With this issue I decided to go back to the original format — 11-by-17 tabloid free newspaper paid for by ads. And take one last shot at trying to set it up as an actual business (hence the “Businessman Special” title). I even talked our old printer into taking us back (I convinced them that the “Gore and Violence” issue had merely been a youthful indescretion and that I would be a good boy from here on in). . . The content was kind of workman-like. It lacked a lot the magic and inspiration of some of the earlier issues. But there’s still some solid stuff in there. And the “magic” hadn’t help me make a profit off the damn thing anyways. So maybe there was something to be said for a simpler, more meat-and-potatoes, approach. The cover, of course, isn’t an example of my more subtle attempts at satire. Let’s just say at this point I had decided to err on the side of the obvious.
I had pretty much lost interest in the Punk Rock thing by this point (1986). To me punk had kind of become a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy. And it’s depressing how quickly a once dynamic and original cultural movement can congeal into dogma and orthodoxy (along with all the self-appointed leaders who see the parade going by and rush up front and pretend to “lead” it). . . So I was shooting for a more general “underground-slash-counterculture art” kind of audience. People interested in the stuff just a bit off the fringe of the mainstream, but without devolving into total weirdness. People interested in an actual letter from Charles Manson and stuff like that.
I had also developed a huge number of correspondences. Hundreds of letters, artwork and assorted madness would come flooding into my mail box every month. I “lived for the mail” during this period. So I didn’t even need to leave my apartment to come up with most of the content for TWISTED IMAGE. Which was fine by me. It just came to me on it’s own. And my job as managing editor (so-called) was simply to pick out the most interesting bits to publish.
The TWISTED IMAGE on-line archives:
By this time I had concluded that publishing TWISTED IMAGE was an excellent formula for a.) expending a tremendous amount of energy working like a dog, and b.) a great way to lose a tremendous amount of money. So I was starting to lose whatever enthusiasm I had had for publishing the damn thing. By this time the paper had veered so far off-course from my original vision, that I was no longer even sure what the newspaper was supposed to be about. And nobody else was sure, either, that’s for damn sure. As far as I could tell, the concept for TWISTED IMAGE by this point had basically devolved into: Anything That I Ace Backwords Happened To Be Interested In. And while I, as a demographic audience of one, was certainly satisfied with the content. There no longer seemed to be any point to catering to myself as an audience of one.
So I gave up. Concluded: Fuck this shit! I concede. I’m a fucking loser. The end. . . Whatever starry-eyed optimism I had had when I first launched the paper way back in July of 1982, had thoroughly been crushed out like a bug by the cruel realities of the publishing business by February of 1984.
So I spent the next two years trying my hand at other artistic ventures. Tried my hand at writing a novel (Journey Through The Tenderloin). Tried my hand at developing a syndicated comic strip (Cool Man). Tried this and that. But nothing really grabbed me. So at one point I thought: “Hmm. . . Remember that newspaper I used to publish??. . .” It had certainly had it’s moments. And so, after a two-year hiatus, against my better judgement, I thought: “What the hell, why not give it another try.” It was sort of like running into an ex-girlfriend you had broken up with two years ago, and you’ve forgotten about all the hell the relationship put you through. All you remember is the great sex.
So I ran the idea by Mary Mayhem, and she was game. So at the least it was an excuse to hang out with Mary again. And when I think about it, that’s what TWISTED IMAGE had really been all about from the beginning. An excuse to hang out with Mary.
A friend of mine had a long interview with the underground filmmaker John Waters. Duncan had an interview with the cartoonist Norman Dog. And I had a long correspondence with R. Crumb. So I figured that was enough to slap an issue together. So I xeroxed off 500 copies. And I was back in business (so-called). For the front cover I did a parody of the punk fanzine SICK TEEN, as a nod back to issue #4, the “Punk Fanzine Issue.” As a way to try to get back to where I had been before everything had gotten hopelessly weird. Of course almost nobody got the reference (first rule of parody: people should know what the hell you’re parodying).
So I was back in the saddle. And ready to see if there was still anywhere interesting that I could go with this TWISTED IMAGE thing. . .
The TWISTED IMAGE on-line archives:
I figured it was just a matter of time before my artistic impulses sabotaged whatever commercial potential I might have. And the “Gore and Violence” issue certainly succeeded at that. I mean, it was hard to come up with a good sales pitch for my advertisers after that one. (“Yes, you too can have your products prominently displayed alongside hideous photos of mutilated and disemboweled corpses. And reasonably priced at the low, low price of merely $25 for a quarter-page ad spread!”)
So I figured I had no choice but to abandon the free newspaper format, and try to sell TWISTED IMAGE as a magazine on the newstand. The problem with that was, I had no knowledge — or the means — about how to get TWISTED IMAGE distributed at hundreds of newsstands across the Bay Area. I mean, this was a completely different ballgame than just taking a stack of 100 newspapers and dumping them at a record store alongside all the other free newspapers. . . On top of that, for reasons that now escape me, I somehow came up with the cover price of (yes!) 75 cents (“marketing” was never my forté). . . Nonetheless I soldiered onwards.
Having gone in the extreme direction of obscene, disgusting, shocking, pornographic underground art with the “Gore and Violence” issue, it was hard to figure which direction I could go now. So I figured the only logical thing to do was to backtrack, and go in the complete OPPOSITE direction. So I decided for the next issue I would prominently feature the wholesome, squeaky clean, all-American, mainstream, middle America, Charles M. Schulz. . . From Black Flag to Peanuts in one fell swoop. And it made perfect sense to me. Though it should be noted that I had been doing a lot of LSD at the time. It probably made considerably less sense to those of you with perfectly normally functioning brains. . . Thus began the “Comix Art” issue.
And I have to say, in spite of the abject failure of the business model, the actual issue itself was kind of a strange, one-of-a-kind classic in a way. Featuring interviews with both Charles Schulz and R. Crumb — arguably the greatest mainstream cartoonist and the greatest underground cartoonist of our times. All in one issue (and for 75 cents!). Considering I was just some schlub working away at a barely-above minimum wage job as a bike messenger, I have to give myself points for being able to pull that one out of my hat.
Meeting Schulz was a surreal experience. For one thing, 5 minutes after meeting this total stranger, it was like I had known him all of my life. And in a way, I had. I had been reading his words and his thoughts on a daily basis ever since I was 7-years-old. And in a lot of ways, I knew Schulz better than most of the actual people in my life. The other thing was, in person he was EXACTLY like you’d expect Charles M. Schulz to be. And more. Humble, thoughtful, self-effacing, soft-spoken, kind, generous, intelligent, incisive, witty (in an under-rated way). I’ve met my share of famous people over the years, and that’s not always the case. They’re often smaller in real life — literally and figuratively — than you’d expect from their media images (the ole’ “Pay no attention to the little man behind the media screen” syndrome).
I did the interview in Schultz’s studio. The walls were lined from floor-to-ceiling with shelves that were stocked full of hard-bound comic books featuring all the greats in the history of comics. It almost felt like being in a comics museum. Periodically, Schulz would pull one of the books from the shelf — Gasoline Alley or Milton Caniff — and lovingly leaf through the pages, and point out specific panels to me to illustrate a point he was trying to make about the artistry of comics. His drawing board was nearby, and a half-finished Peanuts comic strip was sitting on it. Which was a surreal experience in itself. As my mind thought back to all those Peanuts comic strips I had read as a child. And I contemplated the long and winding trail from my childhood home in New Jersey, that eventually led to this desk in far-off Santa Rosa, California. It was sort of like when you learn for the first time where babies come from.
Schulz talked with me for nearly 3 hours. I was surprised he gave me so much time (I was prepared to make my exit at any moment). But he seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as I. . . Or maybe he was just looking for any excuse to avoid having to get back to work on the half-finished comic strip. For me, it was feelings of awe and reverence to be in this man’s presence. For Charles M. Schulz had been an artistic father-figure to me. And beneath the layers of pornography and underground comics that was my stock in trade, you would always find Peanuts in there, too, permanently buried within my DNA. At times, sitting there with Schulz, I even felt like I was in church. Or that I was in a confessional booth with a priest. And at times I even wondered if there was a chance that I could pull myself out of this underground-countercultural-hippie-punk-street weirdo scene that I had degenerated into, and find myself a place as a normal, mainstream American person
One terrible mistake that I made — that I still regret to this day whenever I think of it. I was so nervous, I recorded Side One of one cassette, flipped the tape over and recorded on Side Two, then I forgot that I had recorded both sides and flipped it over AGAIN (!!) and taped over and erased an entire side of the tape (“Good grief, Charlie Brown!!”). And it was some juicy stuff, too. I had always been curious about how most of the male characters in Peanuts were mild-mannered, soft-spoken, deferential, nice. While the female characters tended to be loud, shrewish, domineering. And I gently prodded Schulz a bit about this underlying psychological/sexual dynamic in his comic strip, and how it might have sprang from his own life experiences. And he seemed to warm to the subject. But, alas, like I always say in these situations: “It got edited by God.”
When it was finally time to go, I gave Schulz a present. Some underground comic books I had brought for him. Zap, Weirdo, Furry Freak Brothers, etc. I tried to present a general overview of the subject. I knew he was a true student of the history of the comics, and yet I thought this might be part of the medium that he was unfamiliar with. And maybe even curious about. And I also felt this was kind of like a summit meeting: Overground Comics meets Underground Comix. . . Schulz picked up one of the comic books — Dirty Laundry, the autobiographical comics of R. Crumb and his wife Aline Kominsky — and leafed through the pages. When he came to a full-page panel of Aline and Crumb having sex, with Aline screaming, “KILL ME!! KILL ME!! BI BI BI!!!” as she’s cumming, Schulz quietly closed the comic book, and placed all the comic books on a shelf, without saying a word. I instantly regretted the move at that moment. Wondering if it was the equivalent of me suddenly pulling out a copy of HUSTLER and exclaiming: “Hey, CHUCK!! Check out the centerspread in this issue!!” . . . But who knows. Maybe after I left, he looked through the pages with interest.
Schulz gave me a quick tour of his office building — which from the outside looked like a nondescript dentist office or something. On one entire wall he had this large collection of just about every Peanuts product that had ever been manufactured (proudly called The Peanuts Gallery). And then he showed me the ice skating rink he had built on the grounds — obviously his pride and joy. And then, before I knew it, it was over. And I was back in the car with my friend at the wheel, barreling down the freeway on our way back to Berkeley. Somewhat dazed by the whole experience.
The TWISTED IMAGE on-line archives:
I used to like writing record reviews. And I had a column that I self-syndicated in a handful of papers and magazines across the country. . . I mostly did it to get tons of free records in the mail. And it was an excuse to hang out with my friend Mary and drink beer and listen to records all night long. And get paid for it. . . The format itself was a bit unique as record reviews go. We’d leave a tape-recorder running all night long. And, in between getting drunk, we’d put a record on. And we’d both babble our opinions about the record off the top of our heads while we listened to it. So you got two different perspectives on the same record. Then we’d each give the record a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” — like the old “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies” TV show. Then later I’d edit through the tape and pull out the parts that made half-way sense. And VOILA! A night of drunken debauchery was magically turned into an award-winning record review column!
Oh how I suffered for my art.
We made a good pair, me and Mary. Because I was Beatles. And Mary was Stones. . . And I tended to listen to music like a musician, noting how the song was constructed and fit into the history of that genre of music. While Mary listened to music like a pure music fan, only caring about the pure visceral affect the music had on her.
Plus, we both absolutely loved music. Lived for getting that next hit.
I forget why we decided to change the format from a 11-by-17 tabloid to an 8.5-by-11 magazine. That might have been Mary Mayhem’s idea — she was the driving force behind the “Gore and Violence” issue (Mary was a huge fan of horror films and slasher films, the gorier the better, and practically had a lifetime subscription to Fangoria magazine). I still printed the pages up on 11-by-17 newsprint (which is the absolute cheapest way to print anything) and then hand-sliced the pages of each issue on a chopping board and saddle-stapled the spines to turn them into magazines.
The printer, and everybody who worked at the printing press, absolutely hated that issue, and did a crappy job printing half of the copies. I demanded they reprint the defective copies. Which they did. But they were so horrified, disgusted and shocked by what we had done with the “Gore and Violence” issue, that they refused to print up any more issues of TWISTED IMAGE after that. So that issue got a strong reaction before it was even off the printing press (which is some kind of record). The sub-par print job gives the issue a grainy, murky, underground kind of feel — which kind of fits the content — though it was largely unintentional.
The “Gore-Mate of the Month” Playboy centerfold parody was sort of a satire of how the media endlessly serves up sex and violence on a platter for entertainment. And usually with no thought to the consequences. Myself, I ended up having serious second thoughts about that issue after it was published. And even though we were delving into violence on an artistic level (allegedly) as a subject to study and reflect on. We were also wallowing in it and getting our kicks off of it, too (let’s not kid ourselves). I also felt as a “punk” and “underground” publication we had a mandate — and even an obligation — to push the envelope a bit, to explore the extremes, burst some taboos, go beyond polite society, etc. (needless to say, R. Crumb loved this issue). But later I felt serious guilt and concern, that it might also perpetuate violence for real.
The cover further explored the theme of sex and violence, and the media’s role in all this. It’s a collage of the crazy stalker John Hinckley, sitting in his motel room before his attempted assassination of President Reagan in his demented hope that it would win over the love of the movie star Jodie Foster who he was obsessed with. In subsequent interviews, Foster talked about how it was the role of Hollywood actresses to “seduce” the audience with their charms, in a way. And there would always be fans like Hinckley who had a hard time distinguishing the movie images from actual reality (the actor who played a doctor on a TV show said he used to get hundreds of fan letters every week asking him for medical advice).
The centerpiece of the issue was a long interview me and Mary did with Henry Rollins, the lead singer of Black Flag (which was the perfect band for a “Gore and Violence” issue). And I would get a lot of mileage over the years telling the story of The Time I Almost Got Beat Up By Henry Rollins (I had been making jokes at Henry’s expense which he seemed to find amusing, and then suddenly he no longer found the jokes amusing). I suppose it would have made for a better story if I had ACTUALLY gotten beat up by Henry Rollins. But I wasn’t yet willing to sacrifice my face, and my bone structure, for the sake of my art. . . After the interview we went back to Mary’s house and drank many bottles of beer and listened to many records from her great record collection at top volume, late into the night (I specifically remember shouting along to the AC/DC song “She’s Got The Jack” over and over). We were both exhilarated because we knew with the Rollins interview we had scored a great feature for the next issue. It was actually one of the happiest nights of my life.
Mini Scaredy is staying by my side and watching over me as I recover from my botched cataracts surgery.
Though it’s not like she has anything better to do than to lay around on some nice soft, warm blankets. . .
The “Punk Fanzine Issue” was the issue in early 1983 where I did interviews with some of the prominent punk zines of the day — Flipside, MaximumRocknRoll, Ripper, Punk Globe, Sick Teen, Baboon Dooley, and the original punk magazine PUNK by John Holmstrom. In a way this issue was the culmination of my original vision for TWISTED IMAGE. There was now this large network of underground/counterculture publications, rock bands, record companies, rock clubs, publishers, distributers, radio stations, etc, that had sprung up all across the country. And for one shining moment it seemed like we really were going to establish a permanent culture within the larger culture. . . It was a little depressing, just a few years later, how quickly it mostly vanished. As if it had just been a mirage in the first place. And what little still lives on today is a shell of the dynamic force it once had been, and is more akin to a piece of nostalgia, or an artifact in a museum from a bygone era.
This was also the last issue that maintained the original format — 11-by-17 pages, interview with a prominent punk band, comic strip centerspread with “Idiots In The News” items, plus record reviews — before the format started spinning off into uncharted weirdness.
Ironically, even though many people assumed we were, I never considered TWISTED IMAGE to be a “punk fanzine.” I considered it more akin to an updated version of the ’60s hippie underground newspapers. I considered my beat to be the counterculture in general. Punk just happened to be the most interesting and dynamic facet of the counterculture when I happened to start the paper. Hence the disproportionate amount of coverage. But there were always plenty of old long-haired hippie types, and countercultural oddballs and freaks of all stripes, among the contributors of TWISTED IMAGE from the first issue on.
Case in point was our coverage of another lesser known subculture on the fringe of the Bay Area — the San Francisco bike messengers. That started by accident when I approached Dirk Dirksen — the legendary empressario of the Mabuhay and the On Broadway — about running an ad in TWISTED IMAGE. Noting my bike messenger uniform (I hustled ads in between delivering my tags) he suggested instead, why don’t we put on a benefit concert at the On Broadway featuring bike messenger bands and performers — he’d get publicity for his club, and I’d get money for my zine (Dirk truly was a wily old fuck!). Thus began Biker’s Bash #1. Which was such a hit with the bike messengers, they went on to put on hundreds of more bike messenger shows over the years. And it became a cherished part of bike messenger legend and lore over the years. And something I took a certain pride at having started. . . It was also one more of the many strange and unintended consequences that I could have never imagined happening when I was first laying out the pages of TWISTED IMAGE #1.
Mini Scaredy is one of those cats that is super particular about what she’ll eat. . . In part it’s because she’s such a great mouse-hunter, she’s often not hungry. So she can afford to be picky. But a lot of it, simply, is just that’s she’s one of those cats that has very definite tastes. For instance, she almost NEVER eats the canned wet cat food (that all the other cats love). But she LOVES the dry crunchy cat food (that most of the other cats consider as secondary fodder).
So this afternoon I put a slice of fresh turkey meat in Mini Scaredy’s food dish. The kind of food most cats would die for. Mini Scaredy took one look at it, stuck her nose in the air like, “What’s this shit?” And walked away. . . Couple hours later she walked back to the food dish. Circled around the food dish a couple times. Looked at the turkey with suspicion. Pawed at it a couple times. Then walked off. . . Two hours later she walks back to the food dish. Repeats her whole routine, circling around the dish, etc. Sniffs at the turkey a couple of times. Looks up at me like, “Is this some kind of trick or something??” FINALLY she musters the courage to take the SLIGHTEST little nibble of the turkey. Stands there for awhile as if she’s contemplating one of the great mysteries of the universe. Takes a second little nibble. Looks up like she’s thinking,”Hey! This shit’s not half bad!” Proceeds to gobble down the rest of the turkey.
One of the unintended consequences of publishing TWISTED IMAGE: It ended up influencing the course of my life, one way or another, for good and bad, throughout the entire 4 years I was publishing the damn thing. I’ll give you an example.
One night I was dropping off a stack of TWISTED IMAGE #2 at the Berkeley Square, this hip New Wave club. This guy I knew was hanging out outside the club with this beautiful young woman dressed to kill in her best rock’n’roll finery. She really wanted to get into the club to see whoever the hell the hip, cool new wave band was that happened to be headlining that night. But alas and alack, she lacked the funds to pay for the door charge. I said to the damsel in distress, “No problem.” I could get us both in for free on the guest list. I told the guy working the front door that in fact, I worked for this hip, cool new wave newspaper and was there to do a very important interview with the headlining band (whoever the hell they were) for the very next issue of our very important newspaper (in other words, free publicity for their club). So he ushered the two of us into the neon-lit club and into a nice, cushy booth in the back of the club. Needless to say, the lady was impressed by this suave move on my part (in fact, one of the first — and maybe only — time in my life where I managed to impress a woman with a suave move). Needless to say, I didn’t bother to interview whoever the crucial new wave band was that was headlining that night. But I did take the lady home with me. And what followed was a VERY tumultuous, volatile and destructive 6-month relationship that was one of the best and worst things to happen to my life up to that point (she was beautiful but nuts).
So, like I said, publishing TWISTED IMAGE was affecting my life in ways that I hadn’t quite bargained for when I started it.
The other thing about being part of the “media,” per se. … Hunter S. Thompson used to say that the thing that appealed to him the most about “journalism,” wasn’t the writing of it, but that it was a “ticket to ride.” That his press card and backstage pass gave him instant entrée to “where the action was.” And in fact, publishing TWISTED IMAGE did end up bestowing upon me all sorts of once-in-a-lifetime kicks and cheap thrills. Like getting to talk to a young Johnny Rotten face to face. . .
It was near the end of 1982 and an invitation came in the mail to TWISTED IMAGE Global HQ inviting me and a guest of one to the Public Image Limited press conference at the swanky 181 Club, deep in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. So me and my lady friend — now a co-reporter for a prestigious publication — took our seats at the club amongst the cream of the San Francisco Bay Area’s finest rock music journalists and assorted scribes (plus various hacks and free-loaders befitting of such an important occasion). The place was packed. And we all helped ourselves to the buffet of free hor d’erves as we waited for Johnny Lydon and PIL to take the stage. There was a long press table on the stage, along with five empty chairs. And Johnny kept us all waiting for well over an hour. Periodically, technicians would come up to the table and fiddle around with the microphones and the sound system, as if they were endeavoring to fine-tune the sound to make it as crisp and clear as possible. The assembled cream of Bay Area scribes got more and more agitated as they waited and waited for Johnny and the band to make their grand entrance — “time is money” with these types after all. Finally(!), PIL lurched onstage and took their seats behind their microphones. Then the journalists started shouting their very important questions at the band, one after another. But the band purposely mumbled their answers so softly, nobody could make out their answers. And on top of that, the mics were turned down so low — or didn’t work at all — that we couldn’t hear what they were saying (the whole bit about the technicians fine-tuning the sound system was just a charade courtesy of Johnny, no doubt jerking everyone’s chains for his own amusement, ha ha). Finally in total exasperation at the whole farce of it all (none of their tape recorders were getting any crucial PIL quotes for their crucial news stories) one of the journalism shouted: “WHY DID YOU CALL THIS PRESS CONFERENCE IN THE FIRST PLACE?” To which Johnny sneered back, “So I wouldn’t have to talk to you individually” (we all heard that one, ha ha). Finally, my crazy-ass girlfriend punched through the crust by shouting her own inimitable question: “God and dog are both 3 letter words. Can you think of any others?” To which Johnny Lydon answered: “Huh?” (which now that I think of it, was the correct answer).
Anyways, the PIL press conference eventually lurched to a close. And Johnny and the boys lurched off backstage from whence they had come. All the journalists — a sullen lot by that point — slunk on out of the swanky 181 Club to try and write their stories about the event. Meanwhile, my crazy-ass girlfriend decided that she had a pressing need to wash her hair at that exact moment in the sink of the women’s room of the fabulous 181 Club. So I snuck backstage so that I could interview Johnny Lydon and the band individually. Heh heh. . .
The other thing that strikes me about that period. Just 5 years earlier I had been a fucked-up homeless bum, skulking around the very same streets of the Tenderloin district, eating at soup kitchens just a couple blocks from the swanky 181 Club, and basically living on skid row. And now here I was, just a few years later, hanging out with the cream of the Bay Area music press and accepted as one of them. And it made me realize how fluid one’s persona, one’s role in society, one’s self-identity, could be. You could be on the bottom one moment. And on the top the next. As well as every gradation of sideways in between. It gave me this sense that anything in life was possible. If not equally implausible. And that gave me a certain perspective that I never lost. Through good times and bad. As well as a crucial bit of wisdom: If you’re not sure if you fit in, just fake it. Almost nobody will notice (because most of them are probably faking it, too).
Anyways, TWISTED IMAGE #3 turned out to be one of the more professional looking issues of the run. The issue that most looks like a normal rock’n’roll publication of the day. . . And, knowing me, I was probably thinking at the time that I was going to be the Jann Wenner of the ’80s. And TWISTED IMAGE was going to be the ROLLING STONE of the ’80s. . . I always felt you should dream big. The worst you could do was fail. And I was already well versed in that.