The Beats go on
The man behind the wheel is hoping for trouble as he rolls down Sunset Boulevard with boxes of newsprint crowding the back of his white compact car. Jay Babcock, 32, is making the rounds as the editor, co-founder and driver of Arthur magazine, delivering stacks to anyone willing to take it: bookstores, cafes, salons, newsstands.
The trouble can be found within its pages, which aim to agitate and inspire in much the same way early Rolling Stone and other underground publications did in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Arthur is a bimonthly journal of contemporary culture, a gathering of words, pictures and cartoons edited from Babcock’s rented house in Atwater Village and distributed free across the country.
“A lot of it goes back to the Beats or the hippies,” he says, “without being dopey about it.”
That aesthetic has attracted the interest of several established writers and photographers, who are drawn to the magazine’s often challenging subject matter and the kind of space that is scarce elsewhere. Issue No. 1 had a cover photo by director Spike Jonze and launched a column by Byron Coley and punk icon Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.
Other contributors have included writers Douglas Rushkoff, Kristine McKenna and blues man T-Model Ford, who offers life lessons in an advice column.
Arthur’s third issue hits the street this week, with several pages dedicated to the late Joe Strummer of the Clash. The issue, which closes with a graphic 1991 image of a dead Iraqi soldier, is also celebrated tonight at Spaceland with an Arthur-sponsored concert by rock group Oneida.
Arthur publisher and co-founder Laris Kreslins, 28, handles advertising and printing from New York, leaving Babcock free to concentrate on assembling the editorial product. No one is paid, except art director W.T. Nelson, who receives a small stipend, and two commissioned ad salespeople.
“I’d love for it to stay free forever and for it to go monthly in the next year or so,” says Kreslins, who adds that 40,000 copies of each issue are distributed in major cities and college towns across the country. “I want as many people to see it as possible,” adds Kreslins, who also publishes the annual music journal Sound Collector. “So if somebody from Bloomington, Ind., writes me and says, ‘Send me a box of 100 and I’ll get it to my local coffee shops,’ I’m totally excited about that.”
BABCOCK, who earned a political science degree from UCLA, has worked in the district office of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and on the copy desk of Larry Flynt Publications. He now freelances regularly for publications that include England’s Mojo magazine and the LA Weekly. He created Arthur partly out of a writer’s yearning for a forum to explore a wider range of topics at length, from indie rock to politics, comic books to witchcraft, at a time when magazines are favoring shorter articles and becoming more obsessed with half-naked celebrities. (The name Arthur, he says, has no easy explanation, but there is a long, elliptical essay on its origin in the new issue.)
“If you like writing about rock music or the arts, it always comes from the same guys: Lester Bangs, Joan Didion, Greil Marcus or Hunter Thompson,” Babcock says. “All those guys were publishing in Rolling Stone and other places, and they’re on the bookshelves of all the editors in New York, but those editors would never allow that kind of writing or that kind of approach in a current magazine.”
Arthur’s success in gathering talent comes in part from a promise that writers will be lightly edited, and that underground artists and controversial subjects will be championed.
“I know all this stuff sounds pompous,” Babcock says. “But there is no money here. This is an activist magazine. I have a clear idea of what’s wrong with this culture and this world. This is the stuff I’m interested in, this is the work that’s gratifying to me.”
Later, at home, he’s spinning a vinyl blues disc by the Black Keys, a raw sound of roots, tension and feedback. Boxes of Arthur magazine are pushed together into a makeshift coffee table as he pages through a 1969 Rolling Stone and an article examining the ‘60s explosion of underground publications.
“Look at this dude!” Babcock is holding up the ancient magazine, pointing out a picture of some editor at a defunct underground paper, a brooding young journalist with a white man’s Afro. Babcock smiles with a mix of admiration and amusement. “These are our people!”
Arthur’s issue No. 3 release party
What: Arthur magazine’s March 2003 issue is available starting today at locations around Los Angeles, including Tower, Vinyl Fetish and Amoeba Music stores, Dutton’s Books (North Hollywood), Beyond Baroque and UCLA. The magazine holds a publication celebration concert tonight featuring Oneida, 400 Blows and Captured by Robots
When: Tonight, 9 p.m.
Where: Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles
Info: (213) 833-2843