects a world you can get lost in.
As a former fanzine publisher myself, and as someone who used to swap my rags for a great many sf zines, I was especially moved by what this book recaptures of that subculture in terms of its fannish mindset and cartoons (many of them by William Rotsler, who I didn't realize at the time was the director of MANTIS IN LACE, THE GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES and many other genre-tinged sexploitation flicks) -- some of which my experienced eye recognized as having been traced onto mimeograph stencils! That said, for many readers, the most compelling aspect of this retrospective may well be its collection of Shaw's editorials (which chart the growth of his brainchild as well as the scene it helped spawn, and the friction between his quixotic musical sensibilities and what was happening in music at the time) and -- something evidently omitted from the first volume -- samplings from WPTB's legendary letters pages, which includes correspondence from such luminaries (and later luminaries) as John Peel, Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye, Greil Marcus, Kim Fowley, Richard Meltzer, Ed Ward and Jay Kinney. (Might that letter from Tom Miller on page 160 actually have been written by the future Tom Verlaine?)
Any book that brings back to my nostrils the fragrance of mimeo sheets, typewriter ribbons, staples and fresh vinyl warrants my highest recommendation. I guess I'll be heading off to Amazon for Volume 1.

1 comment:

  1. John Linton2:01 PM

    Hi Tim-
    You'll love the first Bomp book as well. Suzy takes us readers by the hand and walks us right through those wild and crazy days as only she can. Bomp Volume 1 gives all the background needed to thoroughly enjoy Mike Stax's great omnibus Bomp Vol. 2. Happy reading!

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