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Fringe Benefits: how Brandon Wetherbee turned a zine into a scene

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Brandon Wetherbee says he learned everything he needed to know about publishing when he edited the Fenwick High School newspaper, the Wick, in 2000. But he also quickly learned that he didn't like the Oak Park school's administration telling him what to do. "I hated having to write about local town crap and not being able to write about stuff that interested me," says Wetherbee, who's now a sophomore at DePaul. So he quit the paper and started Foul, xeroxing and giving away 1,000 copies of the 12-page zine.

But Foul, full of Wetherbee's musings on topics like the 1997 Kyoto conference on climate change, Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, and the John Waters film Cecil B. Demented, didn't endear him to the administration either.

"No one knew what a zine was," he says. "I got in a lot of trouble, and the school had to have a bunch of meetings. The principal gave me a bunch of information about how because it's a Catholic school and not public, it doesn't have to allow freedom of the press....I was told not to do it openly." He admits he didn't know much about zine culture either. "I thought Rolling Stone started in some dude's bedroom and that Spin was originally just two pages about the Ramones....In my head that's what I thought I was doing."

Undeterred, Wetherbee pressed on; the zine has since spawned a Web site, a record label, a radio show (Wednesdays from 3 to 6 PM on DePaul's WRDP, 640 AM), another zine called One Page, and Music With Meaning, a series of concerts and spoken word events that benefit local charities.

Music with Meaning got off to a rough start as well. He launched the series in December 2001 with a fund-raiser for the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. ("A lot of my friends were affected," he says, "and I wasn't. This was my way to help.") He borrowed $650 from his mother to rent out Oak Park's Ernest Hemingway Museum, then charged $8 at the door (plus two cans of food for good measure). There were 12 bands on the bill, and each played a different type of music. "There was a lot of walking out and a lot of booing," he says. "We broke even and couldn't even give to a cause. But we were able to give 300 cans of food to the Oak Park Food Pantry."

Since then he's staged ten more benefits in Chicago and the suburbs, taking care to hold them at free or cheap venues and book more thematically consistent bills. He's raised $2,000 for various causes.

The next installment of Music With Meaning starts June 13 and runs through June 28; the 15 pop, punk, metal, acoustic, and spoken word shows will benefit the American Brain Tumor Association, Kits for Kids, and Rape Victim Advocates (where Wetherbee was once a counselor).

"It seems like I'm busy all the time and have no life, but it's all stuff I really enjoy," says Wetherbee, who works these days at DePaul's Office of Mission and Values and sings and plays guitar in a pop-punk band called Fetor. "My busiest Foul week was 80 hours, but I wasn't tired at all because I was working with bands. It's not serious. It's not solving world hunger. It's stupid stuff, and it's really great."

This weekend Music With Meaning hosts local shows Friday, June 13, at 6 at Buzz Cafe (905 S. Lombard in Oak Park) and Sunday, June 15, at 9 at Big Wig (1551 W. Division). Admission is a suggested donation of two cans of food (June 13) or $6 (June 15). For more information see www.foulinc.com or the Reader's music and readings listings.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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