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.

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