eRock magazine likes to believe it’s the center of its culture, but Karim really was. It wasn’t just a magazine that covered rock, or its writers were following the clichés of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. It was a magazine that had rock ‘n’ roll in the fabric of its build.
“Karim had this three-story building downtown in a bad neighborhood,” Detroit drummer Johnny Badancic told me last year. In the back was all the book—there would be Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, Ed Ward. And we were on the third floor. We practiced at noon, but I had come at 11 a.m. and Dave Marsh [Creem’s editor] He kept yelling, “Damn, bee! I want to sleep in! I think I was like an alarm clock.”
Launched in Detroit in 1969, Cream Creme lasted 20 years and was hateful, vulgar, judgmental, and could be racist, sexist, and homophobic. He was also funny, unafraid of reputation and a clearinghouse for writers whose names have reverberated over generations of music writing. And it was, by and large, a Detroit thing.
“It’s worth noting that Karim was a Midwestern endeavor,” says film director Cameron Crowe, who wrote for the magazine as a teenager. “They weren’t from Los Angeles or New York, and that was a big part of the soul: You weren’t under the glare of people on the coasts. You were just rocking.” And what Karim did was swing: just as Detroit itself appreciated high-energy, high-volume rock, so did Karim (its pages are allegedly the first to use “punk rock” and “heavy metal” to describe the music).
“It was a Detroit allergy,” says JJ Kramer, son of Cream founder Barry Kramer, who relaunched the magazine on June 1. “Blue collar, no nonsense, fools will not suffer with pleasure. I don’t think he was the same on the coasts. Karim didn’t take anything seriously: that was the distinguishing factor.”
And during the ’70s, it was one-of-a-kind – part comic, part hero of horrific provocation. For Jaan Uhelszki, one of its leading writers at the time, its heyday was between 1973 and 1976. Prior to that, under Marsh’s editorship, she attempted to blend music and politics. “But then, fools were to blame,” she says victoriously, critiquing some of her favorite pieces from that era, notably “Alice Cooper’s Cookbook of Alcoholism” (Cooper was later treated for alcoholism) and Charles Bukowski wrote of the Rolling Stones. “My favorite piece ever. Karim wasn’t just about the show. It was about everything that led up to the show. It was all about being a music fan.”
But Karim was a product of his time. Why are we releasing it? “It’s in my blood,” says Kramer, who is also assistant general counsel and head of intellectual property at clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. “It is something I have chased my whole life. My father started Karim in 1969 and published it until his death in 1981, when he left it to me at the age of four. I was the head of my own magazine. At the time, Karim had difficulties and broke down. But for me, there was always something of a The call from me to my father, whom I didn’t know very well. I’ve always been hunting her down and finding a way to preserve his legacy and put my own mark on him. It’s been my whole life as an adult, putting this back together and getting to this point.”
Back cream has two parts. The first is a printed quarterly magazine, collected mainly by new writers, although Ohlzky will be one of the contributors. The second – a boon for fans of music history and magazines – is the digitization of its archive, which is presented online for the first time: all original editions, in their original designs.
A click on the back catalog reveals a magazine that would be impossible to recreate today. Not only are you unlikely to be able to assemble such a team of writers—Charles Bukowski, Nick Touches, Grill Marcus, Patti Smith, Richard Meltzer, and dozens of others, plus regulars—but the limits of taste won’t be, then.
It wasn’t just that Karim spoke to rock stars in a way they couldn’t stand today – Lester Pang’s series of interviews with his hero Lou Reed was a substantive lesson in confrontation – but they talked about it all shamelessly. In terms of creating a community spirit. “The artists loved Karim,” Crowe says. “Because he had spirit and he was inclusive. Even today, there is a sense that to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame you have to be friends with all the right people. Karim wasn’t like that. Karim gave you more ground-level excitement about music, as I felt Rolling Stone is like a college.”
As the documentary Karim: American Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine – produced by Kramer and Uhlszky – makes clear, that means everything went well. What happened when Lester Bangs brought his dog into the office? thrown to the ground. So what did angry Dave Marsh do with the droppings? Put it on your bangs typewriter. Drugs were rife. Sex was pervasive. Everything was spread out. But the “anything goes” attitude meant that copies were being printed in a way they shouldn’t, even in the 1970s. You don’t have to look hard to find examples: The February 1973 issue randomly opens, a feature in America’s 10 Worst Restaurants, riddled with racial stereotypes and offensive language.
“There are things in the archive that weren’t great in the ’70s and aren’t great now,” Kramer says. “But any brand with a legacy has that debate when introducing that legacy. Do you do it in its entirety? Do you rub it? I made the decision to introduce it all, because we have to accept that nonsense wasn’t cool. Today Karim will talk about music the way he thinks.” people today.”
“There was no awareness,” Oelsky says. “When I say these were unenlightened times, people in Detroit were regularly using the N-word. Everyone was inappropriate, and you can’t take history back—that’s what the music looked like at the time. What the archive needs is a disclaimer.” What Uhelzki particularly noted while browsing through the archives was casual homophobia (“there was a constant hint about male stars being gay”), but she also noted that Karim—certainly by 1970s rock magazine standards—was “very pro-women: Female writers were a large part of the magazine, and female artists were supported.
Will Karim thrive this time? Kramer says so, but then he will, right? But the original Karim existed because both the magazine and rock music represented the counterculture. This is not true anymore. Many would argue that rock music these days is an all-consuming force, and launching a magazine dedicated to it is a fool’s errand. No kramer. “We have the momentum,” he says. “The documentary was incredibly well received. People were asking me all the time: ‘Will you bring the magazine back again?’ This combination of legacy and momentum will set us apart.”