The godlike genius of
the legendary Michigan
punk zine, revisited. Plus: an extended cameo by its clam-crazed (and
BY FRED MILLS
And on the seventh day, God did not rest; he fuckin’ rocked.
And it was good – at least according to punk scene chronicle Touch And Go, which over the course of
its four years and 22 issues documented pretty much every punk god that
Straight outta Lansing, Mich.
(so-close-and-yet-so-culturally-far-from Detroit and other Midwest rock ‘n’
roll epicenters it might as well have been Wasilla), the fanzine was the
radioactive-fetus brainchild a pair of acerbic wannabe scribes, Tesco Vee (nee Bob Vermeulen; future frontman for
scatological punks the Meatmen and, in 2010, heading up Tesco Vee’s Hate
Police) and Dave Stimson. If you wanted to get the straight dope on the
underground bands of the day – from U.S. outfits like Black Flag, Minutemen,
Necros, Cramps, Negative Approach and Minor Threat to the British wing as
epitomized by 999, Undertones, Fall, Skids and, er, Simple Minds (ahem!) – along
with a healthy dose of ‘tude, dork-baiting, random images of genitalia, and
punk cartoonist John Crawford’s “Baboon Dooley: Rock Critic” comic strip, well,
sir, Touch And Go was the place to
Yours truly, in fact, was sequestered at the time across the
country, down below the Mason-Dixon line and
doing a punk zine of my own (the significantly lower-on-the-radar Biohazard Informae), per the editorial
custom of the day, we swapped copies via mail, and T&G was hugely influential on moi. So the Wayback Machine effect of glomming the massive, 546-page
collection Touch And Go: The Complete
Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83 (Bazillion Points Books), which comes complete with
colorful essays from the two principals plus editor Steve Miller, Henry
Rollins, Keith Morris, Byron Coley, Corey Rusk and others, is like getting a
handjob from an old girlfriend: bittersweet and tinged with nostalgia, but
something you enthusiastically succumb to once you get started. And kids,
decades before “WordPress” was even a compound word, T&G was mashing things up via purloined artwork, typewriter
paper, scissors, glue, and commandeered photocopiers. Amid myriad record
reviews, beery post-gig interviews, dubious editorial assertions and out-and-out
screeds, the zine often managed to say more on a single 8 ½” by 11″ sheet of
smudged paper than a blog and its accumulated comments section can muster
Need more proof? The rag also gave birth to one of the great
indie labels, Touch And Go Records. Godlike genius, indeed.
We requested an audience with the hardcore godfather, and
received one. In between bites of richly-seasoned calamari and gulps of fine
Italian red wine (or so one imagines; it was an email interview, so we’re going
for effect here), Mr. Vee held forth on all things T&G.
BLURT: What prompted
you and Dave to start the fanzine in the first place?
TESCO VEE: Dave and I differ a bit on our primary
motivation. I like to romanticize it a bit and say it was a message from above
from the literary gods that we were placed on the earth to extol virtue on the
chosen ones and heap scorn on those deemed musically unworthy-Dave’s take is he
was just doing it for his one amusement and to score a few free platters. We
just got together for the first time in 26 years and shared remembrances. It
was great – this whole book release thing has been great! – it’s like most of
this stuff was locked in Al Capone’s Vault.. We had no idea if the critics
would love it or say it was much ado about nothing [but] happily for us it has
been the former! People think we were Hardcore homies, but we were all over the
place: Echo & The Bunnymen, Ruts, Throbbing Gristle, Gang of Four, The Pop
Group, The Cure all got glowing reviews. Overall a very positive vibe to the
magazines from two guys who shared a passion for the music.
Biggest highs for you
over the course of the 22 issues? Biggest lows?
Biggest high was getting a postcard from Claude Bessey – Kickboy
Face – from Slash [legendary L.A. punk magazine]. It’s reprinted in the book. We worshipped
Slash and emulated it for T&G. Just getting the mail was an
adventure: “Oh, look it’s the new Minutemen 7” with a note from D Boon, and The
Plugz Electrify Me LP…” Dave reminded
me that it was after a review from Slash that our mailbox really started filling up with platters.
Simple Minds? Visage? Some misguided synth pop tastes, but hey, I was 24 and
the chicks dug it. You get more clam at an Ultravox show than you would at a
Johnny Thunders gig. At least they smell better!
issue(s) of the magazine stand out for you?
We were really in our wheelhouse once the domestic stuff
kicked into high gear and I’ll say the last 10 issues though the last 6 I did
solo. The UK stuff we worshipped from afar; the American musclehead stuff was
much closer to home and you can feel the heartfelt nature of all of that
worship; DC, Boston, LA, SF – and don’t forget the Midwest, the Pagans from
Cleveland really lit a fire under all of us to go out and make some noise.
T&G staged a full assault on complacency and I’d imagine your
take no prisoners style made you a few enemies along the way – among them,
TSOL, who you guys called out. Did any of the beefs ever turn blatantly
There is a great Ian Mackaye anecdote about the TSOL thing
in the book. I got some hostile mail, oh ya, but not enough. Wish it had been
more. Never feared for my safety, though I never went to see TSOL play either!
How did Touch and Go
Records come about?
We loved The Fix and Necros so much we just knew they hadda
get a record released and who else would do it? Those guys were buddies and
bitter rivals but we didn’t choose sides – now those two sell for big bucks! (The
Fix $4,200 last week.) Then Corey Rusk approached me and we did some jointly,
with him eventually taking over the reins. Obviously he took off and did some
great things with the label. We started the label so we could not only promote
bands but send out promos to labels and get more stuff to review! Vinyl addictions
were running rampant. Dave and I were going through dusty back rooms of record
stores trying to unearth the next obscurity to review. Then we popped our some
of our own!
After you formed the
Meatmen, did being in a band materially change the way you viewed the scene
you’d previously been mainly observing and reporting on?
No, I don’t think so. I tried to keep the two separate and
not blatantly self promote. I guess it made me a part of what I was covering,
but didn’t think putting a bunch of Meat reviews in the mag was kosher for
Lastly, tell our
readers everything you’ve done of note (or of infamy) since moving to D.C. in
’82 and relinquishing T&G.
Hmmm that’s a lot of stuff! Released a bunch of records… played a bunch of shows… took a lot of breaks… collected
toys, motorcycles… had 2 kids and moved back to Michigan in 1999. I had my own Bobblehead,
and released my moronic musical manifesto Touch
and Go book!
Pinch me, cuz
after five years the book is finally out and whether or not you hate me and my
band [Tesco Vee’s Hate Police], the import of this tome is not to be denied!
Sure to supplant the Uncle Johns Bathroom
Reader on every toilet tank in the world! Four years of our life went into
this brick: find out how it all went down. Buy one, ya, cockbags!