Writer's
BLOCK

was a zine published in various Central New Jersey towns between 1985 and 1991.

all issues sold out.  click on the links below to read online excerpts.

click here for info on caught in flux, my subsequent zine.

questions/comments:  mike at appelstein dot com.


Writer's Block #8.  December 1991.
Interview: 
Small Factory.
Features: 
International Pop Underground convention journal, Ally Sheedy poetry reading.

Poorly composed, carelessly edited, and generally ill-conceived.  A good stopping point, really.  Two articles stand up: the Small Factory interview (one of their first ever), and an account of a poetry reading Ally Sheedy did to promote her book, Yesterday I Saw The Sun.

Writer's Block #7.  March 1991.
Interviews:  DQE, Sue Garner, Courtney Love (Lois Maffeo).

Not a bad issue, though WB had fallen into a certain formula by now.  There's the obligatory K Records interview (Lois Maffeo's and Pat Maley's band, Courtney Love), a mail interview (DQE), an interview done at a show (Sue Garner after a Fish & Roses performance), record and show reviews...your basic early-90s fanzine template.  I was very much swept up in the idea of K-ish "love rock," and was perhaps trying a little too hard to fit into the naive indiepopper mold.  Not that they weren't good bands -- indeed, anyone who saw Kicking Giant, Unrest or Beat Happening in early 1991 will tell you how awe-inspiring their performances were.  There were worse bandwagons to join.  I also met my future NYC roommate and CIF cover artist thanks to this issue.

Writer's Block #6.  March 1990.
Interviews:  Barbara Manning, Scrawl, Glass Eye, Spiral Jetty, The Walkabouts.
Features:  The Go Team, contributor's poll(best of the 1980s, predictions for the 1990s)

I still can't believe the amazing interviews we got for this one, even though half the bands had split up by the time this issue hit the stands.  Barbara Manning chatted with us just before World of Pooh's last-ever show.  Spiral Jetty reflected on their career just before their own farewell (though they still get together for reunion shows every now and then).  Scrawl, my favorite band in the world at the time, hung out with us at Denny's after playing a Princeton University eating club.  Austin's Glass Eye gave us a hilarious interview, the kind where all we had to do was press "play" and let them ramble wittily.  And Chris Eckman from the Walkabouts gave the term "mail interview" a good name with his detailed, intelligent responses.  There was also a reflection on K Records collective the Go Team, including a detailed analysis of each of their 1989 singles.

Writer's Block #5.  October 1989.
Interviews:  blackgirls, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Two Nice Girls.
Features:  The Raincoats.

Having struck a nerve with last issue's Young Marble Giants article, I turned my attention to the Raincoats, another of my big Rough Trade obsessions.  I met RT founder Geoff Travis at that year's New Music Seminar, and asked him if he was still in touch with the band.  He supplied me with Ana da Silva's and Gina Birch's home addresses, so I was able to augment my article with actual quotes from both of them.  Elsewhere in this issue, there were interviews with Some Velvet Sidewalk, blackgirls and Gretchen Phillips of Two Nice Girls.

After this issue came out, there were certain people who asked me why I was doing a "nostalgia" or "retro" zine.  That was never my intent, then or now.  The way I figured it, if I was interested in whatever happened to the Raincoats or YMG, there had to be others who felt the same.  It's a lot easier to make this point in this age of the Internet, CD reissues and file sharing.  At the time, though, I was self-conscious about appearing "retro," and didn't resume writing these postpunk articles until Caught In Flux.

The cover was a nice grey cardstock, with artwork by a friend of mine from WFMU and the local music scene.  Her illustration also kicked off a new unofficial policy of "no bands on the front cover."

 

Writer's Block #4.  April 1989.
Interviews:  Blake Babies, The Mekons, Linda Smith.
Features:  Young Marble Giants, Wooden Soldiers tour diary, Michael Dukakis at Rutgers University.

Lots of changes this time around.  For one thing, WB made the jump to offset printing, thanks to a friend who worked at a printing plant.  Actually, this might be a good time to illustrate what a pain in the ass it was to lay out a small fanzine before cheap computers and scanners.  Here's what I had to do to prep WB for the printer.  Keep in mind that this procedure was more or less standard:

a) Write the entire issue on an electric typewriter with a correction ribbon.  I had only had one "font" to use.   If I made a mistake or wanted to make some editorial changes, I had to retype that entire paragraph.  If I accepted submissions, I had to type them in myself.
b) While typing, make sure to format the text in five-inch column sizes.
c) Use a photocopier to shrink these columns to three inches across.
d) Convince a friend at the college newspaper to make time to shoot halftones for each photo I intended to include.  Or leave space in the layout and have the printer do these halftones for an additional fee.
e) Spend a weekend pasting these photos and text to 11x17 sheets of graph paper.  Make sure to buy enough gluestick!
f)  Deliver these hard copies to the printer, hoping none of the layouts come apart in the process.

You kids today can just bypass this whole process through blogs.  You should consider yourselves lucky.

With this increase in production values came better editorial content.  I remember being profoundly influenced by Tim Alborn's Incite! zine, which combined thoughtful criticism with unabashed enthusiasm.  So I was doing a better job, and I had some of my Targum friends writing as well.  One of them was Elisabeth Vincentelli, whom I'd met at Rutgers a couple of months before graduating.  She had come to New Brunswick to get her master's degree in history, and immediately started writing inflammatory reviews for the Targum.  We hit it off instantly, two Beat Happening and Raincoats fans in a sea of Sub Poppers.  Nowadays she edits Time Out New York's music section, and is still one of the smartest music writers in the business.

The interviews this issue were with the Blake Babies (who played a Rutgers CISPES benefit in front of about 15 people), Linda Smith (who'd just started releasing her four-track works of genius), and the Mekons (my friends Richard and Brian did that one; they are two of the biggest Mekons fans you'll ever meet).  Paul from local band Wooden Soldiers contributed a surreal tour diary that made me wonder just how much pot they smoked across America.  But I chose to give the cover to a band that had been defunct for almost a decade.

I'd been obsessed with Young Marble Giants since age 15.  Colossal Youth struck me as a mysterious album shrouded in darkness.  Other than a few press clippings, I couldn't find any information on them whatsoever.  From time to time, I would occasionally run into similarly-obsessed YMG fans.  After meeting Alan Korn in late 1988 and hearing his stories of seeing the band at their 1980 San Francisco show (and meeting Alison Statton!  I was impressed), I decided to write my own article.  It was based on the scant information I managed to find, liberally mixed with my own commentary and testimonies from friends.  What emerged was the most ambitious story I'd written to date.  Best of all, it actually closed on an optimistic note: Alan had sent me a tape of Stuart Moxham's recent solo material, and hinted that the ex-YMG guitarist  was preparing a comeback.  Of course, when this issue finally came out, I sent copies to Rough Trade.  They forwarded the copies to the band members, and Stuart wrote me personally, thanking me for writing "the definitive article."  The rest is history.

 

Writer's Block #3.  July 1988.
Interviews:
The Pixies, Speed The Plough.

Writer's Block collapsed two years earlier, as each member of the staff gradually drifted away from the project.  In its absence, I'd been doing lots of radio shows at WRSU and WPRB, editing the music section of the Rutgers Daily Targum, and writing for a few now-forgotten zines (The Blind Armadillo, anyone?).  In the back of my mind, I always wanted to do another zine, and summer 1988 was the time.

I had taken a full-time temp job in New Brunswick's AT&T office.  Every morning I'd park in a lot unnervingly close to the downtown housing projects, enter a grey windowless building, and spend 9 hours a day doing customer service among a maze of wires and patch cords.  It felt like an underground bunker or a space station; weather didn't exist.  It was a ridiculously boring job -- I had maybe one call an hour to handle -- but it paid unbelievably well by my standards, and I had money to burn for the first time in my life.  I passed the time, in part, by writing reviews of records I'd heard and shows I'd seen.  Then I found out about a sale at the local Kinko's: 3 cents a copy, no limit.  I sprung into action, compiling some of the best articles I'd written for the Targum with the reviews I wrote at AT&T.  I brought the whole mess to Kinko's the last day of their sale, and presto!  WB existed again.

I'd learned a few things since 1986.  This time, we had reasonably intelligent interviews with name bands -- particularly the Pixies, who had just released Surfer Rosa.  And I didn't try to run it as a cooperative, fearing the bottlenecks that discouraged me the first time around.  I was now the editor: I did most of the layout, publishing, distribution, and most of the writing.  If it turned out OK, I figured, I could take all the credit; if it didn't, it was mine to improve.  No disrespect intended to Tom, Liz, Donna and Raj, of course.  Though it's been awhile since I've seen any of them, they remain some of the best friends I've ever met.

 

Blockhead.  July 1987.

There's not really much to this one.  My car, a yellow 1974 Chevy Nova, finally died that summer.  I was staying at my mom's house half an hour away from New Brunswick, virtually homebound for a week, and put a minizine together out of a fit of boredom.  It was basically a one-off: 12 half-sized pages of reviews and lists.  Not terribly interesting, which is one reason I changed the name (while cleverly referencing WB).  I printed maybe 50 copies, most of which I either traded or gave out at shows.

Writer's Block #2.  July 1986.
Interviews:  Tetes Noires, Spiral Jetty, Miracle Legion.

Having successfully published our first issue, it took another year for us to publish a sequel.  It was hard getting everyone together; Liz and Raj were busy trying to graduate college, Donna took a couple of semesters off, and Tom and I weren't seeing each other around very often.  Even so, I think our second issue showed marked improvement over the debut.  We did halfway-decent interviews with Miracle Legion, local favorites Spiral Jetty, and Tetes Noires (who sounded positively Raincoat-esque at the time, though they don't hold up so well now). Raj and Liz spent a fun weekend splattering watercolor paints on 150 front covers.  Not surprisingly, this was the last WB as a collective.  I assumed the project was over...which it was, but only for a couple of years.

Writer's Block #1. August 1985.
Interviews: 
The Cucumbers, The Graphic.
Features: 
Animation, D.U.H., Spiral Jetty.

I actually wrote an extended article about this issue for an Australian fanzine, which was never published as far as I know.  I've long since misplaced the final draft of that article.  Suffice to say that this first issue was the product of five Rutgers University college students -- Raj Das, Liz McCann, Donna Mennona, Tom Stanton, and me.  Tom and I had come up with the fanzine idea while hanging out at the college radio station.  We were big fans of The Big Takeover, Conflict, Maximum Rock and Roll and Jersey Beat, and saw no reason why we couldn't do one ourselves.  So we enlisted our friends, did interviews, wrote features, and did layout at Liz and Raj's apartment.  Tom ran off a couple hundred copies of this issue at his night job, and presto! we were small publishers.  We brought copies to local and NYC record stores, and did a few zine trades.  Like many first issues, the quality didn't quite measure up to our enthusiasm, but that wasn't really the point.  The point was hanging out with friends, recording what we liked and saw around us, and seeing the project through to completion.


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