Documentary Review: “Ticket to Write–The Golden Age of Rock Journalism”

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If you’ve caught “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n Roll Magazine,” you might want to check out “Ticket to Write,” which beat that documentary into festivals about four years ago and covers a lot of the same ground.

“Ticket to Write: The Golden Age of Rock Music Journalism” plays like a cheap video rough draft, a proof-of-concept for the more polished “Creem” documentary to come.

But filmmaker Raul Sandelin talked to a LOT of people, including big names from Creem’s “establishment” rival, Rolling Stone. Ben Fong-Torres and Ed Ward are Stone veterans who can speak to the other side of that rivalry. And Sandelin did the hard work of showing how the Creem survivors are the cream of interview crop on this “early rock criticism/journalism” story, the colorful ones with the chewiest anecdotes.

Sandelin, hearing more than a couple of the same stories that the later makers of “Creem” would also hear and include, proved that the more interesting movie would zero in on the zanies of Detroit’s own “alternative” rock rag.

An infamous Creem brawl is recalled by Ward, NPR’s resident “rock historian” and a man who worked at Rolling Stone until the great Jann Wenner “purge” of that early staff, sending Ward to work for Creem.

“Somebody said ‘Black Sabbath is just The Yardbirds, slowed down,” and it was Dave Marsh vs. Lester Bangs, rolling on the floor and throwing punches.

The film briefly sketches in the pre-history of the profession, Ralph Gleason and others writing about rock for newspapers in the very early ’60s. Then in 1966, Crawdaddy! opened in the East and Mojo Navigator in the West, and a new style of writing, reviewing and photographing the music of the day was born.

Rolling Stone “professionalized the whole profession,” Richard Meltzer asserts. He wrote the first serious book on the subject, “The Aesthetics of Rock,” just as the profession was coming to life.

Eyewitnesses, from Creem writers and others who wrote for assorted fanzines that went from mimeographed to offset printing and critics-turned-musicians Chris Stamey (The dbs) and Mike Skill (The Romantics) claim that in those earliest days, “the musicians felt that the writers were co-conspirators.”

This “golden age” predated image control, “publicists” and edicts that no concert photographs could be taken “after the third song.” One interviewee, a Creem photographer, remembers Pat Benatar, who “looked like a wet cat” three songs into a sweaty set, was the one who invented that rule.

Yes, the infamous Memphis rock journalist “convention” is remembered, and yes, the “Golden Age” lasted into punk and went away with disco.

Seeing the parade of aged white faces interviewed here, you can read what you want into that. Creem may have written about Motown, being a Detroit mag. It may have been more open to hiring women. But it wasn’t the most diverse age of journalism and the movie unintentionally hints at the myopia that set in amongst all the Lester Bang worship.

“Ticket to Write” is a valuable document, even if it lacks the polish and pizazz of the Creem documentary to come. Think of it as a mimeographed “history,” preserving voices that won’t be around forever remembering an age that was fleeting, freeing and freewheeling, and became legend in the process.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, stories of drug abuse

Cast: Ben Fong-Torres, Robbie Cruger, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Robert Christgau, Richard Meltzter, Sandy Pearlman, Ed Ward, Mike Skill, Jaan Uhelski, Chris Stamey and the voice of Lester Bangs

Credits: Written and directed by Raul Sandelin. A TV4 Entertainment release, on Tubi, Amazon etc.

Ruunning time: 1:30

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