The ’90z – 2003 (cont.)
Episode 3: Nakedness from another time
In our previous installment, our much bigger rival, the Boston Phoenix, lowered its per-issue price tag to zero dollars and zero cents, while hideous orange street boxes containing the Weekly Dig appeared scattered throughout the Boston area. And as the Dig’s visibility and influence increases, so too, must the staff…
How we came to cover music no one else gives fuckall about
BENNETT (music editor): Jeff [Lawrence] basically hired me as the delivery guy, and I figured that was my step in the door, because I went from delivery guy for about a year and a half to the music editor. It’s not like I piggybacked over 10 people who were in line for the job. There weren’t that many other people.
JEFF LAWRENCE (founding publisher): There was a van ride from after we did a beer event at Bukowski Tavern. I have a scar. I had ridden my bike to work, so it was in the van, and J. Bennett was driving, and he fucking slammed on the brakes ’cause he was going to hit somebody or something, and I went face-first into my bike pedal. So I’m bleeding profusely. I’m like, “Drive me home! I’ll fucking stitch it up!” J. walked me into my house, and I butterfly stitched my own fucking eye.
BENNETT: Joe [Bonni] has the Prince Albert piercing, which means he has to sit down to pee. Apparently you can’t pee standing up, because the ring gets in the way.
JOE BONNI (founding EiC): It’s like putting your thumb on a faucet. It sprays in six directions.
BENNETT: Some intern was apparently pissing on the seat, and Joe would get so bent out of shape about this. At one point there was a sign made reminding people to put the seat up if they took a wizz.
SHAULA CLARK (managing editor): I started as an intern in January of 2001, I believe. I had read Transmetropolitan and, to me, Joe Bonni represented Spider Jerusalem—the coolest person in the world. I heard he had gotten his wedding cake made at Sweet-N-Nasty. I was, like, 18 at the time, so I thought, “Wow, that’s cool, man!” I look back at that now as a bit dubious, but I do respect him. J. Bennett just seemed like a metal wizard who sat in the corner.
BENNETT: Once a month I would do this thing called “Extremities”—a roundup of all the best heavy metal and hardcore albums that came out that month. And then I got Keith Bennett—no relation, but a good friend of mine—I got him involved and he and I handled the “Extremities” stuff.
KEITH BENNETT (music writer): Initially, me and J. Bennett had our own metal and hardcore zine called Hex Bender. So we put out a second issue, then J. started doing some freelance stuff for the Dig, and then he became the music editor, and that took over all his time. So instead of me driving him up the wall saying, “We’ve got to get issue #3 of Hex Bender out! What the fuck?!” he suggested letting the Dig absorb Hex Bender.
LAWRENCE: We couldn’t pay the rent early on, so we figured out a way to supplement that. We held parties. Like, keg parties.
CRAIG KAPILOW (associate editor): Keith Bennett had a history of getting naked at parties. I think he swung feces up at a DJ booth at a Dig event.
KEITH BENNETT: No, no, it wasn’t feces. It was a cup full of piss, and I think the nakedness was from a different time. I’m not sure. But yeah, in both instances, there were … Before what we now know as “hipsters,” we had what we called “New Boston” types. Just really shitty, snobby people who, y’know, came to Dig parties and just … You can tell when people aren’t real. I’d see them and think, “You’re going to be living in The Back Bay, you want the million dollar condo in the South End, you don’t want what we have.” So whether it was one time or two different times, it was straight up, “Fuck these people. Why are they here? They obviously don’t like us or what we do. They’re here to be seen and eat our food and drink our fucking beer and do some social climbing over us and on top of us, so fuck them.”
BONNI: One of our most successful advertising gambits was the extreme metal column. It brought in actual advertising revenue because the labels were so happy that an alt-weekly was covering their shit. The Phoenix would cover the next Nirvana-ish alterna-pop thing, but Opeth? That just wasn’t happening.
KEITH BENNETT: Nobody in Boston was writing about black metal at all. We were absolutely the first people to feature black metal, and even darker sounds like power violence and neo-folk. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the Dig readership had no idea what we were writing about, so we tried to resonate with the percent that would, and just try to entertain everybody else. I knew the average person on the Green Line doesn’t know fuckall about Norwegian black metal, but maybe I could entertain them while they’re stuck in the subway.
BENNETT: With the weekly deadline, I felt kind of stressed out a lot of the time. I should mention that not only was I the music editor, I copy edited the entire publication. So if maybe I gave off the impression that I wasn’t very gregarious or talkative or anything like that, that’s because I wanted to get my shit done. My phone was always off. Also, part of my job was going to the clubs five or six nights a week. That’s part of the gig, y’know? So there wasn’t a lot of sleep happening. There were a lot of stimulants involved.
KAPILOW: The Phoenix would cover Sasha and John Digweed and Paul Oakenfold—the super mainstream DJ stuff. The Dig was the only weekly in the country other than, say, The Village Voice that really covered electronic music. I mean, we had people who were very, very respected music producers and DJs, some of them touring all over the world, writing for our paper in those early days.
BONNI: I think I played it up like I was more resistant to electronic music than I actually was just to fuck with Craig. But electronica—we nailed that, too.
BENNETT: I can’t remember if anyone else did this or if it was just me, but when the office was in Chinatown … Red Bull is this formula this guy took from Thailand, carbonated it, tripled the price, and sold it to white people. But when Red Bull was still fairly new, you could still buy these little brown medicine bottles in Chinatown, and they had a red bull logo on them, and the stuff was not carbonated, so it was like drinking cough syrup. That shit would put you into outer space, man.
That’s all for this week! We should probably mention Extremities eventually goes totally crypto-fascist and winds up cancelled, but it’s gonna be awhile before we get to that part of the story.
Barry Thompson lives next to a highway in the Allston/Brighton vicinity. He has written for a whole bunch of places, enjoys caffeine, and appreciates a good, hearty anxiety attack every now and again.