year-end polls.

“So guess what?” Ray said.

“What?” I asked.  I was at work, pretending to be busy.

“Next week, SPIN Magazine is going to publish it’s top 20 singles from 1993.”

“Yeah?” I asked, wondering why this was important.  SPIN was the mainstream alternative publication, the magazine that everyone referred to when they snobbishly talked about ‘glossy, corporate magazines.’  It was the publication that everyone read but nobody admitted reading; it had the largest circulation of any music magazine with the possible exception of Rolling Stone, there was nothing in it that ever even entered my world.  It was all Soundgarden and REM and Peal Jam and Beastie Boys.

“We’re on it,” he said.

I stopped.

“You there?” he asked.

“You’re on it?” I asked.  I was having a hard time getting this to register.

We are on it,” he said.  Patiently.  “Our ‘Allnighter’ single.  The one we put out on Dromedary?  It’s going to be listed as the number 10 single of 1993.”

“In SPIN Magazine,” I said.

“In SPIN Magazine.”

I didn’t believe him.  I waited until the special, year-end issue of SPIN came out, with Soundgarden on the cover, and I leafed to the back, to Charles Aaron’s “Singles” column.  And there it was, mixed in with Beck and Veruca Salt and REM.  Alongside the Beastie Boys, Lisa Loeb and Smashing Pumpkins.

10. Melting Hopefuls – “Pulling An Allnighter On Myself.” (Dromedary).

I showed it to everyone at work, but nobody seemed to understand the implications of SPIN FUCKING MAGAZINE listing my record as one of the very best of the entire year.  I made a thousand copies of it.  I borrowed money from my father to press it.  I worked my ass off so I could ship fifty copies of it to my distributors.  And SPIN considered it one of the best of the year.

SPIN.

I showed it to Sandy and we danced.  We literally danced around our living room like idiots, laughing and being stupid, because our little indie record got a mention in the most mainstream publication there was.  We were sending promo copies to every little punker zine in the universe, hand-coloring record artwork, writing down chili recipes and sliding them in with the records, including little plastic toys and autographed coffee packets with our promo copies, and somebody noticed.

Almost immediately I was on the phone with our distributors, telling them about the massive influx of orders that they were going to get when every record store in the country wanted to ensure that they had all twenty of SPIN‘s top singles of 1993.  Surely, they already had Beck and Veruca Salt and The Cranberries, but they did not have Melting Hopefuls, and they’d better hurry up and get “Allnighter” on their shelves alongside all the other fantastic music that came out that year – alongside Liz Phair and Bettie Serveert and Superchunk and Frank Black and Juliana Hatfield and Teenage Fanclub and The Spinanes.  I was modifying our sell sheets and sending off letters to new distributors, certain that I’d pick up that P&D deal I had been searching for – or at least pick up a few new distributors that wanted to cash in on the success that SPIN would surely bring us.

When nobody placed any orders, I was shocked.  But I figured it would just be a matter of time before the demand of consumers, banging down the doors of record stores, screaming “I MUST have that record!” would overwhelm them, and we’d get hammered with orders. 

Meanwhile, CMJ released their own readers’ poll issue, the one that lists the favorite everythings of college music people across the country.  Best male vocalist, best trend in music, worst trend in music, best guitarist, best album cover, best thing to eat for lunch, whatever.  Dromedary was, predictably, shut out from that reader’s poll, as we just didn’t send out enough music to radio stations to make our way onto a poll like that.

In the “Best Zine” category, however, we received a surprise.

The #1 zine was a Warner Brothers fanzine called Dirt, that I completely do not remember.  The #3 zine was, predictably, MaximumRockNRoll.  MRR was legendary, it was the zine in 1993, the shining example of punk, hundreds of pages of scene reports, record reviews, interviews, dynamite ads, a treasure on every page.

The #2 zine was Indier Than Thou!.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Rich said.  “I’m coming over.”

He drove right to our apartment to see for himself.  He held the issue of CMJ in his hand, staring at it for a good two or three minutes.

“Sure?” he asked, in his best Japanenglish.  Then we laughed.

I’m trying not to let present tense stuff seep into the story too much, but Andrew Culture and I have been having a running discussion in the comments section of this blog about how passing out copies of the zine at the CMJ Music Marathon was a great idea, and a cheap way to launch a new zine.  You said it, Andrew.  By distributing copies of the zine directly to the people who could vote in the poll, and loading the zine up with college radio-friendly content, Rich virtually assured himself that his zine was going to get votes.  And, sure enough, it finished ahead of all but the most elite punk zine on the planet.  

In its debut issue.

Based on one issue alone, the readership of CMJ thought it was right up there with MRR.  

“That’s like saying Liz Phair is the second-best female vocalist of all-time,” Rich said.  “Based on the strength of one album.”

It was the ultimate disinformation campaign.  First, he convinced the major labels that he had a zine, when he didn’t.  Then, he convinced the college radio community that he had one of the best zines, when he had only published one – and by “published,” I mean running off Xerox copies and handing out substantially all the printed copies to the people who were casting the votes.

And yet it didn’t seem to matter much, really.  

Neither of us had any clue what the hell we were doing.  We were, mostly, fudging it, pretending we understood how this was all supposed to work.  Neither of us were making any money, but apparently nobody knew that.  Apparently CMJ readers could think your zine was among the “best” even when they’ve only seen one issue, and SPIN could think your record was among the “best” even though you can’t actually find it in a record store.

Part of me – the part that was still trying to be an independent observer – was fucking pissed about this.  There was clearly no homework being done here; voting Indier Than Thou! as a “best zine” or choosing “Allnighter” as a “best single” was an irresponsible thing to do.  It wasn’t as if anyone could actually find these things, it wasn’t as if either thing had actually achieved anything, they were nothing more than name-dropping the most obscure thing possible that could still be described as “good.”

While Indier was an excellent first attempt at a zine, it was just that – a first attempt, with lots of articles that gave it indie credibility – college radio, Gerard Cosloy, lots of sarcasm and cynicism and indie rock.  Similarly, while “Allnighter” was a great pop song, it was on the tiniest label in New Jersey, and definitely was the token super-obscure indie rock track on the list, designed to make the list, with Beck’s “Loser” at #1, look more hip than it truly was.

On the other hand, it was Rich and Sandy and I that were benefiting from the accolades, theoretically, and so I was suitably thrilled.  It seemed like we were steamrolling into 1994.

~ by Al on March 15, 2009.

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