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

RAYGUN March 1998 featuring Radiohead. Courtesy of Rizzoli.

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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