The Creationists

Creating Trouser Press with Ira Robbins (Part One)

February 10, 2021 Steve Waxman Season 3 Episode 10
The Creationists
Creating Trouser Press with Ira Robbins (Part One)
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating Trouser Press with Ira Robbins (Part One)
Feb 10, 2021 Season 3 Episode 10
Steve Waxman

I’ve been a music fan for most of my life but I didn’t really get into rock music until the mid seventies and the seventies were a great time to be a rock fan.  You not only had your favourite bands but you also had your favourite magazine and there were so many to choose from. There was Circus and Creem and Hit Parader and Rock Scene and Rolling Stone, of course. And, if you were a little more intellectual, you might read Crawdaddy or find an article in Mother Jones or even spend a little extra money on something from the UK like the NME. And, as you read each article, you got to know and become a fan of writers like Sylvie Simmons, David Fricke, Lisa Robinson and, of course, the late, great Lester Bangs.  These were the names of the people that turned us onto the music that became indelible in our lives.

Add to that list the name Ira Robbins who, in 1974, along with friends Dave Schulps and Karen Rose created Trouser Press as a fanzine that they sold by hand outside of concerts in New York City.  Trouser Press eventually found its way onto magazine racks and, finally, in 1978 into my hands when I saw Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick on the cover. What I found fascinating about Trouser Press was that reading the magazine always felt like the kinds of conversations me and my friends had on the weekends as we played our new favourite records for one another.

All 96 of the original issues of Trouser Press are available to reach online at trouserpress.com. The site has a great search function so that you can actually follow the life of your favourite band as well as the birth of punk, new wave and underground music. It’s as if you were there. In addition to continuing  his life as a music journalist, Ira has written album notes for a number of artists as well as two novels.  His latest book, Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is the subject of Part two of our interview.

Read the full interview transcript at imstevewaxman.com

Follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram.

Contact us at [email protected]

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant

Show Notes Transcript

I’ve been a music fan for most of my life but I didn’t really get into rock music until the mid seventies and the seventies were a great time to be a rock fan.  You not only had your favourite bands but you also had your favourite magazine and there were so many to choose from. There was Circus and Creem and Hit Parader and Rock Scene and Rolling Stone, of course. And, if you were a little more intellectual, you might read Crawdaddy or find an article in Mother Jones or even spend a little extra money on something from the UK like the NME. And, as you read each article, you got to know and become a fan of writers like Sylvie Simmons, David Fricke, Lisa Robinson and, of course, the late, great Lester Bangs.  These were the names of the people that turned us onto the music that became indelible in our lives.

Add to that list the name Ira Robbins who, in 1974, along with friends Dave Schulps and Karen Rose created Trouser Press as a fanzine that they sold by hand outside of concerts in New York City.  Trouser Press eventually found its way onto magazine racks and, finally, in 1978 into my hands when I saw Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick on the cover. What I found fascinating about Trouser Press was that reading the magazine always felt like the kinds of conversations me and my friends had on the weekends as we played our new favourite records for one another.

All 96 of the original issues of Trouser Press are available to reach online at trouserpress.com. The site has a great search function so that you can actually follow the life of your favourite band as well as the birth of punk, new wave and underground music. It’s as if you were there. In addition to continuing  his life as a music journalist, Ira has written album notes for a number of artists as well as two novels.  His latest book, Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is the subject of Part two of our interview.

Read the full interview transcript at imstevewaxman.com

Follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram.

Contact us at [email protected]

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant

I’ve been a music fan for most of my life but I didn’t really get into rock music until the mid seventies and the seventies were a great time to be a rock fan.  You not only had your favourite bands but you also had your favourite magazine and there were so many to choose from. There was Circus and Creem and Hit Parader and Rock Scene and Rolling Stone, of course. And, if you were a little more intellectual, you might read Crawdaddy or find an article in Mother Jones or even spend a little extra money on something from the UK like the NME. And, as you read each article, you got to know and become a fan of writers like Sylvie Simmons, David Fricke, Lisa Robinson and, of course, the late, great Lester Bangs.  These were the names of the people that turned us onto the music that became indelible in our lives.

Add to that list the name Ira Robbins who, in 1974, along with friends Dave Schulps and Karen Rose created Trouser Press as a fanzine that they sold by hand outside of concerts in New York City.  Trouser Press eventually found its way onto magazine racks and, finally, in 1978 into my hands when I saw Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick on the cover. What I found fascinating about Trouser Press was that reading the magazine always felt like the kinds of conversations me and my friends had on the weekends as we played our new favourite records for one another.

* * *

Steve Waxman:  I want to go back to the beginning of Trouser Presses or before the beginning. What was the conversation that started that, that you guys were having that led to Trouser Press' birth?

Ira Robbins:  There are two steps in the process. The first one was meeting Dave Schlups at the Bronx High School of Science in 1969 and discovering that we both liked the same kind of music and we both had the same sort of obsessive interest in it and kind of proselytic desire to tell people about the stuff that we liked. I don't remember ever saying, "Hey, we should become rock writers," or anything like that. But when we went off to college, he went to George Washington in DC, and I stayed in the city in New York and he and I both started writing for our college papers, kind of without really much discussion. In high school, I had sent some stuff to Cream, because we had a friend in high school who got a Sparks album review published in Creem, and we were like 16 or 17! And I was incredibly jealous. And so I thought, 'Well, crap, Christ, I could do that.' I had done some neighborhood community journalism and some political journalism before that. You know, nothing serious. But I wasn't unfamiliar with putting pen to paper. And so I sent some stuff to Creem and I got a nice rejection letter back from Lester (Bangs) and then Dave and I sort of split up into two different directions. Then he was back in the city in the winter of '73 for holidays, and some guy that somebody we knew, invited us to a guy's house in Yonkers, a guy called Frank Reda, who died, I think last year, and Frank was like a crazed Kinks fan. And he was having a record collectors hang out at his house in Yonkers and we didn't know any of these people but I guess somebody told us about it. So we went and Dave is from the Bronx and  the Bronx is just not far from Yonkers so he kind of knew his way around. I didn't. And so we went and we met this woman, Karen Rose, who had been the editor of the Brooklyn College newspaper, which is kind of a big deal. And in New York, Brooklyn College was a major campus. And back then the paper probably had a 15,000 circulation. So we got talking on the train ride back downtown and the idea of starting a magazine just came up. I mean, there were record collectors fanzines that were out. Alan Betrock, had The Rock Marketplace, Greg Shaw had Bomp! and we all kind of knew of them and read them. But we weren't really serious record collectors in any stretch of the imagination. We were more bargain bin raiders. But we had that mindset of there's a lot to know about this stuff and we want to learn more. And we literally just, with Karen on the subway ride home said, 'Hey, we should try starting our own magazine.' It wasn't like, let's start a business and spend ten years doing it. It was like, 'Hey, I bet you we could put out an issue of a fanzine. That was literally the extent of it. And then we did. So it kind of went from there.

Steve Waxman:  Did you guys have discussions about what kind of bands we're going to cover? How did the decision get made as to what it was going to be like, editorially and what was it going look like or even what it was going to be called?

Ira Robbins:  Well, okay, those are different questions. The editorial policy was pretty much who we liked. I mean, Dave and I were diehard Who fans. Dave turned me on to Roxy Music. I liked British blues. And we liked British Invasion stuff. And we liked some of the Hard Rock coming out of being into Deep Purple, that kind of thing. And Karen was a dyed in the wool Jeff Beck fanatic and a Peter Frampton fanatic. I'm not quite sure how to meld those two things and she's not around any longer to ask. So the idea was that we were just writing about the bands we liked. You can see the first issue, it's on the Trouser Press website, and it's got a list of factoids about the Who that I came up with. And I think it's got a Pretty Things article that one of us wrote, because we just had discovered them and really liked them. And it was kind of like a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But our big marketing slash editorial thought was that in order to sell the magazine, we should have it be about bands that were playing in New York. So we kind of filtered the bands that we liked with the upcoming schedule, like the Academy of Music, and that got us to Rory Gallagher, who had a show there in March of '74. And so we had an article, the first issue about Rory Gallagher. And so we sold it on the street standing in front of the Academy of Music on 14th Street for a quarter. And so that idea kept us going for a little while, maybe three or four issues. We were very conscientious about who was playing and were we interested in them enough to write an article about them. And if we did that was kind of like our marketing idea was to sell to kids going into a show. It's like, here's an article about the band you're going to see. There's kind of a rudimentary concept, but it really helped. You know, when we sold the first issue, we printed about 350 copies on a mimeograph. My dad had a mimeograph machine, and I think we sold probably 100 or 150, the first night. So,  it's kind of like this works, and I remember going home with like, a huge wad of quarters in my pocket. I mean, literally, like 100 quarters, you know. A big, heavy wad of change. So we thought if the first one does okay we'll think about what to do after that. It was just kind of like, should we do another one? Oh, yeah, for sure. Let's do another one. You know, I mean, it was very casual.

Steve Waxman:  So it wasn't planned that it was going to be bi-monthly or whatever?

Ira Robbins:  Nah, not in the slightest. I mean, we did everything incrementally. In retrospect it was interesting, because unlike a real business, that has kind of a business plan and sort of puts things into play in a very scheduled and discipline sequence, we just kind of  scratched our heads every week and said, "Well, what can we do now? Do we have enough resources to move to this level?" Our early editorial meetings were in a post office near Grand Central, because it was kind of a good meeting place for the three of us. And, so, we would get together in the post office and discuss what articles we were gonna write and stuff. It took us a long time before we got our first office. We changed printers a couple of times and that was always like an incremental step from crappy quick copy printing to proper lithography offset to saddle stitching and stuff. It was just kind of like first we had two color on the cover and then we moved to color inside then four color. So it was very much like what's the next thing we can do and that kept us moving forward for a long time.

Steve Waxman:  So, the name for the magazine, certainly at the beginning it was quite a mouthful. You know, Transoceanic Trouser Press. Did you have other names before you settled on that?

Ira Robbins:  Oh, yeah. I have a piece of paper somewhere in my files of some of the names we tried. No one ever remembered who actually proposed the name we finally went with so I can't speak to that at all. But one of them, because Karen and I were both in New York and Dave was in DC, we thought we’d call it the Row Row Express for Robins and Rose, which, that would not have been good. But David turned me on to the Bonzo Dog Band and somebody said Trouser Press. I assume it wasn't Karen that came up with Trouser Press because she didn't know the Bonzos. It was probably Dave, that what he said aboutTrouser Press, it was kind of fun. You know, there was gonna be a press, a journalism press, but with a kind of a Dada mentality. And we added the transoceanic for both clarity of our vision to be a Anglophile magazine, and to get the Top of the Pops anagram reference. Also there was a Kinks song "Top of the Pops," and we just thought having a triple entendre was pretty cool. So we were very pleased with ourselves. It was hard to lay out a magazine cover that said that on it, but we incorporated under that name, and then eventually just dropped the transoceanic, because it became really ugly on the cover. We wanted to be a little more streamlined. But I think Trouser Press wasn't necessarily a good name, either in terms of conveying to potential readers what we were and what you were about. I would go to newsstands from time to time and see us racked in between Women's Wear Daily and Glamour or something like that, because they assumed it was a fashion magazine without thinking about it. But, we kind of liked the idea that it was a distinctive name. We used to spell it on the phone all the time, because you'd say you're calling up from Trouser Press magazine and you call a printer or something, or you call an advertiser or a city agency and they're like, "What does that mean?" Because, you know, trouser press in Britain at least, is a common phrase. You know, I mean, there is a real thing. There is a real trouser press. (he gets up and pulls a wooden trouser press from behind his chair)

Steve Waxman:  You actually have one.

Ira Robbins:  I do.You know in America, it's a totally unknown concept, pretty much. It was a difficult name. Actually, about 60 issues, we tried to change it. We did a test run cover, calling the magazine, The Beat, which was a good name. I mean, it's been used by other magazines, but we didn't get a decisive A/B test that it was a better seller on the newsstand. So we just stuck with Trouser Press.

Steve Waxman:  Was it a conscious decision at the beginning to mostly be, except for Todd Rundgren, it seems, to be Anglophile?

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, it was just kind of natural. That was what we liked. And it felt like an identity because one of the motivating ideas we had was that the bands that we liked weren't being covered in the mainstream music press which, at the time, was Rolling Stone, Creem and Circus and Rock Magazine and Fusion and Crawdaddy. They were sort of unaware of what was happening in Britain. Certainly the prog rock wasn't really getting covered, which is one of the things that we embraced. And British Invasion, you know, was something that really we all agreed on and so we did articles on The Animals, Pretty Things, Kinks, Dave Clark Five, The Who, Stones, Beatles, that kind of thing. And so it was conscious, but it was natural. I mean it wasn't a marketing thing. It was, this is what we like. I've gone back and thought about this, and it's funny, because I grew up listening to folk music and blues. I mean, that's kind of my background. I was a rock and roll fan from the age of 10 but I also went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival every year and stuff like that, and I was a little bit more diverse than just being interested in what was on American Bandstand. And yet, sort of when I think about it, I really never liked American rock music, at least not until the new wave. You know, I mean sixties American rock bands. I would certainly rate The Loving Spoonful and Blues Project and Mamas and Papas and Young Rascals, but when you talk about the big bands of the late sixties, early seventies, none of them really were up my alley, I always felt much more at home with the British bands in terms of the way they presented themselves and the kind of influences that they exposed. It's kind of shameful to say it, but Cream playing American blues meant a lot more to me than an American band playing American blues.

Steve Waxman:  Well, I'm a little bit curious, and stay with me here for just a second here, the impression that I got reading the first few issues were that while you're happy to delve into the Beatles you took a little bit of a sarcastic view of bands, like the Stones and Led Zeppelin and things like that, that were already popular. That's kind of the way I read it.

Ira Robbins:  I think that's probably true. I think we always had kind of an underdog mentality. I mean, like I said, the impetus for a lot of what we did was that they weren't getting written about. I think we probably had kind of an inverse reaction to the bands that were getting written about, you know. It's kind of like they didn't need us. We always thought of ourselves as a very, well, not always, but at the beginning, we thought of ourselves as a very small voice kind of in the wilderness. Kind of sticking up for those that needed it which was, for me, at least, very much an outgrowth of my political beliefs. I was raised a red diaper, baby and so politics, you know, left wing politics was part of my life from a very young age. And that was always about sticking up for the people who didn't have a voice or equality or freedom. And so, you know, I think I transferred that, at least subliminally, to my interest in bands. I was always a lot more interested in bands that no one had ever heard of, or that nobody was writing about than I was about the big ones. But we found places for those bands. I mean, Dave's interview with Jimmy Page turned out to be one of the great achievements of Trouser Press' existence. And by the time we put the Beatles on the cover, we were kind of like, 'Well, you know, I guess we could sort of do this.' You know we put Jefferson Airplane on the cover also. And that was the same sort of not really our first choice, but what the hell, you know, it's kind of like, we've done it. We've done a lot of that, we can do a little of this.

Steve Waxman:  Well, it's interesting, because in issue 34, there's an intro from you, where you sort of talk about how the bands that you were championing before they were popular in America have now become popular, and they're not really your bag anymore.

Ira Robbins:  Right, right. Yeah, I've always, always had that kind of dog in the manger instinct about once the band that I discovered becomes popular. It's like my enthusiasm wanes a little bit. It's not a good thing. And I have fought it myself at times. But at the same time, bands change. I've given this a lot of thought. I wrote a whole article once about Be Bop Deluxe, who I discovered in England 1974. I was on a trip there, and somebody at Harvest (Records) gave me their album and when I got home, I loved it and ended up following and interviewing Bill Nelson a bunch of times and saw the band play a bunch of times and got a little friendly with them and was really enthusiastic. And then they made a record that I didn't really care for. Clearly, if you know anything about Nelson's career, you know that, over time, he was on a hugely different trajectory than what you might have guessed from a Bowie-esque glam band,  that Be Bop Deluxe started as. I mean, his solo records are entirely something else. And he just kind of moved very far away from what I had initially liked about them. I had a kind of critical crisis of l 'Can I rip a band that I really like, because they made a record that I don't like, or do I have an obligation to keep liking them and kind of wait until they get back on track?' And the conclusion I came to was 'No, I've got to say what I think.' I went through that same thing with Cheap Trick. I was an early and insanely enthusiastic booster. Then they made a record that I didn't like, which I just happened to be reviewing for Rolling Stone and we didn't talk for eight years. But I never felt bad about it. I never thought I shouldn't have done that. And then we got to be friends again. So it's all good.

Steve Waxman:  Well, it's funny you bring up tCheap Trick. I would have eventually gotten to them and will probably pretty soon anyway, but I'm going to get into right now because the first issue of Trouser Press that I ever saw, the first issue I ever bought, was the one with Rick Nielsen on the cover. I was lucky enough to hear that first record, several months before it came out because CBS had done a record launch party here in Toronto and a couple friends of mine had their own fanzine, I don't know if you know Denim Delinquent, do you remember Jymn Parrett and Dee Dack?

Ira Robbins:  No.

Steve Waxman:  Okay. Anyway, they were invited out to the party, and I was babysitting for them. They brought the album back, that white jacket that opened up and the four guys came out and they played it for me that night, and I immediately became a fan. And that first bio that was out there in the world was ridiculous. I mean, it didn't tell you anything but lies. But as a kid, I don't know what's real and what's not real and your article was the first comprehensive article that I’d seen on Cheap Trick and after reading it, I realized I'm still just as confused as I was before. 

Ira Robbins:  Well, I mean, one of the things that I learned over the years, because I got to know them really well and I spent a lot of time with them and I know, a lot of people now who go back really far with them. Like my friend Brad Elvis in Chicago saw them when they were playing bars in Wisconsin I've learned that there's a lot more to know than I ever knew and what I was writing at the time, and this is a kind of steady throb through my view of music journalism now, is the amount of factual information available in 2020 compared to the amount of factual information that was available in 1977 is just mind boggling. I wrote liner notes for the Clash box, I guess in 1980, maybe, and , no, no it must be later because we're still going.I think it probably in '86 or something like that and I had read every British weekly mention that they had ever been made about them and I thought I knew everything about them and I've since read Chris Salewicz's book about Joe Strummer and it's like, okay, I didn't know any of this. And I thought I was like, the bee's knees in terms of being the knowledgeable Clash guy, and as I'm reading his stuff, none of it, none of what I knew was like this much compared to this much. And in conjunction with that thought, I would point out to anybody listening who's not as old as I am, or maybe even as old as you are, that doing research on bands in the seventies was a real chore and a real challenge. You know, there were no sources. You couldn't look people up, there were no books. There was no internet. There were no Behind the Music VH-1 shows. All there was were magazine articles and newspaper articles and albums. And, if you went to interview somebody, you are probably getting their story for the first time other than whoever wrote the bio for the record company. So, exactly what you said about Cheap Trick, I mean, Eric Van Lustbader,  who was a staff writer at Epic and went on to become a very successful novelist, he was just told to make up some bullshit for fun because that was Cheap Trick's attitude. Their manager thought he was very cagey. They wanted them to be mysterious. But the real story turned out to be much more complicated and there's a lot more to it. I still don't know that story. And so, when I interviewed them, it was like, tell me who you are, really. I mean, we did a lot of interviews in those days, where you were doing what you now would never do in an interview, which is sort of "Tell me your biographical facts." Now it's a waste of time. It's we'll just go to fucking Wikipedia, you know? But, in those days, it was like,  "When did the band form?" And "Are there any other members?" And "How many albums have you put out? Which one? When did this one come in?" We were starting from absolute Ground Zero with most of the bands we interviewed.

Steve Waxman:  Well, I think that frankly one of the things that's really great about Trouser Press is that, because you guys are music fans, more than maybe more than journalists, well, definitely more than most journalists, I guess, that you were music fans. That you were asking the next logical question in your interviews. You know, because there wasn't a lot out there written about many of these bands, because there just wasn't a lot of journalism outside of, I guess, outside of the UK really.

Ira Robbins:  Yeah.

Steve Waxman:  And the interviews that you guys have in Trouser Press are so comprehensive. Because you, I guess, walked into those rooms as fans that didn't really know anything apart from the fact that you loved those records.

Ira Robbins:  No, we were very prepared for interviews. We read everything we could find in the British weeklies about the bands that we liked. It was like ZigZag and that was helpful  to a degree because like they would do in depth pieces. And we knew our Frame Family Trees backwards and forwards. Dave and I had done this project, this is actually another salient detail, Dave and I had done this project, that was his idea when we were in high school, where we would go to the Lincoln Center in New York. The Lincoln Center library in New York has microfilm of Melody Maker going back like 80 years. And Dave and I started a project where we would look through every issue of Melody Maker week by week, every name of every musician that we came across, we would write down what band they were in, what instrument they played and when the reference was. And so, what we were building was a genealogy. And we did it line by line by musician. So we just have a sheet of paper for L and if you saw Jack Lewis, you put Jack Lewis' name on it and then you'd see he was in The Schmagegi Band and we'd write "The Schmagegi Band, 1969" and then a month later, we might be going through another one and Jack Lewis is in another band and so then we write that down, and as a result, we had this amazing resource. I mean, it's literally like 100 sheets of notebook paper, and I still have it. And it was like the beginnings of a proper genealogy. And so we would go to interview bands and say, "Oh, you were in the John Dumber bands in the 1960s, weren't you?" And they would be flabbergasted because A, we were little American kids asking them about some British bands they might have played for a year in the Midlands, you know, and put out one album on Tetragrammaton, or something like that and we used to get this, this standard reply from people going, apocryphal but I mean, they literally said "You know more about me than I do." Because, you know, we approached them with at least the outlines of their career, which they would never have gotten from anybody else that interviewed them in America, except for their most diehard fans, and we would do this once a week with different bands. So it would be Status Quo or The Troggs. You know, we do the Pretty Things. And we were prepared, and Dave, especially. To that point, I recently retired from the radio company that Dave has worked for for a lot longer than I ever did and he's interviewed probably 5000 artists in his time there, and he's been completely prepared for every one. It's amazing. He's like the greatest rock interviewer that no one has ever heard of, other than Trouser Press readers.

Steve Waxman:  So, you have people that become recognizable names over the course of years, and I don't know where they were or what their status was in those days. I mean, Dave Frick was one, Kurt Loder's another and I'm just wondering, I mean, there's a lot of people that came through the Trouser Press who became noted writers over the years.

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, I mean, there were some that we sort of had something to do with giving them a launching pad and some that were already well established. Steven Grant became a big Marvel comic writer. Richard Gehr wrote for us, I think, or am I remembering a different part of my life? Yeah, Jim Farber did a little stuff for us. Ira Kaplan did some things for us before he was in Yo La Tango. There's a lot of them. You know? John Leland, at the New York Times now, he got his start with us. Bill Flanagan actually did his first non local, he was from New England and he did his first non regional stuff for us. And then Pete Silverton and Paul Ranbali in London both went onto jobs with the weeklies, but they both sent us unsolicited manuscripts just out of the blue. And we ran them and they became kind of our British correspondents. Although Pete had written his name at the top of his Ducks Deluxe feature that he sent us or he sent us a 101ers feature and a Ducks Deluxe thing. And we never heard of the 101ers and The Clash hadn't really happened yet so it wasn't yet kind of a background story that we felt was compelling enough. So we ran his Ducks Deluxe piece, but you couldn't read his scrawled name at the top of the piece so we ran it with an incorrect biline. We called him Pete Sylvestor. And he and I are still very good friends. And we laugh about that every once in a while.

Steve Waxman:  I'm wondering how long did it take until the record labels started recognizing and working with you guys directly?

Ira Robbins:  Well, two or three years. You know, we'd get like one thing here and there. And then we made some friends. We found some support in particular locations. I mean, there were a couple of people at Epic, Bruce Harris and Jim Charney, who thought that what we were doing was valuable. I actually found in my files recently, a letter that I wrote to Seymour Stein complaining bitterly in like the late seventies, about the lack of advertising from Sire Records that we were getting. Kind of like, 'Look, we're supporting all of your bands.' I mean, it was sort of a pathetic quid pro quo play, but it wasn't we'll do this for you if you do that for us. It was more like we did this for you, why won't you do this for us? But, we eventually started happening. We didn't have an ad salesman for a long time but we finally got Joe Weber to be our ad sales and he went on to an interesting career as an A&R man at Island. he signed Drivin N Cryin and other bands. It took a while, but eventually we started getting this weird stuff. Like, we got four color movie ads for music related movies, and things like that. So that was kind of cool. But it was always a challenge, you know? And then we reached out and got a lot of support from independent labels. They understood the value a lot more so than a major label. And so, it was hard. I mean, we never got an overwhelming amount of advertising support from the record industry, but you know, it was enough to keep going for a long time. 

Steve Waxman:  You know, it's interesting so much of the history of seventies rock music is in your head, but you put it on paper, and those of us who are into seventies rock, because that's our era can relive it through the pages of Trouser Press, especially now that everything is online. There's a lot to read in Trouser Press. You guys have done a really great job of indexing everything, so we can go straight to our favorite bands, and more often than not see their development through your eyes in the eyes of the people that wrote with you.

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, I mean, probably not as much as I would have liked. I've looked up stuff and it kind of turns out to be a passing reference of a list of six bands, and they're one of them. We never would have done this, but I wish we had been a little bit more, not organized, but more extensive in our coverage. But you know, we couldn't. I would like to make one point that you didn't exactly touch on, but it's sort of in the background for me, I get a lot of credit for Trouser Press, and I will not deny that I worked my ass off for ten years and it was my entire life for that whole time and it's been my life on and off for a lot of time since but I was by no means the primary or sole driving force of Trouser Press and the other people that were there were other people that had a huge role in the magazine. Maybe not from the beginning to the end as I did, but I always chafe a little bit at the kind of the credit that I get for this because, you know, like people say, "Well, you wrote about them?" It's like, I look it up and I didn't write about that. It's unfair to the other people to think that one person embodies the whole thing because I didn't. A lot of times I was off doing printing problems or dealing with postal regulations, you know. Things that had nothing to do with the contents of the magazine. There are always other people who had as much to do with the day to day as I did and a lot of times more. As it went on I became the publisher. I was never technically the editor, and I became the publisher and that meant keeping the ship afloat. That meant paying bills and dealing with taxes and dealing with printers and dealing with Copyright offices and things that. It was very not what you think of as you're are rock magazine publisher. I wasn't Barry Kramer (Creem Magazine publisher) hanging out with with rock stars backstage or Jann Wenner (Rolling Stone Magazine founder) for that matter. I just watched the Creem documentary the other day and that wasn't us at all. We were pretty sober. I mean, really sober in every sense of the word.

Steve Waxman:  I think that you did a pretty good job. Because, obviously, the magazine had a place for us rock fans.

Ira Robbins:  I'm very proud of what we accomplished and I am not diminishing it in the slightest. I just have learned, in years subsequent what I might have done, were I better equipped to be a magazine publisher. We could have done better. We could have had more success. We could have had more impact. We could have made more money. But we had no money to start with. Our initial investment was $35. I thought that sweat equity would get you as far as you needed to go. I didn't realize you really need a pile of money to launch a business. I thought we could just build it up a little by little, which we did. But had we had proper funding to begin with, we could have done something quite different. I mean, Spin started just as we were ending, or right after we ended and word on the street was that Bobby Guccione had gotten a million dollars from his father to start a magazine. I just felt really, very tangibly that had we had a million dollars, we would have done a lot better. But we had, you know, $1. And so we did the best we could.

Steve Waxman:  And why did it end? Was it  just  money?

Ira Robbins:  It was a bunch of things, actually. I mean, I've told this story a lot of times and I hope it's still true, but I hope the first time I told it, it was true, because I've been repeating it ever since. We were disenfranchised unintentionally, by MTV. Our idea that we were covering things that nobody else would cover, which by that time, was post punk, new Romantic era, you know, the kind of British pop of the Adam Ant school, Duran Duran, Culture Club, that kind of thing. Ultravox. We felt like we were able to provide an American audience with insight into that kind of music, because we cared about it. And then MTV came along, and all of a sudden, all we could do was write about it, and they could show and play it. We could write about that and that was our franchise. We could bring this stuff that we discovered, and share it with our readers. And then MTV came along, and it was like, they play it twice a day in prime time for kids who can now see their music, hear the records, and get a get a much bigger sense of what these bands are about. 120 Minutes and things like that. So we just felt like our unique selling point was gone. At the same time, we had gotten older. I turned 30 and the appeal of some of the music that was popular, you know, we hadn't really found anything that excited us in '82, '83, '84, the same way that it had earlier. And so we were kind of fighting our own instincts, because we could see that this was popular. I mean, we our best selling issue was the one with Adam Ant on the cover holding a Christmas box, number 69. But we didn't care. It was kind of like, do we want to write about these bands that we don't care about because it'll keep us in business? Or maybe we shouldn't be in business, you know, and so, that was kind of the growing feeling that I had, that we were sort of doing it out of obligation rather than out of joy. And so those are some of the elements and also money. And we were kind of getting to that point of like it wasn't fun to be in the band anymore. We were just getting in the van and driving around playing the shows. And it's like, what do we need to do this for? And I also thought I don't want to be poor the rest of my life. It was just hard. It was also emotionally trying. I mean, you wouldn't get paid for an ad or something like that and it ended up being this very personal thing for me, because it meant that I couldn't pay somebody who spent two days writing an article for us because some jerk in some office in Hollywood couldn't be bothered to process a purchase order and it just stopped being fun. So it was time to go. But over time the reputation of the magazine has just grown and grown and people now pat me on the back all the time for the great stuff that we did, even if we never knew at the time that we were doing it. You know, it's been fun. You know, it's been great.

* * *

All 96 of the original issues of Trouser Press are available to reach online at trouserpress.com. The site has a great search function so that you can actually follow the life of your favourite band as well as the birth of punk, new wave and underground music. It’s as if you were there. In addition to continuing  his life as a music journalist, Ira has written album notes for a number of artists as well as two novels.  His latest book, Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is the subject of Part two of our interview.