Twenty Years Ago in Details: February 1992

This was, I believe, the fourth issue of Details I worked on as a staffer. (Before that, I was freelancing for it while I worked as a copy editor at a computer magazine; I filed scads of record reviews, and then articles on industrial music, Dinosaur Jr., and Marky Mark.) There were a lot of talented people working at Details (not least the man who hired me, David Keeps), and a general expectation set by editor-in-chief James Truman that we would do smart work, sometimes incisive, sometimes dishy. I was the junior editor in the music section, responsible for the news page, the record reviews, the sidebars, and helping out with some of the features, plus I generally got to write one feature a month. It was an amazing job for a 22-year-old, and my experiences there still inform how I approach my work twenty years later.

I wanted to revisit an issue from two decades ago, and see what grabbed my attention now. So, the February 1992 issue of Details.

The most amusing reflection of its era: an article (by Mark Lewman of Dirt (the Sassy spinoff for boys)) on snowboarding, clearly written as introduction for people unfamiliar with the new-fangled sport.

The spookiest moment: a Q&A Margy Rochlin conducted with Brandon Lee, who died a little over a year later, on the set of The Crow. Specifically:

Q. What drives you crazy?
A. Women and death.
Q. Because?
A. Women, well, that’s self-explanatory. And death because you can’t take it back.

The opening page of the Eyewitness section seems like a fairly obvious lift of the Harper’s Index, but the big newsy photos within still look good. Lineup of the articles in the Style section: snowboarding (as mentioned), cognac, straight women who sleep with gay men, baseball clothes, STDs, the urge for violence, and–this was so Details–Lloyd Cole on corduroy.

Rob Tannenbaum did a great article on his visit to the skeevy, skanky Hedonism II resort.

“This place is not at all what I thought it would be,” he continues. “I expected a supermarket of women. I expected girls would lift up their shirts and beckon you over. But you have to pursue them. That’s not hedonism.”

Opening line of Danny Garcia’s service piece on visiting Miami: “If you like the energy of cities like Paris or London, which were completed hundreds of years ago, Miami is not for you.”

Q&As in the feature well: Rebecca DeMornay, Susan Faludi, Brandon Lee, Emilio Estevez (“The truth is I did lose my virginity in a brothel in the Philippines.”).

The cover story is a typically excellent profile by Chris Heath (or “X Heath,” as his name always got truncated on office memos), of the not especially introspective Christian Slater. Discussing how Slater took up golf after he got sober:

His grandparents–his mother’s parents–gave him a set of golf clubs.

Where are they now?

He looks puzzled. “Grandma’s in heaven, and Grandpa’s in Trenton.”

I meant the clubs.

“Oh. The clubs are in my closet. They’re not coming out, ever. They’re history.”

The comic strip at the back was the incoherent but entertaining Wild Palms, which would eventually become a miniseries starring a miscast Jim Belushi. The two movie articles were on a young Steven Soderbergh (“still freshman-skinny and wearing braces on his teeth”) making his second movie, Kafka, and in a sign of the times, Sony’s efforts to find a movie for Michael Jackson to star in.

Which brings us to my home turf, the music section. There’s lots of record reviews that I have no memory of editing (lead review: The Shamen). There’s news items that I barely remember writing (I retain a vague impression of having drinks with Jody Watley). Features on Bill Graham (his last interview), Marc Almond, Big Daddy Kane, and Primal Scream (Bobby Gillespie to Sylvia Patterson: “What’s my gold shirt made of? Heh, heh. Rock ‘n’ roll.”). I wrote a sidebar on the heights of various rock stars: it was misery to research and not that interesting once it was on the page.

Oh, yeah: I went to Germany to write about Nirvana, traveling with them from Berlin to Hamburg to Frankfurt (with young photographer Juergen Teller, who ended up being a big deal in his own right). I had gotten an advance tape of Nevermind and been raving about it at a high enough volume that I got the assignment when the album started to rise in the charts. (I also had an advance copy of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video–one day when we were closing an issue, I gathered up the junior editorial staff once an hour on the hour. We’d all go to the conference room, watch the video, and then return to work, convening again an hour later.) When I read the article now, there’s a lot that makes me wince, mostly stemming from my inexperience, but there’s also moments that make me happy, like Kurt Cobain writing a response to some misogynist graffiti: “You will be strung up by your balls and submerged into a vat of razor blades and sperm.” Or the story of Smith College’s radio station playing “Teen Spirit” 67 times in a week, including one spin by a reggae DJ. Or Dave Grohl sifting through garbage on the floor of the club after the show, looking for jewelry. Or Grohl meeting Martin Chambers of the Pretenders, with this aftermath:

Dave notes that since he actually liked the Pretenders, he found the situation much less awkward than the time he looked offstage in Vancouver and saw Loverboy’s drummer pumping his fist and saying, “Go, man! Go!”

Good times.

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