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Through a Xerox Darkly

The roots of today's blogs lie in funky photocopied zines

Just before Hurricane Ike played God's Mighty Anvil on H-Town, my wife and I visited our friends Bear and Shelli Wilder in their new family home in Kingwood. The Wilders have been a major part of Houston's Goth arts community for years, serving as fashion models, DJs, promoters of the short-lived but excellent Bone Church Club and, more recently, as amateur filmmakers with De Vil Films and Bear's own Isis House Films.

During this visit, however, Bear showed me another talent of his I was unaware of. In their move from Montrose, Bear and Shelli had unearthed a box full of poor-quality xeroxed booklets called Zillah's Lamp, a Goth music zine Bear published in the late '90s.

These days, the art of zine publishing is barely even on life support, what with the newfangled Intertubes and all. Houston's local-music needs are well met by SpaceCityRock.com, The Skyline Network and the music blogs of both the Houston Press and Houston Chronicle. But there was something about holding that stack of gaudy colored paper full of interviews of bands I barely remember and advertisements for records long gone to the discount bin.

The power of artifice, of physically touching an object, lends weight to its history and bass to its voice. "It's a physical artifact, something you can hold in your hands and keep on your coffee table and archive on your bookshelf," says Skyline's Ryan Clark. "There is permanence to it that a blog lacks."

The world of art commentary exists as much online as it does here in the third dimension, but is the Internet the true new center of the music world? With regards to the medium of critical appreciation and popular fascination of our local jukebox heroes, have we forever traded tangibility for accessibility and immediacy?

Publishing a zine is a daunting task, particularly back when Zillah's Lamp ceased production almost exactly ten years ago. Especially in the days before easy access to publishing software, or even good word processing, such things were done by hand typing and cheap xeroxing.

I myself published a weekly zine with Mina Smith supporting The Rocky Horror Picture Show around the year 2000, and it was a constant scramble to complete on time and pay to print. Space City Rocks big cheese Jeremy Hart was also almost crippled financially by the weight of publishing the zine version of what later became his Web site.

Bear, too, struggled to stay above water, convincing as many alternative stores to carry copies as possible, and trying to collect advertising fees from sources just as broke as he was (Note: Voltaire, if you're reading this, you still owe Bear $8 for ad space).

But, in a sense, reading these zines is like going to a live show for a band that you've never seen before. It requires something of an open mind, and a willingness to experience something as a whole. The human instrument in the zines is much more apparent than in blogs, which very much come from the impersonal void of cyberspace.

A Web site is a constant presence, and is never finished. It's not expected to be, whereas a zine is a concrete opus. There's something amazing about people who take appreciation into the realm of creation.

What people like Bear Wilder were trying to do was call attention to an entire slice of life — an all-reaching acknowledgment of the music and art that they loved the most, for the simple reason that sharing it made it grow. Undoubtedly, the publishers of various Web sites all over the world feel the same way, but they will forever lack artifice.

You can't dig through a box for copies of old Web pages, and no sane person digs through someone else's computer files unless they have hearts that never falter in the presence of the truly icky. The ease of Web publishing seems to devalue the DIY ethic.

To my mind, the glow of the computer screen is not as kind a light on a fan's face as that of the Xerox machine's scan. And though the content loses none of its quality and legitimacy online, its permanence is imaginary.

 
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