Digging the dirt on ex-zinesters
As a former resident of Waterloo in the late 1990s, I recall seeing Filler, definitely the city’s most visible zine on a monthly basis, at local bookstores or music stores. I believe I may even have sent them a submission or two in 1998. Dave Fisher, one of Filler’s creators, says he started the zine because he and his friends (who were writing for the University newspaper arts section at the time) wanted to start developing their own writing on subjects that truly interested them without the constriction of word-count or publishing mandates. Though Filler ended in the fall of 1999, the zine had an eventful run. Today Fisher believes the current dearth of zine production is a direct result of social tech trends, “My opinion on zines is that the Internet and blogging has pretty much taken over. But having said that, most of the stuff I find online are things that I am already searching for. Zines always offered the idea–and sometimes the reality–that you would discover something that was crucial to the author but that you’d otherwise have never even thought about, let alone gone searching down rabbit-holes looking for.”
The presence of zines was noticeable in Waterloo during the late ’90s as sparse literary sects through the Universities spawned a few litmags; local poets like Erina Harris launched chapbooks and some spoken word acts also appeared on the indie radar. And of course, there were the indie bands. It was “okay” says Fisher, “as far as Cancon indie rock went. It was generally restricted to small clubs like Phil’s, the Volcano, and at the university. That meant you could hang out with Sarah Harmer, Eric’s Trip, Tristan Psionic, etc. But the bigger acts, like Motorhead or the Ramon-es usually played at a massive C&W saloon at the other end of Kitchener called ‘Lulu’s’ (R.I.P.). Jane Bond was started by some very good friends and is very small, but they got some excellent acts into a tiny room. For a while, they were just about the only venue in town aside from some kids’ basements and backyards.” Event-wise, Filler remained aloof, but had pretty decent local circulation. “I never did any zine launches, because my production schedule was never firm and usually months delayed, but my connections through the zine helped me get a couple memorable American acts. They weren’t big name acts, but the shows were certainly memorable for me and my mates. I booked Smog, a Drag City act from Chicago, apparently an excellent show but I was so obliterated. I passed out in the alley behind Jane Bond and missed most of it. The Music Tapes, a very unusual act from Athens, Georgia, where their equipment and oversized props consumed half the room; and Trevor Grace, one of my feature writers, booked Momus and Kahimi Karie. A few devoted readers admitted they only subscribed to the fanzine because Trevor had written about Momus.”
Fisher recalls some of Filler’s more eccentric journalistic outings. “One interview with Dave Sim ran over 26 pages. My interview with John Peel ran 23. Trevor’s Killing Joke article ran about 13. No other outlet was going to give us that kind of freedom. Then the Internet became user-friendly, and of course nowadays people can wank on for as long as they bloody well please.”
John Peel? Dave what, how did that happen?
“The John Peel thing came about because I had been communicating with him for a few years. He was obviously a very famous person, but I was one of only a few that had been writing him regarding that World Service program on short-wave radio for a long time, prior to BBC ever going on the Internet. His was the most hated program on the World Service. It received more letters of complaint from around the globe than any other program. We used to exchange postcards and joke about it. He was a super-friendly ex-hippie. I am sure he would have given me the shirt off his back if I had asked, and always made the point of inviting me to pitch my tent in his backyard, something I wished I had taken him up on. He died too soon. His wife got a brain aneurysm and he was down in the dumps. I had suggested a phone interview a year earlier. He called me and said, yes, I need the distraction, let’s do this. I think he was starting to come to grips with his own mortality, to be quite honest. He confessed to me that he was at the point in his life where the smallest things were making him cry. It lasted over three hours, and I was lucky to get a bunch of stuff that later made it into international obituaries, presumably because I was talking about topics from his early radio career in the United States that was difficult to find elsewhere. After publishing that piece, shitloads of musicians contacted me breathlessly asking how I got him to do it. Seemed bloody simple to me–I wrote him and asked.”
As in every column no zine can truly be deleted, geographically anyway. Fisher claims Waterloo has some zine younglings puttering around the muddy streets as we speak. “Funnily enough, the zine scene in Waterloo has made a comeback and right now has probably never been bigger or better. They are popping up all over the place, and are almost always freebies and really well done.”
Do you know any names? Our readers like it when zines have names.
“The indie zines that leap to mind right now are Versus, Ctrpllr and Genxine (all three are monthly!) and a couple others that have irregular schedules that escape my memory at present. There was actually a zine fair in town a few months ago hosted at The Starlight Club, but unfortunately I was out of town.”
Some zinesters may delete parts of themselves, but they’re spirit lives on.