Tales From the Metalnomicon: Eric Weiss of Rumpshaker
Welcome to Tales From the Metalnomicon, a new twice-monthly column delving into the surprisingly vast world of heavy metal-tinged/inspired literature and metalhead authors…
Full disclosure: The Metalnomicon has not surveyed every hardcore fanzine in the history of hardcore fanzines. That is a task ill-suited to a single human lifespan, even one that, say, skipped the reading of the Proust/Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy canons, abandoned all but the most basic life-sustaining nourishment, and rendered asunder relations with any parent or friend who failed to see the “bigger picture” when asked for a small loan to buy the “Comin’ Correct” Fastpass necessary to jump the line at Rick Ta Life’s distro. Yet this column nonetheless feels quite confident declaring Eric Weiss’ Rumpshaker amongst the very best of these storied publications…like, ever. And why do we believe its pages (metaphorically) exhale such rarified air? Only because it is a consistently smart, funny, insightful read drawn together by one of the hands down most able, clever interviewer/writers in any arena of rock journalism! Those with less discerning tastes might label the publication schedule “irregular.” Metalnomicon prefers “long-as-it-takes gestation period” — a quality-over-quantity win as welcome as it is atypical.
In the aftermath of the recent release of the epic Rumpshaker #6 – peep the insane table of contents and order here — Metalnomicon reached out to Weiss to see if he’d be down to answer a few questions regarding his legendary ‘zine and some of the inspirations behind it. Happily, the self-described “metal kid from Queens” graciously agreed…
Tell me a little about the origins of Rumpshaker.
Rumpshaker was born out of a desire to contribute to the hardcore scene using the best tool I had at the time — my writing abilities. As a kid I took guitar lessons but truth be told I no patience for it. I couldn’t play Metallica and Slayer songs in the first week so I got frustrated and quit. When I got immersed in the music and politics of hardcore as a teenager writing and interviewing seemed like a natural way for me to contribute. Plus, I’d always been drawn to underground press. I’d read anything about pretty much any subculture, whether I cared much about it or not — as long as the author is passionate about the subject I’ll read it.
Were there any publications you saw as touchstones for what you wanted to accomplish?
At the time, it was inspired by other hardcore ‘zines of the time. When Rumpshaker started in the nineties there were a lot of passionate, smart people doing really interesting ‘zines focused around hardcore punk. People like Patrick West from Change Zine, Kate H. from Lisa Lionheart, Norman Brannon from Antimatter, Tobias from Eventide, Jessica Hopper from Hit It Or Quit It, Mike Schade from Hodgepodge, and tons more were contemporaries and people that made me want to come out with quality material.
Was there any particular void you hoped to fill?
From the start I wanted to focus on the quality of the interview. I wanted to ask questions no one else was asking, or at least ask them in a new way. At first, I didn’t really succeed. I was always after a unique perspective and I think I really found that when I came up with the idea of Doing It For The Kids, which is interviews with musicians and their mothers. I’ve interviewed everyone from Ian MacKaye to Chuck D to Ray Cappo to Walter Schreifels to Dan Yemin to Rick from 25 Ta Life along with their mothers. Even in the world of underground music, where we are all supposed to be equal, there are still heroes and icons and by speaking to someone’s mother it’s a good way to get past all that to get stories and insights you couldn’t get anywhere else. Plus, I have a great relationship with my mom, so it was also sort of done to pay her respects for being so awesome.
How has the process — and your perception of that process — changed from the beginning to present?
Honestly, it hasn’t changed a ton. Rumpshaker has always been a labor of love, a passion, and something I do only when I feel inspired to do one. This has led to what I think is quality, but definitely not quantity. After all, there have only been six issues — though the last two have been 188 pages and 144 pages, respectively — since 1993! I think throughout the years my writing has gotten stronger, my interviews have gotten a lot more in depth and the layout has become something I don’t cringe at when I look back on. However, the love for hardcore punk, the politics behind it, and healthy dose of humor is hopefully still present in each page. Hardcore punk is more than music and I hope Rumpshaker embodies that simply by existing as a ‘zine in 2013 as well as by covering music in a unique way.
Care to share any songs that inspired you to start the zine or were in regular rotation during writing/production?
Hardcore punk spoke to me as a kid, and now, well into adulthood it still does. Hell, even as a teenager I had a feeling I might be a lifer. So, here are a few recollections on the music that moved me to start Rumpshaker and still keeps me writing it today.
I remember seeing Sick of it All at a CBGB matinee in the late eighties and I felt my life literally changing as I watched the mayhem they induced. I was a metalhead discovering hardcore and Sick of it All, with politically tinged angry blasts like “Injustice System”…Well, they just made sense to me. Sure, I dug metal’s Dungeons & Dragons fantasy lyrics but at my core I was a pissed off kid from a blue collar neighborhood in Queens. Just like the guys in Sick of it All. And hey, none of my friends played D & D anyway. Too corny.
Sick of it All have been featured in Rumpshaker three times. When I first interviewed them their vocalist Lou Koller invited me to come talk at his house. And, as much as I understood that we were all supposed to be equal in hardcore I have to nerdily admit that going to Lou from Sick of it All’s place was pretty exciting. I thought it would be a mecca of NYHC but as memory serves it was a pretty standard Queens apartment. Still, him respecting me enough to let me through the front door meant a lot. (In retrospect I’d bet he was just too lazy to go out.)
Recently, a Sick of it All retrospective was in Rumpshaker #6. I celebrate their entire catalog, but I can’t lie, Blood, Sweat and No Tears is still my go to record when I need a fistful of inspiration that only NYHC can provide.
Putting together the last issue of Rumpshaker I listened to a lot of Public Enemy. Now, I always listen to a lot of PE, but they were in some heavy rotation during editing. Why? Admittedly, the fact that I pulled off a great interview with Chuck D and his mother helped the cause. Also, Chuck telling me the reason he agreed to the interview was because he wanted to support an independent magazine only made me respect and admire the man more so than I already did. And, no joke, throughout the interview the legendary and controversial hip hop icon called his beloved mother “Mommy.” So awesome. Chuck D is the man.
[Photo by Pat Libby. Caption, as relayed by Weiss: Here’s a photo of a recent Rumpshaker presentation/reading I did at Gilman Street. This is me explaining how I always wanted to be a punk so for Halloween 1984 my mom put a whole jar of Vaseline in my hair to punk me up.]
FACT: Reign In Blood is the greatest record ever recorded, of any genre. Plus, it’s good manic writing music, and has been a big part of every Rumpshaker. Actually, in the nineties when every hardcore band was ripping off Slayer riffs I got into the fray by asking, “Who would win in a knife fight, God or Slayer?” For issue three I got to interview Kerry King so of course I asked him the question. His response? “Well there’d be no fight ‘cuz I don’t believe in God so we’d just be sitting there fucking ourselves.” Um, yeah. Fuckin’ Slayer!