NEW YORK (AP) — Creem, which billed itself as “America’s only rock ‘n’ roll magazine” during its two decades of existence ending in 1989, will be revived next month.
The Return is a remarkable story of perseverance by JJ Kramer, who bequeathed the magazine at the age of 4 following the death of his father, founder Barry Kramer. It will reappear at very different times, with a marketing plan hardly imagined by the late writer Lester Bangs or the makers of the fake Boy Howdy beer.
The first new issue, a quarterly glossy issue, is out in September and is only available to people who spend $79 on a subscription.
Founded in Detroit, Creem was Rolling Stone’s mischievous, slightly rude younger brother. The name was an intentional misspelling by the rock band Cream, one of the first editors’ favourites.
Though Detroit is best known for its Motown soul, it’s also been a rock ‘n’ roll hotspot, 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 in its heyday of the 1970s.
Creem was an incubator for the likes of Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, Lisa Robinson, Cameron Crowe and Greil Marcus.
Rock stars weren’t put on a pedestal at Creem, and its reviews could be nasty — along with sexist and profane. Bangs was the toughest and his feud with Lou Reed was legendary. Creem poked fun at a stuffy Dewar’s Scotch Profile’s ad campaign by holding artists holding beer cans emblazoned with a “Boy Howdy” logo drawn by cartoonist Robert Crumb.
In a 2019 documentary about the magazine, former REM singer Michael Stipe recalled first seeing Creem in high school detention and realizing he’d found the perfect gang of misfits.
“Buying Creem was a bit like buying Playboy,” actor Jeff Daniels said in the documentary. “You didn’t want your parents to see any of them.”
Kramer’s death from a drug overdose in 1981 marked the beginning of the end. His son was named in the magazine’s masthead as the “chairman of the board” of a preschool. Barry Kramer’s widow, Connie, sold the bankrupt publication in 1985 as publisher and on behalf of her teenage son. Creem ceased publication four years later.
With all the bravery of a 9-year-old, JJ Kramer remembers telling his mother that one day he would get it back.
“I’ve really spent most of my adult life getting to this point,” he told The Associated Press before 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 so preordained that I couldn’t fight it.”
Kramer regained control of Creem, although it took several years. It helps that he’s an intellectual property attorney.
Now back as chairman, he has put together a plan for the revival with John Martin, a former Vice publisher who is CEO of Creem Entertainment. The idea is to make Creem the heart of a media company that encompasses podcasts, merchandise and branded entertainment.
“Why isn’t there a Creemfest?” asked Martin. “It sounds like it should exist and will exist.”
But it’s not the 1970s anymore. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t as influential in culture as it used to be; Popular music is dominated by rap and pop. The music press is as diffuse as the music itself. The well-made rock ‘n’ roll glossy products on the market, like Mojo or Uncut, come from Great Britain.
Kramer and Martin believe there is still room for a release that will bring rock ‘n’ roll fans together, from people who like HAIM to fans of Metallica. The world also needs people who can write about the genre with attitude, Martin said.
“When was the last time you laughed while reading about music?” said Martin.
While Bangs, who died in 1982, is gone, there are many new voices important to the current scene, some working on forums like Substack, he said.
The mix of articles in the first edition speaks to Creem’s intended breadth. For the nostalgic, there’s an excerpt from a never-published book about The Who, a reappraisal of a 1972 rock album released by the Osmonds, and a revival of the Stars’ Cars feature featuring Slash and his wheels. There are stories about newer artists of varying degrees 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 who count instead of counting customers,” Husni said.
However, magazine revivals are more likely to fail than succeed, he said. A brand may have value, but not when people think that time has passed. Husni said Creem may need to reconsider its plans not to sell the magazine in newsstands or bookstores.
The revival has drained physically, emotionally and mentally, Kramer said. There were a few times he could have – maybe should have – gone, he said.
But he and Martin said they are convinced there is a market for the redesigned Creem and they have the right plan to reach it.
“We’re not a cover band,” Kramer said. “We’re moving this magazine and this brand forward.”