November 2010

Ben King

nonfiction

Scam: The First Four Issues! by Erick Lyle

When I was 16 I went on a road trip to Winchester, Tennessee, with my best friend, Turf. (We called him that because his hair was the color of AstroTurf.) I think we went to Tennessee because someone knew someone whose dad worked at Jack Daniel's and could get us free booze. We “liberated” some six-packs of King Cobra from a local convenience store and hit the road. We ate ramen noodles out of pots, slept on floors, and drank close to our weight in malt liquor and free Jack Daniel's. We would have thought that Scam was awesome.

Though this compilation from Microcosm Publishing is only the first four issues of Scam, it spans almost ten years of the life of the author, Erick Lyle. The zine was mostly a produced during Lyle's time in Miami, and presents an interesting picture of the city in stark contrast to media images shown by CSI: Miami and Jersey Shore: Miami. Each issue in the volume spans a period of two years or so, and it's interesting to see Lyle's writing style evolve as he ages and matures. Instead of trying to sum up the entire compilation in one review, I'm going to look at each issue separately, since each issue has its own distinct personality.

Scam #1

The first issue of Scam finds Erick Lyle, having recently turned 18, living in a punk house, paying minimal rent and working a crappy job. I hate to overgeneralize, but it's about what people would expect from an 18-year-old who has a crappy job and lives with a bunch of punks. There's lots of how-to style articles on topics like how to scam CD stores by ordering from Columbia House, and writing to companies, complaining about the quality of products you've never tried, to get free food. There's also a ton of short blurb reviews covering everything from the new (in 1991) Screeching Weasel album to Danny Bonaduce. The highlights of this issue are interviews with Sam McPheeters (of Born Against) and Ben Weasel (uh... if you don't know who Ben Weasel is, you can probably stop reading here). The recipe for Ole' (that's “O-lay”) Chickenhead wine doesn't look bad either (it involves frozen orange juice concentrate and a balloon), but as I'm on hiatus from drinking, I'm going to have to let someone else who's bold enough to try it let me know how it goes.

Scam #2

Coming in at over 100 pages, Scam #2 (known as the “Mutiny in Miami” issue) is the longest part of the compilation. The style of “Mutiny in Miami” is totally different from its predecessor: it's less how-to-manual (although there are a few) and more of a flowing narrative of Lyle's life. The tongue-in-cheek reviews of Seventeen magazine have given way to reviews of Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie and Muhammad Ali's autobiography. The interviews have shifted focus to local Florida bands.

Honestly, it tends to ramble. Lyle writes some beautiful passages about digging through trash piles and staying up all night, but the issue is a little hard to read due to the length of some of the stories (handwritten, even four 8 ˝-by-11 pages can get hard to read), but overall the content makes it worth the slog through Lyle's layouts (now I know why my elementary school teachers always made me skip lines). The highlights of “Mutiny in Miami” include the descriptions of the abandoned Mutiny Hotel (where Lyle is squatting) with press clippings from its heyday as a cocaine smuggler's paradise in the 1980s, and the descriptions of the lesser-known parts of Miami. There's also a story by Ben Weasel. If you're into that kind of thing.

Scam #3

The third issue is fairly similar to “Mutiny in Miami.”  It doesn't have the heart, though. During the time between #2 and #3, it seems that Lyle secured a working typewriter (or maybe a few different ones), for which I am fucking grateful. I hate to say it, but the issue sort of falls flat compared to the other three issues included. It doesn't have the sophomoric humor of the first, the wistful beauty of the second, or the strong ideological stances of the fourth. It isn't bad, but it lacks the unifying theme of all the other issues. I'm just going to mention the highlights, which include an article on Alex Trebek and the Hobo Underground, an article about being broke, and how to scam a free trip to Europe.

Scam #4

Issue 4 is mainly written in San Francisco. It has a much more activist feel than any of the other issues included in the compilation. Though Lyle's activism is definitely evident in the first three issues (working to establish a Food Not Bombs program in Miami, etc.), this issue features numerous interviews with people from across the country working to change their communities. He interviews graffiti artists that give away free vegan burritos in San Francisco, a person who began a bike co-op in Philadelphia, and the people who began the San Francisco needle-exchange program. Lyle himself has begun a community newspaper for his neighborhood in the Tenderloin, and has begun using vandalism to express a deeper meaning than “Fuck the pigs.” There are still some interesting interviews with bands and a couple of good stories, but as a whole the issue is much more dedicated to activism than music. Highlights include: an article on living in the San Francisco Landfill, an interview with the Biotic Baking Brigade (political pie throwers!), and a search for urban fishermen in five American cities.

Overall, Scam is a zine that chronicles one young man's changes over a ten-year period. Much like the life the author leads, it can at times be fun, dull, depressing, or inspiring. The writing is pretty good for a zine. It doesn't focus all that much on the music, but the music runs in the background throughout -- it's a great choice for when all your friends leave the squat to move into their mom's house again or when you want to remind yourself of the “good old days.” Don't let Lyle bullshit you, though -- the 288 pages advertised on the front include the title page, introduction, and the pages of ads for other Microcosm Publishing products at the end. The thing is really more like 278 pages. So support your local (scam) artist and pick up a 16-dollar receipt off the ground at Borders, find the books on the receipt, and return them. Use the money to buy this book. Let's face it: your punk ass isn't getting the money any other way.

Scam: The First Four Issues! by Erick Lyle
Microcosm Publishing
ISBN: 193462070X
288 Pages