Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why do we fry everything in Richmond? Issue #6

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

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“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.


chief gabril said...

Magazine has been around for many years. Of course, they started in a typical fashion, simple words, write down, in order to attract customers. The actual history of the magazine can be traced back to the newspaper industry.

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