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Footnotes to "I Sold Acid to Soul Asylum" by Rick McGinnis

1] That wasn't all I got from Nerve. Going over my stack of Nerve back issues, I find not only the name of my first real girlfriend, but also the byline of her previous boyfriend, as well as the guy she'd end up leaving me for. I suppose it's a rarity--a rock critic not merely getting laid, but ending up in a serious relationship; it's an exception, not a precedent, and even then I knew I was lucky. For this reason alone, the Nerve years are inextricable with my years with the girl in question, even though we managed to (barely) outlast the paper. Our relationship ended badly, and perhaps that's why I still wince whenever I think of Nerve. Perhaps Dave and Nancy feel the same way. Perhaps I'm just picking at an old scar.

One this has to be said, though. I never stole any girlfriend from Chris, though I probably did parade around a bit too smugly. What can I say--I was getting laid, and I was falling in love. Anyone who knew, or knows, the girl in question knows that her decision--to be with Chris or me or whomever--wasn't mine, or Chris', to make.

Okay, yeah, I know Chris was only joking. No hard feelings, eh buddy? Love ya, man.

2] I'd bought a camera around the time I dropped out of college, and in the meantime I'd discovered that I wasn't a terrible photographer. My first photos for Nerve were as bad as you'd expect--blurred and dimly lit, poorly composed and not even as good as a really inspired snapshot. To their credit, Dave and Nancy let me keep at it, and I ended up with a second "career", of sorts. Chris Buck and I became a little clique within Nerve's clique of writers, and I think we inspired each other more effectively than any two writers could have done. Photography had, in the end, become something I got consistent joy and satisfaction from, certainly compared to the increasingly disappointing business of professional pop journalism. It was sad, but also inevitable, but more about that later.

3] I can't make this statement unilaterally. Howard Druckman probably never thought he was more important than the bands--to his credit. It was Howard's "Weekend with R.E.M." piece in a 1985 issue that made me want to write for Nerve, and it was probably my consistent failure to imitate his guileless, intimate enthusiasm for the music that made me develop a voice that got more arch, otiose and self-conscious with every issue. It's no surprise, though, that Howard briefly left the paper before things fell apart, feeling a bit marginalized not only by the lack of remuneration that never bothered the "enlightened amateurs" on the masthead, but perhaps also by our increasingly insular take on the music, the way we recycled our disappointment with the bands--with the increasingly apparent failure of the "indie rock" moment--into either eclecticism and a "connoisseur's" approach (myself and, maybe, Tim) or a kind of pop fundamentalism (Phil and, probably, Scott). Of course, you'd have to ask Howard what he was really feeling--maybe he just thought Dave was cheap and we were a bunch of snots, or maybe he just needed a break. I really wouldn't know--Howard and I haven't spoken in years; one more casualty of my wild, irresponsible youth.

4] "Eric Leeds' economy of phrasing forces me to make my fifth reference to Sonny Rollins." "If there's any modern update to psychedelia, this band (Gaye Bikers on Acid) comes closest. Talk about postmodern!" "Sergiu Licu takes the cue from Bartok's gypsy-inspired melodies and immerses his playing in the almost melodramatic style we associate more with cafés than concert halls--he's playing fiddle more than violin." "When you're a child, you get your first taste of rationalization in the garden. Your parents spend hours eradicating 'weeds' and encouraging the growth of 'flowers', even if the weed blossoms as beautifully as the flower." A few quotes grabbed randomly from the last few issues of Nerve. I'm the shamefaced author of every one.

What kind of posturing weenie writes stuff like this? What was I thinking? Give that man a smoking jacket and a langourous slouch! Christ almighty.

[5] I'm not kidding. Frankly, I've always enjoyed Phil's writing much more than DeLillo's, anyway.

[6] Late one evening, I was walking along Queen Street with my girlfriend, and we ran into Dave and Nancy. "Hey man, didn't you hear? The stock market crashed. We're all doomed." I didn't read the papers, so I didn't hear, but we all laughed nervously at Dave's joke. It all went to pieces not long after that--Dave and Nancy, the Nerve, everything. That's what you get for not reading the papers.

After Nerve went away, so did most of my other writing gigs, like Grafitti magazine, swept away by the recession that followed Black Monday. I soldiered on, wrote about rock for a year or so, then stopped altogether, suddenly finding myself making a decent living as a photographer while playing guitar (badly) in a couple of bands. For a couple of years, I did a jazz column for a local weekly, writing under a pseudonym. It was fun, but when it ended I spent a year in total silence. I didn't buy a record, or turn on the stereo. I noticed the beginning of a chronic hearing loss around then, but frankly, I loved the quiet, and the feeling of complete detachment from music, a new and wonderful distance, the first time in years that I didn't need music as an emotional cue, or crutch, or release.

[7] Soul Asylum, a momentarily okay band that would became a really, really terrible one, whose sole claim to fame, today, was the lead singer's relationship with Winona Ryder. But that was years in the future. I saw them open up for Hüsker Dü at Columbia University, and came back to Toronto with their first single. An album arrived a year or so later, and for some reason Dave loved it, and they became a Nerve favorite. The band went on tour. Someone--Dave, I think--did an interview, and the band ended up with a few free days in town. They stayed with Dave and Nancy for awhile, then got a cheap hotel room a few blocks from my apartment in the gay ghetto.

We hung out. It was the first time I ever saw anyone piss in a sink. I had a wallet full of pinstripe tab acid, really good stuff, that I bought from some deadhead I used to work with at Simpsons Toytown. I sold the band half, did half a hit myself, and went off with them to see Psychic TV. We ended up back at the hotel where, between sink-pissing, the drummer had a bit of a bad trip and started screaming at me: "You're trying to freak me out! You hate me, don't you!" It was great.

It was the only time I ever "dealt drugs," though I think I burned some friends of Dave's once on some lousy purple microdots that were cut to hell with speed or PCP.

I'm going to be a father in five months.

[8] Chris' interview with Steve Albini in the August '87 issue of Nerve has Albini talking about the Big Black song "Jordan, Minnesota," about ritual child abuse in a small midwestern town. Albini was appalled and fascinated by what he assumed was a horrible crime covered up by implicated officials: "It was big news for about a week, then again six months later during the trial of the first case, but after that I never heard anything more about it."

Maybe Steve wasn't reading the papers. The "Satanic Child Abuse" phenomenon swept the US and Europe for a few years in the '80s, and got a lot of press, before disappearing from the headlines when it transpired that it was a hoax, a terrible one that put innocent people in jail and traumatized children more than the "child abuse" that was alleged to have occurred. What might have begun with a real incident of abuse was transformed into tales of a sinister cult of pedophile satanists working at daycare centres, cannibalism, flying carpets, secret tunnels, graveyard rituals and more, all across the country, all of which sounded as improbable as it was. It was encouraged and enabled by journalists eager for a juicy story and "professional investigators" who coaxed these wild stories out of children who were threatened, ironically, with being taken away from their parents if they didn't come up with something.

"Believe the children" was the battle cry of frightened parents, and that's precisely what Albini--arch-skeptic and reactionary--apparently did, full of self-righteous outrage. The fact is that we--all of us, Albini, everyone--were full of an eager, abiding morbidity, a vague sense of our own victimization, a willingness to believe the worst, just because it made "sense". It was the dominant tone of the time, especially in the "alternative" world of music and books and weekly papers where conspiracy theories and race and gender politics took the place of actual, hard-earned knowledge about politics or society or money. We had no friends, we thought, and our percption of being marginalized was a quick spur for outrage and self-righteousness. It was like we were trying to match the boomers with a sense of injured self-esteem.

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Click on a link below to read more about Nerve magazine.

  • A brief history of Nerve

  • Chris Buck: Nerve Questionnaire

  • Phil Dellio: Quality Time With Balaam & the Angel

  • Howard Druckman: Nerve Memories, 20 Years On

  • Maggie Helwig: Nerve Questionnaire

  • Helen Lee: Nerve Questionnaire

  • Rick McGinnis: I Sold Acid to Soul Asylum

  • Tim Powis: All Yesterday's Meetings

  • Tim Powis: Nerve Questionnaire

  • Scott Woods: Nerve Questionnaire

  • NerveSpeak: Quotations from the pages of Nerve.

  • Sub-articulate, Psycho-Head Babble: Tim Powis's review of White Zombie's Soul-Crusher.

  • Right Now!: Phil Dellio Locates the Secret Connection Between Mel Torme and Pussy Galore.

  • A Panoply of Nerve Covers, 1984-1988, part 1

  • A Panoply of Nerve Covers, 1984-1988, part 2

  • Images From Nerve, Part 1

  • Images From Nerve, Part 2

  • Contributor Bios