Tonight a post about the Ramones on a friend's LiveJournal reminded me of Lisa Robinson's Rock Scene Magazine. Rock Scene came out in the 1970s. It was similar to another Lisa Robinson magazine, Hit Parader, but whereas Hit Parader often covered mainstream rock, mainstream pop, bubblegum and song lyrics, Rock Scene primarily provided photo documentation of up and coming New York bands, bands whose "rising" would eventually be called punk.
Lisa Robinson and her husband Richard put it out. She was a good rock journalist, but she let snippets of text and black and white photos tell the story in Rock Scene.
These were bands all playing clubs in New York, all either just signed or on the verge of being signed by record companies. There were the Ramones, and a quirky bunch called Talking Heads. Blondie alternated pages with Television. Cross-dressing Wayne County sought to find edges of envelopes to push. These pre-internet days features about unsigned bands required one to accept the journalists' word that these bands were "the coming thing", without really having the opportunity to hear them until they were signed. Rock Scene did not even try to give the wordy explanations that Creem could offer, tongue in cheek, nor the breezy summations of Circus Magazine. Rock Scene instead gave you pulpy, non-glossy pictures on cheap paper, with enough text to provide a smattering of understanding of the scene.
Before I ever heard the Ramones, I understood that they wrote two minute songs, and that they weren't brothers, but all used the surname Ramone. I knew that Television's Tom Verlaine had the kind of poetic muse thing going that only Patti could muster. It was a time when David Byrne understood about psycho killers, but had not quite understood how to just break down and let rhythm happen. When it all came to pass, the rock press breathlessly described the 6,000 dollar recording price tag of the Ramones' first album, or the sheer transport of Television's Marquee Moon. Marquee Moon proved influential like the old saying about the Velvet Underground's albums, which supposedly sold only 68,000 copies, but each listener went and started his or her own band.
I think that the best scenes arise from bands united less by style or genre than by a willing audience of flexible fans. The New York punk and new wave scenes were not the marketing parodies of the Sex Pistols, but a kind of flower garden of sounds and ideas.
I think sometimes about the 14 or 15 year old kid I was, picking up magazines at the grocery store about bands I would not hear for another couple of years. Post-show pictures, post-party pictures, poorly done "celebrity stills". I'm sure I looked mostly for coverage of bands I knew better and could buy, rather than yet another photo spread of the Dictators. I did absorb so much from that little picture magazine, though. It was like living at a distant remove from where the music seemed to be--1200 miles away, completely unavailable--until somebody got signed someday.
Now popular music seems dominated once again by homogenized genre stuff. Even alternative is now another genre, kind of a hip, funny jazz. I didn't think in 1974 that punk or any similarly retro movement was the answer to the malaise in rock, and I don't think so in 2004. I'm more intrigued by bands that wish they were the Carter Family than by bands who wish they were Television.
Maybe we need another Rock Scene, and something completely new. I'll watch my grocery shore shelves, and let you know if anything turns up.