Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83 (book)
At one point in my adolescence, Tesco Vee exerted a greater influence than parents, teachers, the Catholic church, or even Ozzy. The Meatman unabashedly celebrated what we discussed during cigarette breaks and beer chugging: comically well-endowed porn stars, masturbation, and fictitious sexual bravado. I wanted to be the Dutch Hercules so bad that I memorized every line of Vee's between-song banter on We're The Meatmen and You Suck.
Vee's contributions weren't limited to The Meatmen, the Midwest masters of scatological hardcore. Vee and his close friend Dave Stimson were among the earliest correspondents of the fledgling American hardcore scene in the late '70s and early '80s. Bazillion Points has released an omnibus containing every issue of their fanzine as Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine '79-'83. Vee was every bit as potent with the pen as he was with the microphone, and Touch and Go is a blueprint of the earliest years of American hardcore, when bands like Minor Threat, The Misfits, and Black Flag weren't icons but kids saving money to release records.
The Touch and Go collection is hefty and isn't meant to be read cover to cover. It's meant to be read in bursts like a magazine. Each time I open it, I find something new or interesting, artwork I hadn't noticed, a new review or a funny letter. It's like Vee and Stimson opened their closets, brushed off the dust, and allowed readers to take a peek at their personal memorabilia. You can't help but be captivated by yearbooks of people who chronicled the earliest underground American music.
Touch and Go had inauspicious beginnings in Michigan, the state that birthed grindcore years later when Repulsion recorded a demo in Flint that somehow ended up in England. Vee was an elementary school teacher (seriously) who smoked weed, collected records, and daydreamed about escaping Lansing. He ran into old high school acquaintance Dave Stimson at a crappy show. A plot was hatched to unleash punk-tinted gonzo journalism.
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Tesco Vee on Touch and Go's origins (Part 1)
Other parts here
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The zine was uniformly brash and brave. One of the shortcomings of the Internet and online journalism is anonymity and attendant cowardice. Touch and Go didn’t have that luxury and probably wouldn't have wanted it. Vee, Stimson and their contributors boldly insulted albums and artists, picked fights, and embraced the absurd. They championed bands like the Teen Idles but also dabbled in metal and even bands like Joy Division.
Despite press runs of just a few hundred, the zine got in enough hands to help popularize nascent hardcore scenes. In some ways, Vee and Stimson were kingmakers. The Washington, D.C. punk scene - which birthed the Bad Brains and later Fugazi - was virtually unknown. Touch and Go made D.C. the subject of numerous pieces, including a road-trip feature in which Vee offers his first opinion of Henry Rollins (then Henry Garfield): "Veins popping in his shaved head – razor bladed X's on his arms and a black and blue body".
Vee and Stimson's cover choices gave early platforms for artists who are now revered. Among the subjects are a young Doyle from the Misfits sans devilock, Jello Biafra sitting on the toilet à la Frank Zappa, and an exhausted Dez Cadena. The zine wasn't afraid to poke fun at the idols they helped create: Biafra's head was later pictured on top of a penis, and Pushead's drawing of a long-haired Rollins apparently made the singer irate.
Most of the time, Touch and Go's calls on bands and albums were right. Here's the first take on Venom's Neat Records debut Welcome to Hell: "I’m sitting here diapers inundated with liquid…where was Venom five years ago?" Here's Vee on seeing The Cramps at The Bookies Club: "There's a new girl in the band, real doggy lookin - she's got a great Gibson Explorer and her and Ivy rocked the old barn down". And here's Stimson tackling the Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables after being unimpressed with their earliest efforts: "I sure as hell wasn't about to jump on the Kennedy's bandwagon just cause some limey thinks they're hot poop. But I can be persuaded. This is one fuckin' great record. Fourteen scorching humdingers to drive your neighbors batty".
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One of the most compelling elements of the book is the advertising. Among my favorite books is the long out-of-print Hey Skinny: Great Advertisements from the Golden Age of Comic Books, a collection of vintage comic advertising like X-ray glasses and the ever-elusive sea monkeys. The Touch and Go ads caused a similar flood of childhood memories: a full-page ad from Frontier Records offering the first Suicidal Tendencies album for $6, an ad for the Misfits Fiend Club, and the earliest ads for Dischord's still peerless Flex Your Head hardcore compilation. If anyone ordered every record in these ads, they'd have enough punk rarities to fund retirement.
Finally, there's a full-page ad from Yesterday & Today Records in Rockville, MD with early singles from The Rezillos and Sham 69. The store was frequented by Mackaye and Rollins during their formative years, and owner Skip Groff produced many of the earliest D.C. bands. It’s the same store where I discovered many bands and hoped to spot a member of the Dischord crew during a shopping trip. I scored a copy of The Misfits' Three Hits From Hell there in the late '80s for $5. It was a wise investment.
The book includes introductions by Rollins, Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks, and others. Their contributions show why the zine was important to their growth as musicians. Although the book is a softback, it is sturdy and thoughtfully designed. Each page is bright, bold, and readable. Bazillion Points press is ostensibly a publisher, but the arrival of another exemplary book after Tom Gabriel Fischer's Only Death Is Real (reviewed here) proves they are much more: safe-keepers and guardians of extreme music's past. This is their latest indispensable volume of history – our history.
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Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine '79-'83
By Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson, edited by Steve Miller (not the lame one)