Creem: America’s Only Rock and Roll Magazine


In the 1970s, Creem magazine was like the rowdy younger sibling of Rolling Stone magazine, which was itself slowly maturing into something more respectable. Creem didn’t bother with politics much and tended to spotlight the noisier, weirder stuff—the punk and metal bands that Rolling Stone stepped over with distaste.

The documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock and Roll Magazine is a short and relatively shallow excavation of the magazine’s glory days history, from 1969 to 1981. Founded by Barry Kramer, an ambitious headshop owner in Detroit, the publication had the kind of flash-and-fade run that works well with retrospective mythologizing.

As always, the flash years are the best part. Creem was an authentic outgrowth of the Detroit music scene at the time, which was fertile and funky—think the Stooges, the MC5, Parliament and Funkadelic, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Suzi Quatro, some of the late-era Motown acts. The magazine employed pioneering female music writers and profiled gender-bending and queer-friendly glam bands, even as it reveled in porny aesthetics and eighth-grade sex jokes.

“Buying Creem was a little bit like buying Playboy, you didn’t want your parents seeing either one of them,” says devoted reader and Michigander Jeff Daniels.

At its peak, Creem was the place to go for impassioned and irreverent coverage of the wild and scuzzy world of rock. Editor Dave Marsh and star writer Lester Bangs headlined a masthead of contributors including Cameron Crowe, Jaan Uhelszki (co-writer on the film), Robert Christgau, Susan Whitall, Greil Marcus and illustrator R. Crumb (“Boy Howdy!”). As with everything else in the 1970s, ego and cocaine eventually took their toll. Office fistfights were alarmingly common, and one staffer describes the vibe as “fast, evil ping-pong.”

The publication’s fade-out was gradual but essentially inevitable. Bangs and Kramer both died of drug overdoses, probably accidental, and the documentary has the overall narrative shape of a typical Behind the Music episode after the second commercial break. (“Up next: A nightmare descent into pills and booze….”)

Director Scott Crawford doesn’t wander far from the traditional rock doc template: talking-head interviews, archival footage, frantic pan-and-scan editing. The film suffers from the fact that nobody in this story is particularly likable. Rock and roll moralists can be exhausting, and the veteran critics take themselves awfully seriously. The film’s overall message boils down to: “Oh, man—you should have been there!”

Still, archivists and music nerds will want to take all this in. The film has some great stories, like the time Joan Jett visited the Creem offices specifically to beat up the reviewer who dissed her latest record. Or the time Lester Bangs wrote a concert review live onstage with the J. Geils Band, using a miked-up typewriter that he smashed at the end of the show. Additional Creem admirers interviewed include Thurston Moore, Bebe Buell, Peter Wolf, Shepard Fairey, Michael Stipe and his beard, Ann Powers and Kirk Hammett. The film is available now through various virtual cinema programs, locally via the Carolina Theatre website at

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