Maggie Helwig's Nerve Questionnaire
When did you first hear about Nerve magazine?
I don't remember exactly; I started picking it up sometime early in 1987 I think.
What were your initial impressions?
That I wanted to write for it.
How did you first become involved in Nerve and/or first meet Dave or Nancy?
I was friends with Bob Wiseman, and he suggested that I write a review of an experimental jazz piano performance that he was part of, in the spring of 87. My main tactic for ingratiating myself with people is to be very helpful with tedious work; so when I dropped my review off, I volunteered to type it in, and to type in whatever other stories were around as well. Within a few months I was typing in most of the copy in most issues, which is how I managed to get promoted to "editorial assistant" from August '87 on (or sometimes "assistant editor" depending on Dave's mood).
I am, to be honest, a bit of a dilettante about music, so I mostly tended to write oddball little reviews of oddball little items; but I can type cop quickly and accurately for many hours at a time.
What was the first story or photo you had published in Nerve? Do you feel the story or photo holds up well today?
June 1987, review of Life After Changes Contemporary Piano Series. I find it embarrassing now, I think it's affected and show-offy.
Of all the stuff you did for Nerve, which are you most proud of?
Of all the stuff you did for Nerve, which are you least proud of?
Almost anything where I wasn't being funny. Me trying to write seriously about music was an appalling spectacle for the most part, because I really didn't know what I was doing.
What articles or photos in Nerve, aside from your own, are you particularly fond of?
I always liked Dave's writing--almost all of his articles are still worth reading. He had a good literary style; I wish he had written some of the fiction he talked about writing. Powis and Perlich both had some good pieces, as did Rick McGinnis in his over-the-top way. Mike Henry's interview with Killdozer always makes me think of "The Waste Land", though I am sure that wasn't deliberate.
Chris Buck's photos have always been impressive.
Talk a bit about your relationship with Dave Rave, in an editorial or a personal sense (or both).
Dave and I had a kind of intense but narrow relationship. Because I was the main copy-typist, I spent many late-night hours in the office with him during the time that the magazine was actually in production. Often I was the only other person there, and we talked about music, writing, books, his relationship with Nancy, my problems at the Varsity (where I also worked as a typesetter) and in the peace movement, etc. But outside of production week, we rarely saw each other. In some ways I think we weren't quite sure how to relate to each other, though we may have wanted to be better friends than we were.
We kept in touch for a while after the Nerve stopped publishing, but eventually lost track of each other.
Ditto for Nancy Lanthier.
I didn't know Nancy well. I started working at the Nerve just before their rather harrowing and drawn-out break-up, so she wasn't around the magazine very much while I was there.
What are your thoughts about Nerve magazine when you look at it now?
Funny, smart, culturally literate, part of a significant subcultural moment in Toronto; an important magazine in a number of ways. I'm proud to have worked there, in my marginal capacity.
How important was Nerve to your personal growth as a writer or photographer?
It was not really central to my development as a writer, just because it wasn't the kind of writing I mostly do (I write poetry and fiction mostly). But it was probably of some importance to my development as a person, in ways that are hard to define. I did once write a draft of a novel which was partly based on my experiences at the Nerve, but it wasn't very good and was never published. But one of these days I may pull it out and rework it.
In some ways, the Nerve is most pertinent to my career in alternative publishing. I've always been interested in publishing--at the same time that I was working at the Nerve I was starting up a micropress, publishing poetry chapbooks, and later a literary zine; I've also got a longstanding connection with the Toronto Small Press Group, which was founded around this time. So typing, copy-editing, layout and so forth are actually significant in my life, and the Nerve was one of my important learning experiences in publishing.
Incidentally, around the time that the Nerve folded for good, Dave and I produced a small, very limited circulation, booklet of The Best of the Nerve, which I still rather like. It didn't sell well. I still have lots of copies in my closet. But I'm pleased that we did it.
Are you still as fond today of the music you enthused about back then? If not, what has changed?
When I look back at what I was reviewing in Nerve, I am amazed by the crappiness of the music I chose to write about--although this was in part deliberate, it was partly also because I had crappy taste in music. But I still do think the Dead Kennedys were pretty great.
Can you recall a particularly memorable Nerve party?
I didn't so much go to parties as just stay in the office typing. (Yes, I was probably just about as pathetic as that sounds, but I'm less pathetic now, or so I like to think in any case).
[The first photo was taken by Bob Wiseman in front of a Ryder truck, 1987. The second photo is of Maggie being arrested at an anti-G7 protest in 1988 and was taken by David Barker Maltby.]
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