"I'm not trying to posture Chunklet as this truly revolutionary thing," says Henry Owings, editor and publisher of the Georgia-based zine. "There's nothing in it that hasn't been done before--it's just that we're in the vast depths of a time when rock journalism is run by humorless fucks."
Owings, a former rock critic for the Athens alt-weekly Flagpole, started Chunklet in 1996 in response to what he and several similarly disgruntled coworkers saw as the creeping spread of a soulless, industry-driven approach to music writing. The sporadically produced magazine has been taking the piss out of the indie-rock scene ever since, doing whatever it must to yank out the funny.
"You should see some of the stuff I occasionally edit out; sometimes it's criminal," says Owings. Past issues have included features on topics such as "Are Earplugs for Sissies?" and the top 100 "Assholes in Rock" (the Butthole Surfers top the list; Owings himself puts in an appearance at number 32), as well as interviews with comedians like Mr. Show's David Cross and Daily Show regular Lewis Black. The latest, number 17, is built around a feature called "Pay to Not Play," a hilariously comprehensive list of 600-odd bands the rag claims it will pay cash money to call it quits. Local supergroup Tortoise, for example, rate $2,500 per band member. Indie microstars like the Reputation merit only $10 a head.
This all would seem hopelessly cruel if Chunklet weren't so obviously having a laff. The list stacks the Vandermark 5 next to "that dude from Radish" and includes broad swipes like "any band with a number in its name." Seeing as how more than a few groups appear both in "Pay to Not Play" and in the front of the book, where they're graciously thanked for performing at various Chunklet-sponsored events, it's not a stretch to argue that the whole thing should be seen as a perverse form of scenester baptism. "If every band on the list broke up there'd be little independent music left to criticize," acknowledges Owings. "But what the fuck--the dinosaurs lost their shit, so why shouldn't Saddle Creek bands?"
More than a few of Chunklet's jokes zip over many a monkey's head, and, unsurprisingly, the notice Owings gets runs as hot-cold as he gives. The mag's turned up on both the "most loved" and "most hated" lists in the Evanston-based Zine Guide, and the letters column of the latest installment runs six pages, in teeny-weeny type. For every "The new Chunklet rips, dude," there's a note saying "I hope you grow a dick."
Elsewhere in issue 17 comedienne Janeane Garofalo stomps on comedian and zinester Andrew Earles's attempts to amuse her and comic author Neal Pollack grills amateur rock star and former Chicagoan Neal Pollack. There's also an advice column called "Ask Andrew WK," a Mr. Show tour diary, a romper-roomful of cartoons, and the obligatory page of capsule reviews, all purportedly written by a drawing named Jaded Robot whose favorite word is "whatever." The whole thing looks great, even if the clever design is suspiciously reminiscent of Stuff magazine. (An autodidactic graphic artist who learned the trade through publishing Chunklet, Owings helped design the seven-CD Charley Patton box set that won a Grammy for packaging last month.)
"We strive to cause a reaction," says Owings via E-mail. "That's all we want: We're just making people who have a great sense of humor and psychotic love for music bust a nut sack, and causing the furrowed-browed careerist trust-fund fuckos to cry like the bitch babies they are."
Owings and regular contributor Brian Teasley (aka Birdstuff from Man or Astro-man?) are currently on the road flacking the release of the "Pay to Not Play" issue. They'll hit Quimby's, 1854 W. North (773-342-0910), at 7:30 on Saturday, March 8, and the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia (773-227-4433), at 9 the same evening. The Hideout event features DJs Mary Nisi and Carrie Weston and performances by Atlanta's the Roy Owens Jr. and Teasley's new project, Humans. "We had no substantial lead time on the show," says Owings, "but I think the Chicago appearance will be fun. Chicago, if you can give cities a single consciousness, has always supported the magazine immensely."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sean Cokes.