Chris Buck's Nerve Questionnaire
Against All Odds
The lead singer of the local band Sturm Group went to my high school, so my friend Dave McMullan and I started to go see them play live at the Beverly Tavern. On maybe my second visit there I was waved over by Dave Rave, who saw me taking pictures. He asked me to do photos of Sturm for his fanzine Sound From The Streets. This was my first shoot with a real band, so I was pretty thrilled.
Dave struck me as mysterious and knowledgeable. He spoke quietly, almost in a mumble, which was nearly impossible to hear in a loud bar with a band playing. I kept having to ask him to repeat himself; after a while of this, he just looked at me blankly as if to suggest I must be stupid.
I shot one or two other things for his 'zine, and then when he hooked up with Nancy I had just shot Echo and the Bunnymen live (August of 1984). That's how that picture ended up on the cover of the last issue of The Eye.
What was the first story or photo you had published in Nerve? Do you feel the story or photo holds up well today?
That Ian McCulloch Eye cover is ironically one of the best Nerve covers that we ever did. It's too bad that that approach--a timely, strong photograph or illustration--didn't become the M.O. for the cover design. Instead, it soon moved, and mostly stayed with, the conventional: "the big story gets the cover." To give Dave and Nancy credit, they often did fun visual things with what they had to work with but as Nerve was an alternative free paper there was little reason not to make the covers as interesting and attractive as possible, the marketplace be damned.
Of all the stuff you did for Nerve, which are you most proud of?
For almost half of Nerve's life I was the Photo Editor, and certainly that was my greatest contribution. I made sure that we had lots of original photographs in the paper (which makes it special, if only compared to its more recent replacement, Exclaim!), and that they were well reproduced. In fact, I personally took over the preparation of the photographs for publication to bring them up to a respectable standard. I'm still proud of the general quality of the pictures, the range of looks, and their appropriateness to the subject matter. We worked with some talented photographers: Rick McGinnis, Mike Dyer, Viliam, Heather Blurton, Steve Ralph, Bruce Lam, Doug Peterson, and Candy Pauker were all regular contributors.
As a photographer, ironically, a lot of the best work that I did at this time was outside of the paper--largely because by the time someone interesting came to town to do their show we had already done our story. (Which was a mistake--we should have done photos and interviews in person and got better material. We sacrificed quality in order to promote show dates and album releases.) Interestingly though, one of the best photos I took before moving to New York was on assignment for Nerve: photographer Anton Corbijn.
The best story I wrote for Nerve was the "Butthole Breakfast" piece.
Of all the stuff you did for Nerve, which are you least proud of?
How much space can I have for this answer? I did some pretty second (and third) rate pictures for Nerve; including the first proper cover, of Fifth Column (perhaps this was fifth rate), then followed by most of what I shot for the first year and a half. It was a painful lesson in choosing assignments appropriate to my talents and interests (in other words, learning how to say "no, thank you" to photo assignments).
What articles or photos in Nerve, aside from your own, are you particularly fond of?
I gave away all of my back issues when I moved so I haven't seen much of the paper for the last twelve years. I do remember a funny and striking piece where I believe writer Phil Dellio punched one of the guys from Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
Also, there was a small news item when we found a photo of Ian Astbury of The Cult wearing a Supertramp Crime of the Century t-shirt in a Hamilton, Ontario high school yearbook.
Talk a bit about your relationship with Dave Rave, in an editorial or a personal sense (or both).
Dave was something of a mentor to me and I certainly admired his confidence and his energy. But he was also moody; embracing and encouraging one day, knocking me down hard the next.
Ditto for Nancy Lanthier.
Nancy could be very encouraging with me at the paper--especially in helping me get started to write more regularly for them. Otherwise, our relationship was friendly but professional.
What are your thoughts about Nerve magazine when you look at it now?
The one thing that stands out to me when I look at the paper now is how limited our coverage was (certainly in terms of cover subjects) of what clearly, in retrospect, was the most important music of the time: post-hardcore American rock. Yes, there were covers of The Meat Puppets and the Beastie Boys, but what about the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, the Butthole Surfers, Big Black, and Pussy Galore? Instead our covers were Iggy Pop, XTC, John Lydon and Tom Waits (and that's not even the lamest of them).
How important was Nerve to your personal growth as a writer or photographer?
My time at Nerve, and then later, Graffiti, were invaluable for training me as a professional. Also, the camaraderie and, for lack a better word, ethical foundation that comes with working with good people who work for next to no money just because they love what they are doing has been an important reference point for me in my career. I also learned how to write run on sentences.
Are you still as fond today of the music you enthused about back then? If not, what has changed?
Of the two charts that you printed of mine (from 1985 and 1986) I still listen to a lot of those artists (particularly Nick Cave and the Smiths), but I also now enjoy songs from musicians of that period that I ignored at the time, like Styx and Phil Collins.
Can you recall a particularly memorable Nerve party?
Yeah, I remember that one where Rick McGinnis paraded around with his new girlfriend whom he had stolen from me.
Anything else you care to add?
I hope that my questionnaire doesn't come off as too bitter. But if it does, fuck you too.
See Chris Buck's Nerve ballots
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