Henry Owings, editor and publisher of Chunklet Magazine, dives into the world of self-publishing with his new book The Indie Cred Test. Photo: Ian Cone
Henry Owings may be the highest profile music fan in the world, and “fan” is the exact word that he uses to describe himself. Yet somehow, he has managed to parlay his fandom into being on the forefront of many ridiculously important music and book projects as of late. In addition to editing and publishing the much-lauded Chunklet Magazine (whose twentieth issue just turned two years old), Owings was tapped to write an introductory essay for the massive book that compiled and reprinted every issue of the notorious Touch and Go punk zine. He also wrote an impressive amount of text for the Touchable Sound book—a tome that sought to visually chronicle the best of ‘90s American 7-inch record design. His further contributions to music media included being involved with a Jesus Lizard book, contributing pieces about Pittsburgh college rock to the Pukekos blog and using his own website to chronicle the books and music that are currently on his mind. So how did a regular guy in Atlanta become everyone’s favorite contributor? “I would like to think that I’m the music publishing world’s go-to guy,” he says. “But I really am just a fan. There are so many people out there who are better qualified than me. Let’s face it, I’m no Thurston Moore. I think I’m just easier to find, and people know that I put a lot of thought into what I write.”
He may be just a fan, but he’s one that makes it a point to put in his two bits whenever possible—he’s incredibly prolific in his own right. In getting his own work out there, Owings has been the guiding force behind three Chunklet books: The Overrated Book (Last Gasp), The Rock Bible (Quirk) and his latest, the self-published The Indie Cred Test. The Indie Cred Test is written in the style of a standardized exam, with its final goal being a complete assessment of just how cool the reader is. At almost 200 pages, the book is thick on content and tries to address every facet of modern hipster culture. In doing so, it picks apart both the reader and underground culture in general. Individual chapters fix their crosshairs on topics as diverse as the reader’s DVD and record collections, their work history, their friends and their lifestyle. The real question is how serious the audience is supposed to take it. Does Owings really expect us to sharpen a No. 2 pencil and approach it like the ACT? “Well, I don’t really feel like I need to defend it or explain it,” he says. “It is what it is. It blurs the line between reality and a joke. I’m fine if people take it seriously and I’m fine if they don’t.”
Why a book? The truth is, there are not very many people writing this style of satirical culture book anymore. What was once a large chunk of humor writing has been farmed out to blogs and comment sections of websites. Almost no one is taking the time to lay out and print a book these days. Owings says, “Creating this kind of book is a lot of fun, but other than The Onion and maybe Mental Floss, no one is taking the time or spending the money on making a cohesive book.” He went on to say that those that are still publishing seemed to be almost on another plane of humor. When pressed to speculate on why there seemed to be so few people putting out books that fuse humor and real life, Owings offered up a single reason: financing. Money almost killed this project before it got off the ground. The publishing houses that had backed the first two Chunklet books both passed on this one. Owings knew he was going to need to go outside the channels of traditional financing if he was going to get the money he needed to put out a nontraditional book. He turned to Kickstarter.com.
Kickstarter is an online venture capital network that uses a fundraising idea termed “crowd funding.” The way it works is that the person or company that needs funding for a creative project chooses a deadline, and a target minimum of funds to raise. They give specifics about their projects and often will offer incentives for those who pledge money. If the target amount is reached by the deadline, then the project is considered funded and the pledged money is collected. If it isn’t successful, then the funds are not collected. Owings became aware of the crowd-funding site through Kickstarter co-founder and former Chunklet contributor Yancey Strickler. A site was set up where donors were offered copies of the completed book, an exclusive Fucked Up LP, and Chunklet-themed apparel in exchange for a start-up money donation. The resulting campaign raised almost $20,000—a sum that was instrumental in getting the book finished and printed.
Other than the financing speed bump, Owings says the rest of the book came together quite organically. Many long-time Chunklet contributors were missing during the writing process for the Cred Test, but the project still went from idea to page quite quickly. Owings says, “It came together in three months. Not everyone was on board, but so many people wanted to pitch their ideas to me that it just exploded.” He continued, “It was great to work with some old friends and also with so many new people. It quickly turned into a big mess, and it became my job to hammer it all into shape.” Hammer it into shape he did. The final product is beautiful. Whether you are browsing the section on Acceptable Reasons to Quit Drinking (“You routinely get mistaken for being GG Allin’s dead body” is my favorite) or the chapter on wardrobe and fashion (“Do you believe there is such a thing as a gender-neutral pant?”) this book scores homerun after homerun. If you take it seriously or just read it for laughs, it is well worth the conservative $17.98 price tag. Get it at Slowtrain Records or at Chunklet.com.