What The Heck Is Arthur Anyway?: A Quick Introduction
by Jay Babcock
Originally posted Oct 25, 2007 on Arthur’s Yahoo blog
What the heck is Arthur anyway?
Arthur is a critically acclaimed, transgenerational global counterculture magazine. We’ve been publishing it once every two months since 2002, giving it away free at record shops, used bookstores, coffeehouses, art galleries, movie theaters, shoe stores, hair salons, nightclubs, divebars, libraries, opium dens, juicerias, yoga studios, punk houses, all-ages venues, meditation spaces, ice cream trucks, colleges, food co-ops and other freak hideouts across North America. (If you haven’t seen Arthur before, you can order a hard copy from arthurmag.com. Of course if you need it NOWNOWNOW, you can download our latest issue as a PDF from our website also — but I gotta say the hard copy is really where it’s at — paper is portable, you don’t have to squint at it, the pages are designed to be viewed in a space bigger than most computer monitors anyway, and best of all, you can read magazines in the great outdoors — without using up any energy).
Arthur‘s mission is… um… Well, the main thing is it’s a labor of love. We cover what we want to cover. We write about what we want to write about. Generally speaking, we’re interested in the eternal underground, the edge of the envelope where freedom is freer, that tricky territory where new, progressive modes of art and behavior are tried out, whatever the period, whatever the mode. Kalakuta, Haight-Ashbury, Fort Thunder, Sao Paolo, Bolinas, the Lower Eastside, WhamCity: every interesting scene, or personage, is eligible. In each issue of Arthur, we gather together the best available talent — writers and photographers, artists and connoisseurs, filmmakers and video game designers, political actionists and festival organizers, ground-level poets and high-altitude observers — and let them share with us what they’ve found that is of particular interest, value, use. The idea is to bring stuff to the public’s attention — for free — that isn’t the dreary pop gunk that’s in our faces 24/7.
We’re not doing anything new, really. Just last week, The New Yorker ran a feature on the great learned historian Jacques Barzun, which included this tidbit: “In 1951, Barzun, [Lionel] Trilling, and W. H. Auden started up the Readers’ Subscription Book Club, writing monthly appreciations of books they thought the public would benefit from reading. The club lasted for eleven years, partly on the strength of the recommended books, which ranged from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows to Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition and partly on the strength of the editors’ reputations.”
That’s not to suggest that Arthur‘s team of contributors is of that stature, only that we share the same general program of cultural uplift — a desire to be something of more use than the general consumer guide that masquerades as a magazine in these sad, devolving times. In the last few years, Arthur‘s contributors have included Byron Coley & Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, whose regular “Bull Tongue” review column has been absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary underground culture; authors Trinie Dalton, Douglas Rushkoff, Erik Davis, Brian Evenson and Daniel Pinchbeck; veteran journalists Kristine McKenna, Peter Relic, Gabe Soria, Daniel Chamberlin, Dave Reeves, Sorina Diaconescu, John Payne and Eddie Dean; photographers Melanie Pullen, Eden Batki and Susannah Howe; and countless other writers, cartoonists, photographers, poets and –of course– designers.
Has Arthur made a difference? Not as much as we’d like. A magazine’s cultural impact is always going to be hard to measure in quantitative terms. But, that said, it’s been interesting to watch how artists–and ideas–that got their first airing in a national magazine in Arthur‘s pages have subsequently entered the dim edges of the mainstream’s consciousness. Devendra Banhart? Read the first interview he ever gave anywhere in the pages of December 2002’s Arthur No. 2, or check out the cover feature on him in Arthur No. 10–which also featured the first long-form interview anywhere with Joanna Newsom, who herself would be covered in even greater depth in an award-winning piece by Erik Davis in Arthur No. 25. Ohioan blues rawkers The Black Keys, comics genius and magus Alan Moore, quixotic rock sibling duo Fiery Furnaces, drone-metal band Sunn 0))), avant-psych-pop group Animal Collective, M.I.A., West Coast psychedelic roarers Comets on Fire, the uncategorizable Six Organs of Admittance, the good ol’ Howlin’ Rain, comics genius Grant Morrison and woozy psychedelic soul nomads Brightblack Morning Light all received serious, substantial coverage in Arthur a while ago — not because we’re trendspotters or hypesmiths, but because we simply dug what they were doing while everybody else was busy covering…well, something else.
As for why the magazine is named Arthur…well, that would be telling. Have a guess in the Comments section below.
Jay Babcock is editor/owner of Arthur Magazine