CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine

Cass Corridor Offices: Barry Kramer (Publisher), Dave Marsh (Editor), and Lester Bangs (Editor).

CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine manages to dive into the history of the magazine in a brisk but informative 75 minutes.

When I think of music-focused magazines, Rolling Stone and Billboard are among the first that come to mind.  CREEM, however, does not.  This could possibly be because of when I came of age and started listening to rock and roll.  I didn’t get into music until the mid-90s, a few years after the magazine ended its production run.  Without the internet, it meant depending on what magazines were available at bookstores and grocery stories.

The project is certainly a love affair for the Kramer family and it shows.  It follows the history of the magazine as from its beginnings in Detroit following the riots.  The magazine came into existence during an interesting time for rock music.  The genre was making chances as this underground paper was making a climb into the national spotlight.  Sadly, the deaths of both Barry Kramer and Lester Bangs most certainly played a role in its fall.  CREEM would come to an end in 1989 after 20 years in publication.  And now, this documentary comes out some fifty years after the first issue was published.

For many people, CREEM was the go-to publication to read about music.  By working with Barry Kramer’s son JJ and magazine alumna Jaan Uhelzski, director Scott Crawford is able to make a deep dive into history and share the stories.  In writing for CREEM, journalists would also form working relationships with musical artists.  Crawford is able to get some of these anecdotes shared throughout the film.

Working for a magazine isn’t without the low points.  Lester Bangs certainly had his low points.  This is a man that wrote material in hopes of losing his job.  I don’t know why anybody would try to write their way out of a job.  In any event, his work managed to include anti-Semitic comments.  Jaan Uhelzski shares how Cameron Crowe told her that Lester had died.

Barry died young at the age of 37 years old in 1981.  He left then-4 1/2 year-old son J.J. Kramer in charge as chairman of the board.  Connie Kramer, Barry’s surviving wife, served as CREEM’s president.

This documentary was selected to hold its world premiere last year during SXSW.  At the time of its premiere, the film was known as Boy Howdy! The Story of CREEM Magazine.  While the name change may be for the better, I didn’t get a single email from a publicist representing the film.  If I did, I probably would have covered this documentary last year.

Through documentary projects like this one, JJ Kramer is helping to preserve CREEM‘s history.  The brisk running time makes me wonder if there’s more to the story.  It’s fairly easy to see a project like this either working as a podcast or a oral history/biographical book.  Obviously, getting the music to translate is the toughest part of those mediums in particular.  But for keeping the memory alive, CREEM is certainly a start.

DIRECTOR:  Scott Crawford
SCREENWRITERS:  Scott Crawford and Jaan Uhelzski

Greenwich Entertainment opens CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine in theaters on August 7, 2020. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.