<%@ Language=VBScript %> <%response.buffer = TRUE%> The Cynical Idealist
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The Cynical Idealist

An interview with David Grenier of Retrogression fame

by Melissa Hostetler


For the past five years, I have been under the influence of hardcore. For the first time in my life, I feel part of something larger. It was Allen (boyfriend, best friend, and partner in crime) who introduced me to the scene -- I was immediately hooked. We would go to shows and meet new people and listen to new music, but the best part for me was the literature.

I had never seen a zine before, and I was totally impressed that there were people out there who actually cared about things and took the time to tell others about it. But what I saw before me were band interviews and music reviews. It immediately came to my mind that there needed to be a zine that kept a constant journal of the politics of hardcore and the world. I was fairly limited in resources and connections at that time, and my search for a political zine didn't go well. I began thinking about doing my own zine to fill this niche ... until I found Retrogression.

There it was -- 40 pages of newsprint and words galore. Retrogression was jam-packed with everything a political junkie like me could want to read about the state of the world and the scene. I was amped and pissed. I was happy my search had ended successfully and angry that it was not me who had created this amazing zine. Unfortunately, I had found it too late and the second issue after my first one was the last issue of Retrogression (or so I thought). I was inspired again to keep up the tradition of keeping politics alive in the scene and the first issue of Friction went to press.

Retrogression ended up surviving with one of the original publisher/editors and I couldn't help myself but to talk to the man behind the zine. As cheesy as it sounds, Retrogression was (and is) the most influential zine I have ever come across. That is why I chose Dave Grenier as the first ever interview in Friction. A bit of hero worship, maybe ... but I really had to know why he has pursued the thankless position of producing a zine for so long. So, let me tell you about Dave.

"When you are a little kid, you are really idealistic when you are like 6 years old and watching on TV that the Russians are going to bomb us," Dave says. "You just feel peace is the only option ... you just don't understand why. Retrogression is like going back to when you were a little kid. You ask why and refuse to be jaded by the world."

A self-proclaimed idealist, Dave uses Retrogression to explore his ideals and give voice to the ills in society and the world. He does this through both massive research and his personal stories. For example, in a recent issue of Retrogression, Dave wrote about US arms dealers and his personal encounter with same-sex rape. His ability to tie himself to issues leaves his readers with a personal view of politics and the impersonal world around them.

"I am really cynical because I am an idealist," he says. "I see we can have a world where people are not hungry. We could have that world, but we throw it all away. We don't worry about anything that matters and that makes me cynical."

In fact, Dave would rather his zine be called The Cynical Idealist but can't bear to change the name he has worked so hard to get noticed. Retrogression was a name his original zine partner thought of. According to Dave, it actually implies a right-wing affiliation, but they didn't know that when they choose the name. To account for it, Dave just says it is sarcastic because the content is so different from the name.

But Dave's cynicism has earned him a place in the zine community and many readers hearts. Dave's strict commitment to politics and extensive resourcing of his articles has gotten him quoted in many term papers. He is always amazed and inspired by the letters he gets telling him that they save old copies of Retrogression.

"Every good review or comment I get is like a ‘Fuck You' to all those people who were asses to me," he says.

Retrogression is not the first zine Dave has done. In fact, his story mirrors mine. When he was 14 he was introduced to the punk scene. Because it was difficult to find shows in the '80s, he thought of creating his own zine that let people know where shows were, intending to sneak a bit of politics in as well.

"I thought I had this totally original idea and was crushed when I saw another zine doing the same thing," he says.

Retrogression began in December of 1992 when Dave was 18 or 19. Though Dave would never want anyone to see his first issue, it was 20 pages and full size complete with an interview with Unbroken an article on second-hand smoke and his partner's convenient store diaries. It took him and partner Brian one week to put the first issue out and it was the most fun they ever had doing it. Now, he sometimes feels doing Retrogression is his job.

Being a zinester is certainly an upward climb and Dave has seen his share of debt and rejection. The scene's constant infatuation with fashion and music has left Dave angry at a good portion of the hardcore community.

"I am one of the few people who got into punk because of politics and not the other way around," Dave says. "I got into it because of what they were singing about. I have always wanted to do a zine about politics."

It explains Dave's interview policy of not interviewing bands unless he likes what they have to say. In other words: no politics, no interview. He feels that interviews have become a necessary evil in his zine since they are often what sell a zine.

"I could give a shit about the scene," he says. "Why should I feel allegiance to a scene when it does this (ridicule me, put me in debt ...) to me? Why should I care about the scene if it doesn't care about me?"

But this is mostly the idealist in Dave speaking out. Like many of us, Dave doesn't understand how scenesters can claim to care about larger issues and only care about the fashion of the scene. It's as if supporting gay rights and vegetarianism has become stylish, he says.

"It's like there is nothing going on," he says. "The scene is huge but no one is doing anything which will ultimately be the death of hardcore. But, when it starts to die, people will do things again."

As usual, Retrogression has survived transitions in the scene and in Dave's life. Though Retrogression was founded with another, Dave continues it on his own. He now publishes online since it is cheaper.

Ed Note: Retrogression is now defunct. Read Dave's newest venture here.

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