The Zinophile: Black Flag and Neutral Milk Hotel in Half-Size Form

Two zines released in recent months each chronicle the life and times of a beloved band. One takes a historical approach and throws in some artistic history for context; the other takes a more collage-like approach, and in doing so evokes the diverse ways one can dedicate oneself to a particular artist. Black Flag and Neutral Milk Hotel are, admittedly, groups about which much has been written; still, each of the zines covered here brings a unique perspective to the forefront.

The subtitle of What a Beautiful Face: A Neutral Milk Hotel Fanzine pretty much tells you what to expect. Edited by K. Johnson, the contributions range from the essayistic (Johnson’s own musings on the band and their legacy) to the more impressionistic (Adam Gnade’s short fiction inspired and informed by the band’s music.) And as someone who was old enough to see Neutral Milk Hotel live but never actually did (much to my chagrin), the multiple perspectives here rang true. The authors range from writers in their thirties to those not yet of legal drinking age, first encountering Jeff Mangum’s music in a solo setting. Towards the end of the issue, Johnson collects a number of live reviews of Mangum, from festival stops to brief appearances as part of Elephant 6 tours. And it does a good job of puncturing bubbles of nostalgia that listeners of a certain age might have. It’s refreshing to read that not everyone seeking out Mangum live is, like me, in their mid-thirties — that the music he’s made is considered vital by listeners a decade or two my junior. And there’s an image late in the zine of Jeff Mangum air-drumming to a Minutemen song that’s just about perfect.

Not surprisingly, the Minutemen’s Mike Watt also turns up in Scam‘s look at Black Flag’s first album. The ninth issue of Scam takes a more journalistic approach than Johnson’s project. Editor Erick Lyle first wrote about Black Flag’s Damaged for the L.A. Weekly; what can be found here is an even more expansive look at the band’s history, the legacy of their first album, and the artistic context in which they found themselves then and now. There’s a lot to ponder here, from a relatively straightforward evocation of the late-70s/early-80s L.A. punk scene to a discussion of the LAPD’s tactics to a look at how Damaged fits in to the world of noir-inspired art. Lyle’s extensive footnotes are, occasionally, revealing — such as the disclosure that he listens to The Germs’ GI far more often than he does Damaged these days. There’s also a very smart take on the recent phenomenon of pioneering punk and hardcore bands touring behind albums played in their entirety; Lyle doesn’t begrudge them this (especially given that many of the albums in question had questionable royalties paid out), but is also keenly aware of the ways in which they can lead to strangely dissonant cultural moments.

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