There's an old joke that more or less sums up my current relationship with my old college buddies: "How do you know when a deadhead has been crashing on your couch?" Answer: "He's still there."
The same could be said of Relix magazine, which by all rights should have gathered up its hemp-flavored toothbrush and dolphin-safe Birkenstocks and headed home sometime around 1995. So imagine my surprise to find Relix not only still among the living, but looking remarkably better than I remember it.
My (admittedly cloudy) memories of Relix date back to the early '90s, when it was a black-and-white bimonthly that concerned itself almost exclusively with the Grateful Dead and, increasingly, "jam bands" like Phish and The String Cheese Incident, which I swear to God is the name of an actual band. Oh sure, each issue would deign to write a little something about, say, the Allman Brothers ("Greg Allman Reveals His 10 Favorite Things About the Grateful Dead") or some hotshot group like The Traveling Wilburys ("Why the #$@! Wasn't Jerry Garcia Invited to Be in the Traveling Wilburys?!"). But make no mistake: Relix had devoted its life to following the Dead -- until the band rather ungratefully up and died in 1995.
But instead of quietly fading away -- and this is where any comparison with my college friends ends -- Relix took the band's demise as an opportunity to take a long, hard look at itself, stop wearing tie-dye in public, and go to work.
Today's Relix is a glossy, full-color affair that stays true to the interests of its audience without becoming a -- wait for it -- relic. The September/October issue still has the familiar cover blurbs for stories about Phish and the Dead, but those take second billing to an exhaustive 10-page profile of Ben Harper, a fun Q&A with Little Steven of The E Street Band and "Sopranos" fame, and a downright classy retrospective of William "PoPsie" Randolph, a photographer whose subjects included everyone from Billie Holliday to Miles Davis to the Rolling Stones. Relix, it would seem, has become an honest-to-god music magazine.
Which is not to say the new Relix is all new, all the time. On the contrary, the magazine works because it still approaches its disparate subjects from a unique point of view. Would Blender bother reporting that Harper prefers eco-friendly house paint and recycled shoes? Would Stephen Stills be so comfortable telling Rolling Stone he thought his 2006 reunion tour with Crosby, Nash and Young was all but ruined by the band's antiwar propaganda? Would anyone other than Relix readers really care about this stuff? Maybe not, but that only further justifies the magazine's survival. Publishers spend millions identifying underserved niches; Relix seems to have its finger firmly on the pulse of its own slavish demographic.
Not all of Relix's hippie charms have aged so well. Much of it still sounds like it was written by Wavy Gravy on a lithium bender. Take this, from a guest column by artist Xavier Rudd: "These feelings of spirit in me represent their descendents of which here in North America I have been gifted the opportunity to connect with a powerful few." Believe it or not, this is from an article about redwoods in the Northwest U.S., but it may as well be about Rudd's favorite episode of "CSI: Bong City." I don't care if Rudd is a guest columnist; no editor should let a sentence like that end up in print. And some of the writing by the pros isn't much better: On page 26 we're told that Grand Ole Opry host Porter Wagoner was "charming early-comers with his country charm." Really? How charming!
But let's face it: Anyone who slobbers over Phish (sample lyric: "The solar garlic starts to rot/Is it for this my life I sought?) isn't likely to blink at nonsensical prose. Which is why Relix is ultimately a success. There are plenty of better looking, better written and more relevant music magazines out there, but none more closely aligned with its audience. As long as there are people like my college friends earnestly declaring "What a long strange trip it's been" every time I show up wearing a tie, Relix will have readers.
Published by: Zenbu Media
Frequency: Eight times a year