A week ago I received an email from Jack Rabid, the editor of New York’s enduring Big Takeover magazine, to say that he was London-bound. An encyclopaedic print magazine (remember them?), BT has survived for 30 years covering any music that had, in its founder’s estimation, ‘heart’. Named in tribute to the Bad Brains’ song, it started out as a music-obsessed 17-year-old’s love letter to those lost heroes of the original Loud Fast Rules scene, the Stimulators. Jack concurrently played drums in Even Worse, immortalised on the cassette-only ROIR compilation New York Thrash (fellow graduates included the pre-rap Beastie Boys and Jesse Malin’s Heart Attack as well as the Stimulators).
But you could never cite Big Takeover as a genre magazine, or not for very long anyway. Its editor latched on to the Bunnymen, Sound, Chameleons and Comsat Angels in addition to a fast-developing domestic punk scene (Rabid was a fervent advocate of Seattle’s Wipers long before Cobain began to name-check them, as well as Husker Du, the Minutemen, Minor Threat et al). But coverage also unapologetically explored treasures of the past, including exhaustive pieces with Arthur Lee, Badfinger, the Pretty Things, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Iggy Pop and more recently Ray Davies and Brian Wilson. Along the way he was one of the first writers to acknowledge the Smiths in America, ditto Radiohead and Belle & Sebastian, as well as being a fierce advocate of REM, the Replacements, Wilco and Guided By Voices, to name but several.
His output was both prolific and effusive – for those he loved. I was able to tell him about the time I read three reviews of live gigs and realised that they were all dated the same day; which was not impossible given the staging times of shows in New York in the 80s and 90s. His writing remains infectious, direct, ‘felt’, and his advocacy of bands a refreshing change from a British music press too often focused on novelty and hipdom. So while REM and Radiohead have graced BT’s cover twice each, accompanying seriously in-depth interviews, others have featured the Catherine Wheel, Idlewild and other bands whose critical stock, at least in their native countries, had long tailed off.
Typically, Jack’s stay will be accompanied by some gig-going. He’s spied a show by a new London band, of whom I am gloriously unacquainted, who are rather inconveniently playing out of town. After meeting, greeting and eating with his wife Mary and three-year-old son Jim, alongside my partner and progeny and those of Steve Drewett of the Newtown Neurotics (one of those bands Jack’s always had a soft spot for), we have a frantic dash to the dreaming spires for some dream-pop – a less pejorative American appellation for the stuff British writers once dubbed shoegaze. Jack has decided he really digs the Ex-Lovers and so it’s a bus to Oxford and an unholy nightmare getting back across London at silly o’clock in the morning for both of us.
The idea of a road trip with Jack, a man whose knowledge of music is every bit equal to his enthusiasm, is a delight, though I’d kind of rather have the Rockies or Blue Ridge Parkway as a backdrop – well, anything but the M40. The conversation more than compensates, though. Over a three-hour round trip we take in the joys and restrictions of fatherhood (less gigs, but Rabid Jnr is already programmed with musical good taste), politics, artists we have mutually interviewed who are crotchety old sods, his late father and the economics of running a print magazine in a digital age. And all of it was much more engaging than I have just made it sound. I am also chided for my non-love of the Beatles – this is now customary – and learn his current reading includes Bad Religion singer and UCLA professor Greg Graffin’s book on evolutionary biology. The new issue of BT, meanwhile, has another perennial Rabid favourite, Teenage Fanclub, on the cover. Aforementioned print economics has meant he’s had to cut the interview down to a measly nine pages.
The Ex-Lovers are very good indeed; they certainly have a bunch of 4AD records stashed away somewhere, but there’s a pleasing echo of Simon & Garfunkel in the close harmonies and they finish on a quietly intense version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. The original, of course, featured a mellifluous guitar line conjured by Jimmy Wilsey, who once played (pretty incredible) bass for San Francisco’s Avengers. The latter are another of Jack’s all-time favourites, and were among an avalanche of bands to play at the Big Takeover 30th birthday party last year (Mark Burgess of the Chameleons, For-Against, Jon Auer of the Posies and Jack’s own band, Springhouse, featured). I remind Jack of this curious historical connection, though I am 100% sure that I cribbed said knowledge from a back issue of BT in the first place.
Jack’s revelry in his new discoveries increases through the show – he is particularly taken by new single ‘Blowing Kisses’. To such an extent that, at its close, he turns to our assembled company and issues a proclamation. “Can you believe they only pressed 500 copies of this? Well,” he continues, with a mock-accusatory smile, “I’ve got mine!” And Jack is 16 again, jumping the train to Manhattan and wandering down to CBGB’s to catch the Ramones or the A7 for Bad Brains before bunking on Allen Ginsberg’s couch. Happy as a sandboy, his sense of wonder remains, well, Peel-esque.