It’s been just over 30 years since local natives Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson decided over beers and gin to start Touch and Go, a handmade fanzine based on a shared love of obscure punk records and perverse humor.
While eventually it would evolve into an internationally known and influential indie record label, the fanzine’s genesis was quite humble.
At night, Vee and Stimson, both in their mid-20s at the time, would sit in Vee’s second-floor apartment in downtown Williamston and listen to new, ultra-limited pressings of hardcore punk, post-punk, even second-wave ska. They would browse the bins at Flat, Black & Circular in East Lansing for the latest Black Flag singles. Other music stores like Discount Records and Disc Shop (now defunct) were also local hotspots for vinyl.
In the grip of a severe vinyl addiction, they would also make road trips to Wax Trax in Chicago or Schoolkids’ and Wazoo in Ann Arbor in search of a rare Pagans single, or whatever they could get their hands on. From Bad Brains to the Dead Kennedys to obscure (and now forgotten) bands like The Donkeys, T&G zine would write both positive and scathing reviews about as many of those 45s as they could squeeze into an issue.
While the hard-to-find original issues of T&G fetch well over $50 apiece on eBay, the entire run of the fanzine (22 issues) has been compiled into a trade paperback book, “Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ‘79-’83.” The book includes introductory essays by Vee, Stimson, Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat), Keith Morris (Black Flag/ Circle Jerks), Corey Rusk (member of The Necros and future Touch & Go Records owner) and John Brannon (Negative Approach), among others. It is now available online and locally at FBC, The Record Lounge and in bookstores.
A book signing will be held at 1 p.m. July 31 at FBC. The event will feature appearances by Vee, Stimson, Tony Rettman, author of “Why Be Something You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985” and Steve Miller, former vocalist of the early Lansing hardcore band, The Fix. Miller is also editor and co-conspirator (along with Vee) of the new T&G zine book.
Vee recalled the early days of the zine as being nonchalant, and uninhibited.
“We talked about what we were doing and about what records we bought — but we each wrote our own pages,” Vee said. “It was either a Tesco page or a Dave page. We’d meet up to put the magazine together and we’d see each other's copy for the first time. We’d get some crappy beer, listen to Suicide records, read each other’s stuff, and laugh.”
Brutally honest record reviews, crazy page layouts, raw editorials and nasty humor were the basis of each issue — each piece always ending with one or the other’s short byline of “DS” or “Vee.” Recurring feature pages like the “Top 40” and (the often crude) “Bottom 40” lists no doubt got T&G some hate mail over the zine’s four years. Not to mention T&G’s habit of taking shots at “local Lansing slags” and radio personalities.
Vee said being finicky and elit ist in print didn’t always go over well with the locals.
“We developed this too-cool-for-school attitude. Looking back, I am not ashamed of it at all,” Vee said. “I’m happy that we were so pompous. We were like, ‘We know about this music and you don’t, so we’re going to tell you about it in our magazine.’ That was our attitude.
"We rubbed some people the wrong way. We were the young upstarts. It was a ridiculously small scene, but there always has to be some in-fighting.”
As far as a production schedule for the zine, Stimson said it wasn’t a tight ship.
“There was probably a plan at some point, like, ‘Let’s put it out once a month.’ But I don’t think it was a strict rule,” Stimson said. “It was just whenever we got enough stuff together. It was once a month, or once every couple of months. We were doing it for us. We weren’t like, ‘Oh, our fans! We’ve got to get it out to them!’ It was for selfish reasons that we put the magazine out, not some benevolent thing of trying to satisfy our readers. We didn’t even know how many readers we had.”
Aside from sitting around listening to the records, the T&G dudes were also watching it happen. In the dead of winter, mostly between ‘77-‘79, the pair would drive to Detroit in Stimson’s unheated VW to Club Bookie’s (a defunct punk club) to watch a number of bands. Throughout the years, at various clubs, they would see The Ramones, The Misfits, The Necros, 999, Gang of Four, The Cramps, Negative Approach and Coldcock — to only name a few.
While some Lansing venues booked punk acts (Bunches Cafe, Dooley’s, Club DooBee, Rainbow Ranch), most of the Lansing music scene in 1979 was based heavily around power pop acts like The Romantics and other danceable bands; Vee and Stimson were the odd men out in mid-Michigan — and they wanted to write about it in their magazine. In November 1979, the first issue was released. It was an edition of 50 copies and was only available locally at FBC; the rest were sent out to bands and fellow punk magazines like Slash (a Los Angeles punk zine).
The issues were typed on an IBM Selectric typewriter, hand-stapled and printed page-by-page on a Xerox machine after hours at Tesco’s work — a Williamston elementary school where he worked as a third- and fifth-grade teacher.
At its genesis, T&G was simply a handmade, Lansing-based zine that would eventually piss off and offend people far beyond Michigan.
“It was two guys who were super fans of the music,” Vee said. “We loved things and hated things and told it exactly like it was. There was no beating around the bush. I am a (Creem Magazine writer) Lester Bangs devotee. I loved his reviews that had nothing to do with the record. I’ve gotten in trouble for that before. Tom Hazelmyer at AmRep (Amphetamine Reptile Records) didn’t talk to me for, like, 20 years because I gave that kind of review to a Boss Hog record.”
While they were passionate about the music, Vee said he and Stimson weren’t opposed to reviewing rarities for the sake of a good laugh.
“It’s funny. We’d go to Dearborn Music and we’d buy so many 7-inches,” Vee said. “To be honest, there was some stuff in there that we bought just because it was so obscure — probably only 50 or 100 copies. How a copy made it to Detroit from England, I don’t know.
“But we’d write about it like it was just the greatest thing ever — just to fuck with people. They’d be like, ‘I can’t find that record anywhere!’ Of course you can’t, there were only five made, and we bought one of them.”
After a series of steadily growing T&G issues, Vee said hardcore punk bands like Black Flag and Teen Idles (a pre-Minor Threat band featuring Ian MacKaye) were catching on to what T&G were doing. In 1981 T&G also became a small indie label, releasing singles by hardcore punk bands like The Necros, The Fix, The Meatmen (Vee’s band), and Negative Approach.
Henry Rollins, former member of S.O.A., Black Flag and Rollins Band, recalled T&G’s early influence and support in a time when no one, aside from the bands in the scene, cared about hardcore punk.
“Touch and Go was a great organizer,” Rollins said. “The zine, the label, The Necros — they helped other bands, zines and labels form. Inspiration was hard to find back in those days. They were a bright light.”
By the fall of 1981, after 17 issues, Stimson decided to move out of state for work, and left the zine to Vee, who would finish the last five issues. Stimson lives in Arlington, Va.
Eventually, the zine led to a friendship between Vee and future Washington, D.C., punk icon Ian MacKaye — who, in the pre-Internet days, were pen-pals. In September 1982, the friendship persuaded Vee to move to Washington,
where a groundbreaking D.I.Y. hardcore punk scene was taking off. In 1999, Vee moved himself and his family back to the Lansing area.
It was at that point in 1982 that Vee decided to concentrate on finding work in D.C. Vee decided he was finished writing about bands and handed over T&G to his friend Corey Rusk (of The Necros). Rusk had been helping Vee
operate the label end of T&G since 1981 and took an interest in keeping the Touch and Go brand alive as a record label. In September 1983, Vee released the last issue of T&G. Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins are pictured on the cover.
Later that year, in 1983, Rusk relocated Touch and Go Records to Chicago, where it quickly grew into one of the most influential indie labels of all time. It would become renowned after working with bands like the Jesus Lizard, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Negative Approach, Urge Overkill, Henry Rollins, Violent Apathy and Scratch Acid (to only name
a few). In later years it was home to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. Today, Rusk continues to operate the label from Chicago.
According to Stimson, without Rusk’s hard work Touch and Go would likely be forgotten today.
“He could have changed the name of the label, then Touch & Go would have just disappeared and been a footnote in history," Stimson said. "By keeping the label alive, there has always been a connection between the fanzine and the label.Corey brought prestige to the label by having great bands — that enhanced the name of Touch & Go.”
While Rusk turned Touch and Go Records into a profitable business, Vee moved on and focused on being the
frontman of The Meatmen, a politically incorrect, humor-driven band (but not a “joke band”) that recorded a string of albums. The band played and recorded steadily until 1996. In 2007, the band began touring again with a new lineup. Vee is also fronting Tesco Vee’s Hate Police, which has a calendar full of tour dates.
“Tesco was a local character,” recalled Dick Rosemont, co-owner of FBC, and longtime friend of both Vee and Stimson.
“He was kind of a contradiction in terms because here’s this guy who's screaming and yelling on stage about ‘Tooling For Anus.’ So here’s this persona, yet the guy is a huge ABBA fan. He is kind of a contradiction to me, and the fact that he was a schoolteacher makes him almost like Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s a down-to-earth, nice guy. His stage persona is another story.”
Stimson said Vee and The Meatmen were able to get away with outlandish songs and stage shows because of Vee’s reverence in the growing punk scene.
“Tesco had a certain amount of respect from everyone in that scene, so he could get away with pushing the envelope,” Stimson said. “Not everyone is going to find songs like ‘One Down, Three to Go’ (a Meatmen song about John Lennon’s assassination) all that amusing. They may just think it’s in bad taste. That was the whole point.
"John Lennon was shot in 1980. That song is on the first LP, which was released a year later. It was still pretty fresh in most people's minds. Then he comes out with an EP called ‘Crippled Children Suck.’ You’ve got to have a weird sense of humor.”
Today, when he’s not touring, Vee continues his 24-year career in telecommunications and is busy promoting the T&G book — something he and Stimson are proud to see published.
“It feels really good. Now that it’s coming out I am super-excited. In the back of my mind I didn’t know if anyone would do it. Me and Steve Miller, the editor of the book, pitched it for two and a half years. We had a couple big publishers really interested, but then we wouldn’t hear back. They probably saw the copy and got cold feet.
"Then Ian Christe from Bazillion Points Publishing came out of the woodwork and was totally into it. He just embraced this project and is pushing it.”
Punk veterans — as well as contemporary fans — can read in detail about the ‘79-’83 period of under-the-radar music.
“Having this come out really gives people more than a snap shot, but a mural of what was going on at that time,” said Miller. “That magazine chronicles what was happening in the Midwest at that time. It’s beautiful. It’s far beyond what we thought it would be.”