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Second Set: The sudden descent of 'Jet Lag'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 8, 2012 - There’s really no exaggerating how important "Jet Lag" was to the music local community from its start in March 1980, to its demise just over a decade later. Begun by John “The Mailman” Korst and Steve Pick, his co-editor, co-publisher and a longtime local music writer and radio host, the zine began in the typical style of the day, a small, photocopied publication, bent in half and stapled. Priced at 50 cents, it featured a gang of young friends writing record and concert reviews, local scene updates and, eventually, some fun Q-and-As. Born of enthusiasm, the magazine grew slowly, but surely.

That it simply kept publishing, at all, gave all it credibility in a field in which so many enter, yet so few survive. Music mags, print zines of all stripes, really, come and go; only some leave an impact.

And if "Jet Lag" had only released locally, it still would have mattered. But in time, the publication began to creep outside of St. Louis. The page count grew, as did the literal size of the pages, with the zine eventually hitting shelves as a folded, half-tab, opening outward into a full-tab. It’s hard to find too many physical examples of the actual, early editions, but Pick granted fans a real favor some years back, scanning and publishing the first 22 issues, ones that you can tell were meant to be folded-over and slipped into the back pocket of jeans. To look at these scans is to watch a young publication developing, with new writers added, pages looking cleaner, the editorial scope widening, but with advertising still absolutely rooted in St. Louis’ second-hand clothing shops, record stores and other funky retailers.

This, too, would eventually change, with the publication getting picked up by the distributor The Dutch East India Co., an important link in the spread of regional music. "Jet Lag" was a natural to find an audience outside of our city, with reviews that veered from caustic to celebratory, and interviews with plenty of the rising young stars. When R.E.M. first played St. Louis, for example, at the unlikely venue of Six-Flags Over Mid-America, it was "Jet Lag" that got the story.

Like many underagers, I started picking up "Jet Lag" only occasionally, but with great interest, finding it at places like Hullaballoo and West End Wax. Already a half-decade-plus into its run, I’d scan the ads and wonder what it was like in the bars that advertised on its pages. Aside from Mississippi Nights, The Bernard Pub, some VFW Halls and a few other, scattered locations, the sub-21 set had to read the magazine with a detached, highly envious curiosity. Luckily, "Jet Lag" lasted just long enough to get to me to my 21st birthday and, as it turned, long enough to see me write the last cover story of the zine’s existence.

Funny how that stuff works.

Toby Weiss jets off

John The Mailman deserves major kudos for keeping the zine afloat for a decade, but the praise should be funneled, in large part, to his ability to bring people people into the fold. Back in the days of old-school typesetting, the work was often time-consuming and tedious; and free concert tickets and a few dollars serve as a pay-off for only so long. Over time, editors like Pick and Tony Renner, along with various art directors, would put in yeoman’s hours for the benefit of what was still a small readership, all things considered.

In February 1989, a young writer, photographer and music fan named Pat Weiss came into the picture. For the February/March issue, she reviewed both The Ramones and The Church at their Mississippi Nights gigs, accompanying the latter with some photos. The zine, at the time, was edited by Joe Williams, now the Post-Dispatch’s movie critic. With this issue, #84, the alluring, yet pernicious, weed that was "Jet Lag" began to get ahold of Weiss; she wasn’t just writing, she’d become the immediately anointed associate editor and typsetter.

By issue #85, she was adding a host of features, reviews and previews, so many that she began using the simple, pen-name “Toby” for some of the work (“I was churning out so much copy, I had to use another name,” she says.); she was also adding layouts to her duties. With issue #88 in the spring of 1990, only a year after joining the ranks, she took over full editing duties for Williams and helped oversee the 10th anniversary party, which featured the emerging Jane’s Addiction at Mississippi Nights.

A couple more issues would pass. And then something unexpected happened. John The Mailman basically ceded her the entire operation. With #91 in spring 1991, it was an altogether new baby.

“By that point, I was already editor-in-chief,” says Toby Weiss today. “He had been doing it for so long. He would try to get as many people as he could, to do as much work as they could do. And let me tell you, he found a vulnerable sap here! At that point, he also started getting more involved in Double Helix and KDHX. We were even hosting a Jet Lag radio show, after High Anxiety with Doug Morris, every Sunday morning from 3-6 a.m.”

Weiss figures that The Mailman had truly had enough at his departure. Not one to look over her shoulder, he gave his full blessing for her to do with the publication what she wanted; off he went, to new adventures. Weiss' first move, she says, “was to start 'Creem' magazine-ing it, right away. We were using funny cutlines, funny headlines and the like. Those issues are nothing more than my homage to 'Creem'.”

Starting with that 91st issue, "Jet Lag" was a full-size, proper magazine, with a new, bright-red logo and another lease on life. Then working as a graphic artist with Famous-Barr, she may not remember a lot of details of that issue, but she distinctly recalls co-workers coming in all hours, spotting her in the labors of "Jet Lag," rather than those of her day job. For a time, the efforts were worthwhile, and Weiss leaned on prolific record reviewer Brad Bradberry, to handle a chunk of the sales.

“At the end of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, we had some great years,” she says. “I remember with that first, new issue, shipping off big boxes to Dutch East India. People around the country knew who we were. We were in Tower Records on the east and west coasts. And here we changed everything. I had been changing things over time, during The Mailman years, but now we were really changing everything! The format made it easier to read. The sales were up.”

But a small issue was becoming a larger one. During the three issues in 1991, #91-93, Weiss felt that the labels now buying ads were starting to get needy; for the ad dollars, they weren’t as amused at seeing their bands’ releases shagged in the same issue. Taking the magazine up a level had brought strange, new pressures to bear and making the jump from a regional publication, with pockets of support around to the country, to a truly national magazine was the next step. Or not.

“Brad and I wanted to get more subscriptions, and we did,” Weiss recalls. “And we were getting lots of ads from major, as well as indie, labels. And when you’re getting money from them, they’re wanting you to profile their artists. All of a sudden the bloom starts coming off the rose.”

And, all of a sudden, a variety of conspiracy points stating to form together. Toby Wiess had a full-time job. A serious relationship was pulling at her time. There was an unrequited desire to start making her own music. The minor irritations of her publishing venture were starting to pile up. Without advance word, she decided that issue #93, released over the winter of 1991/92 would be the final one. There was no press release, no party. It just came and went, with Weiss deciding to offer the magazine to Bradberry, who would accept, but never release an issue under his own editorship.

If things changed a year earlier, with the takeover and the Creem-style overhaul, they really changed in ‘91.

“Things started to get corrupted,” Weiss says. “I was getting myself, or other people, to cover things that I didn’t want covered. I turned it all over to Brad after that, but another issue never happened. And after that, I didn’t listen to a single note of music for six months. When I finally did come back, I went to the 1920s, to jazz and ragtime. I didn’t want anything to do with punk, new wave or indie music. But I kept getting advance CDs. So I began selling those to the Record Exchange on Hampton, trading in for all this old music. I got a wonderful musical history lesson, paid for the by the major labels, through the counter at the Record Exchange.”

A dream deferred

Just as Weiss took over the reins, my own involvement moved from geeky fan to would-be contributor. Working at the "Riverfront Times," I distinctly recall walking from the Shell Building on the western end of downtown to the Weiss’ workspace in the sprawling Famous-Barr complex. Having been way too psyched-out to ever ask previous regimes for some ink, it was a real treat to pop by, meet Weiss, grab a stack of CDs and head out into the day, a presumed contributor to my favorite local-publication-with-national-leanings.

Told about my worry factor in asking for some possible assingments, Weiss cracks, “I’m nothing but a big dork. I’m glad you sensed that.”

We had this conversation in a back booth at O’Connell’s recently, spreading out all of Weiss’ "Jet Lags", from her own first contributions in #84, to the final issue, #93, featuring Uncle Tupelo on the cover. That feature, “In An Effort to Understand Uncle Tupelo,” was written by me, despite my status as, at-best, the fourth-ranking Uncle Tupelo fan in the RFT’s music ranks. A little about the piece reminds me of that day, as I can recollect the trip to Belleville, where I sat in a kitchen and chatted with Jay Farrar, Mike Heidorn and Jeff Tweedy, the original, classic UT lineup.

What was trippy about looking at the issues was that I’d written other pieces, as well. I knew there was a tape review of Judge Nothing, a band under whose spell I’d fallen; and it wasn’t a complete surprise to see a another tape review on the Something Brothers, a Bloomington band charging into town via Cicero’s on a regular basis. But I don’t at all remember writing on the Brenda Kahn or Stranglmartin (sic), acts that I enjoyed back then. As for The Spin and Beggars & Thieves, I don’t even remember those names, let alone typing record reviews on them. As Weiss noted earlier, there was a certain “churning” taking place; and I was a tiny part of that engine, as it turns out.

Still, it’s with respect that I look back on those issues. Weiss kept alive a great, St. Louis publication for three more issues, one more year, packaged in a pretty, new skin.

These days, Weiss finds her writing kicks online, as do many others. And those writings are spread over a variety of blogs, most pertaining not to music, but to architecture, amply complemented by her love of photography. She’s founded the advocacy group Modern STL with the preservationist Michael R. Allen, and their work can be found at modern-stl.com. Her prior architectural/preservation blog B.E.L.T. (The Built Environment in Layman’s Terms) is still updating at beltstl.com. And her personal and pop culture musings can be found at that site’s adjunct, M.E.L.T. (Media Environment in Layman’s Terms) at tobymelt.blogspot.com.

“This is the best part of the 21st century,” she enthuses. “Everything is digital.”

And there’s a bit of music in her life, too. She’s in the process of finally finishing lyrics for her band The Remodels, which edges into the public performing space every so often. And later this month, she’ll join arguably her favorite band in these parts, Champaign-Urbana’s The Jans Project, singing background vocals during their Off Broadway set with Chuck Prophet.

While Weiss says of John The Mailman that “he’s a man of intense interests. When he moves on to a new project, he’s able to shed what’s come before,” there could be a touch of that applied to herself.

While we spent time laughing at some memorable, Jet Lag-fueled stories from the day, there’s no chance that’s she’s going back for another kick at the can. That project’s done. A memory.

“I became an architectural photographer and blogger,” she says forthrightly. “This (pointing at the zines) was just a chapter of my life. And it’s weird to see it come back around!”

Weird and, hopefully, a little bit fun.