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Rock 'n' roll's Creem Magazine is back in print and online

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Creem is coming back after 33 years. The magazine once covered all the major rock trends in the country, though it never once reported on B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. After fits and starts, Creem is returning as a digital publication, and in the fall, it will be a quarterly in print. NPR's Danny Hensel tells the story of a Motor City magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE STOOGES SONG, "1969")

DANNY HENSEL, BYLINE: Something was in the water in Detroit in 1969. Bands like the Stooges and Alice Cooper and MC5 helped rock curdle into something darker and harder.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE STOOGES SONG, "1969")

HENSEL: And Creem magazine was there to cover the scene, from garage rock to glam to punk.

JAAN UHELSZKI: I think the thing about Creem was it was really this community of outsiders.

HENSEL: Jaan Uhelszki was a reporter at Creem in its early days and now serves as editor emeritus.

UHELSZKI: I started at Creem in 1970, the same day Lester Bangs did. We both walked in that door at approximately the same time.

HENSEL: Lester Bangs was among Creem's most famous writers. Philip Seymour Hoffman played him in "Almost Famous."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALMOST FAMOUS")

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Lester Bangs) And hey, I met you. You are not cool.

PATRICK FUGIT: (As William Miller) I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn't.

HOFFMAN: (As Lester Bangs) Because we are uncool.

HENSEL: OK, maybe only in the movie. But in real life, Creem definitely was cool, like when Bangs brought his typewriter on stage to write a review of the J. Geils Band in real time. And then he smashed the typewriter. Or like when Jaan Uhelszki reported on KISS by donning the famous black-and-white makeup and playing with them. Uhelszki says that kind of high-concept journalism is what made Creem distinct.

UHELSZKI: We're very clear in our mission, which is to tell the truth, which is to show them from the inside out, to show the human aspect, to drag them down from Valhalla if we have to, to put them up in Valhalla if they deserve it.

HENSEL: Also on the staff, legends like Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau and Cameron Crowe. They covered rock worldwide, featuring Lou Reed and Led Zeppelin.

UHELSZKI: We got to meet our heroes, for better or worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF MC5 SONG, "KICK OUT THE JAMS")

HENSEL: The magazine folded in 1989 for financial reasons.

J J KRAMER: And after that, the rights changed hands a number of times. And I've spent the better part of my adult life putting those rights back together.

HENSEL: That's J.J. Kramer, the chairman of Creem. It's a title he's held for a long time.

KRAMER: My father founded Creem back in 1969. And when he passed away in 1981, he actually left Creem to me. And at the time I was 4 1/2 years old and the chairman of my own rock 'n' roll magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KICK OUT THE JAMS")

MC5: (Singing) And let me kick out the jams.

HENSEL: A couple of years back, Kramer made a well-received documentary about the magazine.

KRAMER: And that, to us, was proof of concept that people still had a real affinity for this brand and for rock 'n' roll.

HENSEL: So he set about assembling a group of writers and editors to bring Creem back to life. They plan to keep the Detroit roots intact with a weekly column reporting on the city's music scene. The magazine will operate with a subscription model. That means no advertisers, something that pleases editor emeritus Jaan Uhelszki.

UHELSZKI: Creem's always told the truth, and just damn the consequences. I mean, that was probably our biggest fights with our publishers, that we always told the truth. And he kept going, but the advertisers, but the advertisers. This time, there are no advertisers. So if we told the truth before, get ready. We're really telling the truth now.

HENSEL: That truth is coming in a glossy magazine with its gritty and grimy heart still intact. Danny Hensel, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN THE CAN")

SUZI QUATRO: (Singing) Well, you call your mama tiger, and we all know you are lying. And your boyfriend's name is eagle, and he lives up in the sky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.