Sunday, January 14, 2007

IT Magazine: A Short History Of A Troubled Magazine

One of the questions I've been asked on a seemingly regular basis over the years is whatever happened to IT Magazine. I keep answering; "I wish I knew." It's a valid question and my answer isn't that far from the mark because, at the end of the day, I don't really know why the editor did what he did, but at least I now know what he did. Allow me to share.

I first saw IT at one of Peter Green's now legendary Prahran record fairs back in 1992. Peter used to run the fairs as competition for the long running Camberwell Fair and I'd drive over to Melbourne and make a weekend of it. The funny thing was, no matter how much I spent, no matter how much stock I took, I always came home with the same amount of money in my pocket - $1,000 give or take a few bucks. I'd try everything - I'd spend up big, but still the grand was there. I'd take one table of stock, I'd take four tables. It was the same amount. Peter was a damn good fair organiser and would take care of everything, down to having an assistant come around to see if you needed food or drinks or any other help. It was the little touches that counted and I have some fond memories of sitting with Peter just shooting the crap. A nicer guy you'd not hope to meet.

At one of Peter's fairs I saw a magazine being sold on someones table called IT. I stopped to have a peek and noticed that it was to be locally produced (this was issue #1) and cover the Australian side of music collectibles. As the famous From The Vault had just closed I was all for seeing someone filling the void so I got to talking to the lady behind the counter. Shirley, a damn nice person, informed me that her brother, Dave, was the owner/editor of the magazine but as he was in Europe it'd fallen to Shirley to help sell the product back here in Australia. Once she found out I came from Adelaide she asked if I had any contacts and if I'd be willing to help. I wrote down the names of the (then) major shops along with the names of the people who ran them and promised that once I returned home I'd drop by and see everyone and tell them about the magazine and that I'd plug the magazine on the radio show that I was then presenting at the ABC. I bought my copy of #1, signed up for a two year subscription (funnily enough I was the first such subscriber) and went my merry way.

For the next few months I kept running into Shirley and we'd have very pleasant conversations about the magazine. I then pointed out to her that in order for the magazine to survive she'd have to eventually commission some articles to give the magazine substance (the first five issues are just ads) and Shirley told me that Dave wanted to go that way but didn't know anyone who could write. I pointed at Peter and offered to do an article myself. In hindsight...

The first article for IT was a excellent, albeit short, piece on Crowded House as written by Peter and it appeared in issue #6. Peter would contribute to the magazine in the future and he was always fast to send down a kind note each time that I'd mention one of his bands in an article or a column. By early 1993 I'd thought about it and decided to take the plunge and write a short article on U2. It didn't take long to write (and it shows), I sent it off, it was published in issue #7 and I thought that'd be that. Then the call came.

Shirley phoned and asked if I could do any more articles as the U2 issue had sold out. I said I would but I'd have to have the following: there'd be some strict guidelines on the usage of my work - I'd ultimately own the copyrights and all other rights, the magazine leased my work - not owned, but leased - for the life of that issue and that none of my work could be reprinted anywhere without my permission - no second printings. This I'd learnt from reading about creators in the comic book industry, and also what I'd been told to do by those in the know at the ABC (who'd seen me get ripped off, both money and work wise, by the producers of a television show here in Adelaide. Anyone in SA remember Export Rock Club-Sat? Probably not. It ran for about 6 episodes back in 1990 and it seemed that all of them were on late at night on Channel 9. I doubt even Channel 9 have copies, although my mother taped them. However all the research and questions on those shows were mine and, despite promises, I never got paid a cent). That was agreed to and I submitted an article on Kiss which appeared in issue #8 (looking back I see a large ad for my then new store - the memories). Again it sold out instantly and that got Shirley burning up the phone lines with an offer.

What they wanted was a regular column in the magazine, written by me, along with articles. The terms were good, I got paid on time and I wanted something to fill in the time when I wasn't working (my first marriage had crumbled into dust at that point) as my electronic media work had finished. I agreed and inserted further clauses - none of my work could be on-sold, appear anywhere else, (important as there was this new thing happening called the Internet in 1994) I'd pick the topics (they could suggest) and none of it could be edited by anyone else but me or someone I elected/nominated. They accepted and under those conditions - highly favourable for me - I got to work.

The next few years just flew by. My shop failed and I became very depressive. Through it all the magazine thrived and it kept my mind off other things. Although it wasn't hard to find that dark place to write about Kurt Cobain killing himself, or writing about Nick Cave, it was difficult to write about ABBA. Actually the ABBA article was interesting. I'd been told that it'd appear in a future issue because Shirley had bought an article on legendary Australian band Cold Chisel. The guy who wrote that article was in Adelaide attempting to buy some Chisel concert tickets from me (he's as tight as two coats of paint and only pays peanuts for the really rare stuff) and had arranged to catch up with me on a Tuesday evening. I'd also arranged to go out with a girl I was interested in when, you got it, Shirley phoned on the Tuesday afternoon to say that the latest issue of the Australian Record Collector (more on that magazine in a second) had just been published and lo and behold the same Cold Chisel article was there. The author had sold the same article twice. I had to cancel everything and finish the ABBA article overnight. In the middle of it I got a call from the author of the Chisel article so I let him know what I thought of him and how unprofessional it was to sell the same article to two magazines at once. I'm sure that even to this day he doesn't understand why I got upset. Luckily for me the girl not only understood but dropped around with some dinner and then left me alone. I'd get phone calls from Shirley each and every issue thanking me for the sales and telling me how it was my work that'd legitimized the magazine and made it what it was. Those calls were appreciated no end, especially after all-night writing gigs.

Competitors came and went but one deserves particular mention. The Australian Record Collector surfaced in early 1994. It began with issue #4. Later I discovered that this was intentional because the publisher wanted people to think his magazine had been around for a while. What used to really amuse people was that the publisher had ripped the concept off from the better known UK Record Collector magazine, right down to the format, design and layout but he'd constantly deny it. The man was shameless. He began by reprinting work from other magazines including my own efforts. He'd phone, we'd talk and he'd tell me how, for example, I stole my Kiss article from his magazine. He'd ignore the fact that my article appeared in January 1994 and his appeared in July of that year. He'd phone me, abuse me and then ask me to work for him and attempt to sell me magazines for my store (I'd buy them because that's how I am). I remember one magazine even had two blank pages inside between an article. Hilarious stuff, and strictly amateur hour. I used to get a perverse form of delight by leaving the odd typo in one of my discographies and seeing the exact same typo in the eventual article on the same band three months down the track in his magazine. The Australian Record Collector had great potential but the publisher was an idiot without a clue. Eventually he took a pile of money from advertisers and subscribers alike and did a runner. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, "Well that'd not happen here." Little did I then know.

A lot of that period is a blur now for me and I can't even remember doing a lot of the work. I'd sit there and pump it all out. For too long a time I only ever did it for the money and sadly that shows in the final product. Still other magazines continued to approach me. Someone in Perth was about to start a magazine called Reaction - would I be interested in writing for it? I answered yes, sent off a detailed article on Depeche Mode that Dave had rejected. I got back the proofs and never heard from the guy again. If it was published I'd love a copy. A local crook here started a magazine called Number 1 Obsession. He said he had a pile of money from various shadowy backers and offered me a staff position with great cash. All looked good then the whispers started. I went around to his house for a very surreal meeting. I was told that the staff were expected to sell advertising space to go with their articles, but I wouldn't have to do that. My radar went right up. It went through the roof when someone knocked at the door and his 'assistant' came in to tell him that the police were there. The editor attempted to make a phone call, the police came in, handcuffed the guy and led him away. I sat there thinking, "Hmmmmmmm...nope," and left. The next time I spoke to him was when he phoned and offered to double my (non-existent) wages and told me that he'd be happy to send around one of his 'assistants' to consummate the deal. I replied that it wasn't necessary and that he could stop the tape at any time. He swore at that (I was working on a hunch, that he'd be that stupid, and he was) and said that I'd be looking elsewhere. Later I ran into someone who 'worked' there and over coffee and cake she told me a lot about the practices of this guy. He could barely stay out of police custody for fraud amongst other crimes (extortion, larceny, theft - the usual stuff) and he had this idea that he could send underage girls around to people like me and then use the threat of paedophilia or rape as an 'incentive' for them to work and even better, to pay him to work. His empire finally came crumbling down when a friend of mine asked me about him - it appeared that their nightclub was about to invest in the magazine with a high five figure sum. We sat down, had some drinkies and other substances, and I told them what happened to me. No investment, hence no magazine. Beats me where that creep is now.

For the most part I got good feedback from readers and some of what I wrote I was happy with. My Kiss articles I still stand by, along with my two major U2 articles, both of which I noticed have been stolen and used elsewhere. For example my INXS and Michael Hutchence articles were stolen by a cretin who used the work (including my discographies, word for word) for his trashy cash in book on the final days of Michael Hutchence (issued very shortly after his death). No payment there, but hey, the guy is a wanker and that's all that matters (I see he's still held in low regard - excellent! Maggoty little bastard). As I'd see stuff appearing on the Internet I'd approach the web-masters and offer to re-write and update articles for them, for free, but to no avail. Such is life. Eventually I'd just ask for a by-line at least. I did manage to have some fun along the way. For my AC/DC article I invented an album and even gave it a catalogue number. It amuses me that people are still asking about this album and think it exists. It'd be a great album if it did exist (called 'Retrospective', it would have had all the non-LP stuff that they'd done, rare singles, remixes and b-sides mainly) but let me say right now it doesn't.

Around 1999 I started to get slightly jaded and worried. I got sick of writing about bands I didn't care about and by this time Dave had returned from Europe and was dealing with me directly. I was long on the net (first logged on in 1989, got my first email address in 1994) and was writing on my lap-top and emailing the results through. A far cry from my writing my first two articles on my IBM electronic typewriter. Dave was asking for articles on more 'contemporary' bands, hence I started churning out articles about bands I just didn't listen to - Powderfinger, Custard (that had a nice little interview with the lead singer), Silverchair, Spiderbait - you get the picture. Some bands like Reguritator I came to enjoy and I had a ball writing about T.I.S.M., but sorry, I still can't stand You Am I, Hole or the Mavis's. In issue #25 the first of a series of U2 articles appeared and this is one of the few things from that magazine that I stand by. It was good then and is still good now. It happened to co-incide with the bands Australian Pop Mart tour and it sold out. The funny thing is that Dave had contacted me at the last minute because another article had fallen through. I said I'd finish it asap and went out for a night on the wine with my then off again, on again girlfriend. I ended up with alcohol poisoning(!) and finished the article the next afternoon (after checking myself out of hospital) with a bucket next to my desk - you guess what the bucket was for. Yep, it sounds sick and it was at the time. I hit my deadline though. As previously mentioned the work in that article, and the subsequent U2 article, has appeared in publications and web-sites everywhere. I got paid for it back then and nothing since. Pity.

Around this time the cracks started to appear. Cheques would arrive late or not at all and I'd have to keep following it up. I kept working though and I pumped out more work about bands I had no time for. Eventually I gave up and said no more, I wanted to sink my teeth into bands I liked and sent over some suggestions. Funnily enough some of them were accepted and as such I got to write about Tori Amos, Garbage, Blondie, The Cure and a host of others. I started to feel a lot happier with my work. Around this time Chris Spencer was brought on board to become the new editor. I'd had some correspondence with Chris previously in regards to his Who's Who books. In my first email to him I jokingly asked if his taking over the magazine would mean I'd finally get paid on time. He sent back a biting email saying that it wasn't his fault that I'd not been paid, so I replied apologising and saying that I was only joking. Funnily enough Chris didn't last long and I give him credit for at least trying. Let me also say that I think Chris is a damn good guy and I have no problems with him. What happened at IT wasn't his fault in the slightest.

Despite the rumours that were flying around I still stuck with the magazine. IT had been part of my life since 1993 and I didn't want to see it go down the tubes. I truly did believe in it. I kept going. I wrote some good stuff and a lot of crap. Personally I think I wrote more crap than the good stuff, but the good stuff outweighs the crap by sheer quality. I wrote an article on R.E.M. that sounded more interesting than it eventually was. I worked backwards, writing about their latest album (at that time it was Up) and eventually found myself at the first album. It was an interesting exercise and people commented to me at the time that it read very strangely, apt for R.E.M. really. I've not done an article in that style since. I did try once and found that it didn't work, that kind of lightning probably only strikes once. As more articles and my column went away every month or so, even less money came in. Dave then emailed and said that unless something incredible happened the magazine would have to fold. I mentioned that he owed me somewhere in the vicinity of $2,500 and that I'd have to see some of that before I sent another article.

One of my friends caught up with Dave at Camberwell and managed to get a few hundred from him. I took it and like an idiot I sent over the latest work. This would be the final issue and as a last issue I was very happy with it. It had the second part of my U2 article along with some crap I wrote about Deep Purple. I knew that a U2 article, with a cover photo, would result in a sell-out for the magazine and I hoped that the resulting sales would mean that Dave would be able to start paying me off. In hindsight I now realise that things had come full circle. I started back in early 1993 by writing a U2 article and now I was finishing in early 2000 with a U2 article. Dave contacted me about doing more work, I said that I would but only if he paid me what he owed, in full (now the amount was about $2,750). I said I'd write the entire contents of the next issue (he'd told me that all the other writers had now bailed) and send it C.O.D for the amount he owed me and he agreed. I did that, the floppy disc came back five weeks later, unclaimed and I never heard from Dave again. After 36 issues and eight years the ride was over. I lost track of all the articles that I'd written - thankfully I kept a copy of each magazine that had my work in it (we just found them last night, prompting my other half to ask me to write this as she knows nothing about that period in my life). Ironically on the last issue Dave had printed, "Lots of Imitators - No Survivors!" I've always wondered if he was trying to tell me something.

Come 2004 I found myself about to move house. We'd packed everything up and I came across my old address book and on a whim phoned Shirley to have a talk. Incredibly she answered and we got to speaking about the old days doing record fairs. She told me she had no idea where Dave was these days, that he might have gone back to Holland with his wife Karin. No-one knew. He'd done the same trick that the publisher of the Australian Record Collector had done - he'd built up cash from subscriptions and by selling ads for future issues and then bolted with the cash. He'd also ripped his own family off and burnt every bridge he'd ever walked across. She told me how that people still rang her looking for Dave because of the money he owed and how the debt collectors had only just stopped coming around. I felt sorry for Shirley, after all Dave was her brother, but she assured me that she and her husband were very happy now and entering semi-retirement and were also moving into a newer, smaller place now that the family had grown up and left. It was a lovely conversation and I'm glad I'd made the call to catch up.

IT was a good little magazine and could have kept going to this day. I've often thought about bringing out a retrospective CD. I even contacted a few of the magazine's writers to see if they'd agree to be involved but the project fell by the wayside once my web-site took off. Who knows, perhaps one day I might revive the magazine myself - after all it's not like Dave is going to come after me, and if he does, well there's the small issue of the money he owes, plus compound interest. I figure he can sign the magazine over to me and we'd call it quits. If nothing else I'm happy that I did the work. It taught me a lot about writing and also about getting ripped off. I promised myself that next time I'd work only for me, which I'm now doing, and that I shouldn't expect a lot from publishers - which, no offense to anyone - I don't. From time to time the odd issues of both IT and Australian Record Collector surface on places like eBay and I'm constantly amazed that they sell, especially the IT Magazines. I do feel like emailing both the buyers and sellers apologising for the shit that they're about to read, unless it's got something in there that I'm happy with.

--------------------------
IT Magazine featured some damn fine writers and some great articles. Steven McParland wrote some brilliant stuff on surf music, Peter Green did some great work on Split Enz & Crowded House and others such as Stuart Penny chipped in with quality work along the way.

My own work in IT Magazine was as follows:

#7 (Oct-Nov-Dec 1993): U2
#8 (Jan-Feb-Mar 1994): Kiss
#9 (Apr-May-Jun 1994): Queen; Australian Collectables Column
#10 (Jul-Aug-Sep 1994): ABBA; Nirvana; Australian Collectables Column
#11 (Oct-Nov 1994): Nick Cave Part I; Australian Collectables Column
#12 (Dec-jan-Feb 1995): Nick Cave Part II; Led Zeppelin; Australian Collectables Column
#13 (Mar-Apr-May 1995): Nick Cave Part III; Midnight Oil; Australian Collectables Column
#14 (Jun-Jul-Aug 1995): Australian Collectables Column
#15 (Sep-Oct-Nov 1995): Australian Collectables Column
#16 (Dec-Jan-Feb 1996): Pearl Jam Part I; Australian Collectables Column
#17 (Mar-Apr-May 1996): Pearl Jam Part II; Metallica Part I; Australian Collectables Column
#18 (Jun-Jul-Aug 1996): Metallica Part II; Smashing Pumpkins; Australian Collectables Column
#19 (Sep-Oct-Nov 1996): Oasis; Australian Collectables Column
#20 (Dec-Jan-Feb 1997): Australian Collectables Column
#21 (Mar-Apr-May 1997): Kiss Sessionology*; Australian Collectables Column
#22 (Jun-Jul-Aug 1997): INXS**; Australian Collectables Column
#23 (Sep-Oct-Nov 1997): AC/DC***; Australian Collectables Column
#24 (Dec-Jan-Feb 1998): Silverchair; Michael Hutchence+; Australian Collectables Column
#25 (Mar-Apr-May 1998) : U2 in the '90s++; Powderfinger; Custard; Australian Collectables Column
#26 (Jun-Jul 1998): Spiderbait; Australian Collectables Column
#27 (Au-Sep 1998): T.I.S.M.; Australian Collectables Column
#28 (Oct-Nov 1998): You Am I; Australian Collectables Column
#29 (Dec-Jan 1999): Reguritator; Australian Collectables Column
#30 (Feb-Mar 1999): Kylie Minogue; Australian Collectables Column
#31 (Apr-May 1999): Blondie+++; Australian Collectables Column
#32 (Jul-Aug 1999): Offspring; The Mavis's; Australian Collectables Column+*
#33 (Sep-Oct 1999): Garbage; Tori Amos; Australian Collectables Column
#34 (Nov-Dec 1999): R.E.M.; Australian Collectables Column
#35 (Jan-Feb 2000): The Cure; Hole; Metallica Update; Australian Collectables Column
#36 (Mar-Apr 2000): U2 In The '80s +*+; Deep Purple; Midnight Oil Update; Australian Collectables Column
----------------

*First article that I was really happy with. It turned out exactly how I wanted it to.
** This is the article and discography (complete with built in typo) that was stolen and re-used in the Michael Hutchence cash-in book.
***Featuring the now infamous 'Retrospective' album details. I asked a chum of mine at Festival if there was an assigned catalogue number I could use. He emailed me through a pile of them.
+Was written in 20 minutes at a chums house before dinner and it shows. Dinner was good though.
++One of the best things I did. I've lost track of the amount of times I've seen my research appear from this article and it's follow up.
+++Prompted a friend of mine to say to me one night, "Kylie and Blondie? Whatareya? Queer?"
+*This is the last issue that I remember Dave paying me for. From here on it was all freebies although I didn't know that at the time.
+*+Again, one of the best things I did and much like the early 'U2 In The '90s' article this work has been reprinted all over the place. Naturally none of it has ever been credited to me.

5 comments:

R Thomas said...

Very enjoyable article and some fascinating backstory. I would love to track down some of these issues, particularly #10 just to read up on your take on ABBA!

Danny said...

God, the ABBA article was written overnight when I was in a very bad mood, and like a lot of material written like that it shows.

I should PDF a few of the articles and post them I guess.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the Mentals article in the same issue as your INXS article. I sent it via email for consideration expecting a courtesy reply, but Dave just published it without notice. And I didn't get paid or a thank you. Being young and naive I thought it an honour but in hindsight I should've said something. But then again, I did "borrow" a lot of the article from the coupe/baker book "the new music". Anyway, I still have all the issues (and those of pontoni's effort) so probably should put them on eBay for my payday!

Shane

Danny said...

Good luck Shane - I found a box full of unsold Pontoni magazines just the other week - they're still funny to read.

I think there's a lot of us around the place that can point at IT Magazine and say, "Yep, he ripped me off as well." We're a fairly large club.

P.J. Magalhães said...

Thanks for sharing daniel, good look into your life at that time! :D Glad you came through!