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KONCAST Episode 6: Ray Miller

Click here to for more details on this new episode of The Koncast

In this episode, I talk to Ray Miller, creator of Metal Curse zine, the record label Cursed Productions, and bassist and vocalist of the band Adversary.

We discuss: How we first met 32 years ago, going from Metallica to Death Metal, finding new music in the analog days, how Ray started Metal Curse zine in 1990, Richard C and Wild Rags, John Woods and Rock out Censorship, the 1993 Milwaukee Metalfest, seeing Ice T’s dick, falling asleep while driving on the toll road, how Ray started the Cursed Productions record label, Ed Finkler and Open Sourcing Mental Illness, and making music in the computer age.
Links from this episode:

– Metal Curse zine: http://www.metalcurse.com

– Cursed Productions: http://www.cursedproductions.com

– Paragraph Line: http://www.paragraphline.com

– Jon Konrath: http://www.rumored.com

– Xenocide zine: http://rumored.com/xenocide/

– Rock Out Censorship: http://www.theroc.org

– Dave Marsh on John Woods: https://web.archive.org/web/20110614224956/http://www.starpolish.com/features/print.asp?ID=440

– Ed Finkler: https://osmihelp.org

(Minor correction: the first Poison album wasn’t on Combat Records. The LP was on Enigma, who released bands like Death Angel, Slayer, Voivod, and so on, but the tape was released on Capitol. So, Mandala Effect, brown acid, not sure what happened here.)
Click here to for more details on this new episode of The Koncast

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Dust mite collection

I just went digging through a box of old zines and other crap, looking for blank stationery. I always steal the paper at any given hotel, and I think when I left my place in Astoria, or maybe when we moved to Denver, I threw out this huge collection of yellowing stationery, mostly from Vegas casinos that have since been imploded. So I recently had to start over. I don’t know what I want to do with any of it, but I have a vague idea about doing some kind of chapbook, like a prose-poetry project, with each page being handwritten on a different piece of stationery. This doesn’t translate at all to the Kindle, and 99% of my book sales are now on the Kindle, but it’s still something I want to do at some point.

There are a few things I really miss about doing a zine, and the one big one is getting weird shit in the mail. I still buy a lot of zines, and I’m a sucker for anybody publishing something on indiegogo or kickstarter or any other place that takes PayPal, especially things that are hand-printed or letterpress printed or photocopied or in weird sizes. 90% of the time, I don’t even read the crap, I just hoard it. I like anything like that if it looks cool, if it’s an oddball size like a pocket book, or has a deckle edge binding or is a limited numbered edition, or anything like that. I have a big box that’s filled with nothing but old books and zines like that, half-digest sized things that were photocopied 50 at a time in a Kinko’s with a bootleg counter back in the early 90s.

(What I’m trying to say is that if you publish crap like that, you need to tell me. And at some point, somebody’s going to have to kick me in the ass and talk me into publishing a perzine about medical disorders. Maybe when Hobby Lobby goes bankrupt, I’ll get a printing press on the cheap and do this.)

This paper collection, which also doubles as a dust mite collection and is one of the reasons I have to take an insufferable amount of allergy medication, also has a bunch of travel-related junk. Usually when I’m on a trip, I will grab whatever junk I see, like business cards and stickers and pamphlets and free newspapers and brochures, and shove them in my pockets or my camera bag. Then, when I get home, I will shove all of this stuff into a box, and forget about it for years. And then, when I’m looking for some tax paper for my accountant, I will waste three hours of an afternoon looking at German brochures for pathology museums in Berlin and wonder what the hell I could do with this stuff. I should start a scrapbook of it, but I don’t want to cut up the originals. I also don’t have a cricut machine, a spare room to hold scrapbooking supplies, or a vagina.

At some point, I need to scan in all of this stuff maybe, or create a tumblr of it.  What I really need to do is attach a scanner to our Roomba, so I can just throw all of the paper on the floor and have the robot vacuum cleaner automatically scan everything on the floor.  And it would need some kind of WiFi attachment to upload everything automatically.  I think even this might be too much work, though.

 

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Twenty years of e-publishing

I have been e-publishing for just a few days shy of twenty years.  Not twenty months.  Twenty years.

Back in 1989, my friend Ray started a zine.  We listened to a lot of obscure metal, thrash and death metal, and you could barely find Metallica tapes in northern Indiana back then, let alone underground music.  Ray scoured the earth for this stuff, and started writing letters to weirdos in Sweden and Germany and Japan, trying to trade tapes or score free shit, and he eventually started writing reviews and printing a little homemade magazine that he gave away at record stores and sent to record labels to get free stuff.  He eventually got me to start writing for him, too.

(Various things we did not know at the time: these “major labels” like Earache and Nuclear Blast America and Roadrunner were run out of tiny closets of offices; the people in “signed” bands like Napalm Death probably made less money than I did washing dishes in college; there was a whole universe of zines outside of the arena of death metal that was about to explode; there was a whole world outside of Indiana that was infinitely more interesting, too.)

Ray handled all of the business issues with the zine, which was great because his mom ran a business that did some mail-order stuff, and things like postage rates and bulk-ordered envelopes and offset printing quirks were totally within his wheelhouse.  And so was finding all of this unknown metal music and talking to record labels and getting people to buy ads.  I never could have started a zine like this, because I wasn’t plugged into any of this, and this was long before the days of google, where you could just put “where can I find a printer that’s not totally into jesus” or “what the fuck is media mail” in a search engine and get your results.

I have no idea what it would take to publish a real magazine, but even publishing a zine was an arduous process.  Once you actually got all of the reviews and interviews done, you had to put them in a word processing program.  I knew a little about this, but Ray was the one that actually owned a computer, and he used some weird program called GeoWorks to get all the fonts done correctly.  When you had the actual pages done, you had to go to a printer and get a thousand or two of them printed at once, which cost hundreds of dollars.  (You could photocopy, but then each issue would cost two or three times as much, and look like garbage.) Then you had to sell those, and pay postage to get them all out to people.  All told, it didn’t seem like you could really do a zine for under a couple of thousand dollars, although once you made the nut on the printing, you could use the proceeds from orders to cover the postage.  But issues that went to trades or to record labels or otherwise as promotional fodder would come out of your own pocket.  You’d never print a thousand copies and sell exactly a thousand copies.

I went back to college in Bloomington in 1991, and this major revolution in publishing was about to happen, and I didn’t realize it.  First, I spent all day fucking around on usenet news, and found some heavy metal newsgroups where I actually found other people who listened to bands like Carcass and Unleashed.  Sure, this was interspersed with a whole bunch of people who wouldn’t shut the fuck up about Guns N’ Roses or that new Metallica album Smell the Glove, but making fun of them was almost as fun as finding out about that new Entombed album before it came out.  This was as cool as writing to some freak in Denmark who knew all about the cool bands, except it didn’t cost a bunch of money in postage, and it was instantaneous.

This got me thinking: what if you did a zine where the whole thing was just a text file that you posted on usenet or emailed to people?  You could put in the latest news, maybe interview some people, review stuff, have addresses or ads for bands trying to sell tapes, and tell people to email in their news or band info.  There was no way to sell issues like this, and you couldn’t include any artwork or band logos or photos.  You also needed a computer to read it, along with a way to get email, and this was before AOL was everywhere, when a new PC cost four or five grand and a 2400-baud modem would run you a hundred more bucks. But it would be free to “publish”, and people would be able to write back right away if they liked it.

Ray came down to Bloomington in February, to sleep on the floor of my tiny apartment and hang out for a long weekend.  The band Prong was in town, and while they were not super high on our list of most extreme bands ever, but we got maybe one cool show a year in town, and tried not to squander it.  It was right after Valentine’s day, and I had been whatevering with this girl for a week or two and went straight from third base to the friend zone, so I was insanely depressed and in need of loud music and fun.  Me and Ray stayed up late every night, and talked about this zine thing, and whether it would work or not.  Late one night in one of the computer clusters, we typed something up, and I posted it online.

That was February 18, 1992.  Here is the original post.  It is somewhat horrible, far more than cringe-worthy, filled with typos and stupidity and corny fake satanism.  But it’s been there for almost twenty years.

This was insanely confusing to people at record labels.  My main goal was to get them to send me free stuff, and it was like explaining the Kindle to a geriatric.  Nobody had email then, and I tried printing out some copies and mailing them in, but that confused them even more, and defeated the purpose.  I thought about eventually doing both the electronic version and a print version, something whipped up in WordPerfect with some nice fonts and a few pictures and whatnot, and by the 4th issue did that, but I also wanted something out of a god damned Bruce Sterling cyberpunk story, a computerized mind-meld of text and music and artwork and interactivity.

There was a lot of disparate pieces of technology that weren’t linked together that offered pieces of what I envisioned. There was this thing just starting to show up called Gopher, a hypertext system that let schools and libraries publish linked documents on the internet.  It didn’t really have graphics, and only big institutions had servers running, without an easy or obvious way to publish your own info, unless you ran a university science lab somewhere, or worked at NASA.  We swapped a lot of text on the web in usenet and email, but just very unstructured stuff, with no real centralized organization.  Those of us in the know used FTP servers to look at pictures, mostly porno stills that would take hours to download and then offered blocky pixelated images.  And you could digitize music to .au files, which were gigantic, but could sound great.

Later that year, some people at CERN came out with a great improvement on gopher, that let you post pictures and sounds and let almost anyone make their own pages.  I quickly created a thing called a hyplan that played a sound clip from a Cannibal Corpse song, but didn’t envision that this would take off to the point where anyone in the world would use it to read zines online.  But of course, that’s basically what happened.

My little zine only lasted five issues.  Ray’s zine, Metal Curse, is still around today.  I didn’t make any money, although I got some free tapes and met some cool people and interviewed a couple of  decent bands.  More importantly, this put this idea in my head to write creatively, which eventually led to stories, and then to books.  And it instilled some DIY ethic in me, which made me start another zine, and then decide to publish my own book in 2000.

I have not made millions self-publishing.  (Someone with a name similar to mine has.  That’s not me.)  I think that aforementioned dishwashing gig brought in more money than all of my books combined.  The internet thing did land me a career doing technical writing, though.  I think if I added up all of my paychecks from when I started doing that in 1995 to today, it’s in the seven figures, and it gave me free health insurance and paid vacations, but also involved a lot of dumb meetings and things that make TPS reports look like a god damned Tolstoy masterpiece. But self-publishing gave me the ability to do what I wanedt, to not have to worry about changing me by changing my writing because Rumored to Exist doesn’t contain enough vampires or teenaged wizards to sell enough copies to keep a roof over my head.  It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been fun.

So here I am, 20 years down, 40,000 words into the next big book, and wondering what the next 20 will bring.

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The Curse of Ancient Writing

Something like 87 years ago, my friend Ray Miller had a zine.  A zine is like a tumblr account, except it’s on dead trees, and instead of pictures you take of yourself with a cell phone camera, it has words on it.  His zine was called Metal Curse, and it was essentially a way to get to meet bands and get free crap from record labels before it got into stores.  And in Indiana, it was a way to get things that never showed up in stores, because the absolute best music store within 50 miles of my house was a 45-minute drive away, and was only marginally better than buying CDs at Wal-Mart.  Also, at this point in time, most of my peers were extolling the virtues of an artist that largely advised us to stop and observe an occasion known as “hammertime,” and the only way you could talk to anyone interested in any music not designed in a government laboratory for sale at malls was to write a letter to some dude in Sweden or Japan, and the only way to get in touch with these people was to read a poorly-photocopied publication ordered through the mail.

In my second year of college, I went to IUSB, a commuter college that was mostly parking lot, and I hung out with Ray a lot, mostly driving around, skipping classes, and listening to thrash metal bands like Helloween and Napalm Death.  He did three issues of his zine and was starting to pick up steam with it, getting more self-produced demo tapes in the mail to review.  Back then, zines had reviews of albums or demo tapes, interviews with bands, and news updates about bands, usually a giant bulleted list of who was releasing what or where they were touring or who broke up or whatever.  But there wasn’t much else as far as content.  You couldn’t really have cool pictures, because they didn’t photocopy well, and every picture turned out looking like a black and white thermal map of Uganda taken from a plane window. Outside of NASA, digital photography didn’t exist, and even if you had a decent camera, good luck getting it into a show.  Most of the zines out there were also not well-crafted literary journals honed by intellectuals either, and sometimes the writing was funny, but 90% of the interviews out there asked the same exact ten questions.  Zines weren’t known for their in-depth editorial content.

I wasn’t a writer back then.  I helped teach a writing class in the English department, oddly enough.  But that mostly involved telling people they had to press Shift-F7 to print, and walking distressed students through the procedure involved when underlining words in Norton Textra, this horrible WordPerfect clone we used.  I studied computer science, and spent all of my free time trying to learn C and write games and whatever you did to waste time before the web was invented.  (Tetris, I think.  And downloading crap from anonymous FTP sites.)  I took one writing class, and the teaching assistant either liked my stories a lot or wanted to sleep with me; looking back at what I wrote then, it must not have been the stories, but you should have seen the glasses I used to wear back then.  But I didn’t consider myself a writer, and certainly didn’t do it in my spare time for fun.

At some point, I suggested to Ray that I should write an advice column for his zine.  I don’t know if I asked him to do it, or if I just wrote it first, but I had this idea of a fake Dear Abby sort of thing.  I think I subconsciously ripped off this idea from a free newspaper I used to read in Bloomington.  Or maybe it was because one of my parents gave me a copy of Dear Abby’s Guide to Sex for Teenagers, and I thought this was the funniest damn thing I’d ever read, and wanted to write something just as humorous.  One night I fired up that cyan-on-blue screen of WordPerfect 5.1, and cracked out a handful of fictional questions mailed in from readers.  I don’t know what inspired me to come up with the name, especially because now it takes me years to name anything, but I called the column “Dear Death.”  It probably had to do with listening to that Metallica song “The Four Horsemen” 58,000 times a week.

I gave Ray a laserprinted copy of the column, and he put it in issue #4.  At the time, he used this GEOS program instead of Windows, and did the whole zine in its word processor, then printed it out on his dot matrix printer, so that one page looked an order of magnitude better, and he rushed out and bought his first laser printer.   If you were born before 1990 and have no idea what a dot matrix printer is, I wouldn’t even recommend going to a museum and looking at one, they are such huge pieces of shit.  I spent most of my tenure as an IUSB computer consultant un-fucking these Epsons where the tractor feed wheels would get jammed, and the ribbons would gum up or get unspooled, and some deranged bored housewife type would keep jamming it worse and worse until it involved stripping the whole thing into tiny pieces and realigning every little piece.

Anyway, #4 turned out great.  I didn’t do a column for #5, but then wrote one for the next seven issues.  Luckily, those seven issues took like a decade to put out, so I had plenty of time to come up with new ideas.  I did five issues of my own zine during the timeframe of Metal Curse #6 and #7 (although mine was way shorter and had less stuff in it) and some time after #7, I started calling myself a writer and chipping away at my first book. But these columns pretty much mark the start of my writing career.

Metal Curse had 13 issues as a print zine.  Ray recently resurrected it as an online site, and has started with a lot of new reviews, plus he’s slowly bringing online the back archive of old stuff.  And part of that is the Dear Death columns, which means you can go read all of them online.  The writing is much different than what I do now, and I don’t really listen to that much death metal anymore, so it’s both embarrassing and interesting to look back at this stuff. Anyway, you can check out my columns at http://metalcurse.com/index.php/dear_death.