Review: ‘This Is a Film About the Black Keys,’ starring Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney

March 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney in “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” (Photo by Jim Herrington)

“This Is a Film About the Black Keys”

Directed by Jeff Dupre

Culture Representation: The documentary film “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) who are all connected in some way to the American rock duo the Black Keys and who discuss the band.

Culture Clash: Black Keys members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, who have very different personalities from each other, go through their ups and downs in their careers and their personal lives.

Culture Audience: In addition to appealing to the obvious target audience of Black Keys fans “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” will appeal primarily to people who like watching documentaries that are similar to “Behind the Music.”

“This Is a Film About the Black Keys” is a competent but not outstanding documentary that comes across as a “Behind the Music” type of promotional showcase. It has candid interviews and great archival footage, but the film has some obvious omissions in the Black Keys’ story. The documentary raises some questions that never get answered. However, the behind-the-scenes footage makes the documentary worth watching, even if you know that the filmmakers could have made more courageous choices in how this story was told.

Directed by Jeff Dupre, “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival, about a month before the release of the Black Keys’ 12th studio album “Ohio Players.” The calculated timing of both the movie’s premiere and the album’s release has “Behind the Music” influences written all over it, since most artists who’ve agreed to do a “Behind the Music” episode do it to promote a new album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it usually means that the artists won’t allow the most unflattering aspects of their lives to be explored in depth in whatever documentary they’re doing to coincide with the release of a new album.

“This is a Film About the Black Keys” follows the “Behind the Music” rock band biography narrative formula, almost beat by beat: A band comes from humble beginnings, slowly builds up a fan base from releasing albums and touring, has breakthrough mainstream success, and then gets caught up in the pitfalls of fame—usually having to do with huge egos, money and substance abuse. “This is a Film About the Black Keys” checks all of those boxes.

The Black Keys have a few characteristics that set them apart from most rock artists: They are a duo when most rock artists are either solo artists or are part of band with at least three members. The Black Keys members—lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney—also don’t have a typical rock band origin story of a bunch of people forming a band because they were already friends or because they went through a lengthy search to find the right people to be in the band.

Instead, Auerbach (born in 1979) and Carney (born in 1980) say that they were more like friendly acquaintances than close friends when they started making music together. Carney and Auerbach both grew up on the same street and went to the same high school in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. The documentary dutifully covers biographical information that can be found on the Internet about the Black Keys. Carney and Auerbach are interviewed, as well as some of their family members, business associates and music industry fans.

When Auerbach and Carney were students at Firestone High School in Akron, Auerbach was a popular athlete but his real passion was music, having learned to play guitar from the age of 7. Carney says of his self-described nerdy teenage years: “I couldn’t get a girl to talk to me, so I got into rock and roll.” The “opposites attract” theme is repeated throughout the movie: Carney says he’s the extrovert who prefers to handle the duo’s business affairs and do interviews, while Auerbach is the introvert who prefers to do most of the duo’s songwriting and musical arranging.

Something that Auerbach and Carney have in common is that they both have several musicians in their families. Auerbach’s mother Mary Little says that most of her siblings are musicians. Auerbach’s cousin Robert Quine is a well-known avant-garde rock musician. Early on in their relationship, Auerbach and Carney also bonded over their admiration of musician R.L. Burnside.

As teenagers, Auerbach and Carney would occasionally play music together, but they were in different social circles in high school. Carney and Auerbach both attended the University of Akron but would eventually drop out to become full-time musicians. Auerbach says that he would skip classes in college so he could spend time in his room to play guitar. Carney describes his college years as still being at a freshman after three years of college.

Auerbach and Carney ended up forming a musical partnership in 2001. It happened after Carney had been hired to be a recording engineer for Auerbach’s band. The other musicians in the band didn’t show up, so Auerbach and Carney began jamming together and decided they could make music together as a duo. Auerbach says, “Right away, Pat and I bonded over our love of recording.” He says that they both still prefer recording over touring.

After some debate over what to call their musical act, they chose the Black Keys. The name was inspired by a friend named Alfred McMoore, who would sometimes call people the “black keys” of a piano if he was upset with them. Auerbach says in the documentary about the duo’s decision to become full-time musicians without having a record deal or a steady income: “There was no back-up plan. We had to make it work.”

By their own admission, the Black Keys have communication problems with each other. Auerbach and Carney say that they have always had difficulty talking about their problems. They say that they usually deal with their personal issues with each other by trying to ignore them. However, it causes resentment over time, which has led to periods of Auerbach and Carney being estranged from each other.

Nowhere is this communication problem more evident in the documentary than in a sequence showing Carney at a soundcheck for a Black Keys arena show while Auerbach is busy shopping for clothes. Carney is furious that his bandmate isn’t there for the soundcheck and rants about how unprofessional Auerbach is for not telling Carney and other people where Auerbach is during this soundcheck.

Meanwhile, Auerbach (accompanied by a few members of his entourage) is shown trying on high-priced clothing at a store and being treated like rock star. When the time comes for the Black Keys to do the concert, Auerbach and Carney are standing next to each backstage but don’t talk about Auerbach’s soundcheck absence that was upsetting to Carney. For this concert, Auerbach is wearing the jacket that he bought at the store.

The Black Keys’ slow and steady rise to Grammy-winning, arena-rock success is a familiar tale of “alternative rock” artists who want a lot of praise, recognition and money for what they do, but they don’t want to be perceived as “sell-outs” or fake. They also want to be able to experiment musically without alienating their core fan base. John Peets, a former manager of the Black Keys, says of the Black Keys’ musical outlook: “They are a fiercely independent band.”

The Black Keys were independent in the beginning of their career, having signed with a series of independent labels and producing their own albums. The band began getting positive reviews for their first album—2002’s “The Big Come Up”—and toured relentlessly for their albums. Carney did a lot of the duo’s bus driving and tour managing in the early days of the Black Keys. He’s the raconteur who is more likely than Auerbach to tell stories in the documentary about their experiences with dingy motels, low-paying gigs, and travel mishaps on the road.

In the early years of the Black Keys, their personal lives of the Black Keys also had parallels to their professional lives. Auerbach and Carney both got married to their first wives around the same time: Carney married his high-school sweetheart Denise Grollmus in 2007. Auerbach married Stephanie Gonis in 2008. Both marriages ended in very messy and public divorces—Carney and Grollmus split in 2009, while Auerbach and Gonis broke up in 2013, with their divorce becoming final in 2014. In the documentary, the divorces are described in vague terms that essentially amount to saying “irreconcilable differences” or “growing apart.”

The details of these divorces are left out of the documentary, but there is a little bit of acknowledgement in the movie about how these divorces affected the Black Keys’ work: By Carney’s own admission, he began drinking alcohol a lot more during his divorce from Grollmus, thereby making the recording of the Black Keys’ 2010 album “Brothers” much more difficult. It’s also mentioned that Auerbach’s divorce from Gonis had a big influence on the emotionally raw and wounded lyrics of the Black Keys’ 2014 album “Turn Blue,” the album that nearly broke up the Black Keys because it was made during a low point in the relationship between Carney and Auerbach. In retrospect, Carney says that during this tumultuous time, the Black Keys probably should have gone on vacation instead of doing an album and tour.

Gonis is the only wife or ex-wife interviewed in the documentary. Her comments that are in the movie mostly describe when her relationship with Auerbach was going well. However, she says their divorce happened because she and Auerbach drifted apart because of all the time he spent away from home. Gonis jokes about their “shotgun wedding” and says that although Auerbach is a loving father, she felt like a single mother raising their daughter Sadie Little Auerbach, who was born in 2008 and is seen briefly in archival footage.

The documentary does not mention any of the sordid information that was widely reported about the divorce filings, such as Gonis’ allegations that Auerbach abused her, or Auerbach’s allegations that Gonis attempted suicide twice in one day. Auerbach was married to Jen Goodall from 2015 to 2019. He is not forthcoming about what really happened in the failures of his two marriages. It isn’t too surprising that Auerbach is unwilling to talk about his personal problems in a biographical documentary that is largely about his life, since he is frequently described in the documentary as being secretive and mysterious, even by people who’ve known him for a very long time.

A turning point for the Black Keys came in 2007, when they collaborated with a pop music producer for the first time: Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Joseph Burton. At the time, it seemed to be an unlikely collaboration: Danger Mouse was a Grammy-winning hitmaker best known for Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 R&B/pop smash “Crazy.” However, Carney says he fell in love with the song, which he describes as “cinematic.” The result of the first collaboration between the Black Keys and Danger Mouse was the Black Keys’ 2008 album “Attack & Release.”

The Black Keys went on to get an even larger audience with their 2010 mainstream breakthrough album “Brothers,” which featured the hit “Tighten Up.” It was the first album the Black Keys released after the duo relocated to Nashville and after collaborating again with Danger Mouse. The Black Keys won three Grammys because of “Brothers” and won another three Grammys for their 2011 album “El Camino,” which featured the hit “Lonely Boy.”

Although Carney comes across as more socially confident than Auerbach, Carney admits that behind the scenes, he’s had longtime insecurities about his place in the Black Keys, because Auerbach has often treated him as a backup musician instead of as an equal. One of the biggest rifts that they had was in the mid-2010s, when Auerbach recorded his first solo album without telling Carney, who thinks that this secrecy was a betrayal to Carney. Auerbach says in the documentary that the reason for the secrecy was that Carney was “impossible to be around” at that time. Perhaps one of the more honest moments in the documentary is Carney expressing his fear that he is replaceable in the Black Keys.

The Black Keys’ personal problems within themselves, with each other and in their marriages get uneven exploration in the documentary. Carney’s drinking problem that severely affected the recording of “Brothers” is mentioned but somewhat glossed over. No one comes right out and says that Carney is an alcoholic, but that’s something the documentary filmmakers should have asked Carney. The documentary also doesn’t mention if Carney every got professional help for his drinking problem.

Carney’s marital problems are also described in generic terms or not mentioned at all. He admits that his divorce from first ex-wife Grollmus was bitter, but he barely mentions his second ex-wife Emily Ward, whom he was married to from 2012 to 2016. Carney’s third wife is Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Michelle Branch, whom he married in 2019. Their scandalous separation in 2022 and subsequent reunion—Branch publicly accused him of infidelity, filed for divorce, and then decided to call off the divorce—are not mentioned at all. In the documentary, Carney is briefly shown spending time with his and Branch’s son Rhys James (born in 2018), who appears in some Black Keys rehearsal footage.

A documentary does not need to go the tabloid route and air a lot of dirty laundry. But when a celebrity documentary is made about a celebrity’s life, and several people in the documentary say the celebrity’s personal problems directly affected the celebrity’s work, it behooves the documentary filmmakers to get more details and introspection from the people who caused the problems or were directly affected by the problems. It’s especially noticeable that the documentary doesn’t seem to care to mention if Carney got professional help for what many people describe in the documentary as his alcohol addiction.

In a director’s statement in the movie’s production note, Dupre says about the making of this documentary: “I was going to need Pat and Dan to tell me everything. What they told me first was that they weren’t always very good at communicating with each other. Would they open up to me? I soon realized I wouldn’t need to lean on them quite as much as I thought I would because their music would speak volumes if we let it.”

Dupre further commented in the statement: “Want to know who they were and what they were feeling at every step of the way? Listen to their songs. That became the operating principle in the editing room: as much as possible, let their music tell the story and drive the narrative. … Pat and Dan did open up and come through in their interviews … in spades. But their incredible music expresses who they are and what they’ve been through beyond talk and beyond words.”

That’s all well and good, but “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” is not a concert documentary or a documentary about the making of an album. It’s supposed to be a biographical documentary that looks at all aspects of their lives, but the movie comes across as playing it a little too safe, as if the filmmakers wanted the approval of the Black Keys’ publicity team too. The documentary has very good concert scenes, but gives very little insight into the inspirations or recordings of specific Black Keys songs.

The people interviewed in the documentary do not include any critics of the Black Keys. Other interviewees include Dan Auerbach’s father Chuck Auerbach; Patrick Carney’s brother Michael Carney; Fat Possum Records executives Matthew Johnson and Bruce Watson; Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Beck; and journalist Peter Relic, who gave the Black Keys’ their first review in Rolling Stone magazine.

The Black Keys’ notorious feud (which has since been settled) with Jack White (formerly of the rock duo the White Stripes) is not mentioned at all in the documentary. The closest thing that the documentary will mention to any music feuds that the Black Keys had was when Carney got some social media hate from Justin Bieber fans in 2013, when a reporter asked Carney to comment on Bieber not getting any Grammy nominations that year, and Carney made a flippant comment that Bieber should be happy with being rich. This short-lived and petty trolling from angry Bieber fans is quickly laughed off in the documentary for what is. But if you believe everything in this documentary, the Black Keys never had any uncomfortable rivalries with other musicians, when the reality is that they did.

People can enjoy the Black Keys’ music in any number of ways, including this documentary. As entertaining it might be to look at the impressive array of archival Black Keys footage that the documentary has compiled, the movie’s overall story of the Black Keys looks very much like a sympathetically slanted portrait of how the Black Keys want to see themselves and not a complete story of who they really are. Based on the final results, the documentary filmmakers seemed all too willing to go along and leave perhaps the hardest parts of the Black Keys’ story left untold.

Review: ‘Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine,’ starring Dave Marsh, Connie Kramer, Jaan Uhelszki, Alice Cooper, Chad Smith, Kirk Hammett and Cameron Crowe

August 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer) in “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine”

Directed by Scott Crawford

Culture Representation: The documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” features an almost entirely white group of entertainers and journalists (with one Asian and one African American) discussing the history of Creem, a Michigan-based rock magazine that was published monthly in print format from 1969 to 1989.

Culture Clash:  Creem, which was considered the “edgier” alternative to Rolling Stone magazine, prided itself on being disrespectful of many artists; there were serious internal conflicts among Creem staffers; and Creem often had a lot of content that would be considered politically incorrect today.

Culture Audience: “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” will appeal mostly to people who are interested in rock music or the magazine industry from the 1970s and 1980s.

Barry Kramer, Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs in “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

The documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” gets its subtitle from the slogan of Creem magazine, which had a raucous ride in monthly print circulation from 1969 to 1989. The movie includes interviews with numerous people who either worked for the magazine and/or considered themselves to be regular readers of Creem. It’s a nostalgic look at a bygone era when print magazines had more clout than they do now, when it comes to influencing music artist’s careers and shaping pop culture.

The documentary (originally titled “Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine”) doesn’t gloss over the dark side of Creem’s history, but the overall tone of the movie is one that’s similar to how someone would look back on their rebellious youth. Almost everyone interviewed in the documentary was born before 1970.

One of the main reasons why the “Creem” documentary (directed by Scott Crawford) has an overall fondness for the magazine is because some of Creem’s former staffers were involved in making the movie and are interviewed in the documentary. Jaan Uhelszki, a former Creem senior editor, is one of the documentary’s producers, and she co-wrote the movie with Crawford. Connie Kramer, who used to be Creem’s associate publisher and was married to Creem co-founder Barry Kramer, is one of the documentary’s executive producers.

Another producer of the documentary is JJ Kramer, Barry and Connie Kramer’s son who inherited partial ownership of the magazine after Barry passed away in 1981. (Barry Kramer was not related to MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer, who wrote this documentary’s original music score.) Susan Whitall, who was a Creem editor from 1978 to 1983, is an associate producer of the documentary.

It’s pretty obvious that the documentary was filmed over several years, because some of the artists look different now, compared to how they look in the documentary. However, their commentaries are insightful and offer the additional perspectives of people who were not only in the magazine but who also were fans of Creem. (Only a few of the artists interviewed in the documentary became famous after Creem’s publication ended in 1989.)

There’s an overabundance of people interviewed in the documentary, but the film editing is good enough where the soundbites aren’t too repetitive and each has something unique to say. The types of people interviewed for the documentary essentially fall into two categories: entertainers (usually music artists) and former Creem employees/other journalists.

The music artists interviewed include Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Kiss singer/bassist Gene Simmons, Kiss singer/guitarist Paul Stanley, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, former R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, the Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, music producer Don Was, Suzi Quatro, Destroy All Monsters singer Niagra Detroit, former J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf, Lenny Kaye, Mitch Ryder, Lamar Sorrento, Johnny “Bee” Bandanjek, Patti Quatro Ericson, Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, Joan Jett, Michael Des Barres, Scott Richardson, Keith Morris (founding member of the bands Black Flag and the Circle Jerks), and Redd Kross co-founding brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald.

In addition to Uhelszki, Connie Kramer and Whitall, the former Creem staffers interviewed in the documentary include Dave Marsh, who was Creem’s editor-in-chief from 1969 to 1973; Dave DiMartino, who was an editor from 1978 to 1986; Wayne Robins and Robert Duncan, who were editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, from 1975 to 1976; Ed Ward, who was West Coast editor from 1971 to 1977; Bill Holdship, who was a senior editor from 1980 to 1986; and Billy Altman, a reviews editor who worked for Creem from 1975 to 1985.

Creem alumni who were also interviewed include former staff writer Roberta “Robbie” Cruger, former editorial assistant Resa Jarrett, former staff photographer Michael N. Marks, former circulation manager Jack Kronk, former contributing writer Craig Karpel, former assistant to the publisher Sandra Stretke and former manager Toby Mamis. Other assorted journalists offering their comments in the documentary are Ann Powers, Legs McNeil, Scott Sterling, Ben Fong-Torres, Greil Marcus, John Holstrom, Josh Bassett, radio personality Dan Carlisle (who worked for Detroit’s WABX-FM during Creem’s early years) and photographers Bob Gruen and Neal Preston.

And there are some people from the worlds of art, movies or fashion who are included in the documentary, including artist Shepard Fairey, actor Jeff Daniels, former model Bebe Buell, fashion mogul John Varvatos and filmmaker Cameron Crowe, who started his writing career as a teenage music journalist in the 1970s for magazines such as Creem and Rolling Stone. Crowe’s real-life experiences as a beginner teenage journalist in the early 1970s became the inspiration for his Oscar-winning 2000 comedy/drama movie “Almost Famous,” which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman portraying Lester Bangs, Creem’s most influential writer.

Creem’s roots began in Detroit in 1969, when Barry Kramer (who owned shops in the area that sold music and drug paraphernalia) joined forces with a Brit named Tony Reay to co-found Creem magazine, with Kramer as publisher and Reay as editor. Rolling Stone magazine, which launched in 1967, was named after the Rolling Stones, the favorite band of Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner. In a cheeky nod to that idea, Creem was named after Reay’s favorite band Cream, the British blues-rock trio led by Eric Clapton.

Robert Crumb, also known as underground cartoonist R. Crumb, was recruited to come up with Creem’s original artwork, which included the magazine’s famous Boy Howdy mascot resembling a bottle of milk cream. It’s mentioned in the documentary that Creem offered to pay Crumb’s medical bills in exchange for his art services. Crumb’s illustrations and Creem’s irreverent humor often resulted in people describing Creem as the Mad magazine of rock’n’roll.

Reay’s stint as Creem’s founding editor didn’t last long, because he and Barry Kramer didn’t see eye-to-eye in the direction of the magazine. According to former staffers interviewed in the documentary, Reay wanted Creem to be a niche publication for blues-rock enthusiasts, while Barry Kramer wanted Creem to be a slick magazine that reached a wider rock audience. Reay parted ways with Creem, which hired Marsh as the next editor-in-chief in 1969, when Marsh was just 19 years old and had no previous experience editing a magazine. Marsh certainly didn’t take the job for the money, since he says that his Creem salary at the time was only $5 a week.

Marsh comments in the documentary “I had a vision for what the magazine could do for kids who were out there being ridiculed and beat up … The idea I had about Creem was that even in rock’n’roll, it had come to pass that there were stuffy ways of dealing with people. And I thought part of your job as a human being was to oppose that.”

Several artists interviewed about Creem in the documentary make comments essentially saying that Creem’s primary appeal was that it was a magazine made by and for rebels and misfits. Creem and Rolling Stone both considered themselves to be counterculture magazines when they first launched. However, Rolling Stone (which was originally based in San Francisco before moving its headquarters New York City in 1977) had aspirations that were more highbrow and more glamorous than Creem had.

It’s noted in the documentary that Rolling Stone co-founder Wenner (the magazine’s longtime editor-in-chief/publisher) loved hanging out with rock stars and other celebrities, which had an effect on the type of coverage that Rolling Stone gave to certain artists who were considered Wenner’s friends. Creem was the type of magazine that identified more with the fans who paid for albums and concert tickets. Bangs famously advised other music journalists to never make friends with rock stars in order to keep journalistic integrity, but it’s mentioned in the documentary that Bangs sometimes broke that rule himself.

Bangs, who was a freelancer for most of his career as a music writer/editor, is described by many in the documentary as a brilliant but fickle writer who was addicted to meth. Marcus says that when Bangs started writing for Creem in 1970, Bangs “turned [Creem] into a playground [with] … a wonderful sense of mocking everything.”

Crowe comments on the frequent conflicts between Bangs and Marsh: “Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh were like the two people that, within their collaboration, what they got to argue about is why and how to love the thing they loved. And what came out of that was desperate, reckless, raw, unforgettable coverage of this thing they were both in love with.”

Several people in the documentary comment that Creem’s “outsider” attitude had a lot to do with the fact that the magazine was based in the Midwest state of Michigan for most of its existence, instead of a big city on the East Coast or West Coast. The documentary gives a great overview of the Detroit music scene in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, to provide necessary context of why Creem’s Detroit origins were crucial to the magazine’s original tone and outlook. Creem embraced subgenres of rock that Rolling Stone tended to dislike in the 1970s, such as punk and heavy metal.

Although Creem was known for championing a lot of artists who were ignored or bashed by other rock magazines, Creem was notorious for its vicious insults directed at artists and other celebrities. Sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and body-shaming comments were not unusual in Creem. And the magazine probably would’ve had a lot of racist comments too if not for the fact that white artists got almost all of the coverage in this rock-oriented magazine. Creem was also known for having female artists and models pose in sexually provocative pinup photos, while nude (but not pornographic) photos of women and men were not unusual in Creem.

Uhelszki admits that much of Creem’s content would be considered problematic or offensive enough that people could get fired it for today. “Everybody was politically incorrect,” she says of Creem’s staff at the time. Uhelszki remembers that back in Creem’s 1970s heyday, the inflammatory comments in the magazine were all part of Creem’s rebellious image.

Uhelszki also says that it wasn’t just the men on the male-dominated staff who wrote the misogynistic comments, because she wrote a lot of sexist content for the magazine too. “It was a boys’ magazine. It was meant for teenage boys,” Uhelszki comments in the documentary. “Did girls read it? Sure, they did. It was only sexually provocative when it was funny.”

While Creem was stirring up enough controversy where it was considered an inappropriate magazine for very young children, several former Creem staffers say in the documentary that there was chaos behind the scenes too, as Creem employees partied like the rock stars they gave coverage to in the magazine. In other words, drug-fueled behavior was part of the craziness. Creem’s original headquarters on Cass Avenue in Detroit was also in a run-down building in a crime-infested area, where it was not unusual for the female employees to be sexually groped on the streets on the way to and from the office.

People would also use the office as a “crash pad” to sleep and bring their personal lives to work with them, since the office would often be a battleground for arguments between employees and their significant others who didn’t work for Creem. And several of the employees mention that the staff had a love-hate relationship with Barry Kramer. Whitall comments, “Barry was an explosive editor … but he also had a sense of fun.”

The increasingly unsafe urban environment of Detroit became too much for the head honchos at Creem, so they decided to move to a completely different work environment. Creem’s headquarters relocated to a rural farm commune in Walled Lake, Michigan, where the magazine was based from 1971 to 1973. Creem’s crucial staff members lived and worked on the commune.

At the commune, the lines between personal and professional lives continued to blur for some staffers. In addition to Dave and Connie Kramer being a couple, some of the staffers were inevitably involved in co-worker romances. Marsh and Cruger were a couple, while Uhelszki was dating Charlie Auringer, who was Creem’s art director at the time.

Connie Kramer says in the documentary: “The women in the house … were much more monogamous than any of the men.” Uhelszki says of Creem’s Walled Lake headquarters, “It was a horrible place to be. And we were there for two years.”

Creem then relocated again in 1973. This time, it was to the Michigan suburban city of Birmingham, where the magazine experienced what many people consider to be the peak years of Creem. Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Smith, who grew up in the nearby city of Bloomfield Hills, remembers that when he was a kid, he was so excited to find out that Creem’s head office was close to where he lived, that he rode his bike to the office, and one of the first people he saw come out of the building was Alice Cooper. Smith says he was naturally star-struck.

The documentary includes some archival 1970s film footage of Creem staffers at headquarters, as well as many great photos from past issues of Creem. There’s a short segment on Uhelszki’s article “I Dreamed I Was Onstage With Kiss in My Maidenform Bra,” from Creem’s August 1975 issue. The article documented Uhelszki’s experience of getting to put on stage makeup with Kiss and joining the band on stage for a concert. It’s the type of article Rolling Stone magazine would never do, since Rolling Stone despised Kiss at the time. Kiss members Simmons and Stanley remember how the band argued about which member of Kiss would be the one Uhelszki would portray when she got her stage makeup done for the article.

The Boy Howdy mascot was such a part of Creem’s identity that the magazine got rock stars and other celebrities to pose for photos with fictional Boy Howdy beer cans. (A Boy Howdy sticker would be placed over real beer cans to make it look like Boy Howdy beer was real.) Not everyone was a fan of these promotional stunt photos. Longtime rock photographer Preston comments on the Boy Howdy beer cans: “The whole Boy Howdy thing was completely cheeseball, and I was mortified anytime I had to ask anybody to shoot with them.”

Another popular Creem photo feature was Star Cars, with each issue having a different celebrity posed with one of the celebrity’s vehicles. In 1977, Aerosmith lead guitarist Joe Perry notoriously posed for Creem with his mangled 1967 blue Corvette that he crashed in a car accident. Also included is a documentary segment on Creem’s Profiles, a one-page feature inspired by Dewar’s Profiles. Creem’s Profiles weren’t full-length interviews but were lists of artists’ likes, dislikes and other thoughts on various subjects.

The documentary also includes a segment about Creem’s famous section for reader mail, in which reader comments would be published next to sarcastic responses from Creem editors. Uhelszki says that the most famous reader letter they got was from Jett, the co-founder of the Runaways, who reacted to Creem’s extremely misogynistic review of the Runaways’ 1976 self-titled first album. In the review, Creem writer Rick Johnson said of the all-female Runaways: “These bitches suck … Girls are just sissies after all.”

In the documentary, Jett remembers her reaction to the review: “I was infuriated.” She says she was so angry that she showed up at Creem headquarters looking for Johnson, but he wasn’t there. “I bet he ran out the back door,” Jett quips in the documentary, which includes her voiceover reading of her letter that was published in Creem. The letter, which is directed at critic Johnson, says in part: “Since you seem to know that girls are sissies, come and see us sometime, and we’ll kick your fucking ass in.”

Just like what happens to a turbulent but successful rock band, the more popular Creem became, the more there was turmoil behind the scenes. The documentary details the main feuds that would eventually tear apart Creem’s original “dream team” senior-level staff. There was Barry Kramer vs. Marsh, who disagreed over editorial coverage and had fist fights over it. There was Marsh vs. Bangs, who also had physical altercations with each other and clashed over the direction in which the magazine should go. And there was Barry Kramer vs. Connie Kramer, who says that their marriage was ruined by cocaine addiction.

According to Uhelszki, Bangs wanted Creem to have more of a satirical edge, while Marsh wanted Creem to have more serious political content. Both Marsh and Bangs would eventually leave Creem: Marsh in 1973, and Bangs in 1976. Marsh went on to write for Newsday, Rolling Stone and other publications, while Bangs continued his freelance career and died of a Darvon overdose in 1982, at the age of 33. Even though Bangs was a known hardcore drug addict, several people in the documentary remember how shocked they were to hear about his death, because he had recently completely a stint in rehab.

Connie went to rehab and left Barry, because she says that he did not want to stop doing cocaine. They divorced in 1980. Barry tragically committed suicide by nitrous oxide suffocation in 1981, at the age of 37. Connie still seems to be experiencing denial and shame over his death because she says in the documentary that Barry “didn’t commit suicide” but “he wanted to end his life.”

Connie Kramer eventually sold Creem to Arnold Levitt in 1986. The magazine relocated to Los Angeles in 1987 and then ceased its monthly publication in 1989. Because this documentary is meant to showcase Creem before it was sold to Levitt, there’s hardly anything in the movie about the last few years of Creem. The magazine, licensed to a group of investors, was revived as a New York City-based bimonthly publication from 1990 to 1993, but that revival ultimately failed. The movie doesn’t include the legal disputes during the 2000s and 2010s over the Creem name and archives.

“Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” gives the impression that its candid look at the good, bad and ugly aspects of this magazine’s history is precisely because the magazine is no longer in business and former employees can speak more freely about people who are no longer their co-workers. It’s a much grittier and more honest portrayal of the wild and wooly days of 20th century rock journalism than, for example, HBO’s “Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge,” a glossy 2017 documentary celebrating Rolling Stone’s 50th anniversary. Although the artists in the “Creem” documentary have important perspectives, the magazine’s former staffers are the ones whose behind-the-scenes stories resonate the most.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine” in select U.S. cinemas on August 7, 2020.

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