RAYGUN March 1998 featuring Radiohead. Courtesy of Rizzoli.

The founder of rock and style bible RAY­GUN tells sto­ries of its making

Marvin Scott Jarrett recalls how he got Björk, Bowie and Jane’s Addiction on key issues of the authoritative ’90s magazine.

Mar­vin Scott Jar­rett bought the renowned music mag­a­zine Creem – which inspired a scene in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, if not the whole dang thing – when he was in his twen­ties togeth­er with a friend. When Creem was sold off to a clue­less accoun­tant who didn’t know music, Jar­rett start­ed a new mag­a­zine. Seat­tle grunge was at its zenith. Acts like The Prodi­gy and Blur were being export­ed inter­na­tion­al­ly from the UK. Rolling Stone and Spin were play­ing catch up, and there was an open­ing for an alter­na­tive rag whose agen­da was to make Rolling Stone and Spin look like high school news­pa­pers,” accord­ing to Flam­ing Lips front­man Wayne Coyne. Jar­rett launched RAY­GUN in 1992 from a one-bed­room apart­ment in Bev­er­ly Hills.

He picked up art direc­tor David Car­son from a mag­a­zine called Beach Cul­ture. Car­son tore up the graph­ic design rule­book, and RAY­GUN pub­lished inter­views that were bare­ly leg­i­ble on the page, cov­ers where the big stars – Beck, Dinosaur Jr., Iggy Pop, Björk – were some­times upside down, obscured in shad­ows or fog, or just… not there. Inside its pages were edi­to­ri­als with names like Goths on Acid” by Corinne Day (who had reg­u­lar fash­ion spreads each issue) and the mag­a­zine, for bet­ter or worse, abet­ted the aes­thet­ic of hero­in chic. It was coun­ter­cul­ture on crack, both fig­u­ra­tive­ly and literally.

RAY­GUN shot down con­ven­tion dur­ing its run, but offi­cial­ly shut down in 2000. Their last cov­er fea­tured Nine Inch Nails. Jar­rett went on to start Nylon mag­a­zine. With a new book out now, RAY­GUN: The Bible of Music & Style, Jar­rett con­tem­plates the lega­cy of his estab­lish­ment-shiv­ving pub­li­ca­tion, which includes blurbs from Liz Phair, Dean Kuipers, Wayne Coyne and Steven Heller. Many music leg­ends, those afore­men­tioned names includ­ed, land­ed mem­o­rable cov­ers while RAY­GUN was still around. But as Jar­rett reveals, there’s always a sto­ry behind the story.

David Bowie, October 1995

This was the first time [Bowie] was on the cov­er. Do you know the sto­ry behind that cov­er? It’s known in a lot of graph­ic design cir­cles, but basi­cal­ly David Car­son sent in the issue with David Bowie’s neck on the cov­er. You didn’t see his face. Obvi­ous­ly, that was sac­ri­lege for me. Here’s a mag­a­zine where we final­ly get my musi­cal hero on the cov­er. We do this great cov­er sto­ry and he turns in a cov­er like that. We end­ed up hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion and he insist­ed [on leav­ing it]. I go, No.” We changed it at the print­er. I just sent [Car­son] a fax say­ing, It’s just not work­ing out any­more. I just think we should move on.” So that was the end of the rela­tion­ship with Carson. 

I knew that RAY­GUN was much big­ger than David Car­son even though David Car­son was extreme­ly instru­men­tal in putting it on the map in design cir­cles. He’s an amaz­ing graph­ic design­er. I think his work can be stun­ning. But RAY­GUN was essen­tial­ly a music mag­a­zine with very cool design. So that was it. It was my mag­a­zine. I’ll get anoth­er art direc­tor. That’s where it came to a head.”

Björk, June/July 1995

The Björk [cov­er], I’d become friends with Dave Stew­art. So Dave had this incred­i­ble apart­ment in Covent Gar­den that he had a stu­dio in as well. And I knew he was a great pho­tog­ra­ph­er. So we shot that there. He had orig­i­nal fur­ni­ture from Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yoko Ono and Cibo Matto, August 1996

This cov­er came from a big idea. I was always obsessed with Japan­ese pop cul­ture. I would buy Japan­ese mag­a­zines, even though I couldn’t read them. I just liked the way they looked. And so we decid­ed to do this Japan issue where I sent sev­en peo­ple from the mag­a­zine over to Tokyo to do the whole thing from Japan. I unfor­tu­nate­ly didn’t go that time. The big idea at that time was like, I’m going to do it back­wards. That’s how Japan­ese mag­a­zines work. So we did it back­wards. We obvi­ous­ly had Yoko Ono and Cibo Mat­to on the cov­er. But that was the back cov­er. We sold the front cov­er to Levi’s. It was crazy, in pub­lish­ing terms. [Levi’s] were thrilled. [laughs] Like, you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to buy the front cov­er. Which prob­a­bly hap­pens all the time now in more decep­tive ways!”

Jane’s Addiction, November 1997

The Jane’s Addic­tion cov­er, I knew Per­ry [Far­rell], I was friends and Per­ry. So that was sort of a per­son­al cov­er. We shot it down in his record­ing stu­dio in Venice. Every­body in the band – like Dave [Navar­ro] and Flea – were espe­cial­ly nice to me because they knew I was friends with Per­ry. I end­ed up know­ing Dave after that.

My art direc­tor Chris Ash­worth at the time – who’s amaz­ing and as good as Car­son, if not even bet­ter – he put the bar­code over the drum­mer Steve Perkins’ head. [laughs] So [Steve] was real­ly upset. We actu­al­ly made a poster for him with­out the bar­code. We just did some­thing real­ly nice for him.”

RAY­GUN: The Bible of Music and Style is pub­lished by Riz­zoli and avail­able now.

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