Well boy! Karim magazine is back.
More than three decades after the demise of Detroit-born, wild, free-rock print, Karim is being resurrected with ambitious print and digital efforts — part of a broader plan to become a full-fledged entertainment company that could include concerts, podcasts, and even a TV show.
The reboot is led by the Detroit-born son of the original New York-based publisher Karim. It comes with a team of seasoned CEOs and editorial staff, along with a strategy to reconnect with Motor City magazine’s roots, including a planned Detroit office and annual music festival.
Quietly in the works for several years comes the relaunch of the critically acclaimed 2019 documentary Creem that has reignited interest in the brand.
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Karim’s revival, announced Wednesday morning, comes after years of legal wrangling by JJ Kramer, son of the late Barry Kramer, who launched the magazine from a rundown office in Detroit’s Cass Corridor in 1969. By the mid-1970s, Karim was head of state . The second largest rock mag, with a circulation of over 200,000 it was topped only by Rolling Stone.
Cramer the Younger, who grew up in West Bloomfield, is an intellectual property rights attorney who now lives in Columbus, Ohio.
“It wasn’t easy to get Karim back to where we are today in just a few weeks,” Kramer said. “It took every minute of the twenty years I practiced intellectual property law to put rights back together. They exchanged hands. There were different claims for different rights.”
Under the Creem Entertainment banner, appointments include former magazine publisher John Martin as CEO, former Weekly Copy Head Dan Morrissey as executive editor and Maria Sherman (NPR, Rolling Stone) as senior editor, with Creem’s original installations Jaan Uhelszki on board as editor-in-chief. The company is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York
“This iteration of Karim will have the same instincts and sensations as the original. But we are not a cover band. We are pushing the magazine forward,” Kramer said. “Just like Karim on his first iteration, the group of people makes it what it is. We have an editorial team working to develop today’s unique perspectives and voices.”
The Creem offering has several components:
- digital archiveOn Wednesday, the issue features 224 issues of the original monthly magazine, which ran from 1969 to 1989, and featured more than 69,000 articles and photos. The archive is accessible with a 30-day free trial, available through August, and will remain free for print subscribers.
- Free website and newsletter Called “Fresh Creem,” which launches Wednesday and is updated weekly, it will include recurring columns and features highlighting new and classic rock characters. It’s available at creem.com.
- Quarterly print edition, this fall, will be published in a large-format glossy format comprising over 120 pages. The magazine will be for subscribers only, with no sales on newsstands.
“We’re looking for premium content,” Kramer said. “Magains that do are having a moment right now. If you’re putting together a good, solid book with compelling content, people will hook it up. They miss the magazine browsing experience.”
For a certain breed of rock fan across the United States, the original Karim was a book of the month: a taste maker, part gossip rag, part riding comedy. The magazine was happy to frolic in the jerks of rock, even as it admired the music and considered its creators larger than life. The atmosphere was friendly for fans, which conveyed the common excitement. Exclamation marks abound!
Karim was snappy and charmingly funny – a saucy, devilishly caring style that separates him from the sophisticated sound often espoused by rockstar peers like Rolling Stone. He had a particular affection for Detroit artists, as he was inches wide on local acts such as Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, and Motown’s Stable Artists.
Publicity material promoting the magazine’s relaunch includes previous testimonies from the likes of Kurt Cobain from Nirvana and Michael Stipe from REM, with the latter being quoted as saying, “Most people want to blend in somewhere. I wouldn’t find it in my high school. I found it in Careem magazine.”
In a year that saw the return of Pine Knob and the restoration of his Hitsville home in Motown, Karim’s return is another revival of Detroit’s lively music nostalgia.
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After a founding period at Cass Corridor, the operation moved to Walled Lake Farm in the early 1970s, and eventually to downtown Birmingham. Much like rock music in Detroit itself, isolation from the coastal centers of the entertainment industry helped Karim forge a raw, distinct style.
“We’re not just another rock magazine,” Uhelzki said. “For me, Detroitness is what makes Cream Cream. When I went to Los Angeles (in 1987), she fell flat on her face. If JJ wasn’t at the helm, then Kareem wouldn’t be.”
Initially employed by a team of self-described misfits—libraries and record store clerks, amateur photographers, and budding writers like teen Dave Marsh—Krim grew to showcase the work of now-famous rock writers including Lester Bangs, Ben Edmunds, Grill Marcus and Robert Christgau. and Lisa Robinson.
Counterculture cartoonist Robert Crump has been enlisted to create what have become the magazine’s iconic icon – a smiling milk bottle with the phrase “Boy Howdy!” and a ball-flowing can known as Mr. Dream Web.
These characters remain central to the new Creem game, which will also revive old features such as “Stars Cars,” which highlights musicians’ personal vehicles, and beer portraits, with rock stars raising Boy Howdy brewing cans.
While the core team for the restarted mag is based in New York and will draw on writers across the country, Kramer said he plans to eventually open an office in Detroit.
It reflects a bond built into Motor City that the publisher hopes to perpetuate with the city’s annual Creem Music Festival and a regular column dedicated to Detroit’s music and culture.
“There would be no cream without a Detroit, full stop,” Kramer said. “This is something everyone who enters our door understands or learns very quickly.”
Cream and soul of rock and roll
For years, Uhelszki has kept a quote from the late Lester Bangs taped to the computer where she writes:
“Don’t ask me why I look so obsessively at rock ‘n’ roll bands for some kind of archetype for a better society. I guess it’s just that I glimpsed something beautiful in a flash once, and I might be wrong that it’s a prophecy that I’ve been striving for ever since.”
This sense of rock-and-rock ambiguity still drives the original Detroit-based editor and the new touring editor, whose original tenure at Cream ran until 1976. Even as culture shifts and social media has given celebrities a direct platform, Olesezky remains fascinated by the inner workings of the artists—”what makes them Like us, what makes them different.”
“We always thought that rock stars had some pipeline to the other, that they got their information from sources we didn’t have or knew about that we didn’t,” said Oelzky, who now lives in Palm Desert, California. See what they know and get them to share it.”
Uhelzki got her first stint in Cream with the cover story of Smokey Robinson in 1972 and went on to write memorable works on artists like Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Leonard Skynyrd and Case – joining that latter troupe on stage in costume.
She said that kind of embedded participatory journalism would go on to define Karim, bringing back the magazine’s “high-concept” pieces: blasts writing the story of J. Giles while on set, or Robert Duncan spending an afternoon in Todd Rundgren’s vegetable garden.
“It’s an unusual way of talking about music with different types of artists, different types of instrumentation, different types of adjectives,” Uhelszki said.
Uhelszki helped write the documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine,” which premiered at the Freep Film Festival in 2019 and is airing these days on Amazon and Apple TV+. It was an opportunity for the veteran writer to revisit the history she helped make with fellow early Careem colleagues on Cass Avenue – “odd orphans” who “didn’t even know how to copy montages” and figured out everything as they went.
She said, “None of us liked celebrities or being on air. We had a crazy work ethic. (Guitarist) Wayne Kramer likes to say MC5 was such a Detroit product because in Detroit they like to build things. To me, the same spirit in Cream We are suspicious of magic. We will do our best not to accept ‘no’ for an answer.”
Kramer said the documentary’s positive reception — and strong demand for Creem’s retro products — set the winds in his sails as he laid out a business plan and sought investment for its relaunch.
Key to the project was building a digital archive of Creem, which is now available to the public after a comprehensive survey effort that began last summer. Even Kramer’s 20-year ownership of magazines was lacking, and he ended up getting some issues from eBay and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“For many years, people have been asking about this: ‘Where can I see these past issues?'” Kramer said. It was hard to get them. There was an article here, and an article there, but it was all fragmented.”
Is there an audience? Karim rose in an era when rock music dominated the musical roost and shaped personal identities for generations. That era is gone, but Kramer maintains that rock is more broad-based than ever — it has just split into myriad subcultures while asserting itself in forms such as hip-hop and jazz.
“What Karim does is find and embrace the soul of rock music across those musical genres,” Kramer said. “As long as an artist or a piece of music aligns with our core DNA, we think Karim has a right to speak up for it.”
For Kramer, Karim’s relaunch isn’t just a business or a creative proposition. It’s personal. He was 46, and he was a little boy when his father died in 1981.
“It seems like an opportunity to push the legacy forward. The documentary was part of keeping that story and letting people know all the great things that my dad and these (original staff) did.” “Now we can pull it forward, put our stamp on it, and give this generation of rock ‘n’ roll fans a taste of cream. It’s really unreal. I wake up every day, like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.'”
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]