Rock music magazine Creem plans September comeback after more than 30 years in mothballs
NEW YORK (AP) — Creem, which billed itself as “America’s only rock ‘n’ roll magazine” in its decades-long existence that ended in 1989, is relaunching next month.
The Comeback is a remarkable story of perseverance by JJ Kramer, who bequeathed the magazine at the age of 4 upon the death of his father, founder Barry Kramer. It will reappear in very different times, with a marketing plan that the late writer Lester Bangs or the makers of the fake “Boy Howdy” beer could hardly imagine.
The first new issue, a glossy quarterly, is due out in September and is available only to people who commit to a $79 annual subscription.
Founded in Detroit, Creem was the mischievous and slightly rude younger brother of Rolling Stone. The name was an intentional misspelling by the rock band Cream, one of the early publisher’s favorites.
Although best known for Motown soul, Detroit was also a rock ‘n’ roll hotbed with artists like MC5, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Mitch Ryder and Bob Seger. Hard rock bands and then the onslaught of punk formed the backbone of the magazine during its heyday in the 1970s.
Creem was an incubator of writing talent like Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, Lisa Robinson, Cameron Crowe and Greil Marcus.
Rock stars weren’t put on a pedestal in Creem, and his reviews could be obnoxious, as well as sexist and profane. Bangs was the toughest and his feud with Lou Reed was legendary. Creem poked fun at a Dewar scotch profile ad campaign by imagining artists holding beer cans emblazoned with a “Boy Howdy” logo drawn by cartoonist Robert Crumb.
In a 2019 documentary on the magazine, former REM singer Michael Stipe — who once downplayed his intellectual bona fides by describing himself as a high school graduate and magazine reader — recalled seeing Creem for the first time in detention, recognizing that he had found the perfect bunch of misfits.
“Buying Creem was a bit like buying Playboy,” actor Jeff Daniels, himself a Michigander, said in the documentary. “You didn’t want your parents to see any of them.”
Barry Kramer’s death from a drug overdose in 1981 marked the beginning of the end. Her son was named in the magazine’s header as the preschool “chairman of the board.” Barry Kramer’s widow, Connie, as publisher and acting on her son’s behalf because he was a minor, sold the publication into bankruptcy in 1985. Creem ceased publication four years later.
In his 9-year-old bravado, JJ Kramer remembers telling his mother he would get it back one day. “I really spent most of my adult life trying to get to this,” he told The Associated Press ahead of the revival. “It’s something I felt I had to do. There’s a magnet that draws me to Creem. It’s almost like it’s predetermined in a way that I can’t fight.”
Kramer regained control of Creem, although it took several years. It helps that he’s an intellectual property lawyer.
Now he’s president again and has laid out a plan for revival with John Martin, a former vice-publisher who is CEO of Creem Entertainment. The idea is to make Creem the centerpiece of a media company that includes branded podcasts, merchandise and entertainment.
“Why is there no Creemfest?” Martin asked. “It’s something that seems to have to exist and will exist.”
Yet it’s not the 1970s anymore. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t as influential in the culture as it once was; popular music is dominated by rap and pop. The music press is as diffuse as the music itself. The well-made rock ‘n’ roll brilliances on the market, like Mojo or Uncut, are based in Britain.
Kramer and Martin believe there’s still room for a release that brings rock ‘n’ roll fans together, from people who love HAIM to Metallica fans. The world also needs people who can write about gender with attitude, Martin said.
“When was the last time you laughed while reading music?” said Martin.
While Bangs, who died in 1982, is gone, there are plenty of new voices important to the current scene, some working on platforms like Substack, he said.
The mix of articles in the first issue speaks to the intended scope of Creem. For the nostalgic, there’s an excerpt from an unpublished Who book, a re-evaluation of a 1972 rock album released by the Osmonds, and a cover of the feature film ‘Stars’ Cars’ featuring Slash and his wheels. There are stories about new artists of varying levels of popularity like Mac DeMarco and Amyl and the Sniffers and rap and R&B personalities like Lil Aaron and KeiyaA.
Samir Husni, founder and director of Magazine Media Center, said he had already paid for a subscription and was impressed with the new business plan. Many people remember Creem fondly and would be curious about a reboot, he said.
“They’re looking for customers that matter, instead of counting customers,” Husni said.
That said, magazine revivals are more likely to fail than succeed, he said. A brand can be valuable, but not if people think time has passed. Husni said Creem may have to rethink plans not to offer the magazine at newsstands or bookstores.
Waking up was physically, emotionally and mentally draining, Kramer said.
There were a number of times he could have — perhaps should have — walked away, he said. But he and Martin said they are convinced there is a market for the reimagined Creem and they have the right plan to reach it.
“We’re not a cover band,” Kramer said. “We’re pushing this magazine and this brand forward.”
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