Just a few weeks after the 50th anniversary of The Beatles and the British Invasion comes the 40th anniversary of Trouser Press, the influential rock fanzine that began as a New York-based publication focusing on British rock and developed into a veritable music brand.
“We set a standard and a style,” says Ira Robbins, who co-founded the 'zine in March, 1974 with his high school buddy and fellow Who freak Dave Schulps and the late Jeff Beck fanatic Karen Rose.
“People still refer to bands as ‘a Trouser Press band,’ which is baffling—but I know what they mean," says Robbins. "We had an aesthetic of sorts, though it was kind of blurry: We went from Carl Perkins through The Animals and The Clash and up through Hawkwind. It’s kind of hard to explain, but we stood for quality and innovation, and we see that same spirit invested now in other music critics.”
Robbins adds: “It’s nice that the ethos lives on.”
But it was called Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press when the mimeographed first issue came out.
“Dave and I had finished high school at Bronx Science,” says Robbins. “I went to Brooklyn Polytechnic to study electrical engineering, and Dave went to George Washington University in D.C. for liberal arts. We needed to find something to do and we went to hang out with a bunch of record collectors at a friend’s house in Yonkers. We weren’t really record collectors, but were interested in obscure stuff and listened to Yardbirds records and talked about The Kinks. It was 1973--not too long after the ‘60s, and we were British Invasion fans and Who fans.”
They had written for college papers and were thinking of writing about music--and had already collected rejection slips from the national rock magazine Creem. They met Rose, who had edited a newspaper at Brooklyn College, at the house in Yonkers.
“We all had a little music journalism in our blood, and riding the No. 1 train going South that fall of ’73, we decided to start a fanzine,” continues Robbins. “We’d seen Who Put the Bomp? and Rock Marketplace and Crawdaddy!, and the British equivalent, ZigZag. All were amateurish at the time--pretty much handmade. So we decided we’d start one, the idea being to be whatever Rolling Stone wasn’t.”
The marketing strategy called for cover stories and features to jibe with the New York concert schedule. So the first issue, which sold for a quarter and pictured The Who on the cover, also highlighted features on King Crimson and Rory Gallagher—both of whom had shows in town that month—along with Beatles bootlegs.
“We stood out with copies in the rain in front of the Academy of Music, where Rory Gallagher was playing with 10cc and Brian Auger and the Trinity,” says Robbins. The original Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press (“For the Rock Consumer”) name derived both from the song “Trouser Press” by eclectic Brit band Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and the initials for the legendary Brit rock TV show Top of the Pops.
“We figured there was enough interconnected logic and went with that,” says Robbins. Such name journalists as David Fricke, Bill Flanagan, Kurt Loder, John Leland, Mick Farren and Lester Bangs all contributed to Trouser Press, which ceased publication after its 10th anniversary issue [No. 96] in 1984.
“MTV had come along and was doing a better job in some ways than we were, and we weren’t all that enthusiastic with the way new wave rock was evolving,” says Robbins. “When we started, we had a very specific idea about what we wanted to write about—rather than follow what the audience wanted to read. But by the time we had Adam Ant on the cover [December, 1982] we weren’t entirely convinced that this is what we wanted to do with our lives. People were interested in Culture Club and Duran Duran and after 95 issues we were kind of squeezed out.”
In addition to the magazine, Trouser Press put out a spin-off collectors’ tabloid publication for several years, along with five books of record reviews—those now archived at the Trouser Press website.
“It’s amazing since it ended, how many people say they cared about it—which we didn’t know at the time!” says Robbins.
Meanwhile, Robbins and Schulps are still working together, now at the Premiere Networks radio syndication company. They’ll join other old ink-stained hands at the Trouser Press 40th Anniversary Celebration Sunday night at Bowery Electric.
"Forty years felt long enough for us to make a big deal about it—and not too long for us to be in our wheelchairs!” says Robbins.
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