Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Tuneage
Van Halen - "Little Guitars"

Osco Drug store, Moorhead, Minnesota, early 1982. My Dad was working across the river in Fargo and staying in a motel here in Moorhead. My Mom and I were in town to visit. My parents were elsewhere in the adjoining grocery and liquor stores shopping, I was in the Osco standing alone in front of an expansive magazine stand. We didn't have a stand like this in my town of Grand Forks, not that I knew of*. If I wanted to read a rock mag, generally I grabbed the latest Rolling Stone off the rack in my high school's library to read on a free period or asked for back issues from the librarian. This Osco stand had a beauty of a magazine that I had never seen: Creem Special Issue: Guitar Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll. There at the top it proclaimed: "America's Only Rock 'N' Roll Magazine". Photos on the cover: Jimi Hendrix! Keith Richards! Jimmy Page! And a host of other guitar slingers promised to be featured inside. I flipped around trying to absorb highlights of all the content. It was stacked page-to-page with features and a lengthy list of paragraph-each blurbs on all the other guitarists to make the cut. This is awesome, I thought. Then I didn't buy it. I'm guessing the cover price scared me away - $2.95. ($7.42 in today's dollars.) If memory serves, regular issues of magazines were about a dollar or so cheaper, so would I be getting burned by buying this three-dollar-plus (including sales tax) mag? Plus, I was on the clock. Mom and Dad would soon return from their shopping run and it was time to head out into the night. Whether I was hesitant, cheap, hurried, or was saving my cash for future gas money, I don't recall. All I know is that I have thought about that magazine ever since.

But hey: We have the Internet now, everything is possible. Because of course I found Guitar Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll on eBay, bought it NOW (no auction on this one, no more losing out) and had it shipped to my mailbox. For the price of $11.99 - including shipping - meaning I waited almost thirty-five years to pay $4.57 more for a decades-old magazine. But I can take that financial hit now, you can't get a beer plus tip for $4.57 these days in a bar unless you hit a lucky happy hour with bottles of Premium on special. And now that I had my grubby little paws on it, I'm so glad I finally stepped up and made this purchase. This magazine is a gem.

It has long-form features on Hendrix, Page, and Jeff Beck. It has shorter features on other notable guitarists, and those aforementioned paragraph blurbs. While there are oddly no mentions of Joni Mitchell or Michael Schenker, this is still the only source I have consulted that explains the whole Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe/Rockpile jumble. I treasured every minute of reading this mag this fall. With a heady mix of reverence, wit, and insults, this shows that Creem was still running on all cylinders in the early eighties. Check these out:

On Russ Ballard: "...loss leader solo LPs for CBS..."

On Marc Bolan: "If T. Rex began as Donovan for the pre-pubescent set and wound up as Chuck Berry for the prenatals, well, that's show biz."

On Peter Frampton: "Since his screen debut in Sgt. Pepper's, Pete's had flop after flop. Nyah Nyah."

On Steve Hillage: "Would really excite you if had a beard, smoked a pipe, and read science fiction."

On Tom Scholz: "Light beer of rock 'n' roll guitarists: 'Everything you always wanted in a lead guitarist. And less.'"

On George Thorogood: "The more you drink, the better he sounds."

While I loved the issue's slipped-in asides, cheap shots, and pokes at readers, the Osco Drug 1982 Memory is always devoted to the two pages of the Edward Van Halen feature - a half page of writing, one-point-five pages of two glorious photos. In the early eighties, Van Halen was known by hard rock fans as perhaps the best rock guitarist since Hendrix. But he played metal, so recognition outside of the hard rock arena was difficult to come by, no matter how pop the metal was or how exuberant and smile-causing his playing was. He came up with hooky power chords a la Pete Townshend and his band's songs generally were as long as early Who singles, i.e. not long at all ... but his band WASN'T BRITISH AND DIDN'T ENGAGE IN BLUESY JAMS NOR WERE THEY PUNK OR QUIRKY NEW WAVE. Did Creem assign a hagiographic piece like they did with Hendrix or Page? Hell no, they did us a favor by having J. Kordosh write a hilarious FAQ that stabbed The Yardbirds, rock critics, and Valerie Bertinelli. (Plus duct tape. And it included a goddamn vinyl joke too, ha!) This is why I bought this magazine off of eBay, this is the prose I remember from 1982 in that Osco store on Highway 75 in Moorhead on a cold winter night. It is why I returned to this magazine all these years later. And I'm pretty sure buying it retroactively gives me my biggest win from 1982 since my PSAT results scored me an honorable mention.

*Turns out the UND bookstore did.