Rediscovered: The Bill Breiding Omnibus

Pretty much the last thing I might have expected to roll in would have been an omnibus — under the banner of Rose Motel — of Bill Breiding’s “Fanzine Pieces 1980-2014.” Years pass and I don’t hear from Bill, then Bingo.

The last time Bill’s mug showed up here at Up and Down was in 2011, where you’ll see him as the long-haired and laughing guy to the left in the photo. Now he’s like me and Sean Connery, grizzled and scalped by the long years — and in the photos selected, looking at life with a serious and perhaps even noir-tinged gaze.

I don’t think this collection gathers everything Bill ever did in his zining life. Not a Complete Essays, more like a Selected or Best of Essays.

And in effect, this book could pass as an autobiography. Yeah, it jumps around, but eventually enough threads are connected where you have the start in Morgantown, West Virginia, and an abusive dad — then the Breiding clan flees to San Francisco in time for the Summer of Love when Bill is just a teen. Back to West Virginia. Back to San Francisco by the mid-70s, when I first met them. Then here and there, with Bill camping out for a year, tying back in with his dad, then ending up in Tucson, then leaving, and now back in Tucson.

While Bill edited one genzine — or general zine — Star-Fire, his best stuff is of the perzine — or personal zine — ilk. People into zines know the lingo. So you’ve got wrenching memoirs of his family life. Coverage of county music, like the tribute piece on Johnny Paycheck (and would anyone deny “Take This Job and Shove It” is one of the great American anthems?).

Given that Bill dropped out of school when he was fifteen, you’ve got to give him credit for keeping it interesting and keeping it real. I popped through painlessly.

Obviously the major market for this one are the surviving fanzine fans of Bill’s era, and people interested in that era. But it spreads from there. I don’t have most issues of Star-Fire any more because they went in with the collection of poet G. Sutton Breiding materials I turned over to Bancroft Library. One of Bill’s brothers, the one he tells about who read chapter by chapter night after night Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to family and friends in their flat in San Francisco.

And aside from details of life in San Francisco, Bill mentions how Gary Warne first came out to the city from West Virginia to stay with them — Gary, who would go on to found The Suicide Club, which would spawn and influence such things as Cacophony Society and Burning Man. Bill has a brilliantly simple and in my opinion completely accurate line:

Gary was an example of a naïve and unselfconscious charismatic personality.

Yeah, Gary could have become a cult leader — so many cult leaders back in the day — but I don’t think it ever occurred to him, and if it did he would have laughed it off.

So, from the youngest member of Clan Breiding you’ve got local history, local literary history, local secret society history — informed by his history.

(And by the way, you pronounce the name Bride-ing not Breed-ing, the reverse Germanic ei thing, as with Fritz Leiber — Lie-ber not Lee-ber.)

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