Rock Doc Has Local Ties
JJ Kramer was 4-years-old when he became chairman of the most dangerous rock magazine in America—not that he remembers that, or much of anything about his father, Creem Magazine publisher Barry Kramer. That was part of the allure of making the documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, which screens right now via the virtual screening platforms at both Drexel Theatre and Gateway Film Center.
Director Scott Crawford’s doc chronicles the wild ride that was the Detroit-based magazine that flipped the finger to the music establishment. Kramer, who’s lived in Bexley for a dozen years, says one big reason for making the film was to get closer to his father.
“I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to get to know of him in a way that I never had,” Kramer says, who produces the film. “He took shape in a lot of different ways. Going into this I could count my memories of my father on one hand. So between the interviews and some of the photographs that other people pulled out of their own archives and the stories and anecdotes, he became more of a real person to me. I learned about his quirks, his drive, his passion, his genius. And I learned that he was this incredibly smart person, this incredibly passionate person, and unfortunately at the end he was a pretty sick person as well. In a lot of ways it was like learning about him by drinking from the fire hose. It was a lot to digest.”
That wasn’t his only purpose, though. He wanted to spotlight the ragtag rock mag that is his father’s legacy.
“I think the legacy is this spirit of wiling something into existence,” he says. “As we said in the film, it was a group of misfits, outliers and punks that really had no business running or writing for a rock and roll magazine and yet they did. Not only did they do it, but they did it incredibly well and brought it to national prominence with a circulation second only to Rolling Stone.”
“We wanted to pay homage to everybody who touched Creem: the writers, the bands, the fans,” he says. “And to have that snapshot of what it was like in Detroit in the early 70s and that lightning in a bottle moment when music and counterculture and politics all overlapped in that special way.”
Kramer says he’d been approached previously about doing a doc on the magazine, but his goals and those of other prospective filmmakers didn’t gel. In Crawford, he found a congruent vision. The two had been introduced by longtime Creem writer Jaan Uhelszki, who also co-writes the film.
“Scott published his own music magazine called Harp in the 90s and he actually employed a lot of Creem writers,” Kramer says. “Scott shared his vision of what he wanted to do with the film and it was like we were immediately simpatico on the story that we wanted to tell. He immediately recognized that this wasn’t just the story about a static magazine. It was about the people behind it. As we say in the film, it was really about a rock band that was putting out a magazine.”
According to Kramer, the project had a pretty small budget and he and Crawford had to be pretty inventive to get it made—a fact that seemed fitting, given that the subject was a magazine that itself had no real business succeeding.
“His whole thing was that Creem was this beautifully imperfect thing and that was how we would approach the film, and I appreciated that mindset,” Kramer remembers. “His approach is very much a roll up your sleeves, DIY, boot strap, punk spirit thing and that’s what I really appreciated because we filmed this in many ways that paralleled how they got Creem off the ground.”