Footnote or foundation? The pre-history of Touch And Go records
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Touch And Go is celebrated as one of Chicago’s most important independent record labels, its history glorified during its 25th-anniversary festival in 2006 and memorialized in the wake of last year’s surprise dissolution of the company by owner Corey Rusk. But a new book by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson offers an alternate history of the label and, more specifically, the publication that spawned it. In 1979, the two Lansing, Mich. punk fans started a small zine, covertly Xeroxed at the school where Vee was a teacher. Though early issues were seen by mere dozens (including a teenage Rusk), this month’s publication of the 576-page Touch and Go—The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83 promises to spread the T&G message further. In advance of his appearances this Saturday discussing the book at Quimby’s and playing with the Hate Police at the Abbey Pub, Vee spoke with The A.V. Club about being a zine mastermind and a label footnote.
Tesco Vee: When I started a band, I wanted to kind of go for the throat and get people’s attention, so that’s why I came up with really ridiculous titles like “Crippled Children Suck” and “One Down Three to Go,” after John Lennon was shot.
AVC: But even though the magazine features lots of humor, some negative reviews, and some rants, it’s mostly an incredibly positive publication. You guys were really excited by British indie and American hardcore records, and Touch And Go is mostly about gushing over things you love.
TV: For people who don’t like me or don’t like my humor, this book might make them look at me a little differently. Apparently I’m not just a one-dimensional poop and boner guy.
AVC: You cover Chicago in the book a little, notably The Effigies, and there’s that great letter from a teenage Jay Yuenger (of Rights Of The Accused and White Zombie) about getting beat up by T.S.O.L., but in the introduction you say the main thing you loved about Chicago was the Wax Trax record store.
TV: We would drive 220 miles every couple of months to go to Wax Trax. Walking in there was always like Christmas morning. The new-release 7-inch bin was filled with UK Subs, every color vinyl, lots of imports. And the owner Jim got to know us after a while, and he’d say, “I got something for you in the back,” and he’d come out with some rarity, like the French pressing of Joy Division. Dave’s girlfriend was living there at the time, so he’d get to have a conjugal visit while I sat there in the car and waited.
AVC: After Corey took over the label from you and moved here, Touch And Go became really associated with Chicago. The magazine and your involvement with the label have been relegated to footnote status.
TV: Sometimes less than that. I was not even mentioned in the documentary video that was played at the anniversary show. Or so I was told, I didn’t go. But Corey and I are on good terms and I’m not gong to badmouth him, I’m just not sure why I was omitted. He did call me and ask me to play at the thing, but I didn’t have a band at the time, though I probably should have gone. It was stupid that I didn’t. You can definitely see the genesis of the label when you look at the magazine, the ads for the first Necros record and the first Fix, which is selling now for $3,500 on eBay.
AVC: How would the label’s legacy have differed if you stayed involved?
TV: If I had retained it, Touch And Go wouldn’t have had the same flavor. It was Corey’s baby. He had some great bands, and he had some bands I wasn’t wild about. He didn’t want anything to do with The Meatmen’s War Of The Superbikes and Juggernaut records. They became big sellers, but Corey was not interested in them, because we were making fun of big rock by playing big rock, which didn’t fit the Touch And Go profile. Because I went to a less honest label I never got paid what I was owed, so Corey and I both lost a lot of money on that decision, but it was his decision and I respect that.
AVC: In the book, Dave viciously rips on obscure DJs and journalists that no one could have heard of outside of Lansing.
TV: His literary haymakers against the music industry were always spot-on. But we got more local than that. There was an older crowd in town that really hated us and we would just pound on the people we didn’t like in the magazine.
AVC: Just regular people, not media or people in bands?
TV: We just got a nice piece of hate mail form a local Lansing guy who had made our readers’ poll as one of the biggest drunks of 1980. He said the magazine’s not worth the paper it’s printed on, but he also thanked me for getting him off booze, over 20 years without a drink.
AVC: He got in touch with you recently?
TV: Yeah he just posted it on a website about the book. “It took assholes like you to make me realize my life was a mess, unmanageable, and out of control.”
AVC: You were changing lives!
TV: It was all about getting people’s attention. I guess sometimes it worked.