Running Away With The CIRCUS #14
CIRCUS Closes / A Love Letter To CIRCUS / Epilogue
[from gawker.com; 5/18/06]
We've never really heard of CIRCUS magazine, and we suspect this is entirely our own fault because we're so inexcusably square. We're told it's a big-deal rock / metal mag, and like Rolling Stone, it's been around since the late '60s and run by the same guy the whole time.
That was the case until yesterday, when freelancers learned that it had unceremoniously shut down. In an era when rich Mort Zuckerman can't decide whether or not he's willing to sink money into Radar, this has got to be the saddest magazine closure e-mail we've ever seen:
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“To All CIRCUS Mag Contributors,
“It is with sadness and a deep sense of loss that I must inform you that I've experienced great financial loss, which includes CIRCUS Magazine.
“Over the last year, I've tried my best to hold on to CIRCUS Mag, selling all my personal possessions, including my home, pumping the money into the mag. And I've lost all.
“I've held off contacting people because of the shame and humiliation I've experienced. I'm broke. I feel like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall.
“CIRCUS Magazine is in foreclosure. Will the magazine be resurrected? I don't know. If it will appear on the newsstands again, we'll find out. Let me say this now: I appreciate and I'm grateful for your contributions all these years and wish all of my freelance contributors the best of health & success.
Sincerely, The Boss”
A Love Letter To CIRCUS: The Magazine That Made Me Dirty; [A.J. Daulerio - 8/13/10]
"The first magazine subscription I ever had was to this tawdry rock magazine, filled with sweaty images of heavy metal heroes, which completely ruined my obsession with sports.
"It was a Christmas gift from my parents. They regretted it soon after, when in January 1984, my posters of Moses Malone and Mike Schmidt were soon surrounded by crude cut-outs of a bleeding Mick Mars, an assless-chapped Chris Holmes, and George Lynch. My parents were concerned, mind you, as many parents were during those early-to-mid-'80s, that their seemingly well-adjusted 11-year-old son was being seduced by a Satanic cult of men dressed as women. But as long as I wasn't sneaking cigarettes on the way to school, my grades held up, I continued playing sports, my hair was above the collar, and I never played anything TOO DAMN LOUD, it was fine. It was a phase. They would deal.
"The phase lasted too long, however. Three years too long. Even though on subsequent Christmases they'd get me subscriptions to Sports Illustrated and Baseball Digest, there was no turning back. My room had become a shrine to these mangy rock stars with eyeliner. I even developed this meticulous way of using an unwound paper clip to remove the staples in the centerfold to keep it as pristine as possible. By that time, my tastes had moved more from Mötley Crüe over to Metallica, but the other magazines that profiled my heavy metal gods just never compared. Hit Parader always looked like it was left out in the rain. Metal Edge seemed more like Tiger Beat and had an odd affinity for bands like Rough Cutt. And Rip seemed to try too hard to be REALLY HARD.
"Even though CIRCUS had resorted to covering "pop" metal, it was still the authority in my mind. And at 13, I still had those big rock star dreams. I'd spend Friday nights in my room with my white Ibanez 440 Roadstar, surrounded by the hundreds of gritty photos, hoping and praying that, someday, I'd get to be plastered on some other teenager's wall: pouring sweat, bandanas around my wrist, making angry rock star faces because that was my angry rock star job. I even toyed with name changes: "Atomic" A.J. Dee, Ajay Jaxxon, and, laughably, A.J. DiTucci. (It seemed like a more guitar god-like Italian name.)
"In junior high, I even joined the dopey jazz band because I thought it would make me more well-rounded as a guitar player — maybe I'd one day be able to study under the tutelage of Joe Satriani. It sucked, but it was great because we'd have early morning practices on the auditorium stage. The bleachers were separated by a large partition and behind it was a homeroom where a good portion of the Aqua Netted metal chicks I had crushes on spent their mornings.
"When I finished butchering "Jumpin' At The Woodside" I knew I had a good two minutes to put on a real show for the class behind the partition as they sat down for homeroom. One time, I got through the first few bars of "Sweet Child O' Mine" and the class started cheering so loudly I heard the teacher yell at them to quiet down. It remains one of the greatest days of my life.
"I told my friends that when I turned 16, I was going to move to Los Angeles. I was going to sleep on the floor of the Troubadour on a makeshift bed of busted Jack Daniels bottles. I would be a busboy at the Whisky. I'd buy a f***ing van, man, and just go.
"This was the playbook that CIRCUS magazine taught me, since it seemed every band profile described the same arc: teenage lowlifes who longed to escape their dusty small towns for sold-out arenas. And then, one day, I'd be on the cover: "A.J. DiTucci: UNLEASHED."
"The magazine existed long before heavy metal. It began in 1966, the brainchild of rock fan the boss, who edited and published the magazine for 40 years until it shut down in 2006.
"The boss now writes mystery novels. We spoke on the phone on Wednesday, and he was touched by any and all interest in what was, essentially, his life's work. I cornily thanked him for giving me my teenage wallpaper and for teaching me what cocaine was. He seemed genuinely moved. He's trying to see if there's enough interest for a book some day. But he still misses CIRCUS. He'll always miss CIRCUS. More so than any of the thousands of wanna-be suburban metalheads whose childhoods were defined by it.
"'Sometimes you think ... you're immortal in a way,' he told me. 'It was very stupid of me to keep putting everything I had into the magazine. I had been through tough times before and things always bounced back. I always thought some semblance of stability would return.' It didn't. And the boss sold all of his property and pumped all his savings into CIRCUS only to have nothing to show for it. He says he doesn't even have very many magazines in his possession.
"'When you're doing something for the whole of your adult life - 40 years - to see it slip away, slip out of your hands and crumble into dust is very difficult... But the past is the past, you can't keep reliving it.'
"I know. Just ask A.J. DiTucci. But thank you, CIRCUS for the lessons about life — and showmanship."
By: Richard Klin
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Circus magazine: What do you fear most?
Alice Cooper: I fear Budweiser beer will go on strike.
A few years ago, my family home was sold. Emptying out one’s old bedroom is surely one of the stranger, more unsettling rites of passage. The sadness of this ritual was mitigated somewhat by my anticipation of a treasure trove of vintage pop-culture detritus: albums, 8-tracks, 45s, posters, Mad magazines, and my extensive, clandestine stash of National Lampoons. Back in junior high and high school a great deal of my time—in lieu of studying—was spent pouring over issues of Rolling Stone and Creem. Most of them, I hoped, were still extant, squirreled away in some closet or corner of my room.
I did, in fact, retrieve many issues of Rolling Stone and Creem. What I didn’t expect to find was another extensive magazine collection, that of Circus.
I read Circus faithfully. It was easily available on every newsstand and had a substantial circulation with a sizable readership equal to that of any top-tier rock magazine. Circus was helmed by one man—Gerald Rothberg—during its entire publication history. It made its debut in 1966, covered all the musical news fit to print, eventually morphed into a heavy-metal magazine, and finally expired in 2006 after an astonishing forty-year run.
Circus, though, has been curiously overlooked. Despite its mass popularity and longevity, there has been no comprehensive history of Circus’s life and times.
The magazine’s regular interviews snared most of the era’s big names in music. Patti Smith wrote for Circus, as did her bandmate Lenny Kaye. Rock critic Kurt Loder was also a contributor, as was—somewhat incongruously—the late Lance Loud of An American Family fame. The roster of contributing writers included names familiar to anyone acquainted with rock journalism. A Circus reader could look forward to music reviews penned by the venomous, unfairly neglected Ed Naha, whose entire review of an album by the German rock group Can consisted of exactly one word: Can’t. And given the era’s printing constraints, the magazine was surprisingly lush, packed with high-quality color photography.
Rock ‘n roll was truly subterranean. It is almost impossible, from today’s vantage point, to convey this. Pre-Web, pre-YouTube, pre-cable, the music existed in a sphere utterly removed from mainstream media. It was not until the mid-1970s that the New York Times deigned to add rock coverage. The music existed—with the notable exception of Dick Cavett– in the nooks and crannies of television: basically banished from a prime time still dominated by the likes of Dean Martin and consigned to the late-night programming ghetto. When Lynyrd Skynyrd suffered their horrific plane crash in 1977, the redoubtable Walter Cronkite announced the bad news by completely mispronouncing the band’s name. A national wire service ran a story on the death of southern rock star Lynyrd Skynyrd, who had perished when his plane crashed, as if Lynyrd Skynyrd was an individual musician with an eccentric, possibly foreign, name.
Rock was relegated to the margins. Listening to this music was akin to belonging to a private club. What made this a unique paradox—also unimaginable today—was that this particular private club encompassed millions of people.
Circus was the epitome of that paradox: a mass-circulation, successful periodical completely ignored by cultural cognoscenti; a precise blur. And unencumbered by editorial self-consciousness, the magazine served as an under-the-radar chronicle.
Not surprisingly, a sizable percentage of text and images were devoted to the usual suspects: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But there was also a fascinating potpourri of artists firmly anchored in cult status: Sparks, Nektar, Humble Pie, Mott the Hoople. And Circus displayed an unexpectedly eclectic, wide-ranging scope, with print devoted to Robert Fripp, the New York Dolls, jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, British bluesman John Mayall, and Flo and Eddie.
There is much about the sixties, seventies, and eighties that are beyond parody. The pages of Circus certainly have their fill. A fairly typical ad was for a T-shirt exhorting any and all to “smoke Columbian” [sic]. The magazine ran dispatches informing the readership that Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman had been “outlining plans for a full-scale medieval pageant, complete with jousting knights and fair maidens, which he hopes will be held early next year in the green English countryside at…the mythical site of Arthur’s castle.”
Yet it would be inaccurate to peg Circus as solely an exercise in lightweight kitsch. There were features on high-school violence, rock managers, and the lives of session guitarists. The magazine ran a substantive obituary of Groucho Marx. Rush frontman Geddy Lee described his parents’ ordeal during the Holocaust. Circus had, for a time, a book-review section (including, oddly enough, a write-up on Henry James’s Washington Square).
Perusing the magazine today yields an endless stream of fascinating, evocative tidbits: John Lennon, facing possible deportation, works “frantically on his new album, trying to finish it before his final weeks in America” run out. Alice Cooper attends a party at the home of the (pre-Khomeini) Iranian ambassador. Jazz drummer Billy Cobham plays the first-ever set of drums made out of recycled paper.
The most striking example of Circus’s kitchen-sink editorial policy was therapist Vincent Bryan’s long-running “Into Your Head” advice column. Teenagers poured out their hearts and problems in letters that made for stark, heavy-duty reading. “Into Your Head” transcended simple teen angst, with expressions of suicidal feelings, of being an outcast, hopelessness, fears of incipient insanity, and unbearable loneliness running in every issue.
Circus hasn’t been given its proper measure of critical gravitas. And that’s not entirely unreasonable. But the utter lack of analysis is more than a little puzzling. The music and topics Circus covered are a very accurate reading of the zeitgeist of young America. That alone is worth quite a bit.
Richard Klin’s writing has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, the Forward, Parabola, Moment, The Bloomsbury Review, online at January and Jewcy, and others. He lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = Epilogue = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
This isn’t the end of CIRCUS’ oral history. We’ll continue with the second half of it using interviews from the current staff as well as former staffers who missed telling their stories for the earlier chapters. Deadline for receiving submissions is June 1st.