Richmond Times-Dispatch - Sunday, January 9, 2000
Author: Mark Holmberg
Throttle, the long-lived underground Richmond magazine, finally pulled the plug last week after several years on life support.
A sort of who's who of artistic and unusual characters blurted out their creative urges in Throttle's unpredictable pages during the past 19 years.
"Throttle captured a part of Richmond that wasn't apparent to someone who was passing through," said Anne Henderson, one of Throttle's mainstays.
Adherents to Richmond's tired and trite reputation as a fossilized Southern town have long ignored our unusual and often outrageous underground cultural scene, a scene that was revealed and celebrated in Throttle.
For example, some of the nation's most original/bizarre musical acts were birthed here: GWAR, the Ululating Mummies, Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra and, more recently, the Floating Folk Festival and One Ring Zero.
"Throttle's unparalleled enthusiasm for the unusual," as co-founder Peter Blake summed up in the final issue, mirrored an artistic hunger that coursed through the streets and alleys of the Fan, Jackson Ward and Shockoe Bottom during the*'80s and, to a lesser degree, the*'90s.
The burning question: Is it just Throttle that died, or does its passing signal a dissipation in our underground art and music scene?
Clearly, there was a certain magic about Throttle's heyday. Richmond was alive with local music, free-form "guerrilla" art, mimeographed literary works and community art spaces, all of which fueled creativity and a sense of unity while trampling traditional boundaries.
Many of the ingredients of this creative stew were prepped at Virginia Commonwealth University's schools of art, mass communications and social work. Bands such as Single Bullet Theory and GWAR were hatched there, along with artists Caryl Burtner, Phil Trumbo and Kelly Alder and writers Mariane Matera and Terry Rea - just to mention a few on Throttle's unpaid staff.
Throttle emerged almost directly from VCU in 1981 when Blake and Bill Pahnelas (who later worked at The Times-Dispatch) left the school and its student paper, the Commonwealth Times, still hungry for publishing.
Blake wrote that they were "impatient with the established pace of the Richmond news media [ahem] and thought we would make an effort to accelerate it. With Jack Moore, DaleBrumfield , Mike Fuller and Jerry Lewis, we launched Throttle, the Magazine of Acceleration for the Eighties."
There were a lot of underground 'zines and comics in the area at the time (Boys & Girls Grow Up, for example) offering a voice for hungry, idealistic artists and writers.
"They rarely lasted more than few months," said Rea, who has lived most of his 52 years in Richmond's underground. "The incredible thing about Throttle is how long it lasted."
Throttle was an irreverent mishmash that shot off in dozens of directions, like the scene it represented. Cartoons, politics, prose, parody, music, interviews and general weirdness were its staples.
"It's nothing you can describe in any one sentence," said Burtner, an artist whose work has been featured in Harper's magazine. "It was too many things to too many different people."
She, like many of Throttle's contributors, stumbled into the magazine while searching for an escape from the boundaries she encountered in art school.
"I was just overjoyed, I wanted to do anything to help," said Burtner, who now works in the Virginia Museum's curatorial department.
The names of those with a similar hunger would fill most of this column. Some, such as artist and musician Wes Freed, still are here on the edges of the underground.
Most of the rest have taken jobs in more traditional fields of publishing, art and advertising. The artwork of Alder can be seen in The New York Times. Rea, now a grandfather, writes for Richmond.com. Matera, possessor of one of the area's most deft and cutting pens, recently became the editor of the Mechanicsville Local.
The crowd that kept the scene alive "has reached the age where they've gotten married, had kids and moved on," Matera said.
Co-founder Blake is now a budget analyst for the General Assembly's House Appropriations Committee. He's married with three sons, ages 9, 7 and 3. "Throttle was fertile ground for a lot of interesting and creative ideas," he said. "We've been the venue for a lot of characters. I've enjoyed them all."
No, the underground 'zine scene hasn't died along with Throttle. Matera plans to publish her Richmond Music Journal for at least the rest of this year. There's also Punchline, which covers some of the same ground as Throttle but has yet to establish the same local voice. There has also been the occasional outburst from Poor Richmond's Almanac and assorted punk-rock and alternative-music fanzines.
And yet, something seems to be missing from Richmond's underground.
"So much of what was once underground has been assimilated," Rea said, echoing an observation made by Burtner. "It's much harder today to find an edge."
What was fresh, shocking or taboo during the early days of Throttle can now be seen on television or at art shows, or heard on the radio. Nonconformity has become the norm.
"I'm not sure if that's good or bad," Rea said. "But it makes me uncomfortable."
He's not the only one.
"We're all kind of overwhelmed," Andy Cross said as he and a fellow VCU art student checked out an opening at the 1708 Gallery Friday night.
Cross, 20, has traveled to New York and London, probing for an opening, an edge - a place to develop his voice. Exhibits such as the controversial manure-coated Madonna, in essence, have eliminated the line between the mainstream and the underground, he said. Anything goes, and often it's too grand in size and too expensive to produce for a young artist to consider.
"If you don't know what art is any more," he asked, "why would you care about getting a show?"