a new era of Blurring the Lines Between Reality and Surreality, The Great Comeback of the Weekly World News!: An Interview with Editor-In-Chief/CEO Greg D’Alessandro
1979, the year of Ayatollah Khomeini, Sony introduced the Walkman, Michael Jackson released Off The Wall, and Ridley Scott launched a new era of space terror with Alien. That year, a few black and white printing presses in Montana were saved from obsolescence and given a new lease on life. Generoso Pope utilized the older equipment to print a sister publication to coincide with the newly colorized sensationalist tabloid, National Inquirer. Hollywood scandals will always be the Inquirer’s territory; this sister publication’s job is to report that space aliens influence US policy, and cryptids live among us. They could very well be your next-door neighbors.
The outrageous headlines, bold columns, and rudimentary graphics of Weekly World News left an undeniable impact on our pop culture that’s touched American politics, music, and movies. During the print years from 1979 - 2007, the lower rungs of a supermarket shelf and our newsstands was stacked with this tabloid filled with fictional stories about politically charged love triangles between extraterrestrials and the Clinton family, a half boy/half bat creature enlisting in the military to lead the hunt against Al Qaeda, Elvis sightings across Michigan, and Satan’s face emerging in the sky over various global disaster sites or randomly appearing in small towns like Waco, TX. The satire was in your face but also sometimes enough to blur the lines between people’s perceptions of what’s factual and what isn’t. In 2010, Fox News sourced a story from the tabloid as accurate regarding LAPD spending a billion dollars on 10,000 jetpacks for their force only for then LAPD Chief-of-Police, Charlie Beck, to publicly refute the claims. The following year, Facebook sent a press release in response to a Weekly World News article that influential technology blog, Mashable, inquired about the technology giant’s looming shut down.
Weekly World News left its mark in other aspects of the cultural media landscape, with character references featured in American Dad and Family Guy to influencing songs written by L7, Lunachicks, and even Weird Al Yankovic. After a period of dormancy in 2015, the Weekly World News has launched a comeback into print with the first issue in 15 years celebrating the tabloid’s iconic covers and is ushering in a new era of multimedia for the brand’s universe of character with the creation of Weekly World News Studios. We discussed the upcoming plans the new Editor-In-Chief/CEO, Greg D’Alessandro, has in store with Weekly World News and his long association with the brand starting as a freelancer to becoming the man in charge in 2019.
Give us a history lesson of your background. Where are you originally from and how did you initially discover the Weekly World News? What was it that drew you to the tabloid and eventually pursue an interest in writing for the paper?
I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in New Jersey, and majored in Theatre and Music at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. While in college, I became a playwright, and Notre Dame's theatre program turned one of my plays into a main stage production during my senior year. After graduating, I toured the world as a jazz musician playing for many people, and started a Jazz record label. Amidst all this music, I continued writing and moved back to New York, where I wrote plays produced off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, and I got into stand-up comedy. That was my life. As much as I enjoyed writing for theatre, I wanted to do more and was looking at attending either Yale's drama school or USC's film school. I sent off two applications, and both schools accepted me, but a conversation with playwright David Mamet convinced me to go to USC School of Cinematic Arts. Not only did I get an MFA there, and another MFA from UCLA School of Theatre Film, Television and ended up teaching at UCLA's Extension Program. At the same time, I was pitching projects as a screenwriter and TV writer. One company I had a meeting with was National Lampoon. At the time, Neil McGinness was an executive there before becoming the Editor in Chief of Weekly World News. I pitched him some ideas, Neil was into them, and we got along great and kept in contact. In 2007, when Neil left National Lampoon for Weekly World News, he learned I had published many articles in Weekly World News since 1999. Neil then asked me to start writing regularly for Weekly World News, and I continued to do so.
I've written over 5,000 articles – in the print edition and online. We were doing well, but Weekly World News went dormant in 2015. We relaunched in 2019 when I was named Editor-In-Chief and the CEO.
I knew about Weekly World News when I was growing up. Like everyone else, I found it in the supermarket and found the content fun and fascinating. I loved Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, Monty Python, and that kind of surreal, absurd humor. I loved imaginative ideas about biblical prophecies, conspiracy theories, beings from outer space and other dimensions, parallel universe, and time travel. Weekly World News fits my sensibility because I've always been a comedy writer and enjoy exploring different ideas. That's what made Weekly World News so appealing to me; it explores the truth - about what is true, real, and out there in this world and the universe as we know it.
What opportunity was extended to you which kicked off your career with the Weekly World News? What was the atmosphere like in the Weekly World News office and who gave you your first assignment?
I wrote for Weekly World News as a remote freelancer from 1999, presenting articles and discussing ideas with editors, and began working for them regularly in the office from 2007 until 2015. Credit goes to Neil [McGinness] for signing me on as a writer/editor. I enjoyed the interaction with other writers; it’s a blast bouncing ideas off people who have similarly wired brains.
What era in the paper’s history did you start under and can you tell us about what it was like working with the old editorial staff and what their expectations were for their writers each day?
Writing for the Weekly World News was never my full-time gig until I started running the brand in 2019. The pitch meetings I had as a screenwriter helped get me on the current path with the brand. Execs would ask about other projects of mine, and that’s when I’d discuss my work for Weekly World News. They would always smile and tell stories about Bat Boy, the different headlines, and the universe of characters. There was excitement about creating a film or a television show based on the WWN universe. Hearing executives talk about the value in the Weekly World News universe reignited my passion for bringing the entire WWN universe to the world. I began pitching many properties from Weekly World News to different Hollywood production companies. After several years we are now making deals to get WWN characters and stories on TV, film, and podcasts.
When you reflect on all your years writing for the paper, what kind of personality does it take to last as long with the Weekly World News as you have?
You have to have a great imagination; you need to be open to notes and take criticism. Above all, you need to be a thinker. Think about things in different ways and from different angles. Take this example: is the earth round, or is the earth flat? Everyone says the earth is round except those in the Flat Earth Society, for whom many things are crazy! HOWEVER, maybe it is both flat and round. Perhaps the earth is like a living, breathing organism. You need to think outside the box here, be a good writer, constantly create, and more importantly, you need a strong work ethic. You have to write many articles; you have to wake up each day and generate new ideas. Many people have tried to write for Weekly World News, and the usual pattern from most of them is that they write a lot of articles for a short time and then run out of gas. The ones who stay are team players, funny, and consistent. That’s what I’m looking for.
Can you describe the various cultural changes throughout your time working there and what did you want to bring back to the fold, now that you’re running the show?
I want to go back to the original vibe of Weekly World News, a room of four to five like-minded writers and editors who share ideas and decide what stories we want to focus on. We currently have writer meetings twice a week, usually via Zoom, and we bounce ideas and stories off each other. I want to bring back that camaraderie among writers; that’s my goal. I want to diversify our writing team and bring different viewpoints and backgrounds into the mix for cultural purposes. Satire publications tend to be staffed by a majority of white writers; I don’t want that. I’m not saying this simply because diversity is the buzzword these days; I want WWN to reflect the current world we live in. WWN has changed a good deal since it started in 1979, and I want different voices with a consistent ability to write every day, come up with many other ideas, and be funny.
When and how did you know that 2019 was the right time to relaunch Weekly World News? Were there any insights from long-time readers here and abroad that were asking about the tabloid's status and what information did you find out about readership and demand where it only made sense to go back in print and get the word out?
In 2015, Weekly World News temporarily ran out of money. I’ve been very passionate, incredibly passionate, about WWN for years. Anyone who knows me knows that I am consumed by the desire to revive WWN and bring it to a new, higher level. When American Media sold Weekly World News in 2007 to an investor group in New York City, I kept pitching it in Hollywood. The idea of letting this brand go was unfathomable to me. Everywhere I went to pitch the brand, people loved hearing about the Weekly World News characters. Bat Boy, Lake Erie Monster, Manigator, and many others. Many were people who grew up in the 1990s and into the early 2000s. They’d cite past articles and would express enthusiasm and joy for stories we published. Weekly World News touched millions of people in the United States. We did have a print circulation of over 1.3 million at our peak. Once we went online, audiences from England, India, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and other places worldwide found out about us. I was relentless about not letting this go by the wayside and eventually die off. Hence, the owners said, let’s get this thing going again. Have Greg run it. That’s how it happened.
Tell us about your team who you’ve brought on to help further develop Weekly World News and their history with the paper?
The team we have now is fantastic. We have two screenwriters who have written many movies, including Ed Naha, who wrote stuff for Roger Corman and the script for Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. We’ve got a couple of people who’ve written for The New Yorker for a long time, a few other TV writers that are on deck. We’re cultivating two great writers from the advertising world - Alex Colvin and Matt Jones. We have Maya Knell, who is doing our popular video reporting as Cordelia Bunk. Another popular field reporter is Lester Caine. He’s played by Jeff Penalty, who was the lead singer for Dead Kennedys for a period of time.
Since becoming the boss, you’ve hit the ground running with the relaunch of a new print issue and the recent announcement of Weekly World News Studios with Zombie Wedding as being the brand’s first movie in development. What other new media plans are in development (that you’re willing to speak about) to push the brand past just being online and a print brand?
We have a lot going on with the Film/TV side of the business. This has been our biggest priority because it will give Weekly World News the most significant exposure to new audiences, along with people who know and love the brand. We have a deal in the works with a Weekly World News documentary moving forward; the documentary is all about our history going back to 1970. We’re moving forward with talks with Warner Brothers about a TV series and another one with Paramount TV. I’m also pitching a show with Adam Rifkin; he directed Detroit Rock City and the Burt Reynolds film, The Last Movie Star. He’s a fantastic writer, and we created a show together about Weekly World News that’s received a great response. But as we’ve been involved in pitching and producing for a while now, we know it takes time for anything in Hollywood to take off. We wanted to get things done while we continued to move items through the Hollywood pipeline. Our solution was creating Weekly World News Studios, where we’ll be producing independent movies and TV series content on our own. We have three projects on our slate already. The first one is Zombie Wedding, which is based on an interactive play run from 2016 - 2019. Zombie Wedding was written by me and produced by Joe Corcoran, who produced a long-running interactive play called Tony and Tina’s Wedding; Joe is considered the father of interactive theatre in New York. Zombie Wedding was scheduled to open in downtown New York for a long run in 2020, but the pandemic halted it. Those plans fell through. So we decided to turn Zombie Wedding into an independent film. We have a fantastic director, Tonya Pinkins, who is a highly respected actress, producer, and director. She’s won two Tony awards and is a world-class singer. If you listen to her, you’ll agree she’s one of the best in the world. She just directed her first feature film called Red Pill, and Zombie Wedding will be her second feature.
With all the new sites that have popped up over the years that parallel WWN, this tabloid never officially retired and therefore doesn't fall into that "legacy" status. From your time with this paper, what do you know is the primary driver for keeping the Weekly World News going and relevant in today's marketplace?
Maintaining relevance, that's the big thing. Keeping Weekly World News relevant is the significant primary driver. We don't want to be known as a legacy paper, we're not dead and such, and we don't want to rely on older content. We're evolving with the world and adapting our stories to the current culture. We have to keep expanding. The goal has always been to get Weekly World News into Film and TV, and we're aggressively going after that. We want to explore ideas like the metaverse and living in "the simulation." Weekly World News has 300 characters in our universe, and we introduced a new one this year called Little Monkey Man that people seem to love. He's a funny, great-looking character who happens to be a Miami DJ. People dig it. As we continue publishing online, we also intend to get back into print. That's another goal we're aggressively working towards. We want to get Weekly World News to more people and bring our characters to a larger, new audience.
The first print issue of Weekly World News in 15 celebrates all the iconic covers throughout the publications history and is available through their website.
Is Ed Anger as furious as ever with the events today?
Not only is he furious, but Ed’s also one of the more popular characters in our universe. Ed Anger was created by a slightly left-of-center writer who wanted a satire of someone like Rush Limbaugh. He had crazy articles about paving over the rain forests, giving teachers stun guns to control children in school, just really over the top stuff! However, Ed Anger became real with guys like Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, and Alex Jones. Ed Anger influenced even Stephen Colbert. Today, Ed Anger’s column doesn’t work like it used to because what he’s saying feels real. So we’re countering this by pairing Ed with his daughter, Kim Anger. Ed Anger is 83 years old now, while Kim is in her late 50s and highly left-wing. She will counterbalance Ed’s extreme right-wing views. Both Anger family members are upset with many things going on today, so we have two polarized viewpoints going in together on topics. We’re working on a show where both Kim and Ed go out there as a team.
For anyone interested in working or contributing for the Weekly World News, what kind of gusto are you looking for in writers?
We’re looking for ideas, and we take submissions at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We get many submissions. People are very gung ho when they send us a few articles initially and then disappointed when they don’t all get published. Still, we’ll pick up one and put it out. Everyone uses a pseudonym. I would tell writers to keep sending us stuff and keep generating ideas. Everyone that writes for us has a lot of ideas every day, and that is the key. It’s writing every day and not waiting for inspiration. That’s the key. Just sit at the desk, get to work. I was writing four or five articles a day at one point online.
For anyone who wants to walk a similar path as you, what’s the one piece of advice you can leave out of all the years of experience you’ve accumulated?
I don’t want to sound cliche but never, ever give up. Never quit. Keep learning, keep grinding each day. Again, it sounds cliche, but it’s the absolute truth. Don’t repeat the same thing over and over again. Listen to feedback, take what you think is valuable, take notes and suggestions positively, and keep improving 1% a day. The best writers I know are constantly writing and always aiming to get better. I can’t stress that enough, especially if you’re passionate about this writing. Just keep grinding away and always try having fun. Come join the Weekly World News Army!
Weekly World News Online
Interview by The Heathen
I first saw Reverend Beat-Man live back in Summer 2000 at the Las Vegas Grind weekend. He put on a jaw-dropping show of raved-out, hopped-up Gospel Blues dementia that left me agog at the energy and excitement of his show. I had just started Gearhead and was at the gathering of the century for a blasted-out garage-punk rave-up weekend of dirty rock n’ roll, raunch and roll, rock n’ roll and all out celebration of the Garage-punk revival.
I specifically remember Beat-Man Zeller’s demeanor after his set too , he was humble and wreathed in genuine smiles of appreciation. He was gracious and kind, the psychotic trash blues mayhem he had channeled during his show was completely gone. Drenched in sweat, he smiled and was appreciative of my gushing wonder and enthusiasm. I had been playing his records on my radio show at KDVS and was so excited to meet the man behind the records in person!
Beat-Man had started Voodoo Rhythm several years earlier and already had his finger on the European pulse with the string of releases from psychobilly trash garage bands he put out. THAT’S what I wanted to do with Gearhead.
Over the years, I’ve watched Beat-man slog on, year in year out, releasing trashy treasures, perform, host festivals and follow his own inner vision guided by the spirit of early Elvis and Sun Records, bringing to the twenty-first century the raw ecstatic excitement of those early days of rock n’ roll. To keep something going this long is a testament to his passion. You run on empty, constantly giving of your own energy, fueling your creations. Having run my own label and festival, the exhaustive amount of energy it takes to keep going is mind-numbing at best, lonely and disappointing at the worst.
Yet he keeps going, no matter what. I am honored to consider him a friend and mentor. Happy 30th Anniversary Beat-Man! You are a true legend and your vision, passion and stick-to-it-ness a true inspiration. (Rev. Michelle Haunold Lorenz - Gearhead)
1992, a year where the big wig culture mongers hyped up the working-class aesthetic as being "in" with their peddling of flannel and shredded blue jeans as socially acceptable garb. Surreal to think there was a time when "slacker chic" and punk rock were receiving big-dollar marketing budgets. Hey, at least we were educated about something actually happening in small towns like Aberdeen or Bellingham, WA (let alone knowing these towns exist!). The Pacific Northwest was the center of the cultural universe for that short period partly because of the media hoopla and major-label bidding wars sparking a frenzy of signing whoever sounded like Black Flag and Black Sabbath, Killing Joke, or The Vaselines. This period of rock music history has already been talked about beyond a dead horse beating; other stuff was happening in far-off places.
Voodoo Rhythm Records, a label and currency 5,000 miles removed from American soil, couldn’t have cared less about the New World’s manufactured “alternative rock” craze all the major label marketing departments spoonfed its youth culture at the time. This averse attitude of marching to their own beat is why they’re about to mark 30 years in business in 2022. Aside from Gearhead here, what other small companies from this era are regularly putting out underground rock n’ roll?
What initially began as a vessel to release a Swiss garage rock compilation has grown into a full-fledged label and publishing company with 100 + LP titles and countless singles to their catalog. Beat-Man, or Reverend Beat-Man as he’s known globally, is the high priest of the fringe roster over at Voodoo Rhythm Records. A rock n’ roll lifer and enabler himself, his responsibilities include giving a platform to worldly and genre-crossing groups like the garage n’ soul of King Khan & The Shrines, the lost recordings of obscure UK rockabilly artist Jerry J. Nixon, the rust n’ sweat garage blues of The Guilty Hearts, and the one-Frenchman wrecking crew that is King Automatic amongst countless others.
Voodoo Rhythm Records, like its peers, has been through consumer taste changes, the digital revolution, recessions, and recently a worldwide pandemic. They’re still here, still kicking and about to commemorate three decades of not backing down with a new label compilation celebrating the label’s past and showcasing its future and another album from Swiss chainsaw-punk maniacs, The Monsters. For those new to the world of Voodoo Rhythm, these compilations are a good starter kit for what makes this Bernese underworld tick and grind together. Beat-Man was kind enough to dedicate some time listing the five albums that shaped his being and encompass the “Records To Ruin Any Party” mantra of Voodoo Rhythm. This list below laid the foundation for Reverend Beat-Man’s early interest in the rock n’ roll realm and why they’re so significant to him.
Reverend Beat-Man. rock n' roll lifer.
Hasil Adkins - Out To Hunch
“When I first heard Out To Hunch, I was into the Rolling Stones, Mersey Beat or rock’n’roll like Elvis, and Gene Vincent etc. But when I heard Hasil for the first time on that Rockabilly Psychosis compilation that Big Beat Records released in 1984, I was just blown away by the dementia in his voice. I imagine this was recorded towards the end of the 1950s and punk music like that was played in churches or bars around Madison. Anyway, I was so blown away that I quit my job in Switzerland and booked a ticket to the USA where I bought a car and traveled around for a half year and I found him! It was pre-internet or Google era. Hahah, anyway I had a lovely time with him.”
The Cramps - ...Off The Bone
“I first heard of The Cramps in probably 1980 or 81 from my older brother. He had a friend in Berlin, and they exchanged tapes, both of them were more into goth stuff like The Residents, Neon Judgement, Cabaret Voltaire, etc. The Cramps were on one of the tapes, and I said that I want that, so that’s when I became a Cramps fan. I tortured my local record store to order their LPs for me; I had only three albums and about 100 bootlegs, haha! They were amazing, and Nick Knox is, for me, still one of the most ridiculous caveman drummers of all time! I love Nick Knox’s drums !!!! His drumming changed my life forever while listening to his music.”
Einstürzende Neubauten - Kollaps
“When I was a teenager, I was completely against everything, everybody, and I hated almost everything, and I loved it. Einstüznde Neubauten was the soundtrack for all those feelings I had inside me. My parents hated the guts out of that music coming from my room, hahaha! It’s just fucking noise, and this was just my thing; the band taught me that you can write songs; differently, not all music needs strict structure and solos, etc. It just needs a lot of noise and something that attracts your attention. Anyway, when I saw them live, they blew away their recordings for me. I wanted to do something similar, and as a teen, I played in a local industrial band in the early ’80s, but I was a big Elvis fan. When I started my one-man-band project Taeb Zerfall then Lightning Beat-Man, my idea was to cross Neubauten with Elvis. And I did, haha!”
Howling Wolf - More Real Folk Blues
“When Janosh (bass player for The Monsters) and I lived together for a couple of years, this was the record we listened to the most. It’s one of the best LPs ever made. The songwriting, the recordings, and the drumming, etc. When I was a child, my dream was to be black but look at me, I’m bloody white, haha!! So, they called me the White Wolf here in Bern. <3”
Venom - Black Metal
“I grew up in Switzerland’s countryside with bands like Status Quo, AC/DC, and Motorhead. However, when Venom came, my metal years were over; you can’t top that band. For me, Black Metal is the best rock n’ roll metal album of all time. I mean, for god’s sake, it’s all in there: teenage angst, teenage hate, blasphemy, and a lot of fun. My parents hated that album; it was perfect for a growing teenager. Sadly, I never got to see them and wanted to go to their first Swiss show when Metallica toured with them as their supporting act, which was Metallica’s first show outside the United States. I was young and scared too, my friends and I got beat up by other metal fans cause we wore jean jackets. That’s when we thought that in Zürich, the other metalheads must be more extreme, haha!!”
Pick up Voodoo Rhythm Records Label Compilation Volume 5 here.
Voodoo Rhythm Records online
Words by The Heathen
I had just started my new job and was googling something on the web, enthusiastic to be putting my writing skills to work for my new employer, but my hands froze on the keyboard and my blood ran cold when I saw the headlines pop up: a local automotive journalist had gone missing. Clicking on the banner, I was stunned to read that the missing journalist was Davey G. Johnson, a one-time editor of Gearhead Magazine.
I read with shock and numbness the details of his disappearance. Traveling back to Sacramento after taking a bike out on a test drive for an article he was writing, he was just a few hours from home when he stopped at the side of the road, apparently to rest and take a quick dip in the snow-fed river that wound through the mountain pass he was traveling on. There were pictures of his last text to his girlfriend and a photo he had texted of himself to a buddy; he is bare-chested sitting down.
The authorities had found his motorcycle parked purposefully, with his helmet and gloves balanced on the seat. Further away, his laptop, phone, some clothes, and his backpack rested on the shore. Search teams and sniffer dogs scoured the area over the next 10 days looking for traces of Davey, always leading back to the river’s edge. Late in the day June 20, 2019, they found his body, washed downstream in a local reservoir ending the worry and anxiety that had gripped our close-knit community of automotive and lifestyle journalists for almost two weeks. Accidental drowning is the believed cause of death, but there were few clues about what happened to a man who spent his life on the road.
Shock, disbelief, and a deep sadness filled my heart. And yes, anger. Anger flooded my body as quick as molten lava in the next split second because he grew up in an area where late spring snowmelt turns rivers and lakes into surging death traps; he should have known better! I was angry at him for leaving his new fiancé alone to struggle with the unanswered questions, never knowing for certain what happened.
It had been many years since Davey and I spoke. We were once so close as we worked together on Gearhead issues #12, #13, and #14 in the early 2000s with Davey sporting the editor's cap and me supporting him as owner/publisher. Being close to fifteen years older than he, our relationship was more that of big sister and little brother than that of editor and publisher.
His giddy joy at being tapped to head up Gearhead bubbled out of his body like so much foamy beer poured too fast in a warm glass. He was ecstatic, ebullient, literally bouncing with joy and enthusiasm at the opportunity that landed at his feet.
But on the flip side, like the two sides of a tarnished coin, he was also crushed with heartache and struggling with depression and despair, lacking confidence and consumed with grief from having just been dumped by a girl he thought he would share his life with.
We spent many hours together in person and on the phone; me encouraging him to focus on his work as therapy and healing, and he wallowing in heartache. Flipping back and forth between gratitude for his new position and despair at ever finding a partner to share his life with, he proceeded to produce three of the best issues in the Gearhead library.
His style of writing was just like his style of living: a mash-up of punk rock attitude and clear-cut automotive authority. Snarky and pointed at times, but also sweet and complimentary, I was amazed at his ability to mix these various attitudes and write with such a clear personal voice that it felt like he was there talking to you.
After those three issues, Davey stepped down, handing back the editor hat to my former partner, claiming it was just too much responsibility and too overwhelming to continue. He was so dedicated; he threw his whole heart and soul into his work. But he was also deeply self-critical.
He worried he wasn’t living up to our expectations, but I encouraged him to keep going, but he declined and went back to freelancing, doing what he loved; prodding and poking and being free to work when he chose, with no rails closing him in.
He moved on to write for many well-known publications and we lost touch. I had reached out several times over the intervening years but was met with silence from the other end. I don’t know why, but I never stopped being proud when I read one of his amazing articles, his voice shining out loud and clear, that giddy little kid thrilling in the ability to shock people with his punk rock references and then pulling them in with his stunning automotive knowledge.
Mixed emotions still tumble around in the pit of my stomach like river rocks being tossed by a violent current. Right after his death was announced many tributes that flooded the Internet honoring this incredibly complex man; some beautiful, some thoughtful, all impressed with his knowledge and style. It has been a year since his passing and I am still struggling to put words to what I am feeling. I wasn’t sure I had the right to pay tribute to him. But throughout this year, I’ve thought a lot about how much his life and death impacted my life.
.These memories will forever be frozen in time. We will never have the chance to reconnect, and I will never have the chance to tell him how proud of him I am, and how happy I am to see he finally found the love of his life.
As I write, I wonder, do I have a right to mourn someone who no longer was a part of my life? The tears well up and spill down my cheeks when I think of his deep yearning for love and companionship and I ache for the woman he left behind. Even now, one year later, I struggle with this bitter twisted mix of anger and sadness, numbness, and grief. His giddy giggle haunts my dreams now.
What happened? Why did we stop talking? I don’t know. When my former partner in Gearhead and I split up, deep gaping crevices in both our business and personal relationships appeared. It’s like a divorce you know? Once a couple splits up, friends inevitably take sides. I don’t know if that caused our drifting apart but it could be. I will never know.
We use to talk deeply and personally about our heartaches and shared experiences of longing for love only to have those hopes and dreams smashed to the ground by betrayal or apathy. We didn’t talk about cars much; music was our shared language of pain and grief, hope and excitement, and joy.
He touched my life at a pivotal moment in time when I was struggling after my divorce to find my voice and authenticity and to define myself separately from the looming shadow of my business partner. Davey helped me find my voice as he searched for his. He gave me the freedom to dig deep into my soul and share the language of passion as it related to our silly little punk rock hot rod world of Gearhead. His voice gave me the courage and confidence to write with my voice.
When I wanted to write about Dwight Yoakum, he encouraged me, even though country music at that time was far from cool. He urged me to explore it because it mattered to me. That is what I most remember and mourn now as I think about Davey.
He was fearless in exploring his overlapping passions, mixing them into the same article with such authenticity and sincerity that it left those reading his words laughing and shaking their heads in amusement. I wonder if he knew how much he was admired, and how inspiring he was.
This morning, I crawled up in the hot dusty attic looking for the old cardboard box of Gearhead press clippings I have saved over the years. I have a vivid memory of a story Davey did for Drive magazine back in 2002, when he sweet-talked the manufacturers into letting him take a Prowler on the road to Texas to be part of Gearhead’s first US Gearfest in Austin, TX.
Somehow he was able to write an article about The Prowler in the context of the festival and the story went to print with a mix of punk rock mayhem combined with the technical savvy using Gearhead bands and Gearfest as the backdrop for the story.
I haven’t opened up that box since I taped it shut with clear cellophane packing tape years ago as if I was taping up old cherished love letters. I knew this treasure trove was there, just waiting for the right time for me to feel safe enough to dig through the faded ink and weathered paper; to allow my heart to celebrate the events and people long gone from my life, not by death but through attrition or the desire to move in a different direction in one’s life.
As I dug through the dusty files my heart leaped every time I found a new article I had forgotten about. It was a walk down memory lane, and one of deep validation.
But I didn’t’ find the article I was looking for. I have such a vivid memory of seeing that article; I recall there’s even a picture of Davey and me with the Prowler. Why didn’t I save that? It seems like something I would have kept and cherished as it involved a moment in time that was so pivotal for me.
Mostly though, I just wanted to re-read Davey’s words and see how he managed to meld Gearfest with a review of the Prowler. I'm sure it was cheeky and irreverent but relevant to the reason he was loaned the car in the first place. I reached out to Drive Magazine, but it is under new ownership and they had destroyed all the old files.
Maybe not finding that article is just as well. It is a symbol of a time long forgotten, of relationships turned to dust, of music and friendship and bombastic coolness wrapped around faded memories like a rich piece of smoky bacon wrapped around chicken and grilled to perfection; delicious, satisfying and stored in the memory banks to be savored in leaner times.
I tug at these memories and find peace and stillness in my heart. Even if I can't find that old article, I have the words he wrote for Gearhead right in front of me, and they help soothe the grief. We dreamed and manifested something tangible; a testament and validation of the joy and authenticity once felt while collaborating creatively on a passion project. His spirit and energy are embedded in his writing and his voice will live on forever, rooted in black ink on thick white book stock. I can read those words and feel close to him still; love, pride, and surrender fill in where tears and grief once lived. As I grieve Davey, I also grieve those long-forgotten experiences and how different everything is now.
Davey allowed me to deep dive inside my soul. So many people reminisced about his contributions to the world of automotive journalism, but that was only the periphery of how deeply he touched my life. It was the open door but not the interior.
He died a happy man, doing what he loved to do, with a wonderful loving partner waiting for him at home. He left this world having achieved what he yearned for all those years ago.
As you crossed that rainbow bridge, I hope you found D. Boone and the other rock and roll angels you admired and were inspired by waiting for you. I hope you know how much you inspired those around you, and what an incredible impact your life had on those of us left behind.
Thank you for your passion and fearless approach to life. Thank you for giving me the courage to write with my voice. The Spark Plug shirt you designed for Gearhead says it all: Rock. Davey G. Johnson, you Rocked.
My heart is heavy as I continue to process the sad news that yet another friend has died. Beth Hood passed away this last week and the news has just devastated me. She was bright, fun, smart, and passionate. How could she be gone? She was a mama first and foremost, and an artist and musician secondly. She was also voted Ms. Gearhead 2016/17 and it is in this capacity that we got to know each other. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and this sad news was all just a bad dream. Someone so alive and vibrant could not be gone; it just doesn’t seem real.
I created the Ms. Gearhead contest because I was sick of women being treated as eye candy in the hot rod world. I wanted to celebrate the qualities women brought to our community and Beth had those qualities in spades. Smart, outspoken and fiercely committed to giving back to her community, she embodied strength, courage, resiliency and fortitude. As a single mom raising two little boys, she taught them by example. Helping them to embrace their own passions, she explored art as well as sports with her kids. Her dream was to one day open an art school for children, hoping to help kids find their own creative voice as she had.
Sure, she was gorgeous. But it was that inner spark that shone bright through her eyes and laughter. She savored life and all it had to offer and lived it out loud, exuberant, passionate and creative in all she did. She became the Gearhead brand ambassador, wearing her Ms. Gearhead crown proudly to car shows and punk shows, posing for pictures and talking to customers but above all, being deeply true to her own person every single moment.
I am blessed and grateful to have known and worked with her these last few years and deeply saddened that this bright vivacious light is gone from this earth. You now grace the heavens with the brilliance of a shooting star Beth. You will be missed each and every day.
Read Beth’s interview here. Proceeds from the sale of the remaining posters will go to the Go Fund Me account set up for her boys.
by Dean Case, Gearhead Motorsports Advisor
editors note: Join the California Automobile Museum for a special showing of the movie August 24, 2019 at 11 am in Sacramento. Proceeds to benefit the Museum
Disclosure: I consider Garth Stein to be a friend, having first met him a decade ago. I first read the Art of Racing in the Rain in 2008 along with my Mazda Motorsports teammates at the time. We all loved the book. We loved it enough to cold call Garth and invite him to race an MX-5 Cup car in Portland. Jim Jordan loved it enough to urge/nag/push Patrick Dempsey into reading it, telling him he should option the movie rights. He did. It then took a decade to get it approved, funded, shot, edited, and on August 9th, released.
My comments will NOT include any spoilers, but thanks to a KCET Cinema Series event, I watched the film last week with a theater full of hardcore film buffs. They loved it as did I.
I purposely did NOT reread the book before seeing the movie. My fear was that if I did, I would nitpick the movie anytime it failed to follow the exact storyline of the book. It is not the exact storyline, but it follows the spirit of the book closely, and Enzo gets the best lines in the movie.
A few thoughts to consider.
The movie stands on it’s own. Every race fan should see it. Take the dog lover in your life to see it. And if they haven’t read the book, buy them a copy of the book and take them to a real race. If you teared up while reading the book, expect the same when you see the movie. If you did not tear up reading the book, what is wrong with you?
Remember that the book and movie are FICTION. Racing is the backdrop, and racers loved the fact that Garth nailed the details in the book. I recall no less of a motorsports authority than Leo Mehl telling me that Garth captured Aryton Senna’s personality perfectly. Garth never met Aryton, but he understands racers.
Like everything in life, the movie producers had a budget to work within and a schedule to maintain. Someone had to balance the cost of real cars vs CGI, especially if a crash scene was a part of the story line. Here’s a minor spoiler – there is no big crash in the Art of Racing in the Rain. That’s a good thing to me. Racing was portrayed as a serious profession, one where it is very difficult to succeed, but dramatic crashes? None. They hired Jeff Zwart to shoot all of the racing scenes, so race fans should love the track action, but they will likely want more. Would that have been cool for race fans? Yes. Would it have made for a better movie? No.
I’m pretty certain the number of “dog people” who read the Art of Racing In The Rain vastly outnumbers the “car people”. A movie like this, with a positive depiction of racing, will hopefully bring in new fans. Race fans who loved the Steve McQueen “Le Mans” movie ignore the fact that it tanked at the box office and did not appeal to anyone who wasn’t a hardcore race fan or Steve McQueen fan. It was two hours of amazing cinematography without any real story. “Le Mans” was an argument against studios doing racing movies for many years.
For me the “best” non-documentary racing movie was “Grand Prix” as it balanced story, acting, action, casting, cinematography, soundtrack and everything else that makes a movie great. It appealed to race fans and non-race fans. I also liked “Rush” even though I thought it was s dumb title.
I would argue the most “significant” racing movie was “Winning” as that started the amazing race career of the one we knew as PL Newman in the paddock. Fingers crossed that Milo Ventimiglia or Amanda Seyfried decides to follow in the footsteps of Paul Newman or Patrick Dempsey. Not likely, but we can hope.
Final thoughts. I was really surprised at the lack of product placements. Given the nature of the sport, I expected a lot. It was almost non-existent. Denny even races at “Laguna Seca” and I am happy about that.
My only complaint on the movie was that Enzo is seen being adopted from a puppy mill (that’s not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer). I wanted him to be a shelter dog. The producer who did Q&A at the screening I attended, said the dogs used in the move were actually rescue dogs, so I’ll take that as a win.
Back in 2008 there was a rumor that NASCAR wanted the movie version to be altered to make Denny a stock car racer. It was joked that the movie would then become “The Art of Standing in the Garage, Waiting for the Rain to Stop”
GO SEE THE MOVIE. BUY A FRIEND A COPY OF THE BOOK. TAKE A FRIEND TO A RACE.
The Darts - I Like You But Not Like That
Review by Matthew Hutchison
2016 was a notable year for a few different reasons, but in this context, we’re talking about the realities for AZ/CA Nicole Laurenne, Rikki Styxx, and Christina Nunez due to their shared drive and ambitions manifesting itself into The Darts. Three years together and The Darts are already one of the more formidable bands in the US underground circuit that deserve every amount of success they’ve hit and held with a vice grip. Why formidable? One look at their discography and touring history tells you all that you need: Two LP releases (including the one we’re talking about here - I Like You But Not Like That) and a slew of EPs along with treks across the United States and Europe. Ambitious for sure but when your band leader is a judge, mother, and label manager, this is what you’re signing up for, and better be in for the long haul and check yourself if not the case. While still a new band, these women aren’t new to this world and lifestyle through cutting teeth and chops prior (and in tandem) with The Love Me Nots, Motobunny, The Dollyrots, and The Two Tens. Yet, it’s clear that The Darts are their most ambitious project to date with their resource investments providing an ROI with opportunities playing high profile festivals in both the New and Old Word, touring with some of the more significant names in punk/garage (The Damned comes to mind), and releasing material on heavy hitting labels in the punk/garage world, including Alternative Tentacles for this day’s subject.
I Like You But Not Like That isn’t their first rodeo on Jello Biafra’s imprint due to their 7” debut being a split release on AT alongside Dirty Water Records. However, that was three years and two songs only; today counts with a half hour plus LP debut that grounds them as a group of substance and one of the hardest working bands in the US underground rock circuit.
Entering the fold on guitars is Meliza Jackson, another AZ native rounding out this group as now being primarily from the Valley of the Sun (aka Phoenix, AZ). The big takeaway from I Like You But Not Like That is the catchy factor within the songwriting and also proof that The Darts are consistent in writing catchy, good material consistently. No puffery here; this is fact from someone who's followed them from the start and has caught a few of their live shows in the Los Angeles area, highly recommended you see them for yourself. From the beginning, the album delivers high energy with, this album’s theme leans towards a femme fatale mystique that Laurenne embodies with her voice exuding both sultriness and confidence. The somber “Don’t Hold My Hand” is their most melodic cut which holds a garage rock meets smokey lounge vibe reinforced by the sultriness factor Laurenne’s vocals exhibit. By the Not letting up on tracks such as “My Way,” “New Boy,” and “Thin Line” are great examples of the ladies displaying instrumental prowess with Jackson’s hard riffs intersecting Laurenne’s booming Farfisa while howling lyrics in a forceful, matter-of-fact manner. Nunez's deep, overdriven bass lines bring a post-punk feel to the album, most notably on the concluding track “ Where’s The Rain” and the single “Love U 2 Death” while Styxx drumming shows versatility and why she’s an in-demand drummer in the Los Angeles rock scene.
The Darts are a contemporary take on a nostalgic sound and proves there's more life than ever in a global scene often overlooked. I Like You But Not Like That is a solid album from front to back.
Swing by the Alternative Tentacles web store to grab a copy.
The Darts Online
Alternative Tentacles Online
The Darts Facebook
Alternative Tentacles Facebook
If you haven't yet noticed, GEARHEAD has a Spotify presence. Every week we will be posting a new playlist, featuring some of our favorite punk, garage, and rock from over the years. This week, we're saluting the women of rock with our female front women playlist GIRLS ROCK. Check it out today, and make sure you follow us so you keep up with all the action.
The Jackets - Queen of the Pill
(Voodoo Rhythm Records)
Guest Post by The Heathen
The Jackets sound like they weren’t born for these times, but from the social media metrics they carry, their online followers likely weren’t either. That’s fine, from select albums released by The Hives, TV Killers, or even Immortal Lee County Killers, those groups weren’t either, and The Jackets fall somewhere between those with a bit of The Love Me Nots in there. These groups started around the turn of or post millennium as part of a new wave of garage rock/punk with a late 60s go-go, proto-punk edge to them, seems like we’re amid a balls-out garage punk revolution yet again. Originating from Switzerland, this lady led, fuzz guitar riddled trio has a reputation for their high energy live shows that have demanded them to cross oceans to tour The New World a few times along with routes all over Europe on multiple occasions. The reason we’re talking about them is due to their new album Queen of the Pill slated for a Summer release and the power it packs within the ten tracks.
Having already released snippets from the record via a 7” release ("Queen of the Pill/Be Myself" - Voodoo Rhythm Records) in 2017, the original album’s production quality makes those sound like refined demos to what the record holds. Enlisting the assistance of engineer Jim Diamond (Bantam Rooster, The Sonics, The Gore Gore Girls, and tons more to his name) helps deliver the gut punch you receive on this. The songwriting has both a refined and raw garage feel in all tempos with the straight bangers being “Deeper Way,” “Losers Lullaby,” and the title track. Hell, judging from the spitfire lyrics their leader Jack Torrea (guitar/vocals) expels in the track “Losers Lullaby,” it’s hard to tell if she’s genuinely angry or being mellow about it. The standout track and highlight is the ethereal “Floating Alice” with its garage rock meets eastern music arrangement and Chris Rosales (drums) layered percussion scattered throughout.
Queen of the Pill is genuinely a solid release and should push The Jackets from the pantheons of obscurity into the jangled mind of rockers all over the world, the album itself justifies that statement.
Swing by Cobraside Record's US web store to grab a copy.
The Jackets Online
Voodoo Rhythm Records Online
The Jackets Facebook
Voodoo Rhythm Records Facebook
Gearhead grew out of the punk rock scene of the late 80s early 90s so it is only fitting that we finally create a Gearhead Spotify account! Check out the first Spotify playlist, and follow us please!
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,