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Ashes to ashes, Phoenix to dust.

By DAMON KRUKOWSKI [Pitchfork] – The origin of The Phoenix, like many alternative newspapers, lies in the underground press of the 1960s. But that link can be misleading. Just as the underground music subcultures of the 80s morphed into the alt rock of the 90s, the alt weeklies of the 70s drew from the same pool of talent and readers as their more radical predecessors, but treated that community as a marketing demographic rather than a potentially revolutionary body. Information about drugs, cops, and music were replaced by articles (and ads) about food, the movies, and… music. The necessities for a drop-out life were swapped with the needs for a lifestyle dependent on free time (students), disposable income (young urban professionals), or both….

History paper.In 1969, at the height of the underground press era, “72% of underground papers reported [making] no profit whatsoever,” historian John McMillian points out in his book Smoking Typewriters. “Though they worked feverishly, most of them were jaundiced to the very idea of profit-making.” Many operated as collectives without owners, some without editors. “There wasn’t a hierarchical structure to what we were doing, so anybody could come in and get involved,” says a contributor to Austin’s The Rag in the colorful oral history of the 60s underground press, On the Ground. “All the underpinnings were different than they were in straight society,” remembers one of the producers of Chicago’s Seed. “There was a saying in the Seed, which I always believed: ‘Work is love made visible.’”…

That’s what I found special about the underground rock scene of the 80s, when I first started playing in a band. It felt like we were participating in the invention of a different way of life, not a different way to make music. In fact, I never believed we made music in a qualitatively different way, which made the subsequent labeling of our “style” (take your pick: shoegaze, dream-pop, slowcore…) seem all the more cynical as the engines of the alternative rock business got underway. What I believed we were doing differently was never adopted by the major labels, promoters, radio stations, and media outlets that came to represent the “alternative.” We were part of a community that seemed to be functioning without regard for profit. “What do you want?” asked the first record company executive who bothered to sit down with Galaxie 500, and began to offer us choices: a new car, our faces on billboards… As he got to the bottom of the list, he suddenly brightened and said: “Oh, I know. You’re in it for the music.” (He must have figured he was in for a bargain.)

Alternative rock and the alt weeklies have lived and now largely died by the market. But the underground operates outside of the choices offered by that system.

Continued at Pitchfork | More Chronicle & Notices.

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