HEADPRESS GUIDE TO THE COUNTERCULTURE
A Sourcebook for Modern Readers
Eds. Temple Drake & David Kerekes
Review by Jerry Glover
What is the counterculture? Who’s in it? Does it hold an annual meeting? What will it do for my credit rating? These things we need to know. If I were to have a go at creating a definition I’d say that it comprised all the activities that fall down the sides of that great sofa called the Mainstream, that luxuriantly-cushioned expanse of words, music, and art warring with itself and the consuming millions to make a killing. The counterculture is doing it’s own thing right now in secrecy or obscurity, quietly, purposefully chipping away at, or leeching onto, the edges of the mainstream. It doesn’t care if you don’t understand it, although it wants to be understood. It cares less if you like or approve of it, for the counterculture is big enough to be both transgressive and reactionary. The counterculture invites you to put away the toys the governments and corporations want you to have and seek out someone else’s to play with, the endeavours of dedicated individuals who have discovered for themselves what it means to create, think, and enjoy. If your only mode is to be consuming culture you should be as fully aware as possible of just what your options are, and that is why the work of independent publishers, recording artists and filmmakers is so vitally important — so you know firstly, what riches there are to be found by making the effort to look slightly further afield than the signposts given by the broadcasts pumped into your home or your local newsagent or library, and secondly, to give you a perspective on how futile, boring, smug, and insulting much of the mainstream so-called culture actually is.
Now this isn’t to say that vast areas of the counterculture aren’t just as much a waste of good space and matter as the mainstream culture. There is just as much cloacae being put out by independent artists as there is by artists under contract — more perhaps — but at least with the former you can be pretty certain that you’re getting the pure, undiluted vision of someone who cares enough about what they’re doing to go to all the trouble it takes to create and share it with others. Keeping up with the evolution of the counterculture can also be expensive, the economics of demand and production being impossible to buck. So you see, although I believe that any artist or non-artist with cultural needs, should have a balanced diet of cultural and countercultural stimulus, it is useful to have a starting point or reference guide to the sometimes strange and often thrilling place that is eclipsed by it’s big, sweaty sister. The Headpress Guide to the Counterculture comes in here, collecting about three hundred reviews from almost a decade’s worth of the book you now hold in your hands. It is divided into six main sections: periodicals, art & graphic novels, film, music, grab bag non fiction, and fiction. And fascinating is mostly all is, veering wildly from deviant desires to obscure zines to geopolitical dissent to extreme states of mental and anti-social activity. I do question the inclusion of the odd DC comics title and the history of Hammer films. Are these books really outside the mainstream? Editors Temple Drake and David Kerekes open the door too widely on occasion but these blips do nothing to take away from the substance of the whole which doesn’t aim for comprehensiveness — that would be beyond anyone’s achieving — but rather showcases the diverse writing of its contributors. Mention should be made of Simon Collins, Anton Black, and Rik Rawling for making me laugh with their caustic ways, and for the other twenty-two watchmen and women who like some oddball gang from a Pat Mills strip blast, hack, and slash away with many choice observations and opinions. The reviews are great fun to read and before you know it ‘just one more before I put it down’ lead to me gobbling up the entire book at one sitting. This book is more than a guide to culture ‘out there’, it is culture in its own right: unfettered, no-holds-barred dispatches from the underground. Trust a Manchester publisher to be keeping the faith and adding another layer to the bulwark against the London metropolitan critical hegemony, and how refreshing it is to breathe fresh critical air well away from the stagnant ponds of that cultural nucleus.
My main complaint is that the guide is too short. At double or even triple the size (and the material is already there) it would have been extraordinary. A comparison between the Guide and Headpress back issues reveals so much that could have been added to (or replaced some of the odd inclusions.) But we are venturing into the economics of print runs, of which I know about as much as my dog does the source of its dinner, so I’ll leave it at that.
If the counterculture is to flourish it needs converts, explorers with brave hearts to guide the way to the regions that must still be charted. At fourteen pounds you may want to think about giving up a few newspapers to go towards the cost. Think of it as a tithe towards the nourishment of your cultural soul.
[Editor’s Note: The publisher would like to point out and apologise for omitting Jerry Glover from the contributor list for Guide to the Counter Culture, a fact which he modestly keeps to himself in the above review.]