Friday, October 21, 2011

ThroTTle Final Entry: 1982 and Beyond

Weirdness Plus: A History of ThroTTle Magazine

Q: What are the rewards of putting out a magazine like this since you don’t get paid or anything?

A: The rewards are more subtle than money. Perhaps the greatest reward is being in a position to decide what’s worthwhile and then sharing it with a wider group. It’s giving in a way that’s not obligatory. Determining what makes an [unsolicited] submission worth printing is the most rewarding challenge I can conceive. Maybe if we keep plugging away it will pay in a more material way.”

-conversation between Bill and Peter; ThroTTle, January, 1984 issue 

My name is Dale Brumfield, and I have been writing all the entries on this blog that you hopefully have been following this year, the 30th anniversary of “Richmond’s Better Magazine”, ThroTTle. I have intentionally switched to the first person for this final entry.

I have a theory that what truly makes a movie, a magazine, a piece of art or even a TV show memorable is not just the product itself but how well that product reflects the time period in which it appears, and how well it can continue to reflect the time period, even as the times shift and transition, without eventually appearing dated.

In July, 2010, I did a story for Style Weekly magazine (ThroTTle’s early nemesis) on a gentleman preacher who appeared on TV at 3 in the morning on the weekend in the 1970s and called himself The Circuit Rider. I was fortunate enough to interview his three sons at one of their south Richmond homes. One of the reasons for the enduring charm and relevance of the Circuit Rider (actual name Bill Livermon) is while his message is still relevant today, the manner in which he appeared on TV was perfectly suited to the time period, and that a similar “sermonette” would never make it in today’s TV programming. The Circuit Rider was filmed and edited by his wife, with a 16mm hand-held movie camera. They were only about 3 minutes in length, and were telecast anywhere between 2 AM and 3 AM on Sunday morning, just before channel 12 went off the air for the night.

Try getting a 3-minute fuzzy, 16mm film sermonette on TV today – especially complicated considering that TV no longer goes off the air anymore. But the Circuit Rider endures – a perfect example of how it exploited and reflected its time period.

I like to think that ThroTTle was equally suited to its time period, and did a good job not only reflecting 1980s Richmond but that it transitioned well and continued to reflect the local arts and culture scene as the eighties wore on. There was nothing else in Richmond at the time that was even close, so the environment was well-suited for a somewhat alternative, arts-based monthly tabloid. Yes, the magazine changed through the years, reflecting changes and turnovers in leadership and contributors, but the content drove the magazine, not the other way around, and that was the key to ThroTTle’s ability to show what Richmond was really about – not the Editor’s version of what it should be or what they wanted it to be. Every issue was a surprise to the reader, and that’s just the way we planned it.

At the end of 1981, when the magazine was on its way to being financially viable, and contributors were starting to line up to be a part of it, the founders – Peter Blake, Bill Pahnelas and myself – had no delusions of grandeur of the magazine. It was still considered alternative (a moniker I personally despised), a rag, an underground fanzine, etc., but we embraced all the descriptions of it, because as long as descriptions were being tossed around it just meant people were talking about us. Although we made the big jump in 1983 from bi-monthly to monthly, we never harbored any fantasies of becoming a weekly or a daily, nor did we actively seek out big money investors or buyers. We preferred to remain beholden to the community, not some faceless entity pulling strings behind a curtain. In other words, we would keep doing it as is until it became too big a pain in the rear. In doing so, in 4 years we went from debt to a $50,000 per year enterprise – in 1984 dollars.
6th Street Marketplace,
"Richmond's proudest new erection".
Click and look at it VERY close.

Underground or above ground? Hipster or anti-hipster?

A recent Facebook discussion brought up the topic of whether ThroTTle was underground or aboveground, or whether it was hipster or anti-hipster. Personally, I maintain the magazine started out underground but sometime in 1982 or early 1983 it snuck aboveground, in a way none of us could have predicted.

Going “legit” can sometimes be traced to a specific event, article or issue. Rolling Stone magazine in the late 60s went aboveground over time because of a series of anti-Vietnam war articles. The evolution of advertisers represented on a magazine’s pages goes a long way toward legitimizing any publication; for example Creem Magazine in the early 70s became aboveground because its excellent music coverage drew big record advertisers. In fact, any hip publication that starts attracting big-name advertisers is going legit, whether they will admit to it or not. Attracting a big investor can have the same effect, and inevitably the content starts reflecting the publication’s newly-deputized financial status. It’s a tough road to hoe.

ThroTTle’s eventual trip up to the hallowed halls of aboveground publishing can be traced to a beer ad.

Brown Distributing signing on for a whole year of full-color, full back page ads transformed ThroTTle more than any one article or photo could have done. Because of the way the press was set up, a process-color back page paid for by somebody else meant we could also do a four-color process cover for no extra cost, and also include process color on the centerspread for very little cost. Suddenly a whole new world of cheaply produced dazzling covers opened up, and we quickly jumped on that opportunity, courtesy of Budweiser. The entire VCU arts community suddenly got out their oils, pastels and watercolors, and soon we had eye-catching and socially relevant works of art done by such local luminaries as Gerald Donato, Joe Seipel, Bill Nelson, Jim Bumgartner, and others that we may never had obtained before.

Suddenly everything changed. The beautiful color Budweiser ad on the back made people turn the magazine over to see what was on the front, then turn the page to see what was inside. Photographers started calling, even one AP photographer named Bob Strong who followed Jack Moore to a construction site to shoot the most artistic pictures of idle construction equipment we ever saw, free of charge. Philadelphia Enquirer Pulitzer prize winning Editorial cartoonist Tony Auth was more than happy to provide a perfect illustration for our article on the execution of Frank Coppola. Cartoonists from New Jersey and California (including SpongeBob artist Kaz and Matt Groening, who also did some cartoon I can’t recall) started sending strips. Writers and artists came from everywhere, and we were deluged with material and story ideas. Our press run changed almost monthly, going from 4,000 copies at the end of 1981 to 10,000 in early 1983 then topping off at 20,000 in 1985. We needed a bigger truck.

By 1983 we regretfully were having to say “no thanks” to more and more people, a process that must have driven Peter crazy, as it flew in the face of his original vision to let everybody be a part of the creative process. But, it was a sacrifice to growth, and hard decisions had to be made. We simply couldn’t afford a 50-page issue every month.

The beer ad spawned other big name advertisers with dollars to spend. Real Estate magnate David “your man in the fan” Peake, of Don Mann Realty, bought numerous full-page interior ads featuring head shots of himself. Numerous restaurants and music companies came on board, and of course the small “Band-Aid” ads grew in number to fill 2 and sometimes 3 pages.

Of course, local Movie mogul Ray Bentley never failed to reliably titillate and shock with his huge, garish 1- and sometimes 2-page midnight movie ads that were as much feature articles as they were advertisements. Ray was our first consistent full-page advertiser, and we still appreciate his unwavering support.

The four-color covers also created a dilemma of sorts: In those days a piece of color art had to be shot on a special camera that “separated” the art into four color negatives: red, yellow, blue and black. Those four negatives were then burned onto plates at the printer, and run on separate parts of the press to mesh the four colors together, re-creating the art on the newsprint. The problem was the four-color separation was prohibitively expensive. Although the Budweiser ads came already separated, we had to find a way to separate the cover art.

Bill Pahnelas found the solution. Utilizing a contact at a local printing press (that just so happened to print a local daily paper as well), an old-time pressman said he would be “happy” to shoot our artwork for us, free of charge. So once a month Bill snuck the artwork into the press room and this great old guy took an hour of company time to shoot and separate our next cover.

Our old Commonwealth Times friend Rob Sauder-Conrad took some time from founding Freedom House and protesting Ronald Reagan to scrounge some local dumpsters with me one Friday night to accumulate enough lumber to build hinged-lid layout tables (Binswanger Glass Co. had the best stuff in their dumpster), then – armed with an Apple IIe home computer that we bought for $3,800, and a dot matrix printer that cost another $600 in February, 1983 – we rented office space above the old Myers Jewelry store at 7 East Broad Street downtown (across from the Golden Steak Restaurant) and went to work in our brand new location.

This was actually our fourth location. After getting booted from the Commonwealth Times offices we put together three or four issues in Bill Pahnelas’ living room on Main Street before we set up shop in Michael Fuller’s basement on Sheppard Street. After about 4 months (and after Peter and I had the old woman next door pull a gun on us after overhearing an argument between her and her son) we got the space on Broad Street. Charles Lohmann graciously built us walls and doors, although we had no heat that first winter. A year later we were joined up there by channel 36 Coloradio (when it was absorbed by ThroTTle’s parent company), and the Neopolitan Gallery opened up downstairs.

Janet Peckinpaugh tells us to go to hell 

In March, 1982 WXEX (now WRIC) channel 8 definitely saw us as underground – and apparently quite a threat. Their newly-hired news anchor Janet Peckinpaugh graced the final issue of Richmond Lifestyle magazine, and writer Genny Seneker decided to do a feature on the death of Richmond Lifestyle and the hiring of Ms. Peckinpaugh. A friendly request for a mug shot of Ms. Peckinpaugh resulted in a nasty mailgram from WXEX: “Strongly object to your proposed use of Janet Peckinpaugh’s picture in your magazine – letter to follow”.

Stunned by WXEX’s response, we then received a letter from Ms. Peckinpaugh herself: “After reading your letter and reviewing copies of your magazine, I am writing to inform you that you may not, under any circumstances, use my picture or name in connection with any story in ‘Throttle’. I would consider such actions slanderous, libel, and an invasion of privacy. . . Most of all, I fell that appearing in your magazine would be detrimental to me as a professional journalist.”

Wow – we had no idea we shaped public opinion that adversely. And for a “professional journalist” as she claims, she should have known exactly what libel entailed.

The Peckinpaugh correspondence. Click to read.
More letters followed, both from the WXEX station manager and from the station’s law firm, May, Miller and Parsons: “we must advise you that an invasion of the rights and/or privileges of Ms. Janet Peckinpaugh or Nationwide Communications, Inc. by the ‘Throttle’ or any person or persons associated or producing or printing or participating in the invasion of either of our clients’ rights will be looked to for full and complete compensatory and/or punitive damages.” Signed very truly yours, G. Kenneth Miller, for the firm. 

It seems odd that a public persona and a public broadcasting entity would be so protective of their “property” that they would go to these lengths. ThroTTle responded as we knew best – by documenting the entire sordid affair on page 3 of the March, 1982 issue, complete with a wonderful Greg Harrison illustration of Janet Peckinpaugh punked out in spiked hair and leather jacket. We mailed copies to everybody. But the matter died, as did WXEX’s ratings after hiring Ms. Peckinpaugh. 15 years later ThroTTle was still around, and Janet Peckinpaugh was but a distant Richmond memory. 

Read this article about her to see how thing are going for her now up in Connecticut.

Whether the Peckinpaugh episode had anything to do with it, content as well as advertising rolled in, and we had to reorganize our staff to handle the influx of material arriving on a daily basis. Instead of the title Art Director I became Production Manager, and hired an Advertising production manager (in charge of producing the ads). Michael Clautice did a superior job of organizing the ads for the next issue, and gave us long expositions of his methods that included a rapidograph pen and an accordion file. Long-time contributor Kelly Alder took over as our first Art Director to assign illustrative art assignments. Beth Horsley became Chief Photographer and Doug Dobey was hired as Comics Editor. In News, Arts and editorial we created News Editors, Arts Editors, Associate News Editors, Calendar Editors, and a plethora of associates, proofreaders and data entry operators. It was thrilling to see people bustling around, doing their respective jobs, arguing what needed to be argued and respecting the copy flow and production process we created to ensure the smooth operation of the next issue. Some could argue we were still underground, but our streamlined processes were definitely aboveground, and rivaled any other “legit” magazine anywhere.

Very little changed in the actual mechanics of production, although we crowed about our cutting edge technology when we bought the Apple computer. The Apple came equipped with a mono monitor, a CPU, and a systems disk and several document disks. Also included was a gizmo called a modem, which allowed us to transmit our issue text to William Byrd Press at a blazing 2.4 KPS on Sunday night, then Byrd would print out the galleys, run them through a waxer at no extra charge and deliver them back to 7 East Broad on Monday afternoon. The down side? The production people had to learn to “spec” type to make it all fit, although I tried to make things easier by dummying out the entire issue with a blue line pencil to show where everything went. After that it was like paint by numbers, and it always seemed to fit. We were the wave of the future.

Then, in November, 1982, we got competition. A magazine called “Style” suddenly showed up in apartment building foyers all over Richmond. We didn’t consider it authentic competition, since they obviously were going after another readership demographic with stories about the “Friendly Frosters Cake Decorators Club” (not a joke), but we did not take Style lightly.

We happily announced the Appearance of Style (“How do you publish while eating a croissant?”, Nov. 1982 issue) but the fact is, after a year or so we became a major pain in the ass to them. We discovered the identities of not one but two of their anonymous restaurant reviewers, George Stoddart then Christian Gehmann, revealing them complete with photos. We delighted in lampooning their “tea and crumpets” attitude, but the kicker was when Bill and I dressed up like homeless men (not a real stretch for either of us), got a shopping cart and spent a couple Friday evenings rifling through Style’s trash in the alley behind their Franklin Street office under the guise of looking for aluminum cans. We found hilarious in-house memos, notes, story ideas and other detritus, then either published them as is or referenced them in our content (one particularly funny note from editor Lorna Wyckoff to someone named “Conrad” extolled the virtues of hiring Baylies Willey – “an old Hollins chum” – as their Marketing Rep. The note ended “. . .Toodles, Lorna”).

At one point Ms. Wyckoff allegedly called a lunch meeting with VCU Mass Comm Professor George Crutchfield to see if there was anything anyone could do about ThroTTle. Little did she or Crutchfield know but that their server that day was a ThroTTle contributor, and overheard everything they said, relaying it back to us.

After a while, however, we got tired of hounding Style, and just left them alone. Happily, Style is still published as a weekly, and I proudly count myself as a regular contributor. And, Lorna Wyckoff is a Facebook friend. No hard feelings?

One day these punk kids showed up.

Shortly after moving into 7 East, Peter announced at one of our weekly staff meetings that we had just started an internship with Open High School. Seriously, he said, these kids would get high school credit for working at ThroTTle. I shrugged – “another one of Peter’s schemes” I thought, but it became apparent pretty quick that these three punk kids had a legitimate role to play and seemed sincere about doing it. One in particular – this wise-cracking chick in denim coveralls who at age 15 professed to sending correspondence to Ted Bundy and gave most of us this quizzical, disbelieving look whenever we asked her something, quickly assimilated and proved herself to be an excellent writer and diehard worker. Anne, or “Timmie” as she was called, wrote with the maturity and wizened sarcasm of someone twice her age. Timmie stuck with us for a couple of years, before graduating and going off to William and Mary, where she was quick to point out via post card any mistakes we made. Timmie – or as she is known today as Anne Thomas Soffee – is an accomplished writer for Richmond magazine and the author of a couple of books. We are proud to counter her among our staffers. Of course, all of our other interns in those years – Wade, Michelle, Mark, Mary and others – played crucial non-writing roles in such areas where we lacked manpower, such as in data entry, subscriptions and distribution.

Anne was one in a long line of incredibly talented and hard-working writers that took their assignments seriously, even though they would not get paid one dime for their work (Anne and Andy Marcus scored an interview with Black Flag lead Henry Rollins for the 9/85 issue). Donald Wilson showed up and handed in a terrific piece on local poet Rik Davis, who had been murdered in 1981 at his job at an adult bookstore – a murder that remains unsolved in 2011.

Other literary and musical interview highlights of the 80’s include:
  • An interview with fiction writer William Crawford Woods, by Michael Stephens in July, 1982. 
  • Lori Edmiston interviewing Waverly, VA folk artist Miles Carpenter and also the Orthotonics, May, 1982. 
  • a terrific interview with organist Eddie Weaver by Mark Mumford in the April, 1983 issue. 
  • Kelly Alder and Sparky Otte scored an interview with the Rockats in the Much More dressing room (Much More was a club on Broad Street). 
  • Bob Lewis’s interview with illustrator Berni Wrightson was one of the only interviews Wrightson did in the 80’s. 
  • Donna Parker did a rather unforgettable interview with Dream Syndicate in July, 1983. 
  • Trent Nicholas contributed numerous film commentary and reviews, including “Liquid Sky” and “Futuropolis”. 
  • John Williamson wrote two great pieces in the January, 1983 issue – one on the Bad Brains and the other was an interview with Richard Hell (of Richard Hell and the Voidoids). 
  • In the September, 1983 issue, Tom Wotherspoon snagged an interview with singer Grace Jones, Bill Pahnelas interviewed the Ramones and Lori Edmiston had an excellent piece on REM. 
  • The June, 1985 “Interview” issue had interviews with Times-Dispatch film critic Carole Kass, attorney Mary B. Cox, director John Waters, Cartoonist Colleen Doran, Dika Newlin and Tiny Tim. 
  • An interview with and story about primitive artist Howard Finster, by Clair Frederick, April, 1986. 
  • And of course, that is a woefully inadequate sampling. There were tons more. 
David Powers feature, 1983. Deliciously unexplainable.

But I would be remiss to indicate it was all sweetness and light. A large group of people working together in an unheated space wasn’t without problems and skirmishes. A blowup between Bill, me and Ned Scott Jr. over the last-minute decision to place in two articles regarding the 1927 silent film “Napoleon” that was coming to the Biograph necessitated adjustments to our calendar to allow last-minute, breaking additions after we calmed down. Bill was a stickler for schedule and protocol, and had little patience with those who wished to re-arrange a couple days before press day. Pushy cartoonists pushed Comics Editor Doug Dobey to the limit numerous times; picky, demanding advertisers pushed all of us over the edge periodically.

On October 26, 1983, the office was broken into and heavily damaged. Tables were turned over, art supplies were thrown everywhere, our $600 printer was thrown into a light box, demolishing them both. And, best of all, the culprit(s) took a dump on the floor and smeared it around. Thankfully the computer was left alone, or we would have been out of business. It took days to get back to normal, and the guilty were never found. Dirtbags.

One day Bill came up to the office after a particularly bad day at work and just paced the floor, doing nothing and arguing about everything. When he finally stormed out and went home because I had neglected to bring beer with me, Peter looked up from the computer and said, “I wanted to punch him, but I was afraid he would fly into a frenzy and kill me.” The pressure was starting to build.

Ned Scott was a welcome addition to the staff, but somehow seemed to find his way into the middle of any controversy that arose. An Al Pacino lookalike in black hi-top sneakers, with a penchant for bumming a cigarette then breaking off the filter before lighting, Ned succeeded in endearing himself to half the staff and severely pissing off the remainder. He was aggressive, loud and demanding, but he wrote excellent pieces, which ultimately was seen by the reader without knowing the sometimes histrionics behind it. “Ned provides local color” someone remarked.

Press day was always the source of a lot of wailing and teeth-gnashing. I hated press day. The night before (usually around 1 AM), after all the maddening details were corrected and the page numbers, footers, taglines and cutlines were in place, and after the pages had been rolled and washed down with Webril wipes soaked in Bestine, the “flats” were put to bed in a box. Bill and I then arose at 6 AM and drove the flats to Fredericksburg to the Free lance-Star building. After dropping off the flats we got our trash-can size 7-Eleven coffee and went back to watch a production guy named Ralph strip our negatives and burn our plates while he bitched and moaned about his job and retirement and ogled the pretty girls in the news room. Once the press was plated and started, a few copies slowly emerged, which we scooped up and rifled through to make sure there were no major errors. Once getting our thumbs-up, the press went into high-speed production after minor adjustments were made, and after about 2 hours we were loaded down with 20,000 printed and bundled copies of ThroTTle heading south on I-95. And it never, ever looked as good as I thought it should. Printing was anti-climactic after living with it for over a month, and I was already looking forward to the next one.

Once back in Richmond we picked up Peter and delivered several thousand around town before calling it a night. Once I sideswiped a car on Strawberry Street with the delivery truck. Another time Bill told a group of guys in a car on Grace Street that he didn’t have to move the truck, because it was a “Bonafied delivery ve-hicle, so F*** YOU!!”, causing me to drop down out of sight so any bullets coming through the side window would miss me and hit him. After a second accident our rental company suddenly no longer had any vehicles available for us anymore. It was an exhausting 14-hour day at the end of an exhausting month.

In late 1983 we incorporated the magazine under a sub-chapter S company called “Acceleration for the Eighties, Inc”. We issued stock on 1/1/84 worth a dollar a share to the three founders and Mike Fuller, our Business Affairs Director. We had a bank account and a loan that we all signed for to buy the Apple IIe PC. We acquired Channel 36 Coloradio, and they moved their broadcasting operation to 7 East. If we weren’t aboveground before, we certainly were now.

In November, 1985 Peter abruptly stepped down as senior Editor, following Bill who had to step down earlier that year due to a no-compete clause with his job at the Richmond News-Leader. Peter stayed on in more minor capacities, but he was burned out – as was I, but felt compelled to keep going. Jeff Lindholm stepped in as co-senior editor, but By February, 1986 ad sales had plummeted due to sales manager Michael Woodall’s flaming out as well. Despite the excitement of moving into swanky new offices in St. Alban’s on Main Street downtown, the fire went out. People were finding reasons not to keep busting their butts for free – go figure. Quality stories were getting harder to come by. I tried my hand at another Albrecht Durer-style cover (“The Resurrection of St. Elvis”) on the April issue, but by August of that year even I was done. The strain of volunteering all my time for almost 6 years on a monthly magazine has worn me completely out.

Then, salvation appeared as Ned Scott Jr. Ned said he wanted to take over the magazine, build a whole new staff, re-design it and basically start all over with a fresh new focus. This was a no-brainer to the rest of us – we convened a meeting of the board of directors and unanimously voted to turn the magazine and control of the board over to Ned. Of course a screaming match started over something, but the change was complete and we celebrated with Black labels.

It was a good thing I got out when I did; I look back at the last couple of issues I was involved with and my bad attitude is all over them.

In January, 1987, I married my wife Susan and the first issue of the new ThroTTle appeared. It was a damn good issue – a robust 16 pages, highlighting the AIDS epidemic. Yes, 16 pages was down from our high of 40 pages in early 1984, but the magazine was at least now off life support. Ned had done a great job creating a new staff, with new writers and editors. Doug Dobey redesigned the magazine, and it had beefier arts and sports coverage. Brown Distributing was back on the back page again. It was a wonderful start under dire circumstances.

Once Peter, Mike, Jeff Lindholm and myself turned the magazine over to Ned Scott in late November, 1986 I walked away and never looked back. I continued to pick up the issues when I saw them but I even stopped doing that after a while. That part of my life was over, and I flipped that switch off.

What is so weird is that even today I periodically bump into people who tell me that they wrote for ThroTTle, or had a drawing published, and I have no idea who they are. I currently have a short story published in an anthology called “Richmond Macabre”, and one of the editors, Phil Ford, informed me that he was a contributor to ThroTTle “in the 90’s”. It is a very gratifying but alien feeling to meet someone who helped keep a magazine going almost 19 years after I helped start it, and an unspoken kinship still seems to exist between the 1980s staff and the 1990s staff.

I am asked periodically if a magazine like ThroTTle could make it today. Regretfully, I don’t think any magazine can make it today existing the way we did, especially. Overhead costs a fortune, and good luck finding volunteers willing to keep it up over the long haul. Ad money can only bring in but so much, and you are beholden to everyone when you are so dependent on their ongoing revenues and not on a silent sugar daddy. If you piss off a major advertiser and lose them, it is financially crippling, and very difficult to recover.

Any arts and culture magazine thinking of making a go in this climate has to have a very robust web presence, and be very innovative in how it meshes its online presence with its hard copy sister sitting in bundles in the bookstores, apartment foyers and dentist offices. I don’t have that answer, and shudder to think of the work involved in starting something from scratch all over again. Then again, if any of you reading this decide to take a crack at it, help yourself. Just please don’t call it ThroTTle.

My hat is off to Ned (thanks for taking over), Dorothy Gardner (ditto), Ann Henderson (ditto again), Mary Blanchard (final ditto) and all the others who labored to keep the magazine going in one form or another from 1981 to 1986, then ultimately until 1999, especially Doug (always perfection), Kelly (Mr. dependable), Linnea (great delivery), Michael (great ads, but enough with the accordion file already), Bud (the jolly Russian shot-putter), Dabrina (damn fine editing), Don (I’ll show ‘em, honey), Frank (we sang along with you often), Margaret (always had coffee ready), David (the Valentine issue cover is a classic), Lori (A great artist, and just a pleasure to have around, even though we argued constantly), Shade (the most strange one of all), Brooke (you made a good Russian security cop), Mark (did you take Peter’s bicycle?), Genny (don’t worry, Janet Peckinpaugh is not coming after you), Timmi (snark snark), F.T. (great job getting the VCU professors on board), Jack (stop throwing chairs), Don B. (the reincarnation of Thimble Theater), Pam (unforgettable 80s hair), David (great pictures), Phil (show me your Emmy – and where’s my dang glue gun?), Caryl (best toothbrush collection in town), Kaz (best of luck on SpongeBob), Sheldon (I appreciated your phone call that time), Wade (are the issues out yet?), Sue (wild turkey), Maynard (I never even met you but I hear you delivered our magazines in Charlottesville) and everybody else, especially Simpsons creator Matt Groening (I’m sorry I turned down your comic “Life in Hell”, but it was so stupid).

I discovered that if I took all the articles I wrote on this blog and put them in a book it would be 76 pages, not including art. Perhaps some of the 1990s people would like to step up and write a history of their years with the magazine. We would have a true library-quality item at that point. Any takers? Ann? Mary?

Thanks also to everyone too who picked up and read ThroTTle from those early years. Thanks for patronizing the advertisers, and thanks for the good word of mouth. It meant a lot.

I’m putting this blog to bed.

Good night, and God bless,
(1981 Woolworth photobooth)

Your friend, Dale

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why do we fry everything in Richmond? Issue #6

Weirdness Plus: A History of ThroTTle Magazine
 November/December, 1981 

Click it to see it big

“Dear Dale: It is not every day that someone asks me to draw them a picture, especially to use on the cover of a magazine . . . even a magazine from a place where they fry everything. Since your request is so utterly ridiculous, I will oblige you and I will draw something for you to use for your publication. Hope it helps. Thanks for your letter.”

-Frank Zappa 

In July, 1981, during the lull between issues of ThroTTle, Dale Brumfield found a review in a filing cabinet clipped from the Richmond News-Leader of the November 3, 1972 Frank Zappa concert at the Mosque (now the Landmark Theater). Zappa reportedly performed an improv piece during that show titled “Why do they fry everything in Richmond (especially at my hotel)” – a piece which strangely has never shown up on any of the numerous compilation albums released by his family since his death. Wanting to include as many big names as possible in the November/ December issue, Brumfield sent a letter to Zappa, asking him to do a drawing for the cover, mentioning the “Fry everything” reference. Zappa bit, and the self-portrait and accompanying letter arrived in late August, with postage due (“please leave 27 cents in the mailbox” the mailman wrote on the envelope).

Armed with the original self-portrait, and salivating with anticipation, the staff started working on the final 1981 issue in October. Weighing in at another fat and happy 16 pages, ThroTTle vol. 1 no. 6 contained just shy of 5 paid ad pages, Slightly better than a 1:4 ratio and only a 1/2-page increase over issue 5. Still not enough revenue to pay the staff but enough to pay the bills.

The biggest addition to this issue in the way of advertising was the introduction of “Band-Aids” – tiny ads (1/32 or 1/16 of a page in size) with bargain-basement prices ($8 and $16 respectively) that could be afforded by even the poorest groups of musicians, artists and businesses in the midst of a terrible recession. The new sizes were a hit, with almost a full page of the small ads purchased by bands like Shake & the Drakes, The Tom and Marty Band, the Megatonz, the Orthotonics and The Dads. Single Bullet Theory and The Rage sprung for larger, 1/4-page ads on the same page, heralding ThroTTle’s commitment to the Richmond music scene and cementing the magazine’s status as the vehicle of choice for band and music information. It was the 1980s version of MySpace.

The magazine also by this point had become a legitimate journalistic vehicle and happily embraced as such by readers, the Richmond business community and grudgingly accepted by the competition (of which there was really none). This was no “Richmond Scene” Magazine, this was serious business. Navy blue T-shirts with the ThroTTle logo and some Brumfield-designed squiggles (“zeroids” Peter Blake called them) were hawked and sold. House ads asking for contributions of art, literature and photography appeared, as did requests for more people to please come work for the magazine – a pet desire of co-founder Peter Blake, who to his credit was bound and determined to include as many people as possible in the publishing process, especially detractors and complainers.

Flush with its reputation not only as a legitimate journalistic vehicle but also as a rabble-rouser, a healthy dose of snarkiness continued to sneak into the magazine by that time as well. “You can find ‘Richmond Lifestyle’ magazine in every 7-Eleven in Virginia”, stated a 1/8-page house ad probably penned by Pahnelas and Brumfield, the second one they created poking fun at the venerable Richmond monthly, “Not so with ThroTTle – we keep better company”.

ThroTTle outlived Richmond Lifestyle, by the way.

For the first time, the cover of issue #6 of ThroTTle was not a stand-alone illustration, despite being drawn by Frank Zappa. There were several reasons: The Zappa illo, while stark and sinister in a fun, comic way, simply could not carry the entire cover on its own. Also, there was too much great material to be included in this issue that the staff could not justify the enormous amount of white space that would be left by this particular stand-alone illustration, so the hard decision was made to start 2 stories on the cover wrapped around the Zappa self-portrait: a piece by Brumfield on the sudden proliferation of underground comic books (both national releases and local ones) and a strange Jack Moore interview with a local oddball who had a radio show on WRFK (now WCVE) radio and possessed the sharpest, most diabolical sense of humor seen in Richmond, named Mac Calhoun.

That Mac Calhoun was able to bump from the cover an interview with filmmaker John Waters (appearing instead on page 11) was either a testament to the magazine’s commitment to the local talents or an astonishing oversight – but the Calhoun interview was a scream nonetheless, and way funnier than the one with Waters. “The people at WRFK are more cultured than other stations in the area,” Calhoun said. “They all use napkins and dinnerware. They don’t live in cave dwellings, like XL-102. They cook their food rather than rip it straight off the carcass.”

Calhoun’s show on WRFK was called “Night Life”, and appeared for 15 minutes on Sunday nights. “It’s comedy for shut-ins” Calhoun claimed. “My audience [is] young trainables and sophisticates between 18-35 with one car and three houses, with a wife in every garage.”

Another testament to the fact that the Richmond community was taking the magazine seriously was the inclusion of an entire page of letters to the Editor on page 3 – and not just short bogus comments with made-up names calling Ron Smith an asshole (a tag that followed the poor guy for almost a year until everybody realized he really was a local music professional). The letters were long, thoughtful, critical where they needed to be and complimentary where it was deserved.

Although Ron still indeed got his share of brickbats (VCU artist Frank Gresham penned a long screed against Ron’s literary style, to become a valued contributor a few issues later), other topics included a much-deserved rebuke against Pahnelas and Brumfield’s “Richmond Wine District” story in the previous issue, stating “In a city that tries its best to ignore alcoholism, this story was a slap in the face”. No argument there. Artist Caryl Burtner – ever the one to properly catalog, document and attribute – corrected a previous letter-writer on who exactly made the catchiest utility pole flyers, and claimed that former Richmonder and Commonwealth Times 1978 Man of the Year Kermit Skinner (now town manager of Manteo N.C. – see him here ) started the whole “CopyCat and staple gun revolution”.

The mag was not just getting picked up but it was being read and responded to. Blake and Pahnelas were thrilled.

The ThroTTle “Thrust” section included a piece by contributor Jerry Lewis called “Joan Crawford and the Art of Gracious Living”, about Joan Crawford’s personal peccadillos coinciding with the release of the film “Mommie Dearest” (reviewed later in the issue). Artist David Powers (who would play a role in a story appearing on page 14) supplied a typically strange but perfectly appropriate illustration. A Holly Robinson article on how artist Charles Overman bends metal as a stress relief, and the continuation of Brumfield’s piece on underground comics rounded out the spread, with a terrific first-time illustration by VCU Commercial Art student Blair Caplinger.

Lori Edmiston wrote an introduction to a poignant photo-spread of Richmond’s Virginia Home nursing facility, shot by a young photographer and resident of the home named Cindy. “All the things I love about the home are in those pictures: the people there.” She said. True story: one of the residents in one of the pictures, a lady named Eula Vass, actually babysat Dale Brumfield as a toddler back in Verona, Virginia in the early 1960s. When Ms. Vass went to live at the Virginia home in the late 1970s she ran into a childhood friend there named Eudella, and the two were inseparable after that, spending their days side by side in their wheelchairs, holding hands.

The magazine now wasn’t just a snarky, arrogant upstart – it also was capable of presenting a more personal and touching side of Richmond that got no play anywhere else.

Mallory Callan illustration

The “Centerpiece” was about guns. Richmond in 1980 had 57 murders, with 36 of them by handguns. Contributor John Williamson went to the sources (gun shops and dealers) to try to get answers pertaining to the Richmond gun problem, which was escalating at a rapid and very frightening pace. “In the Richmond area last year [1979], there were $363,792 worth of firearms stolen, and only $23,144 worth recovered by police. That’s a ratio of 15:1. . . any way you cut it, that’s a lot of guns.”

John’s article was accompanied by a terrific drawing of a sinister Santa holding a smoking .44 caliber pistol drawn by VCU Commercial Art professor Mallory Callan, who claimed to be “thrilled” to appear in ThroTTle, despite his objections to some perceived homophobic insinuations in a previous issue. Mallory passed away 20 years ago. He was a good guy.

A sidebar titled “Keska Say Keska Say” by “Elmo James” was a personal piece detailing that person’s armed holdup on Church Hill, and how it changed their priorities. “Narcissism and pleasantness are off the list . . . right now one of my projects is guns. I’m getting out of mirrors and into guns.” Artist Kelly Alder inked the sketch for this piece, as he did the illo for the back cover.

The Throttle “Lively Arts” section (“Lively Arts” was a joke first spoken by Lori Edmiston that somehow stuck. None of us knew what it really meant) featured movie reviews by contributor Dale Davis, featuring almost forgotten, almost cultish 1981 stalwarts as “Southern Comfort”, “Mommie Dearest” and a Roger Corman release called “Galaxy of Terror”. Dale D. reviewed them based on the CTN (“Call to nature”) factor, with the better films actually inhibiting body functions.

Opposite was the “Polyester” page. The John Waters film came to the Biograph Theater on November 12 and that reviewer found the “Odorama” card a novelty but accused Waters of selling out. “Polyester – wild and wickedly funny as it is – shows signs of selling out; by pandering to slick commercialism, Waters is losing the rough-around-the-edges charm of ‘Pink Flamingos’ and ‘Female Trouble.”

Following the short review was an interview by Jerry Lewis, recounting a lunch with Waters and Biograph Manager F.T. Rea at Mad King Ludwig’s Restaurant on Grace Street. The most important thing to come out of the interview was that Waters was a “Benji” fan. Dale Davis then rounded out the “Polyester” trifecta with a short piece on Waters’ book “Shock Value”, which had recently gone on sale in Richmond for $9.95.

Ever mindful of ThroTTle’s potential highbrow status, Joseph Robertson injected a dose of open-mike cultcha on page 12 with reviews of Robert Penn Warren’s “Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980” and Edward Hirsch’s “For the Sleepwalkers”. Tough to get published, and even tougher to get reviewed, poetry compilations drew very little press in Richmond in 1981 so ThroTTle was more than happy to step in and fill that void with intelligent reviews written by people who knew what in the world they were talking about.

Under the poetry review was a curious ad purchased by Bruce Terrell that said only “I’m not responsible”. Brumfield supplied yet another TV log, with such choice programming as “Crockett’s Death Garden” and “Art Linkletter’s Keg Party” followed at 12:30 AM by “Feminist Offensive Special: Great Ladies of the Vatican”.

Clue’s column showed up again, brought to ThroTTle by mysterious armed men dressed in black suits with Raybans and white socks. Relating how Lynda Bird Johnson Robb arrived in town to check out her new digs, Clue told us how “Lynda trooped half a dozen friends into O’Malley’s, the Republican watering/strong hole at 6th and Main, only to be told there would be a wait. She chose to leave. Those seated chose to applaud. Nasty.”

“Don’t despair Lynda,” Clue soothed in dulcet and knowing tones, “Clue hears a group of Democrats are buying the place.”

Ron Smith’s “Cheap Thrills and Urban Decadence” column warranted a full-page and Ron used half of that space to describe the ill-fated Iggy Pop Halloween concert at the Mosque. After warm-ups by the Deprogrammers and Dirty Looks, Pop took the stage late, and after about 20 minutes of performing the Richmond police told the VCU Concert committee chairman Jimmy Saal the concert had to end per Richmond city concert rules. Mortified that he was going to have to pull the plug on a national act after only two or three songs, Saal begged the police to relent. Clad only in a mini-skirt, high heels and fishnets, Pop squeezed in another song (“I’m a Conservative”) before the police said “enough” and took action to force the band off the stage, citing a 1 am curfew.

The shit understandably hit the fan. Soaked in multiple kegs of cheap beer, the crowd went crazy, and in a panic a policeman took the stage and responded to the drunk, angry and surging crowd by pulling and hurling his billy club into them, striking artist and ThroTTle contributor David Powers in the forehead, knocking him unconscious. Further angered, the crowd roared in frustration and the panicked cop pulled his pistol before he was subdued by two other cops trying to stop a major incident.

The concert was shut down, David was taken to the ER for twelve stitches and Iggy and his entourage teeter-tottered in his heels and fishnets over to Benny’s bar to unwind with some heavy-duty drinking in the basement.

“It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Iggy never played in Richmond again.” The article remarked in a true statement, here at the 30th anniversary of that memorable and infamous show.

The back page was an exercise in OCD humor with Brumfield and Pahnelas’ “Tuesday Race Charts from Behind Fred’s Shell Station”. The gag was a take on a 1950s Mad Magazine cover and featured a parody of the kinds of horse race charts printed at pre-Colonial Downs race tracks in other states. Maybe it was clever, and a hell of a lot of work, but not the knee-slapper they envisioned. Oh well.

ThroTTle closed out its first year in the black, financially – a miracle at a time when interest rates still hovered around 15%, inflation at 13% and joblessness sat at around 10%. True, the mag sponged facilities and machinery from the Commonwealth Times (with agreements to keep the equipment in tip-top operating order), didn’t pay squat and had almost non-existent overhead. Still, it was awesome (to use 2011 teen vernacular) to be able to focus on the product on not on how it would get paid for – that was a job for the “Michaels” (Woodall and Fuller), leaving Blake, Pahnelas and Brumfield to continue to round up the most talented bunch of Richmond reprobates ever willing to bust their ass for free. And what a great feeling that was!

Coming in the final installment: ThroTTle looks into 1982 and beyond.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Richmond Scene: Make it happen!

In February, 1984, after a ThroTTle meeting at the 317 N. Boulevard apartment of Production Manager Dale Brumfield, several staffers hung around knocking back a few Black label beers, bought at the old Standard Drug store up on Cary Street for 5 bucks a case. In passing Brumfield asked newly-appointed Music Editor Jeff Lindholm if he had received any interesting letters or articles in the mail lately.

“No,” Jeff replied, before correcting himself and saying, “Wait – I did get a letter from some guy chastising us for the terrible job we do covering music. But it was so stupid I threw it away.”

It was not ThroTTle’s policy to just throw away letters, but after Jeff’s description it did deserve to be thrown away.

Three weeks later another letter showed up at ThroTTle, addressed by this Richmond resident named Wes Armstrong. “Dear ThroTTle – YOU SUCK” it started. And it was downhill from there. In fact, the letter was so hilariously awful Peter Blake read it out loud at one of the staff meetings after a move to the 2nd floor of 7 East Broad Street, just over the Neopolitan gallery.

Apparently this Armstrong guy thought ThroTTle was not gracious, not thorough enough nor certainly complimentary enough regarding coverage of the local music scene. It was ThroTTle’s policy, after all, to let the writer form his own opinions of the music coverage and report them as he or she saw fit, and not with sycophantic interjections from the editors or from ham-fisted advertisers eager to see their band or club portrayed as positive as possible. And although the coverage was mostly positive, this was “warts and all” arts journalism and commentary. ThroTTle left the ego-massaging to Style (with apologies to that magazine today).

Strangest of all, the letter included an interview with this guy named Alan O’Duffey, a music producer from New York recently transplanted to Richmond, with a dare from Armstrong for ThroTTle to print it.

Always up for a dare, and to Lindholm’s credit he gave the interview several reads before deciding it was simply too terrible to print. It was the worst form of butt-kissing, suck-up writing imaginable, with the interviewer Armstrong slathering on exaggerated praise of this no-name nobody to an embarrassing new low. Worse of all, the interview took a legitimate and well-deserved topic – support of the local music scene – and turned it through the smarmiest, most fawning eulogy into nothing more than a bad joke.

About a month later, with the Armstrong letter and sorry O’Duffey interview long forgotten, yet another letter showed up at ThroTTle. Again it was this Armstrong guy, blasting ThroTTle for not running his “superb” interview with this newly-transplanted music wizard who was going to transform local music, get all the bands into the studio, get them all record deals and get them all on MTV. And he was going to do it all within one year.

Coming across with all the bluster of a furious hamster, the missive was so comically strident that Peter again read it aloud to the entire staff. Funniest of all was Armstrong’s threat to “Show you all – I’m going to publish my own magazine!” Intern Anne Soffee (now famous Richmond author Anne Thomas Soffee), along with most of the staff laughed their heads off at the bombast, agreeing that this guy “was musically delusional”. ThroTTle had heard the warnings of people starting their own magazines before, and this threat was a big yawn. In fact, some expressed hope that the magazine would actually materialize.

Well, Wes Armstrong indeed “showed us all” – In June, 1984 a magazine actually showed up at about a dozen or so stores in and around the fan and VCU, including Plan 9, Poobah’s Records, Carriage House Books, 2001 Supper Club, Biff’s SanDors and others. It was called Richmond Scene, “Richmond’s Premier Rock n’ Roll magazine!”

Astonished ThroTTle staffers, Commonwealth Times employees, VCU students and others scooped up the 8-1/2 x 14 photocopied fanzine, aghast that this Armstrong guy made good on his promise to publish. And they were not disappointed – appalled, offended and disgusted, maybe, but not disappointed.

The magazine was everything the original interview was and a whole speeding, train wreck more. Published by “Creative Alternatives and O’Duffey Management” of 3717 Lakeland Drive in Richmond, it was almost entirely dedicated to this Alan O’Duffey guy, whoever he was (no one seemed to know him), and offered up on the side some of the most hilariously terrible reviews, artwork and commentary imaginable.

“Welcome to issue number 1 of RICHMOND SCENE MAGAZINE! The introduction on page 4 trumpeted, and after chastising one unnamed magazine for “not caring” about the rock n’ roll music scene, stated that “We care about YOU – the true ROCK N’ ROLLERS! You’ll never see boring fiction, or page after page of ads (no problem there), or obligatory (sic) mentions of local music. NO WAY! We’re ALL music!”

The magazine unbelievably meandered along for 12 pages, containing basically the same interview of this O’Duffey guy sent to ThroTTle, only updated with some trash talk about how ThroTTle refused to run the interview because it was too controversial or some such crap. And after about eleven mentions, those “support the scene” and “make it happen!” mantras spiraled the interview into a hideous gag, again, twisting a legitimate concern for the local music scene into nothing more than a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. On pages 9 and 10, readers who had not thrown the magazine away in disgust by that point were introduced to a comic strip character named “Sammy the Punk Rocker” drawn by “Andy the Frog”, possibly the most unfunny and poorly-drawn comic to appear in Richmond up to that point until a comic called “The Bender Family” appeared in ThroTTle later that year (artist will remain anonymous).

Somebody named Terry wrote an ingratiating and teeth-grinding local music gossip column with the caps lock on for most of it. It has little value today, other than giving today’s reader a sneak look at some of the bands and clubs in Richmond in 1984. Remember C.C. Chicano’s? “Music under the Stars” at Hermitage High School? The Going Bananas Party Bus?

This magazine was SCTV’s “Sammy Maudlin Show” in print.

But one has to give the editors credit for thinking positive – a subscriptions house ad on page 7 offered 10 issues for $5. “If you love the scene, advertise in Richmond Scene” said another advertising rates blurb, offering a full page ad for $70. Make it happen!

Commonwealth Times Sports Editor Charles Pannunzio actually stopped a friend on Franklin Street, waving the magazine and raving on how terrible it was. Managing Editor David Harrison was reacting so badly to reading it he sounded as if he was being food poisoned. Current Style Weekly Arts & Culture Editor Don Harrison stated after reading it that “I never again want to use the words ‘the scene’.” It was universal – the magazine was an uproariously comical failure.

Below are scans of a reprint of the magazine made by Dale Brumfield in 2001. Page 2 was destroyed and is not included. Click on the pages to make them big, then when you are finished perusing, scroll to the bottom of this column to read the unbelievable ending to this bizarre episode in Richmond music history:

In August, 1984, after 7 months, the truth came out – Richmond Scene Magazine was a hoax. It was an elaborate scam, perpetrated by ThroTTle Editor Dale Brumfield. There was no Wes Armstrong, no Alan O’Duffey, no Andy the Frog. Lakeland Drive did not exist in Richmond. Obviously with too much time on his hands, Brumfield wrote the original letter to Jeff Lindholm, then the whole thing took on a life of its own. “It was all I could do to keep from busting out laughing while Peter read my own letter out loud at the ThroTTle meeting,” he said.

He wrote and produced the magazine in secret, even drawing the horrible “Sammy the Punk Rocker” cartoons with his left hand to avoid identification. The photos were cut from some old Folk Music magazine. The headlines were done with Letraset Presstype. Plans for a second issue thank God never materialized.

It wasn’t a Clifford Irving, but it sure was fun.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Weirdness Plus: A History of ThroTTle Magazine: Issue #5

September-October, 1981

 ThroTTle Vol. 1 No. 5 (click on the pictures to make 'em big)

How has advertising affected the magazine . . .Obviously when we started [we] had some ideas of where we wanted to take the thing, and when we took on advertising it was a new situation where you’d have to worry about what the advertisers would accept and what the limits of good taste would be that the advertisers would buy into.”

-ThroTTle co-founder Bill Pahnelas, February, 1982 

Nothing changes a home-grown publication’s dynamic faster than paid advertising.

Bill was justified in the above quote for his concern regarding the limits of taste, but obviously the advertisers started buying into ThroTTle for what it was, not what they could make it, because issue #5 – only the 3rd issue that contained paid advertising – was completely sponsored by those advertisers. No more out-of-pocket expenditures, no more robbing the Commonwealth Times classified box, no more selling plasma to pay the printer and buy beer and cigarettes. By September of 1981 ThroTTle was off life support and completely paid by ad revenues – a major milestone, reached in record time. And, as a sweetener, the press run was upped to 4,000 spot-color copies.

The fact that the magazine achieved this milestone so quickly was a testament to both the organizational work ethic of the staff & contributors, the relevance the magazine capitalized on so quickly and the enthusiasm of the readership, proving without a doubt how empty the niche was that ThroTTle was filling – a niche emptied over 5 years previous when the Richmond Mercury folded (pun unintentional).

The founders also realized that contrary to the prevalent thinking of most underground publishing wannabes, independent “alternative” magazines like ThroTTle were not “beholden to no one”, but actually beholden to everyone, due to their dependence to thrive on both the writing and artistic communities and now for the first time to the advertising communities. The magazine was neither above nor below the reading and business populace – it WAS the reading and business populace, composed by them for them. Publishing in a bubble, and pissing away any regard to who you may be pissing off is a recipe for failure, and many predecessors to ThroTTle and many coming after ThroTTle have learned that fatal lesson. The trick is to learn to slap or pinch the hand that feeds you if the situation calls for it without actually biting it off, and ThroTTle learned quickly through trial and error and with the publishing smarts of the editors where that line was drawn.

With many magazines at that time advertising drove the content; with ThroTTle they had the luxury of content-driving the advertising – advertisers bought space because of the content. With this realization the founders knew they hit upon a winning formula and sought to exploit it. The editors also chafed at the “alternative” designation bandied about so haphazardly by Richmond’s more established media – a designation that in their eyes relegated them to second-banana status. They saw themselves alternative to no one, choosing instead to be considered their own media enterprise, free-standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the existing stalwarts. They knew that being considered “alternative” pigeonholed the magazine into a corner that they did not deserve to be in, and was a limiting factor in marketing to advertisers and the big name contributors they sought.

Weighing in at a fat and happy 16 pages, ThroTTle vol. 1 no. 5 contained 4-1/2 pages of ads: Slightly better than a 1:4 ratio, and testimony to the ultra-low overhead and uncompensated status of the “employees”. While no normal magazine could possibly survive with those ad-copy ratios, the only major bills that had to be paid at that time (in descending order) included the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star printing fee, the delivery truck + gas, and numerous smaller expenses related to supplies borrowed from the CT. Ever tight with the purse strings, Business Affairs Director Michael $ Fuller steadfastly refused to authorize any frivolous expenses (beer) and deposited any remaining monies in a checking account, opened at a local United Virginia Bank under the name Acceleration for the Eighties Inc.

Mike did spring for a post office box so hate mail calling Ron Smith an asshole would stop coming to Peter’s parents house. ThroTTle’s new address became PO Box 7122, Richmond, Virginia, 23221

The staff was positively giddy over its first full-page ad, bought by the Antiques and Oriental Rug Company at 3409 West Cary Street, although it required an incredibly complex red overlay, cut from rubylith to match the design of the provided illustration. 

Several larger ads were bought by business owners not nearly as “tight-assed” as claimed by several on-staff detractors. It wasn’t so much that they were so tight but they needed proof that ThroTTle was for real and wasn’t going to take their money and vanish. In fact, some of them were the ones who vanished when the bill came due.

And, as Michael $ Fuller demanded, this was strictly a “cash or check” business – there was to be no trading ad space for haircuts, discounts on clothing, oral sex or any other personal favors. Deviations from his norms would not be tolerated.

The infamous Hard Times beer joint on Cary Street pitched in with a 1/2-page, and several businesses chipped in with ¼ -page ads, including Wild Shirts, Liberty Tape, Benny’s, Shield’s Collectibles and a brand new alternative record store just opened in a former gas station in Carytown called Plan 9 records. Those purchasing the 1/8-page ads included the Biograph Theater, Petersburg’s Glass Eye, Gim Hay Chinese Restaurant (located in the former Kosmos 2000 building) and The Cellar Authority wine and beer seller, located in the bottom floor of the Up Top Sub Shop on Grace Street.

The Band Beex bought the very first Band Ad, setting a trend that would carry ThroTTle for years to come. Within a few more issues the magazine’s entire ad base would music related, both eventually to its success and ultimately to its detriment. Also with this issue a “house ad” for the first incarnation of ThroTTle T-shirts appeared, with the 100% cotton T’s selling for $4.50. Only 100 shirts were printed.

Dale Brumfield started drawing the insanely-detailed cover of issue #5 sometime in July. Obsessed with engraver-artist Albrecht Durer, he set out drawing a line-by-line parody of a Durer engraving, titling it “Der Eingang von Christus in die Village Café” (“Christ’s Entry into the Village café”). Starting at the top and working his way down, after about 200 hours he lost interest and short-cutted his way to the bottom. The result was technically proficient but as a sartorial Richmond joke it fell flat. He did much better a few years later with a similar drawing titled “The Martyrdom of St. Beauzeau” for Don Harrison’s Catharsis Magazine in Hampton.

Content-wise, issue #5 was a very curious hodge-podge of unrelated, almost incongruent subject matter but that appealed to almost any reader. Even though the magazine was separated into distinct sections (Facts, Centerpiece, Sports, Lively Arts and Last Blast) the articles meandered all over the spectrum. But at that point the magazine was still in search of a genre and supported content-wise almost 100% by unsolicited contributions. As mentioned previously, the editors were still more interested in giving voice to as many contributors as possible and less interested in streamlining the magazine into a specific niche – fearing it would limit those contributors.

The lead story after the mail page under “Facts” was a piece on the revitalization of Richmond’s Main Street Station and Farmer’s Market by Jerry Lewis, coupled with a short by Genny Seneker about a Minnesota couple who pedaled custom bikes from Oregon to Virginia. An uncredited short on the first Richmond “Artifacts” catalog rounded out the page. Opposite on page 5 was a Susan Higginbotham article on the death of the Washington Star newspaper, followed by a piece by Mark Plymale on the upcoming Virginia State Fair.

Pages 6 and 7 (still in the news section, mind you) were studies in opposites: Peter Blake visited a farm in Ohio for his summer vacation, and page 7 featured another of Ronnie Sampson’s vignettes on Richmond marginal and fading, this time focusing this issue on an Indian palm reader named Sister Graham who worked somewhere in Mechanicsville.

“Lot of times you like to stay here and lot of times you like to go away. Which you are going to go away.” Sister said as she studied Ronnie’s palm. “But that’s going to be in the future. But you are not going to go alone. You are going to go with someone.”

She was absolutely correct – several years later Ronnie and his wife Nancy Martin packed up and moved to San Francisco.

“You are going to be happy marriage in the future.”

Bingo again – Ronnie and Nancy have been married over 25 years.

Like the cover, The “Centerpiece” of this issue was technically OK, with an eye-catching layout, but composed of repugnant subject matter that certainly strained the limits of what potential advertisers may tolerate. The story was born that previous summer when Brumfield and Bill Pahnelas were buying Weidemann’s beer at the Cellar Authority. The guy working that day made a comment about how the business was located in the center of “Richmond’s Wine District”, a joke referring to the large number of winos inhabiting the block. Finding the comment especially hilarious after pounding down the Weidemann’s, Bill and Dale set out writing a long, graphic and seedy expose entitled “Extracts from the Anals [sic] of Grace Street: Richmond’s Wine District”.

Grace Street may have been an ugly thoroughfare, but even it did not deserve the treatment this story gave it, with its gleeful wallowing in the filthiest aspects of the strip and failing to capture the melancholy, almost poetic treatment Bill gave it in the previous issue (“Street Without Grace”, vol. 1, #4). Forgetting for a brief interlude that they were trying to become credible, they took a somewhat funny idea, then reached in its mouth and cut its throat – breaching those limits of good taste mentioned by Bill in the introductory quote. Blake hated the story (his body language said it all), but true to form he let it go in:

“Who could find fault with such impeccable tastes?” the story asks the reader and any potential Grace Street advertisers who were probably ready by the third or fourth paragraph to chuck ThroTTle in the trash. “Who may I ask can pass up the opportunity to snatch up a half-eaten cheeseburger from the Hardees dumpster, aged and flavored over 48 hours in a bed of rotting buns and moldy lettuce – or nibbling a burnt crust of a Pizza Inn specialty, or poking around for a Stuffy’s tidbit.”

Now imagine another 3,000 words just like this. It probably seemed funny on the Weidemann’s. Luckily the fallout was minimal, with one lady writing in that “In a city that tries its best to ignore alcoholism, this story was a slap in the face”. The writers could assure that concerned reader that it was not their intention to ignore Richmond’s alcoholism problem, but to embrace and revel in it.

The first ThroTTle/ Sports story (“Curve Balls and Straight Talk”) was written by Jack Moore (taking a break from ridiculing Christians and Pamunkey Indians) about Richmond Braves pitching coach and former Yankee Johnny Sain:

“Johnny Sain waves at one of the Toledo coaches, a likewise grey-haired man who politely waves back. ‘There’s ol’ . . . what’s his name . . . years back.’ He mumbles. His forehead wrinkles, as though he were trying to squeeze the name out of his skull.”

Dale Davis kicked off the revamped “Lively Arts” section with 6 movie reviews, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Eye of the Needle and Endless Love, among other 1981 spectaculars. Page 12 was mostly ads, including a parody house ad of another Richmond magazine called Richmond Lifestyle.

“I can live without Richmond Lifestyle,” says Mecklenburg farmer Luke Dubber. “Matter of fact I think I will.” Also appearing on 12 was a review by Joseph Robertson of the John Kennedy Toole Pulitzer prize-winning classic “Confederacy of Dunces”. Two thumbs up.

Page 13 was the local music section, soon to become one of the most talked-about parts of the magazine. Written by Ron Smith under the moniker “Neon Ron” and titled “Cheap Thrills and Urban Decadence”, Ron turned his energies and encyclopedic knowledge of local bands and hallucinogenic pharmaceuticals to news and reviews of the Fall, 1981 Richmond music scene.

If Ron Smith’s music column belly-flopped into the magazine on a beer-soaked Slip n’ Slide then Clue’s column on page 14 traipsed in wearing a blazer and topsiders, pinky in the air, ready to skewer old Richmond with its upper crust yuks.

Clue really appeared out of nowhere, brought in to the magazine in the third person by Mike Fuller with no name and no documentation to back up its incredible inside peeks at Richmond’s wealthiest and most well-heeled glitterati. The column was astonishing: here was somebody who spoke with authority on every cotillion, every charity ball and every top-hat-and-tails cocktail event in town, dropping names faster than prom dresses at a Benedictine mixer. GA legislators, celebrities, CEOs and Locke Lane landlubbers could not escape the wandering eye and acid pen of Clue, who seemed to be in all places at once, mentally recording conversations, back room deals, marriage spats and corporate snits then spitting them back in the pages of this upstart magazine that was run by people who could barely afford to buy SanDors’ generic cigarettes:

“In late July, further up Main Street, eyes were rolling and tongues were wagging when another bastion of finance invested BIG in a feature film being co-produced by former Richmonder Barclay Lottimer in Hollywood. If Clue finds St. James a little stuffy, it finds main Street just a little to the left of Genghis Khan. Incidentally, Barclay’s brother is married to actress Kathy Crosby, daughter of Bing. She had her dubious moment in celluloid when she shot J.R. as Kristen on ‘Dallas’ – doing more for handguns than jilted headmistress Jean Harris and jazzy Nancy Reagan combined.”

The column was a hit, and started building a fan base that the founders could not envision. Never had a magazine picked up a more disjointed readership, from punk rockers eager to read what Neon Ron had to say about their last show at Benny’s, to artists eager for the arts coverage and illustrations, to “simply everyone” else who picked up “The ThroTTle” just to see if their name was dropped in Clue.

“Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry.” (John Lennon)

Closing out vol. 1 no. 5 was the “Last Blast”, featuring another “Tonight’s TV” column by Brumfield and a standalone illustration by Richmond artist Phil Trumbo, who turned out to be one of the handiest contributors to have around. Phil lived on Grace Street less than a block from the ThroTTle office, and could be counted on late at night before deadline to fill any open spaces in the layouts with these wonderful drawings he had lying around. Phil was a long-time friend of the Richmond publishing scene, working on the Commonwealth Times in the early 1970s and as the cover artist for the short-lived “Fan Free Funnies” comic supplements in 1972 and ‘73. He may have been best known at the time as the co-creator of the at the time still unfinished movie “Futuropolis: the World’s Smallest Epic” and creator of a terrific Mr. Moe’s Sub Shop commercial he made with several other Richmond artists at the same time.

When issue #5 hit the streets (courtesy of a truck loaned out by Herb Crumley) and they were snatched up almost as soon as they were delivered the founders wondered just what was it they had created and where on earth was it all going to go? After all, ThroTTle was not founded to be a radical underground newspaper, calling for revolution, legalized pot, and end to a war or flaunting anti-obscenity laws – it simply was trying to fill a vacuum created by the monopoly established press (The Times Dispatch and the News-Leader) and give the (marginally) employed editors and staff a chance to continue the precedents they had created while students at VCU. They were just trying to have fun, after all, not change the world. It may have been the most low-key, long-range, under-the-table counterculture print revolution after devised.

"Lots of radicals will give you a very precise line about why their little newspaper was started and what needs it fulfills and most of that stuff is bull. You see, the point is they've got nothing to do and the prospect of holding a straight job is so dreary that they join 'the movement' and start hitting up people for money to live, on the premise that they're involved in critical social change blah blah blah."

-Ray Mungo, from his book on underground newspapers "Famous Long Ago"

Coming up next: Frank Zappa contributes to ThroTTle as it closes out its first year.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Weirdness Plus: A History of ThroTTle Magazine: Issues #3 and #4

May – August, 1981

“Newspapers: you’ll never be able to carry your video display terminal on the subway. You’ll never be able to take it in the bathroom and sit on the toilet and look at it. You’ll never be able to set it on your kitchen table and look at it and read it. Newspapers aren’t dead. Ted Turner be damned. It’s a bizarre, absurd and outrageous thought.”
-ThroTTle co-founder and Editor Peter Blake, in a 1982 interview

Give Peter a break, he was a magazine Editor, not a fortune teller.

Then again, in 1982 an unknown cartoonist named Matt Groening sent Brumfield a badly-drawn comic called "Life in Hell", about these rabbits. Dale sent it back, deeming it too amateurish. As everyone knows, Groening went on to create "Futurama".

Volume 1, No. 2 of ThroTTle magazine was a hit. All 1,000 copies were scooped up as fast as they were distributed, making it possibly more rare than number 1. By April of 1981 the magazine was getting noticed: more and more frustrated writers and artists were contacting the staff, eager to latch onto what they may have perceived as the next big thing.

The situation surrounding the inception of ThroTTle is quite remarkable. One of the largest, most prestigious art schools in the world was right in Richmond yet there was no regular outlet for publishing the artists’ works. VCU also had a booming creative writing department, a huge Mass Communications department and a fast-growing film and photography school, yet there was not one publication in that entire city that catered to those talents, other than the CT. Richmond’s rock and roll and alternative music scene was jumping, and the bands had no way to promote themselves or advertise their shows other than on utility poles. Like most successful venues, ThroTTle was the confluence of several perfect storms at precisely the right moment.

Interest in the magazine was high, and letters to the Editor rolled in, responding to the first two issues. A person identified as “Young Pamunkey” had plenty to say about Jack Moore’s controversial article on the Pamunkey tribe in issue #2: “Me see your story. Misquote my people, twist words. Me think you asshole.” It started.

Someone claiming to be from Camp LeJune wrote a head-scratching letter about long snakes. A VCU Mass Communications major named Stephen Arnold wrote in, claiming ThroTTle did a “fine job of making me laugh”.

Then they got a letter from Ron Smith.

Dale Brumfield and Bill Pahnelas had met Ron the previous year when the band “Dickie Disgusting and the Degenerate Blind Boys” exploded on the Richmond punk scene. Ron was the Blind Boys’ manager/PR guy/pharmaceutical expert, and made incredible flyers for the band with literally no technological assistance.

Ron had dubious contacts around town. He claimed to know a guy from a dentist office that could hook them up with nitrous oxide. “Do you want some gas?” Ron claimed the guy would say if they knocked on his door exactly 4 times and told him Ron sent them.

Ron claimed somebody he knew got a tank and spent labor Day weekend on his couch with the mask over his face in a constant state of willingness to get every tooth in his head pulled.

Impressed with Ron’s artistic prowess, Dale actually let him design the cover of the Commonwealth Times “Sun of Summer Issue” in August, 1980 (seen on the home page of the Commonwealth Times digital library at the VCU website linked on this page). Ron was a kid in a candy shop, suddenly with stat cameras and typesetting equipment at his disposal as he showed up in his skinny jeans, black & white striped shirt, flip-flops, frizzy hair and wraparound sunglasses to create his cover art.

 After the 1980-81 school year started Ron (and the Blind Boys) vanished, only to reappear, pissed off as usual and angry as hell at ThroTTle (punctuation and capitalization remain as is):

“Dear sterile, unflavored, LIMP kitty box liner manufacturers,” the letter began. “Where’s some style!! Some real content!. . .What’s with BILL and JACK? . . .I MEAN hanging out in west point, drinking beer and “reflecting”, & LIFE IN THE WEST END with BANK HERMIT & CATS???? Common you guys you’re SLIPPING. JEEZUZ. . .”

While most of the staff dismissed the letter as addled ramblings, Peter and Bill – perhaps jolted by his harsh rebukes – responded to it as they knew best. They called Ron and hired him to write a column.

That was typical of the style of participation Peter advocated for the magazine. Peter was very good at listening to criticism and had a natural way of filtering out the BS and retaining what mattered. Peter’s style this way was critical to the success of the magazine, and was an excellent way of bringing in talent that otherwise would never have been found. It was turning shit into shinola, and Peter was the master of it. Ron showed up that April, eager to help out and astonished he was asked to participate in light of his criticisms. He remained an important part of the magazine for years, and his unflinching stories on a Klan rally in Bowling Green and his columns on the music scene generated more mail and controversy than any other features. Love Ron’s stuff or hate it, the guy could generate conversation.

“We’ve had some problems, particularly with bands,” Bill explained in a 1982 interview. “People who don’t like what Ron [Smith] writes, people who ask why we let him write that. For the people who do write regular columns, we don’t tell them what to write. We let them use their own judgment, and that’s what makes our magazine what it is.”

In other words, if you want to be edited, go to the Times-Dispatch.

While there were divergent views from all the core staff people on what the magazine was becoming, nobody was interested in recruiting people to write for them then tell them sorry, we won’t print your piece because it isn’t what we wanted to see. It was the desire to include as many voices as possible, as again, ThroTTle was the only game in town in the Spring of 1981. If you don’t like what you see, the magazine was saying, don’t go away - send us your stuff.

Since letters and submissions were rolling in, the staff felt they were now obligated to keep publishing. As Bill said, “We’ve allowed events to take us where they would . . . it’s basically gone the way I thought it would. We’re creating a forum, a marketplace for ideas and an audience. As time goes on we’re seeing the manifestation of all those things in the magazine. Not so much as a conscious effort, but as a gathering of momentum.”

ThroTTle cover, Vol 1 No. 3

Around the first week of May of that year, work began on Volume 1, number 3 of ThroTTle. A lot was happening, both regionally and nationally, that begged for some sort of ThroTTle treatment. Statewide, Prince Charles arrived in Williamsburg May 2 to accept an honorary fellowship at William and Mary. Washington Post journalist Janet Cooke had been stripped of her Pulitzer when she admitted she made up her story “Jimmy’s World”, about a supposed 8-year-old heroin addict.

Richmond lost two landmarks that Spring: the original Village restaurant at Grace and Harrison closed after a 23-year run (remember the upside down serving trays on the ceiling?) and the Sears Roebuck at 1700 West Broad Street closed after serving Richmond since 1947 at that location.

Facing a glut of story ideas, the Editors met in two separate meetings to filter through the submissions and select enough to fill another 12-page issue (although they had enough material for an issue twice that size).
Once the stories and art work were selected, Dale decided to try a different idea for the magazine’s layout: rather than design the entire magazine himself, he would do just the cover, then recruit several people to try their hand at their own page layouts. He saw page design just as legitimate an art form as art or photography, and would involve still more members of the art community in the construction of the magazine.

“The offices resemble those of psychopathic mass killers . . .”

VCU had inadvertently become a bigger part of that May/June, 1981 issue of ThroTTle than they ever intended, in particular the student activities office and activities director Ken Ender.

Ken  (known affectionately by the CT and ThroTTle as “the Beav”) was a hell of a nice guy but got entangled in a controversy regarding a flyer created by a couple of ThroTTle staffers for a fictitious band called “Manley Vigor and the Large Men” that got stapled to phone poles in and around the VCU area. The art and design of the flyer looked suspiciously like a recent student activities calendar produced by the same couple of guys, so people (especially some local feminists and gay rights activists) who took outrage at the Manley Vigor flyers assumed wrongly they were sanctioned by the VCU student activities office.

The problem with the flyer is that one of the creators cut a partial headline out of a tabloid and pasted it on the flyer as an afterthought. The original headline, from the Washington City paper, read “Publisher Moves to Kill Modern Womens Magazines”, but the headline got ripped in the waxer, and the part that made it on the flyer said only “Kill Modern Women”.

(Sidebar: a headline from the Baltimore Sun Op-Ed page that said “Mush from the Wimp” and was never meant to go into publication was also destroyed in the same waxer incident.)

To add injury to insult, a registration mark (made famous recently by Sarah Palin as “targeting” congresspeople to be voted out of office) appeared directly on the rear end of a male basketball player on the flyer. A Richmond homosexual advocacy group joined in the fray, saying that a gun sight on the guy’s butt was in fact an invitation to encourage violence against gays.

The fallout was immediate and very harsh. VCU released a press release announcing they were in no way connected with the flyer or the event, which was advertised at the university library on a day the library was closed. President Edmund Ackell was forced to respond to a complaint, an activity he found most unsavory. Student Activities Dean Phyllis Mable sided with the two creators, realizing the controversy was completely unintentional and that the detractors were acting less out of concern for their own well-being but more out of a hysterical desire to focus attention on their organizations and causes.

Talk at the Times-Dispatch newsroom of a “controversy” at VCU never materialized into a story. The President of the local chapter of an early version of NOW visited the ThroTTle (also Commonwealth Times) offices in an attempt to confront the flyer creators and reported back to President Ackell that the graffiti made the offices “. . .resemble those of psychopathic mass killers.”

Her frame of reference to this day remains suspect.

The two people behind the flyer (remaining nameless) were stunned by how quickly the situation blew out of hand, but were immediately apologetic, and sent written apologies to Ken Ender and the student activities office regretting implicating them in the controversy. While a few of the more strident feminists demanded the two students be expelled, cooler heads prevailed and the controversy soon died.

But to celebrate the staff members’ exoneration, Dale elected to honor Ken Ender and his role in helping squash the controversy by putting a 1969 picture of him (actually 2 of them) on the cover of ThroTTle #3. The illustration shows the top of his head opening up Terry Gilliam-style and a Charles Sugg photo of a space shuttle blasting off out of it, landing in a rather embarrassing spot in the upper picture.

Another new element added to issue #3 was spot color. Peter struck a deal with the Herald-Progress regarding color: If the press was already set up with a spot color for the daily paper, ThroTTle could use it and only be charged for an extra plate. The magazine then went to the printer with a color separation without knowing what color it would be until it came off the press. For issue 3 red came out. While the feminists may claim it represented blood it was in truth a happy accident, highlighting the ThroTTle logo on the cover and design elements on the back page, a piece of fiction titled “A Barber Shop Story” by David Keller and designed in a stunning punk style by local artist Jim Nuttle, who had been turned away at the door of a 42nd street strip club in New York the previous December because he was underage. He didn’t want to go in anyway.

The magazine of Acceleration for the Eighties

This issue was an issue of firsts: It was the first to sport the favored byline (above) and the ubiquitous photo-collage of the Himalayan guy pulling a tugboat up a cliff, with a ThroTTle zeppelin drifting past in the background, both of which the magazine carried forth for many years. It was the first to have color, the first to contract out page layouts.

Issue #3 was also the first to officially break the magazine into sections, identified with section heads. The articles on the Village (by Rick Foster), Sears (Jerry Lewis) and the Prince in Williamsburg (by Janet Moore) fell under the head “ThroTTle / Facts”.

A fiction piece called “Mondo Limbo” (by Dale) and Mark Plymale’s piece on Janet Cooke fell under “ThroTTle / Lively Arts”

Ronnie Sampson turned in a wonderful piece called “international Style Dancing Lives Dimly” about George Stobie’s Topper and Tails School of Dancing at 200 N. 4th Street in Richmond, another in his series on Richmond’s marginal, fading and forgotten. Poems by George Williams, a striking drawing called “Stupid Dolls” by Lori Edmiston, followed by a fun page of censored art slides, a Phil Trumbo drawing, Dale’s TV listings and a Yellow Belly Jelly Beans ad (in honor of our new President’s favorite snack) rounded out the lively arts section.

This was the last issue of ThroTTle to be wholly financed by the staff (mostly Peter) and the last one to appear without advertising. As soon as issue #3 hit the streets (landing in all the favorite haunts) the staff hit the streets with issues and clipboards in hand, ready to start selling ads.

Hello sir [or ma’am], we are from ThroTTle magazine, a local arts magazine and we would like to invite you to become a part of our publication by considering purchasing an ad.

Beating the streets selling ads sucked, and nobody on the staff liked it. It was 100 degrees in June of 1981, a recession was on, and many small business owners either had no money for advertising or had their ad budgets tied up in local shoppers like Fan Advertiser and Fan Scan. But the ThroTTle staff knew that there was no way the magazine could continue without other sources of revenue.

Michael $ Fuller, former CT Editor and the first guy they knew to own a microwave oven joined the staff as Business Affairs Director and promptly set about ways to raise the needed revenue. Ad sizes were created and priced (a 1/8-page ad cost $25; a ¼-page ad cost $55; a ½-page ad cost $100 and a full-page cost $150). Contracts were created, and free layout and design services were offered for those who needed it. Mike was a no-nonsense business guy who bluntly said that the magazine could not last one more issue without an infusion of cash in one form or another. As major benefactors Peter and Bill agreed, and as the story ideas began pouring in after issue #3 the entire staff realized there was no way they could make a dent in the incredible volume of submissions and be fair in their presentation without a reasonable vehicle in which to place them.

ThroTTle was being forced to grow up and become a real presence in the arts community, whether the staff wanted it that way or not. There was no going back now – the only way to go was forward, and selling ads was going to be the way to get there.

Mike Fuller also forced the staff to look into the future and create 2- and 5-year plans, something the staff who were used to looking no further than the next issue had trouble doing. Where do you want to see ThroTTle in two years, he would ask. Would they be want the magazine to still be bi-monthly, monthly or even weekly by then? Would they want to be 24-, 48- or even 50+ pages every issue? Spot color or full-process color? Ok, then here is what you need to do now to get there then.

The biggest immediate problem the magazine faced was with the production equipment and facilities. The Commonwealth Times had been more than accommodating in letting the ThroTTle people come in and put together their issues in between issues of the CT, but that relationship was straining, and nearing a breaking point. Having almost unprecedented access to state of the art typesetting and camera facilities was a luxury the magazine was going to have a hard time giving up if the CT suddenly said “no more”, and that eventuality was going to have to be faced. Again, Mike, Peter and Bill were instrumental in setting the gears in motion in preparing a break from the CT should it occur. Luckily, the relationship continued through the end of 1981 and the emergency contingencies (involving IBM Selectric typewriters) were not needed.

Settling on a bi-monthly production schedule, the staff met numerous times to set deadline and production dates and streamline the production schedule so they did not have to give up all of their free time to put together the magazine. Bill Pahnelas was a wizard in setting the data entry and typesetting schedules so as not to conflict with the CT schedules. Dale was responsible for creating his own grid sheets and layout and production schedule so as not to “borrow” from the CT, who faced money problems of their own and would not tolerate supplies disappearing after every ThroTTle production week.

The work flow schedule was set in stone and followed rigorously. Arguments broke out regarding nitpicking Style usage, with one data entry person thumbing through an AP Style book to bolster her argument. This was serious business.

People showed up, wanting to work and not caring that they would not be paid one thin dime. “What do you need me to do”, they would ask. “Sell ads!” the Editors responded, but settled on giving them jobs typing, proofreading, setting up grid sheets, or distributing magazines when they came back from the printer.

Printing and distributing was another headache. The Ashland Herald-Progress had been very patient about printing the first three issues but decided after the third that they no longer could accommodate ThroTTle’s schedule. With only a handful of printing facilities available, Peter found Minor Armstrong at the Fredericksburg Free lance-Star, which turned into a God-send at the last minute. Minor, who was the production supervisor, was very patient and understanding dealing with the double- and triple-burns required by some of the screwier design aspects. A production and camera guy named Ralph ogled the accounting department women and trash-talked the management while he stripped the ThroTTle negatives, set the tabs in the goldenrod then burned the plates.

When the magazine started growing from 8 to 12 and 16 pages, and the press run was upped to 2,000+ it was decided that Peter’s green Valiant would no longer handle the press run, so a truck had to be rented from a guy named Herb Crumley at a rental place across the Nickel bridge on Forest Hill somewhere. Herb was also sympathetic to the plight of the Editors, cutting them a cut-rate price for a truck to bring back the papers in bundles and distribute them around Richmond. Once again, all this had to be paid by the benefactors (staff) out of their own pockets, making the necessity of ad sales even more critical.

Once a bi-monthly production schedule was agreed on, Production on issue #4 began, with ad sales being the first order of business. Dale and Bill teamed up and hit the Grace Street strip, going door-to-door with rate sheets and sample issues, introducing themselves and trying their best – with no ad sales experience – to talk the grumpy and hot business owners into buying ad space for the next issue.

They say you need 20 cold calls to land one sale, although in this case it was more like one out of 100. Like broken records, businesses lamented the same problems: “I don’t have any money”; “I have my ad budget tied up in one of the shoppers”; “I’ve seen your magazine and I think you suck”, etc. etc. Still, the boys persevered, and landed their first bonafide sale with A Sunny Day clothing and jewelry store at 410 N. Harrison, location today of the Village Restaurant, who bought a 1/8-page ad.

Peter, writer Jerry Lewis, text processor Peyton Whitacre and a couple others also pounded the pavement in late June / early July that summer, with a few striking paydirt, successfully selling a 1/8-page ad to the Outing Rental Center (possibly an easy sale since it was located right behind the ThroTTle office); a ¼-page to Liberty Tape at 824 West Broad and another 1/8-page ad to someone who was to become a most loyal supporters of the magazine – Benny Waldbauer, owner of the relatively new Benny’s at 611 West main Street, who in his ThroTTle-produced ad pitched shows by The Orthotonics, Bopcats and Dodge D’Art, as well as reminding readers that Monday and Tuesday were $2.00 pitchers, and Wednesdays were 50 cent bottles.

Even though the grand total of ads sold for that issue totaled 5/8 of a page and netted about $135, it was a colossal first step in the direction of financial independence for the magazine. To celebrate, the Editors decided to up the press run from 2 to 3,000 copies.

ThroTTle cover, Vol 1 No 4

A Street Without Grace

With Ad sales complete and slicks made up by the magazine’s “ad production staff” the editorial side of Volume 1, number 4 came together. Stories were typed, edited and proofread; artwork was assigned; photos collected and pages designed with a blueline pencil. More letters arrived and were published, including one that claimed the only thing worse than ThroTTle was a life-time subscription to The Watchtower.

“News” stories gathered under the “ThroTTle / Facts” section included another Sampson piece on McAlister C. Marshall, president of the Empire Monument Company in Richmond’s Oregon Hill. Peter Blake started what became a regular of reviews of other Richmond publications, starting in this issue with reviews of Charles Lohmann’s “The New Southern Literary Messenger” and the Tom Campagnoli / Amy Crehore glossy comics journal “Boys & Girls Grow Up”. Peter also wrote a piece on the re-opening of a “clean and sterile” Village café, claiming that instead of the grungy artsy hangout of yesterday it was now, in July 1981, “the kind of place a higher up in the state Republican party would want their college-age son or daughter to frequent.” Ouch.

Lori Edmiston contributed a piece entitled “Letter from Hawaii”, and Ron Smith got his first real assignment since his blistering letter in issue #3: a story about a KKK rally near Bowling Green, VA.

The centerspread – an interview with war hero and Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton by D. Shone Kirkpatrick – appeared right after Ron Smith’s piece on the Klan rally and cemented ThroTTle’s success at venturing into hard-core politics. Denton gave very few interviews, so this was seen as a coup of sorts by the Editors. Local artistic genius David Powers provided his introductory illustration to the magazine.

The “ThroTTle / lively Arts” section featured an artistically sublime piece by Bill Pahnelas on a subject near and dear to his heart – Richmond’s Grace Street strip. Unable to reconcile the gentrification of the strip with the seedier aspects that it could not tear itself from, Bill lamented the slow yuppie creep in what he considered a personal territorial affront:

“The wooden plate was shut up. The Village was fading fast. Sonny and Buddy, young Achilles and his patrolcus, swaggered their finely shaped butts (in designer jeans only) where they could intimate their most personal desires. A few hard-looking boys in leather jackets hung around outside the now-defunct Sandy’s watching the preppie tide roll in, mammon’s minions.”

“And what of the winos who find their natural habitat on Grace Street?” Bill continued. “Are they an endangered species where fortune turns a favorable eye on the merchants of our beloved strip? Say yes and you smugly dismiss their human proclivity for adaptation. Say no and fork over 50 cents to the next wino you see. It is the contagion of slovenliness, a depletion of the human spirit, spent wads and dried-out orifices that brings them to the streets in search of Eucharistic joys, sacrificing the things of this world for the body and blood of their Lord, the grape.”

Artist and musician Rebby Sharp put in her own 2 cents on her experiences of living in a second-floor apartment on the same strip: “The sharpest contrast in activities is between the transient group of shells clutching the edge of sub-existence, asking for change and drinking it, and the group of ‘well-fed’, car-encased slopeheads out for their finely-honed idea of fun. . . The down-and-outers sitting on my doorstep are the first thing seen each day, and the rowdy hoo-hawers are the last thing heard each night.”

Following the artistic studies of Grace Street was a local music spread, featuring the first Rock and Roll column by Ron Smith and a piece on Richmond radio by Mark Plymale.

Page 14 was Dale’s Parody page, with a anal-obsessive ThroTTle Weather page (patterned after the Washington Post), and another entry in “ThroTTle / TV”. Gale Storm’s “Journey to the Center of Your Meat loaf” was on at 9 PM an channel 12. Chris Reed wrote “Barney Goes to Town” (about Don Knotts’ character Barney Fife, not the purple Dinosaur). The “ThroTTle / Last Blast” was another Jack Moore social satire featuring a talking monkey.

Blue happened to be the color on the Free Lance-Star presses that day, so Dale’s cover came off the presses as a bizarre 1950’s-style clip art collage highlighted in dark royal blue. Another happy accident.


To make issue #4 even more special, Ronnie Sampson and Nancy Martin came up with an idea to in their words “make ThroTTle more New Yorky”. Hand-stapled on page 3 in 1,000 of the 3,000 copies was a second publication – a photocopied 12-page 3”x4” fanzine called “Subur-B-Q Magazine”, featuring tiny illustrations and flash fiction by such varied stalwart Richmonders as Nancy, Lisa Austin, Jean Hollings and “Art Mutt”, in addition to some of the ThroTTle regulars, such as Dale, Bill, Jack and Ronnie. It was just another way to get more people involved in the excitement of publishing.

Staffers made a party of stapling the tiny magazines together and inserting them randomly back in the bundles of ThroTTles, but in the end it was considered too big a pain to do on a regular basis. Today, ThroTTle #4 with a complete issue of Subur-B-Q intact is quite rare.

The Staff of ThroTTle felt they had completed a major accomplishment with issue #4, and they congratulated themselves on the inclusion of a real second magazine, a real interview with a real U.S. Senator and real advertising in a magazine that started as an erstwhile one-shot whim less than 6 months previous. Mike Fuller was ecstatic as he deposited those checks totaling $135, and would not let one dime of it go for beer.

Although many did wonder how Mike paid for that microwave oven, prompting the nickname “MIKErowave Fuller”.

Coming next: How can Janet Peckinpaugh be intellectual property? Channel 8 tell’s ‘em how, then tries to put ThroTTle out of business.