Ten Years at the Mast
David Lee Beowülf
I witnessed the birth because it took place in my house (that I was, naturally, sharing with Helen and Ian). There were all these meetings that I did not attend and a lot of discussions with people I did not at all know and really hadn’t seen. Who were/are these people? What I remember most is Ian’s fascination with his Business Law class… Anyway, it seemed like Ian and Helen and Craig and Frank and this guy named Mike Crown (he even had long hair back then) were hooking up with Melbourne people who had real jobs and real money. Money to invest in a magazine with a business plan and a lot of vision. Not only that, but a lot of people with an uncountable passion for music and culture in general.
What was I doing during this time? Simple: I was paying attention to heavy metal music and studying, studying, studying, obsessing, obsessing, obsessing, and pretty much screaming at myself for however many reasons.
What I remember most about issue number one was the indispensable Domino’s Pizza coupons on the back page… We had a lot of extra number ones around the house, I ate well (in addition to the macaroni, Spam, baby clam, and bell pepper casseroles I’d eat). I also recall a desire to write — but only if asked, I have this thing about respect for others’ creative projects — and a definite understanding that what I was reading was of a much higher level of genuineness than Rolling Stone or any of the other crap I simply did not/do not read.
I think the “genuineness” stems from several features that set Ink 19 apart form the rest of the world from day one. First of all, Brevard County, Florida is one of the world’s top centers of technology. And I don’t mean e-commerce or Web page design or any of that other crap, I mean serious engineering and hard science — and the intelligentsia that comes along with it. They don’t call it the Space Coast because of the broad vistas… Add to that the presence of a world-class engineering university that was originally founded for the purpose of providing astronauts with graduate educations, this being the Florida Institute of Technology. The result is a concentration of technical and intellectual brilliance mixed with a passion for all things “alternative music.” Please keep in mind: “alternative music” actually meant something real at the time, and was not marketable except on a “niche” level (I’ll grant that that “niche” even at the time sure did generate a lot of cash for the music biz, but that’s beside the point). Basically, with a radio station staffed mostly by locals who worked in the technology sector at all levels and engineering and science students, you had an amazing music scene, people who were smart and knew what they liked to listen to. Likewise, there were the children of the NASA workers who were in high school, and in addition to being exposed to all the serious technology in the air, surfed, skated, and listened to punk rock on WFIT. It was only natural for these folks, who pretty much comprised the Melbourne underground scene, to come together, somewhere.
As I’ve said repeatedly, the radio station provided a good focal point, but with the advent of the pig-ignorant administrative policy, remarkable blunders in judgement, and general lack of vision — no, make that total lack of vision, the radio station bit the dust, suffering a prolonged, agonizing death. Prior to the stroke WFIT suffered in 1991 and the killing blow in 1995, the staff and DJs were quite the tightly knit unit and very, very smart. Well, smart enough to know what they had, as opposed to the utter nincompoops running the school. Out of this group was a smaller, leaderless clique that, while certainly being a part of the radio station, simply did not fit in. They (we) were too smart and liked experimenting, which pretty much explained why most of us were on the air late at night. I should mention that even then, the radio station was very conservative — jazz was a major format and brought in a lot of money during the fundraising marathons. Being on the air late at night meant that a) the station’s gnomes wouldn’t be listening that much and hence not caring what you were playing, and b) you could have a lot of fun, and in my case, really get to know the listeners and become a fixture in their community (e.g., the local metal scene).
What all that has to do with Ink 19 is this: Ian is a person with tremendous vision and ability. Not to mention competence. This magazine wouldn’t have survived ten years without those qualities. Where the WFIT people failed in recognizing Ian’s creative and practical talents, Ian sure recognized them and put them to work. I think the rest of us recognized it, too, because Ian oozed confidence, competence, and creativity. He also has a talent that I’ll bet less than one percent of the world’s population has: the ability to be in total control while letting, literally, everyone else go out of control. Ian, himself, writes a lot of copy for Ink 19, take a look at some of the contributor’s names and ask yourself if anyone really is named this or that, or maybe there’s an obscure movie you recently saw were the villain had a name that was strangely familiar. Ian’s greatest strength, relative to the magazine, is to simply let the writers do whatever it is they want to do. And as a result, he’s published a product that is as free-form as possible and turned a profit.
And Ink 19 was read all over the place. I think with the magazine not being a paying publication, the resulting writing is superior to any other. Why? Simply because we do not attract talented hacks. What I mean is this: the writing in slick magazines like Spin or whatever is very good in a purely mechanical sense. But, barring publications like National Review and a few others, are these writers really passionate about music? Of course not, it’s their job to write about music. As a result, the publications can only afford to run stories, interviews, whatever, about bands with selling names. As a result as well, you only get writers who are established and well connected and who know better than to crack jokes or make obscure references or to have a little fun here and there. Don’t get me wrong, Ink 19 was well-connected from the very start — the record companies knew the group very well from our radio experience, that included timely and effective reporting to the music trade journals that really did matter at the time (it’s my opinion that these trade publications have no meaning whatsoever these days). We were receiving product from the very start because of our reputation (kudos to Helen Wheels on that, for sure). Also, owing to the vast network of surfers and skaters, Ink 19 got exposure at the right levels immediately. Hey, if you could find Maximum Rock N’ Roll at the cool record store, plunk down your two bucks and buy the last copy, but if you wanted to read about alternative bands from a local perspective in a magazine that sure did look like it had its act together, Ink 19 was free and accessible. And we covered (and liked) local bands like Dead Serios, Rock Michaels Pastorius, The Richard Tater Conspiracy, Desecration, Ritual, Fleshy-Headed Mutants, and The Screaming Iguanas of Love (and more, sorry if I left you out, give me a yell!). And better than that, if you were interested, you could write for us and even show up at writers’ meetings down the street!
Where I fit into the whole thing isn’t really the stuff of legend unless you’re me… Anyway, I’ve contributed to just about every issue in one way or another since number two. In the first year, I was intimately tied to Ink 19’s creation. Not in the sense you’re thinking of, but without Ink 19, I wouldn’t have finished my Master’s Degree. See, during the day I’d be in class or doing research or hitting myself in the head with a hammer. During the day, Ian and Frank would be putting together the magazine in the house that I shared with Ian and Jim, after Helen left for a job with Ichiban Records in Atlanta (hence began the Ink 19 “Atlanta saga”). At night, Ian would turn over the computer to me and I’d bang out my thesis, Ian would do the 4 AM to 8 PM shift, I’d do the 8 PM to 4 AM shift… It sure does seem like that was the case! During this time, Ink 19 became well established as being what it still is: the best regional media magazine in the country. We got interviews the slicks would get and we asked better questions, we went to the shows and wrote what we really felt about them, and we reviewed nearly every single record we received. What other monthly magazine can boast of publishing 150 record reviews an issue? You’d be hard-pressed to find more than ten, genuine, good reviews of albums in any slick magazine. And by “good” I mean informed and serious, definitely not what you get from a hack. And name me what other publication would give death metal just as much time as it would poofy “alternative” rock? Ink 19’s a Florida magazine, how could we be sincere and ignore that we were situated in the death metal capital of the world? We didn’t, and as a result, gained tremendous respect from the industry folks.
Back to me… I was still doing the Brainhammer! radio show up until about two months before I was to graduate (gotta focus on school, man). I handed the reigns off to Jeremy Wernow and Mark Fernandez, both who contributed a lot of material to Ink 19 as well and are both brilliant scientists — oops, Mark switched in grad school and became an engineer… I may have given up the radio spotlight, but I didn’t stop writing for the magazine. I had a lot of excess energy and put it to good use writing about the music I listened to while cranking out wind forces on moored ships…
After I graduated, things sort of fell apart for me and got truly desperate. First of all, the house of Ink 19 was dissolved. Ian moved in with Rhoda, Jim moved back home to York, PA. And I, well, I didn’t have a job (1992 was a lousy time to be a recent engineering grad, that recession spoken about was for real) and had no money. I gave myself no choice other than to move back home and see what that would bring. Home happened to be Tarrytown, New York, about 30 miles north of New York City, a wee train ride away. This move, as it turned out, allowed me to take advantage of three opportunities: one, get really depressed and go crazy, I did that quite well. Two, go to a lot of shows and gain exposure to the New York City music scene. Three, exploit my credentials in music writing to gain a foothold in said music scene. Going insane and being depressed (and poor, no job) was a boon because my expository and creative writing took off. Getting involved with the music scene was an amazing advantage, because now, Ink 19 had a good, solid base in New York City, which, contrary to what Ian Faith may say, is a big rock and roll town. Of course, it was not to last, because the job opportunities up here were rock bottom.
So I moved back to Melbourne, were at least I could be close to the Ink 19 folks and be a radio DJ. I should note that at the time (1993), I had not yet burned my bridges at WFIT, and was more than welcomed back. Let me say this, as well: I saw the writing on the wall and recognized that WFIT was going under fast. Frankly, I just liked to play music and be a lunatic DJ. I asked for the most inoffensive time slots (e.g., 3-6 AM) and had a blast. But I knew what was up, and after I was safely out of the picture, wrote a nasty piece about WFIT in the November 1995 issue of Ink 19. No one will ever steer me different that the decisions made concerning WFIT did not ruin it, and those decisions were made by and carried out be individuals who should have known better.
Anyway, during this time, “alternative” music “broke” and Ink 19 was right there, not to report on it, but to ride that perfect wave. We got the interviews, the shows, the scoops, and again, the tons and tons of record reviews. A lot came my way, and I refused (more like gave up) very little. My best memory: interviewing Pete Steele from Type O Negative in September 1993, where he pontificated on why he hated Disney World: it was too safe.
It all came to sort of an end for me in February 1994 — yikes! I don’t want to go there — but, the story’s like this: I got the “real” job then, and it was, of all places, in New York City. I could live at home (sort of) and work in Manhattan. Hey, them’s the breaks. And so it happened.
At the same time, Ink 19 continued to explode, adding a serious break into the Atlanta, Georgia scene (we’d conquered all of Florida by then). Well, now that I was “permanently” in New York City, Ink 19 was a part of the scene. Not really, though… And please take this the right way: the New York City scene, at the time, was damned competitive, and the established order doesn’t like strangers horning in on their turf. Hey, no problem, I write for a Florida publication! “Oh, well, come on in!” Rock and Roll!
Living in New York gave me a lot of opportunities for music writing and fed my cynicism. And it should not surprise anyone who meets me in person that I really am this (holding two fingers apart) far away from being locked up for being too “dangerous.” I really do hate the world, now how about that? Of the opportunities up here that I took, I first have to give still more praise to WFMU, the greatest radio station in the history of the world. It’s safe to say that WFMU is the Ink 19 of radio. Their station manager, Ken Freedman, is, like Ian, a man of tremendous vision and one of those rare people who has complete control while letting everyone else go out of control — and remains successful, exploiting — nay, encouraging — such out-of-controllness.
I’d say the most amazing piece of writer weaseling would be getting, meeting, and sort of becoming an acquaintance with my favorite rock stars, especially The Misfits and their fair-weather nemesis Bobby Steel; I’d also have to mention my frequent brushes with The Dickies, The Ramones, and Type O Negative. Let’s add to that meeting up with Sepultura and Fear Factory more or less once a year. How about bumping into Pat Boone and giving him a copy of Ink 19? Let me say this: when The Misfits’ manager comes up to me and says, “hey, it’s David Lee Beowulf from Ink 19,” what I feel inside of me cannot be described. The biggest highlight of being up here, though, hmmm, well, I’ve met and become friends with some great people in the business of music and writing about music. Most notably Rob Lawi (Rob, what are you up to these days?), Vinnie Cicolini — one of the few non-hacks who eats well off his writing, ditto for Bryan “Judas Priest” Reesman, George Tabb, and, of course, Gail Worley, my best friends in the city, who, had I not demanded to know who the heck this other writer from New York was, I’d have not been where I am today: in my own apartment in the thick of the East Village, where, among other things, I keep my collection of every single print issue of Ink 19.
Not to rain on the parade a bit, but I do owe an explanation about one thing: I worked for the US Army in Kosovo for six months — I lived on Camp Bondsteel for the entire time, right after the bombing, why didn’t I exploit that opportunity and report regularly to Ink 19 about it? The answer is simple, but manifold. First of all, my job kept me extremely busy for twelve hours a day (and I sure couldn’t be Features Editor and do that at the same time), seven days a week, six months straight, and that’s an understatement. I didn’t have the time to devote to writing enough. Oh, I kept journals on what I did, but you’ll have to wait for the book. Secondly, there was a security issue. The latter says it all: the Army is damned serious about security, and I didn’t want to lose my job; I kept my nose as clean as possible. I have a lot to say about my experience but you’ll have to wait. I will say this: the soldiers really dug Ink 19, I’d receive bundles every month and leave ’em out at the gyms. They got read, just as regularly as Stars And Stripes. I suppose that’s the only opportunity I willingly (and rightly so) squandered, as opposed to biting off more than I could chew concerning interviews and/or shows to attend. Don’t worry, I took pictures…
I also think I ought to mention a couple of things about the current state of affairs. Ink 19 was pretty profitable for several years. But times have changed. They’ve changed in that advertising cannot support a free print magazine, and it’s through no fault of anyone’s — except maybe those damned record companies. OK, not really, simple economic facts: new music is accessible to the general public and their parents who buy the records. Cutting edge music publications are unnecessary to the record industry as far as selling their product is concerned. Radio sure is, just like it’s always been. A commodity is a commodity, product is still product, units are still units. In New York City, commercial radio plays bands that have commercial appeal. That means, yes, there are five million idiots who want to hear whatever drek is spewing forth from their radios over and over again. Not only that, but those five million idiots will respond by purchasing said drek at a premium from a chain record store, the record companies don’t need Ink 19 to help them sell records; sorry Inkfolks, but them’s the breaks. The new bands, however, and the independent promoters do need Ink 19 to start the buzz about their new bands and/or to continue getting the word out or just to have an outlet and prove they really are promoting this or that band. So our relevance is still quite clear, turning that into a profitable business is a different story. Which, again, I consider a strength. Ian’s not lost a bit of his vision and, if anything, has become an even better businessman throughout all this. Where other music-related publications, either Web- or print-based, have totally gone under in a sea of debt and bad feelings all over, Ink 19 survives pretty much untarnished. We don’t have a pool of bitter, unpaid writers out there bad-mouthing us; we don’t have starving, established hacks knocking down the doors and elbowing-out the “kids” who want to start writing about their favorite music. Word to the wise: have a skill (unrelated to music writing) to fall back on if you’re thinking of becoming a music writer. We also didn’t “sell out” and have a once-loyal readership now eschewing us. We might have changed the medium, but not the soul of Ink 19.
So that’s it in a nutshell of about 6,000 words. I should also say that I basically owe Ink 19 my career both in music writing and engineering, really! Without this magazine, I would not have had the experience to use and learn computer-aided anything as well as I have (you want resources? I got resources!); and if you want to be good, I mean really good, all you need is to be around a bunch of bitter computer science geniuses who are impressed by nothing to spark your challenges — and to be there for questions. That alone was worth the price of tuition at F.I.T.