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Book review: The Orbit Magazine Anthology


The Orbit Magazine Anthology
Rob St. Mary
Wayne State University Press/Painted Turtle

If you’ve never lived in Michigan, as surely most Coloradans haven’t, then you likely have never heard of Orbit or its creator Jerry Vile. If you have, kudos. It means that you have your finger on the pulse of what is subversive and artistically, obnoxiously (we use that word as a glorious compliment) important, outside of your own immediate area.I

Jerry Vile is a former member of Detroit punks the Boners, an artist, and the creator of the publications White Noise, Fun, and Essential Detroit. He was a co-founder of the Real Detroitalt weekly and, notably here, he created Orbit. He also started the Dirty Show – the biggest erotic art show in North America. The man is a bastion of bad influence, and we love him for it.

Rob St. Mary has done a stellar job here of detailing the sordid history of Orbit, from the White Noise beginnings, through Fun. Both of those proved that Vile wasn’t going to let something as simple as a lack of funding stop him putting out a quality mag.

em>Orbit itself ran throughout the 1990s, and so it was there for the garage rock explosion led by the White Stripes – it was there to lampoon (if tenderly) the street level rock stars. There was so much going on in the Motor City at this time, and Orbit was there to commentate in its own unique way. Before long, people outside of Detroit were taking notice. UK and LA versions launched, while Quentin Tarantino wore an Orbit shirt in the Pulp Fiction movie.

Orbit was the alt-alt-weekly, offering serious competition to the Metro Times (this writer’s former employer). In fact, just as an example of what it was about, Orbit ran a piece called “The biggest pimps in town,” calling Metro Times out for the blatant prostitution ads in the back (a norm in the alt-weeklies). Vile loved, and still loves, to ruffle feathers. Frankly, there’s nobody better at it. Again, look him up.

This book covers all of the book in beautiful detail. It looks incredible – the art (most old, some new) is laid out to stunning effect, while St. Mary spoke to all of the right people. This is a great story of a publication, and indeed a man, that has proved that if success is based on the work alone, Orbit and Vile are kings. Of course, money had to have it’s dirty say and that’s why it’s no longer pressing. Thanks to this book, it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.


Brett Calwood
Brett Callwood is an English journalist, copy writer, editor and author, currently living and working in Los Angeles. He is the music editor with the LA Weekly. He was previously a reporter at the Longmont Times-Call and Daily Camera, the music editor at the Detroit Metro Times and editor-in-chief at Yellow Scene magazine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brett_Callwood

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