Rock ‘n’ roll documentaries are almost always a ton of fun. Whether it focuses on a particular band or the industry itself, rock docs have a knack for capturing the same kind of intense and exhilarating energy that comes with a live show.
It turns out this sentiment applies to rock journalism as well, as the documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” is able to provide that same eclectic and energizing atmosphere.
The documentary, which opened at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center last weekend, is pretty straightforward. It showcases the rise and fall of Creem, a rock-centric magazine that was published from 1969 to 1989. The magazine found an audience by positioning itself as an edgier alternative to Rolling Stone, which they saw as a music industry establishment magazine. Creem was a magazine for true rockers, and in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, it burned bright and burned out fast.
Though the documentary is only 75 minutes in length, the amount of material packed into this film is impressive. Not only does the film provide a detailed and unabridged account of Creem’s existence, it also manages to provide many different perspectives from readers, writers and rock stars.
The film interviews pretty much anyone and everyone who was involved with Creem, whether they are publishers, editors, writers or cartoonists. It portrays Creem both as a well-oiled machine that cranked out exciting content regularly, and as a magazine that barely stayed alive as it was being run by a bunch of friends who were stoned, drunk or both throughout most of their working hours. The Creem offices seemed less like a place of work and more like a place where hippies would sit around talking about music, which was a large part of what made the magazine work so well.
The team behind Creem were painted as rock stars with all of the good and bad that comes with that.
They were celebrities that captured the attention of millions of readers across the nation, but they also struggled with addiction and their own personal demons that eventually led to both Barry Kramer and Lester Bangs, key figures of Creem, dying of accidental drug overdoses. This documentary doesn’t pull any punches in its depiction of the Creem staff’s vices. It’s brutally honest, which adds a bit of a dark undertone to the film that helps it to further its rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic.
As for the real rockstars, pretty much anyone you could think of pops up in this movie at least once. Interviewees range from the likes of Alice Cooper and Kirk Hammet to Joan Jett and Gene Simmons. Even Chad Smith, the drummer of Red Hot Chili Peppers — who notably rose to fame after Creem’s day — is present on several occasions to talk about his idolization of Creem as a kid.
This documentary isn’t the be-all and end-all of rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a blast to watch.
It’s a surprisingly in-depth, fast-paced and electrifying documentary that paints Creem as one of the most beautifully chaotic newsrooms a writer could have worked in. The documentary may be short, but similar to the magazine itself, it makes an impact and comes to a close before it overstays its welcome.