by Holly Casio
Last week I tabled at DIY Cultures and it’s always an odd experience sitting behind a table with your entire life in photocopied zines presented on a stall for strangers to pick up and thumb through and laugh at or relate to or put back down because it’s not interesting or doesn’t look nice enough. But it’s especially interesting to see how my Bruce Springsteen zines are received at zine fests.
My zine series Me and Bruce ,which I started in 2011, is probably the zine that receives the most laughs from my stall. People pick it up curiously, asking if this is really a zine all about Bruce Springsteen? People come over to my stall, dragging a friend or a partner shouting “See, this is the zine I was telling you about!” They then point and laugh and move on. It’s a zine which stands out and I can never quite tell whether people are mocking it or are genuinely pleased to see it. But at the last few zine fairs I’ve tabled at, I’ve lost count of the number of people excitedly picking up copies of my Bruce Springsteen zines and telling me “Oh my god, there’s another zine stall next door with a Bruce Springsteen zine too, what are the chances?” Another person even asked me if this was a new subgenre of zines as there seemed to be so many Springsteen zines at the moment.
The other Bruce Springsteen zine people are usually referring to is the wonderful Butt Springsteen zine by my lovely pal CJ Reay who also runs Black Lodge Press. I wouldn’t call my own Bruce series Me and Bruce and CJ’s Butt Springsteen zine a subgenre of zines, but it makes my heart soar knowing that another Bruce Springsteen zine exists and I didn’t even have to write it!
And we aren’t the only ones. In the last few years you may have noticed more and more Bruce Springsteen themed zines popping up in distros or at zine fairs. There’s Jungleland: A Bruce Springsteen zine by Matthias Scherer, Because the Boss Belongs to us: Queer Femmes on Bruce Springsteen by Alana Kumbier, Wings for Wheels by Nomi Kane to name just a few wonderful zines. But really Bruce Springsteen zines are nothing new.
While perzines and art zines and small press comics are the main features in current zine scenes, music fanzines were an integral part of the Bruce Springsteen fan communities during the 70s, 80s, and 90s where fans could share news, interviews, tour dates, bootleg info, and meet ups. They were informative for sure, but like all fanzines, these zines blurred the lines between FANzines and PERzines. While they served as newsletters for other likeminded fans they also contained concert reviews which felt more like diary entries rather than music journalism, and they documented fan’s personal lives and obsessions as much as they documented facts about The Boss.
There are 95 individual Bruce Springsteen fanzine titles spanning many issues in Monmouth University Library, where the Bruce Springsteen special collections are held and this collection is still growing. The majority of these zines are from the 80s and 90s, before online communities hosting message boards and bootleg archives reduced the need for many music fanzines.
Which is why I love that there is a resurgence in Springsteen zines. They aren’t necessary at all but people still feel compelled to make them and recent Springsteen zines focus much more on the obsessive elements of fandoms through personal stories which anyone can relate to, regardless of whether you love Bruce. But what I love most about the resurgence of Bruce zines is that so many of these zines are by queer zinesters.
CJ Reay’s Butt Springsteen features beautiful illustrations of what else but Bruce’s butt through the ages. CJ describes the premise of the zine: “Seeing the cover of 1984’s Born in the USA (the incredible one with Bruce’s butt on the cover) when I was only 6 proved to be probably my first queer experience, and since that young age I’ve had a passionate love for The Boss.”
Because the Boss Belongs to us: Queer Femmes on Bruce Springsteen by Alana Kumbier is a compilation zine exploring the queer appeal of Springsteen’s music with contributions from queer femmes, including the co-founder of the Queer Zine Archive Project.
As a queer zinester myself, my Bruce zines fit into this amazing tiny subgenre of queers obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. I made the first issue of my Me and Bruce zine series 6 years ago as a super limited run just to give away to friends. The whole reason behind making that zine was to try and explain my Bruce Springsteen obsession to friends who mostly didn’t get it. At that point I didn’t really have any friends who loved Bruce. In my queer diy punk communities I felt a bit ashamed about admitting my love for a white male heterosexual millionaire rockstar. How on earth does a fat queer working class girl relate to Bruce Springsteen and why did I have him on such a pedestal? I already felt pretty alone at the Bruce shows I went to. I’d spend my days queuing up for 24 hours to get into the pit, to get as close as I could to The Boss himself and by doing so I’d spend huge amounts of time surrounded by mostly white straight men. I already felt like an outsider at those shows, but admitting this level of fandom to my friends also made me feel like an outsider. In diy punk communities we aren’t supposed to put people on pedestals.
So I made Me and Bruce #1 which is part zine, part comic, explaining where this love came from. In the zine I talk about finding Bruce as a teenager, going to see him play live for the first time, being dumped by my girlfriend and listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town on repeat, and eventually meeting Bruce in London. I gave away those first few copies to my friends as a shorthand way to explain my love of Bruce, and then a year later I printed a few more to take to Queer Zine Fest London 2012 just in case anyone else might want to read it. It sold out pretty much instantly and I was shocked. People who I didn’t know, fellow queers and zinesters and punks came to my stall clutching that zine to their chests exclaiming ‘ME TOO!’
Since then I’ve expanded the print run, selling hundreds of copies to people I don’t know but who get it. And after making that first zine I realised I still had a lot more to say about Bruce, so I’ve continued the zine series with two more issues and with another issue due out this year with no sign of me stopping yet. In my zines I talk about obsessions and fandoms, I relate Bruce lyrics to my dad and the working class experience, and I interpret lyrics, appropriating them for my own queer experiences.
And then two years ago I was asked to contribute a chapter to an upcoming book on Bruce Springsteen published by Routledge with the stipulation that my chapter be submitted in the form of a personal zine, complete with cut and paste aesthetics in order to represent fan voices in the publication. My zine chapter looks at a queer reading of Bruce Springsteen. Not just queering his lyrics, which by the way are already queer as hell, but identifying the common theme in Bruce’s lyrics of isolation in small towns as a queer experience. As a fellow queer kid who grew up in a small town it was those feelings of loneliness and isolation which got me to relate to Springsteen songs in the first place. That theme of small town loneliness is in every single Bruce song. Even the songs that are just about cars. Even Pink Cadillac. Kind of.
To go from making 10 copies of a Bruce Springsteen zine that I didn’t think anyone would ever read to having a chapter in the form of a zine included in book about Bruce is super exciting. It makes me so happy to think that there are so many zinesters talking about Bruce and being obsessed with his music, even more so when I know that so many of us are queer.
I’m often asked where the rise in Bruce Springsteen zines came from and I honestly don’t know. I can tell you in precise detail exactly why I love Bruce and make zines about him, but I can’t speak for anyone else. In current diy communities, punk bands, and zines, I’ve noticed so much love for Bruce. Has it always been there and maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before? Did punks my age grow up listening to Bruce like I did and are now looking back fondly? Do punks my age relate to the political leanings of Bruce songs like I do? Do queer punx appropriate his lyrics like I have dedicated my life to doing? Is this why so many queer zinesters are making queer Bruce Springsteen zines?
I love Bruce Springsteen a ridiculous amount. I’ve seen him live 16 times, I’ve met him twice, I have his name tattooed on my arm, and sometimes when I’m sad I listen to Nebraska on my bed in the dark and have a lot of feelings. But when I go to Bruce shows I feel a little bit alone. Having connections with other queer Bruce fans through zines is amazing because I know it’s not just me. I don’t have to explain myself, or be self deprecating about my level of obsession. Instead I can just jump right in and discuss why Queen of the Supermarket is so bad, or which songs are the most queer, and why Springsteen is the only person I can think of who looks good with a soul patch.
Holly Casio is a queer zinester and a Bruce obsessive. Her favourite album is Darkness on the Edge of Town and Racing in the Street is her favourite song. She hopes that for his next album he stops working with Brendan O’ Brien, and maybe does a duet with Downtown Boys. You can get all of Holly’s zines at including Me and Bruce issues 1 – 3 from Cool Schmool Zines. Issue 4 of the Me and Bruce zine series features in the upcoming book Bruce Springsteen and Popular Music: Rhetoric, Social Consciousness, and Contemporary Culture ed. Bill Wolff published August 2017. You can read her blog here, and purchase her zines here.