Preface to Tract Record: NOT BORED! 1983 to the present

NOT BORED! was first published in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in July 1983. At the time I was 24 years old; I'd finally graduated from college, but wasn't really using my degree. I was working full-time as a cook in a restaurant and writing a weekly column as well as freelancing articles on pop music for The Ann Arbor News. I was also doing a lot of reading: every article on rock 'n' roll in The Village Voice and Musician; anything by Greil Marcus or Lester Bangs, my favorite rock critics; all of Tom Wolfe's books, early Susan Sontag, and eventually, through her, Roland Barthes and contemporary French theory. I was beginning to have trouble getting my increasingly informed and self-conscious stuff by my new editor. It all came to a head, so to speak, when I saw David Bowie for the first time, in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, in the summer of 1983. (You'd think I'd remember the exact date, but I don't.)

Bowie was out on yet another "comeback" tour; his new touring show was, yet again, "his best since Ziggy Stardust." Dressed in a white suit, white shoes and a blue shirt -- his hair a natural-seeming blond -- the man I had listened to, learned from and adored for a decade emerged from a tall clear tube and sang "Space Oddity," his first major hit single. As I remember it today, when the tune was done, Bowie took off his white jacket, raised his acoustic guitar and for a few spectacular, flashbulb-popping moments, rested his head on it -- striking the exact pose and wearing the same colors as Picasso's Man with a Guitar! It was an absolutely brilliant touch, easily managing to suggest where Bowie's music would fit in to the history of modern art, or, if you please, where modern art (specifically painting) would fit in to the spiraling history of Bowie's musical development. But what really struck me was the possibility that I might have been the only one attending the concert that night who caught the allusion.

There were, of course, several more truly remarkable moments in Bowie's show. It was easily the best rock 'n' roll show I'd ever seen. But it was also terribly alienating. By the end of the show, I was alarmed by the possibility that a great majority of the audience was completely missing the overall drift of Bowie's allusions and quotations, not to mention the individual allusions and quotations themselves. As was clearly demonstrated by the staging of "Modern Love," the last song in the show and Bowie's current hit single, the overall drift of Bowie's contrapuntal performance was towards fascism. "Modern Love" is both an ironic commentary on the institution of marriage and an opportunity for Bowie to explain the nature of the romance between himself and his fans: the line "It's not really work/It's just the power to charm" is designed to fit both marriage and pop superstardom. To sing this song, Bowie arranged his musicians and backup singers (all of whom were men) to form a huge pyramid, with Bowie himself at the very top of the hierarchy. When it came around, the line "Modern love/Tests my faith in God and Man" chilled me to the bone, for I caught a glimpse of a society that was strong and faithful precisely because there were no women in it at all.

I made the perfectly understandable, indeed, perfectly logical decision to try to express what I'd seen and experienced at the Bowie concert in a review to be published in The Ann Arbor News. But the article wasn't rejected; it was published over the strenuous objections of my new editor. I'd successfully appealed "my case" for publishing it to my old editor. When the article drew letters to the editor that protested its presumption to speak about Bowie's attitudes towards women and politics in a mere concert review, I began to see that it was time for me to move on. Eventually, my movements would carry me out of Ann Arbor and into Buffalo, New York, where I started going to graduate school in January 1985 to study American Literature. But my first movement was away from daily newspapers such as The Ann Arbor News, despite the fact that they had a certain immediacy: what I wrote at 2 in the morning was published at 2 in the afternoon of the very same day.

Every July, various parties in Ann Arbor come together to present the "Ann Arbor Art Fair," a several-day-long event in which several of the town's most important streets are turned over to pedestrians and to the artists, craftspeople and vendors who would sell them their products. I decided that at this particular "Art Fair" (as a present to myself) I would give away as many copies as I could of "my new magazine," which was actually an excuse or opportunity for me to write about and make known exactly what was troubling me about David Bowie and the pop psychology of fascism. In other words, the article "David Bowie: Friend or Foe?" came first and the magazine it was eventually published in came second. After I'd surrounded the article with various unrelated bits (an article on Ann Arbor skate-kids that was rejected by The Ann Arbor Observer; a short story; a couple of adverts for things done by friends, etc.), there was "enough" to be a magazine of some kind. In total, about 100 copies of this photocopied magazine were given away free.

Perhaps the easiest part of putting out the first issue was coming up with a name for the magazine. As both a fan and a rock critic, I had been struck by the accuracy of a description I came across in the journalism of Tom Wolfe, who referred to the look, style and attitude of musicians such as David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and Elvis, as "gloriously bored." These musicians were so rebellious that they were bored with the very idea of it; they were such connoisseurs of the exotic that they could find a perverse pleasure in their own boredom. In a word, I wanted musicians who were not bored. Personally, I wanted to be not bored, to be excited by the idea of rebellion or even rebelliousness, to be naive enough to hate being bored and all of its subtleties, nuances and reputed compensations. And so that was the title of the first issue of my little photocopied vanity magazine: NOT BORED!

It is somehow appropriate, given the fact that the establishment of the magazine came after the creation of the centerpiece of the first issue, that it wasn't until the second issue of NOT BORED! that I realized what the purpose of the magazine was, once the Bowie piece had been published. Sometime after the publication of NB!#1, two related things caught my attention: 1) the importance of the Sex Pistols, a punk band I loved, to Greil Marcus's Village Voice book review of The Situationist International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1982); and 2) the importance of the situationist concept of detournement to a local anti-military research group whose style I very much admired. I purchased and began reading (devouring would be a better word) everything by the situationists that was available in English: the Anthology, Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle (originally 1967; translated in 1983) and Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life (originally 1967; translated in 1983). By the second issue, which came out in January 1984, NOT BORED! had become a "situationist fanzine." It has remained one ever since.

What does this mean, "a situationist fanzine"? It means that the magazine has been devoted to reviewing recently published or recently translated texts -- as well as public exhibitions of artistic works -- by or about the (ex-)situationists. A handful of obscure situationist texts have also been reprinted or translated and published for the first time in its pages. NOT BORED! is a "situationist fanzine" to the extent that the content of the magazine has been concerned with relatively sophisticated topics (such as the nature of capitalist society, the value of good works of popular art, and the role of the intellectual in modern America), while the form of the magazine has remained amateurish, rudimentary, even crude. The tension or disparity between the sophistication of the content and the crudity of the form used to express that content can obviously be quite productive. It can, for example, suggest "Anyone could do something like this" as well as "More people should do something like this." The disparity between the development of the content and that of the form can also call attention to the fact that, in most if not all "mainstream" publications, the disparity works the other way: the form of these publications is relatively sophisticated, even impressive, while their content is deeply impoverished. And so the "structural" reversal at work in NOT BORED! is thus a kind of critique-in-acts of what is possible in the spectacularly overdeveloped publishing "world," of what could be possible in this "world" if it wasn't organized as it currently is.

As "a situationist fanzine" -- perhaps that should be, So as to be "a situationist fanzine" -- NOT BORED! has also included in every issue since the second one a section that deals with what is really happening in the town or city in which I happen to live. While I was living in Ann Arbor, that section was entitled "What's Happening in Ann Arbor?" After I moved to Buffalo, its title became "What's Happening in Buffalo?" What I have meant by these questions is, "What am I, as the principal writer/editor/publisher of a situationist zine, actually doing in the real world to make things less boring?" And so each issue has contained descriptions and self-evaluations of such actions or projects as graffiti campaigns, flyers and pamphlets that have been given out, posters that have been put up, meetings that have been held, experiments that have been made, adventures that have been lived, and battles that have been fought (and won or lost). As a result, NOT BORED! has been and continues to be a very personal magazine: it is my diary as I navigate my way through space, time, ideas, and states of mind. And yet NOT BORED! has never been what Factsheet Five calls a "personal zine": it has included the work of other writers and artists (mostly friends of mine); furthermore, one can find the magazine interesting without knowing me personally or even knowing my identity (my name and my "real" job). Indeed, ever since 1987 or so, the magazine has been published anonymously.

But I get ahead of myself. In the summer of 1984, I noticed increasingly sophisticated references to the situationists in music-related publications (especially those that specialized in punk and hardcore). It was clear that the publication of The Situationist Anthology and the resulting discussions of the situationists' influence on and importance to the Sex Pistols had turned a lot of people on. And so I took upon myself the burden of researching and writing "An Intro to the S.I." that would be suitable for a 1980s "punk audience," in particular, for publication in the November 1984 issue punk fanzine Maximum Rock'n'Roll. To fully master what I'd been teaching myself, I had to try to teach it to others. Only then would I be able to move on to producing "authentic" situationist theories and actions of and on my own. Because the writing, publication of and responses to "An Intro to the S.I." roughly coincided with my December 1984 move from Ann Arbor (and my "job" as a freelancer) to Buffalo (and my graduate-level studies), the history of NOT BORED! contains at least two periods: the Ann Arbor period and the Buffalo period.

If the height, so to speak, of the Ann Arbor period was a text ("An Intro to the S.I."), then the height of the Buffalo period was an action (persistently writing poetico-political graffiti in a cold, all-concrete tunnel at the State University of New York at Buffalo campus that was to be "officially" decorated sometime in the future). Both the text and the action generated small, but intense controversies in which I was an active participant, not a spectator. In both instances, I was treated to healthy doses of the commentary and criticism of other people; I had to take a stand and then defend and answer for it. But in the latter instance, I was also treated to warm praise as well as to stern critique: Greil Marcus wrote a review of NB!#11 (January 1987) in his "Real Life Top Ten" column, then published in The Village Voice. In his review, Greil called attention to the fact that "Our Methods & Goals in the UB Graffiti Scandal" (NB!#11, 1987) harkened back to the situationists' "Our Methods & Goals in the Strasbourg Scandal," which appeared in Internationale Situationniste #11, 1967. "The serendipity of numbers," Greil asked, referring to 11 and 1967/1987, "or the numbers of serendipity?"

I must say that, though the review was a dream come true for me, it made me more self-conscious about putting out NOT BORED! than I'd ever been. Especially as the graffiti scandal grew and grew -- it finally petered out in 1989, three years after it began -- I became more and more self-conscious about my own "importance as a revolutionary." As you might imagine, this mental state was not at all conducive to producing an intentionally marginal, self-avowedly amateurish magazine that came out in quantities of 100 or less per issue. After the publication of the 13th issue, which came out in December 1987, I was too confused to go on, but I wasn't willing to dissolve the magazine itself. My solution was that, thenceforth, I would only produce supplements to the 13th issue: there would be no more "new" issues; there would only be issues that supplemented or replaced earlier issues of NOT BORED!

As artificial as it might sound, this strategy worked for a year or so. A total of three full-length supplements to "the last issue" were published, all of them in Buffalo. Perhaps it was as a result of this very self-conscious process of mourning -- in combination with moving back and forth between Buffalo and Ann Arbor as I wrote my doctoral dissertation -- that I eventually got back in touch with the impulses that originally led me to write, edit and publish NOT BORED! In any event, a 14th issue finally did come out in February 1989, but it was a "special," transitional issue devoted almost entirely to detourned comic strips. The 15th issue of NOT BORED! (April 1989) saw the decisive return of its "original," situationist format; this issue also included the last report on the UB graffiti scandal.

At this writing, the most recent issue is #24 (September 1995); #25 will be published in June 1996. Much happened between the 15th and 24th issues: in particular, I moved twice, from Buffalo to Providence, Rhode Island, and then from Providence to New York City, the place of my birth. I have the sense that I have come full circle, and am now preparing the begin to next round. It is therefore to the future that this Tract Record is dedicated.

Bill Brown

New York City

April 1996

[Note: this text has been modified and translated into Dutch by Freek Kallenburg, who published it in Mba-Kajere (Winter 1997). Kallenburg has also translated and published in Mba-Kajere our text Squat the World.



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