Work: FringeWare Chronology:
1992 - 1996
Note that all of the FringeWare press releases were written with distinctive style and grace by Paco Nathan. And most of the FringeWare Store's graphic design was by the inimitable Monte McCarter. I owe them both more gratitude than I can say here.
As far as the other reviews, notices and announcements are concerned, I have tried to cite authorship as best as possible. However, much of the FringeWare Ephemera in the Jonesian Archives has been reduced to gnomic pre-Socratic fragments where attribution has been, to say the least, clouded. As always, if you have a vexing issue about this, let me know.
Any failures of chronology, context or re-presentation are mine alone.
This is a long indulgent exercise in highly idiosyncratic chronology.
As such, it is a sad excuse for what actually was.
In the documentary, Viva Les Amis, about the once great, now gone, Austin cafe Les Amis, Newman, the owner, complains several times that any attempt to capture what it was all about is useless. And worse, runs the risk of replacing the real memories with something documented.
I couldn't agree more. Still, my hackels rise when I encounter some Johnson I never ever met before who reduces FringeWare down to one or two of the following terms:
subversive website hacker rave hypercard mondo weird elitist bookstore bizarre conspiracy freak hardcore radical occult OTO collective magazine zine ubergeek marginalized psychopathic smart drug outsider weapons fetishists fucked up creatures in jars subgenius bettie page manson family terror world wide SRL anarchist pranksters who throw burning TVs off of roofs.
The funny thing (funny 'cause it's true) - and anyone that was really there knows this - I could add a thousand more terms to such a list and not even begin to circle the wagons around the Bones of FringeWare.
So I figure only to retrace my own peculiar path into it all and set down a few impressions before all those "psychopathic smart drugs" further blank the slate of whatever it was I was just writing about.
I worked, managed, lived, breathed and bled at the FringeWare Store on Guadalupe, from June 1996 to its closing in June of 1999. It was one of those beautiful jobs where there was no separation between your life at work and your life outside of work. For most of us, when our shift would end, we would usually just go grab a beer from the back fridge, sit on the couch and read or talk to whomever was there. It was good.
I first heard about FringeWare when I worked at Europa Books back in the early 90s.
I started working at Europa in Dobie Mall in the Fall of '91. On the first of January 1992, Europa moved to the old Yaring's building on the Drag. The manager, Lynn Bender, would throw these insane "book receptions" for UT professors with dozens of cases of good wine and hundreds of faculty and students.
Mixed in with UT group were the S&M crowd (we had all the current and back issues of PFIQ, Dungeon Master and SandMutopia Guardian), the Zinesters (we had a ever-growing display full), the Punks (a huge selection of underground comics), assorted Drop-outs (Loompanics and various drug-related texts) and titty-dancers from the Crazy Lady (Jock Sturges and Joel-Peter Witkin - don't ask).
There was also a fanatical splinter of hackers, phrackers and phreaks usually found eidetically memorizing issues of 2600 or deeply absorbed in the latest issue of Mondo 2000. (I can remember a very young Wiley coming in wearing headphones and some variation of a blue box strapped to his back.)
FringeWare is brought forth into this world.
It was in this miieu that I first met Paco. As best as I can remember, I think Europa was having a reception for UT Architecture Professor Michael Benedict's book Cyberspace: First Steps. (Or was this Bruce Sterling?) Seems like Larry McCaffery was also there with his anthology, Storming the Reality Studio. (Here I may be conflating two separate events - as I said, there was always a lot of wine). It may be that Paco and Jon, co-counders of FringeWare, were responsible for bringing McCaffery in(?).
My first impression of Paco was of one of the most intellectually enthusiastic people I had ever met. A sense of humor that worked on several different levels at once so that even when you were talking about "something serious", he seemed to smiling at a private meta-joke he had in his head. He also had an amazing ability to engage about twenty people in deep conversation at once. In short, I liked him a lot.
(Unfortunately, I never got to know Jon very well. I do remember he and McCaffery in passionate discussion from that night. And I believe McCaffery ended up leaving with one of the local goth girls that haunted the store.)
Not long after, FringeWare set up a small black bookcase near the front of Europa. It was funny watching customers discover it - it was sort of like the monolith from 2001. The first few moments were all tentative approach, the next thing you knew they've had a Daydreamer strapped on and were tripping out to the fluorescents overhead. I remember hypercard stacks of Beyond Cyberpunk and something from Billy Idol, Brain Machines, ThoughtWare from Timothy Leary, MacJesus floppy disks, weird gloves for virtual spaces, screw stickers, perplexing SCHWA kits, CD-Roms of Moby-Dick, mad hatter hats and other "brain toys" designed to hack/fuck your reality.
From Postcards from the Fringeby Brad King:
Late in 1992, in the back of Europa Books on 24th & Guadalupe, the FringeWare company was born as a small mail-order operation with a website and an e-mail list allowing mass distribution of all types of fringe culture information to those who were signed up on-line. "It was kind of a media collective," Nathan says, recounting the early ideas that drove the company into existence. "We saw a lot of changes coming and wanted to take advantage of that. It was really about exploring new media and selling things that we thought had fallen through the cracks, like the brain machines and smaller publications."
Interview: Bait and Switch with Sandy Stone by Jon Lebkowsky, Paco Xander Nathan, and Dave Demaris., Mondo 2000, no. 11: 53-58.
From Monte McCarter:
I Met Paco for the first time during SXSW in 1993 at Europa books, and again 2 days later when he arrived at the SXSW "rave" to introduce people to brain machines. The band I was a DJ with was playing that night, and Paco and I talked for about 8 hours straight. It was clear that I was near the nexus of something, you could practically SEE it.
From Monte McCarter:
I called him several times after that, and a few months later he asked me to come back to Austin to Photograph Robofest for Mondo 2000. During that visit I showed him my portfolio, and he asked me to design the cover of his new magazine FringeWare Review. I did.
Austin Robofest 1993 - More images (not Monte's)
From Postcards from the Fringeby Brad King:
The current FringeWare team still wasn't assembled by the time the 1993 SXSW Music Conference rolled around, but the event would be responsible for bringing another key convert to the fold, as well as a print publishing aspect to the business. As a SXSW showcase organizer, Nathan was in charge of putting on a multi-media presentation involving a Brain Machine, a device developed with Japanese technology that was supposed to help people concentrate their energy in an effort to make aliens among us reveal themselves (really it just gives your head a little electric shock). Also scheduled to appear, as a more tangible part of the showcase, was Dissemination Network (DIS-NET), an industrial band from Denton, Texas who utilized giant television screens, keyboards, tons of lights, and lots of media sampling in their performance.
FringeWare Review #01: Premiere edited by Paco Xander Nathan
From Wired: Issue 1.03 | Jul/Aug 1993
FringeWare is a suite of goods and services offered by Jon and Paco (both of bOING bOING magazine, among other things). FWI has a stall of software and zines within Austin's Europa Books, an on-line catalog of hard-to-find hardware, software, and other warez, and they even produce several cool zines. FWI also maintains an ongoing electronic mailing list for discussing fringe technology, hardware, software, hacking, and cyber art and culture.
FringeWare Review #02: Survival edited by Paco Xander Nathan
From Monte McCarter:
When Paco asked me to submit a cover for FWR Number One, I believe he had much of the layout in place already. As production of Issue two started, I began to work on illustrations for the articles, and it didn't take long before I asked if he needed an Art Director for the magazine. I believe that gives me the honor of being the first person to ask for a job. Thanks again for hiring me, man.
I have vivid memories from the summer and fall of 1993, driving around Austin with Paco in his silver Honda, blaring a promo copy of Front 242 "Up Evil." We talked about Attention Economics. I showed him the book Guerilla Television by Michael Shamberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Shamberg), designed by Ant Farm (http://www.antfarm.org/).
We talked about layout and design and spent a lot of time in Kinkos. My design roots were firmly planted in copy machine toner, and I brought that with me to magazine. Paco taught me about digital layout and Image manipulation, but I still made sure everything had a nice analogue feel. Zine culture was still an ongoing concern then, so It made sense to try and create a hybrid between a magazine printed on expensive acid free paper, and wrinkled 4 cent photocopy. From issue 2 all the way up to the very end, I made sure to go over every page and rip and tear as needed.
From Postcards from the Fringe by Brad King:
Still looking for others experimenting with virtual communities, Nathan up and took off in late '93 and into '94, criss-crossing the states from California to New York. And that trip led him to meeting current FringeWare Review contributing editor Scotto, who at the time had hooked up with a group of drama students at the University of Northern Iowa. LERI, as they called themselves (named for the recently deceased acid guru), were an on-line psychedelic group developing the "net trip" where people from around the country log on... turn on... and wig out... firing messages back and forth to each other, expanding their minds and searching for the meaning of life. Apparently, right up FringeWare's alley.
FWR #03: Environmental edited by Paco Xander Nathan
Review from PsiberZines
By Antóin Ó Lachtnáin
This is what I call a magazine. It's around seventy-five percent good solid articles, not trying to sell you anything, which is better than most magazines. What's more, the articles are new and contain interesting, novel ideas, unlike the recycled pulp used to pad out the ads in most magazines. This magazine is very much written by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. Professional journalists don't seem to figure. Each issue is centred around a theme; #3 is the Environmental Issue.
From Wired Issue 2.01 | Jan 1994: Street Cred by Don Webb:
FringeWare comes in three forms: a slick magazine/catalog, an e-mail roundtable, and a store in Austin where you can buy hard-to-find wares for your brain, your auxiliary electronic brains, your body, and your community. FringeWare products range from the Daydreamer (a lung-powered brain stimulator) to Tierra 4.0 (the great A-Life software) to Menstat (fertility planning software).
RoboFest 5 was held at the Austin Coliseum
PXN at Robofest 5 - More Images
FringeWare #04: Chix in Psyberspace edited by Erika Whiteway & Tiffany Lee Brown
5. Fringe Ware Review - A magazine and catalog of nonmainstream ideas and home-brewed technology.
FringeWare #05: Stay Awake! edited by Jon Lebkowsky
7ArmadilloCon 16 - Monte McCarter meets Jamie Thompson
From Postcards from the Fringeby Brad King:
And it was back during that time, when FringeWare's first commercial space was busy gathering hard-to-find, counter-culture consumer items for mail-order, that the business as a whole -- quite serendipitously -- began attracting an eclectic mix of participants inspired by FringeWare's free-thinking maxim. In what would be the first of a series of events that can't be traced to any certain training or skill but ended up shifting the focus of the company profoundly, Nathan met Jim and Jamie Thompson at a local Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) meeting.
The couple are part-owners themselves of Small Works, a company which produces Internet security systems. In just a few months, as the dynamics of FringeWare began to shift and when Jon Lebkowsky -- an original co-founder -- left to pursue other endeavors in cyberspace, the Thompsons became majority stockholders in FringeWare and began work on the tech side of the business.
31 - FringeWare Review #06: 6(66) edited by Don Webb
From Monte McCarter:
Paco flew us to San Francisco in fall of 1994 to speak at a book store... I think Factsheet Five had something to do with that, and we hung out with the Well crew quite a bit. I felt like a rock star until a clerk at a random 7-11 in Sausalito yelled "Hey! Your name is Monte, and you work at a video store in Denton Texas!" Shit like that happened to me a lot back then. I blame Robert Anton Wilson, peace be upon him.
Jim Thompson and I worked on the first FringeWare web site around this time.
FringeWare Review #07: WeIrD edited by Paco Xander Nathan
From Jonl's flickr site:
Our Wired parody. A couple of agents in NYC called us after they saw this, and were gearing up a book deal until somebody beat us to it. Once they heard another parody'd been signed, they figured it was all over.
Paco Xander Nathan & John Lebkowsky are guest speakers at Robofest 6
FringeWare Review #08: Fringe Lifestyles edited by Tiffany Lee Brown & Erika Whiteway
From Monte McCarter:
I moved to Austin in August of 1995 to work for FringeWare full time.
Europa on the Drag closed in April of 1995. They promised to reopen an sometime in the near future.
Patrick, my brother-in-arms with regard to all the trials and tribulations of the French, has already bailed out of the Europa drama in September of '94. He left to join Paco and Jon in opening a FringeWare Store.
The store was at the corner of 51st and Duvall in the back of a vintage clothing place called New Bohemia. I remember stopping by for the opening party (on Halloween?) full of disaffected slacker types, old europa and Les Amis regulars and lots of cute girls. Looked like they were doing well.
Patrick at the Duvall Store
The Duvall Store was like the bookcase in Europa times ten. Lots of SCHWA. Terror World Wide shirts. An elegant selection of books ranging from Robert Anton Wilson and the Subgenius to Gibson, Sterling, H.R. Giger. Patrick told me that most of their sales were from their online catalog. Looked liked things were going well.
FringeWare #09: Politics/Religion/Sex/Food edited by Jon Lebkowsky & Jim Thompson
From Jonl's flickr site:
The last issue I was involved with, featuring a free PGP decoder wheel!
FringeWare Review #10: Choas Spirituality edited by Erik Davis & Spiros Antonopoulos.
From Interdisciplinary Mahem:
Fringe Ware, Inc., is a small commercial enterprise dedicated to community development around a fringe marketplace, where the edges of diverse alternative cultures intersect. We feel that the Market is the core of any community, and sick markets mean sick communities… just look around.
FWI acknowledges the essential importance of trade, but our mission is to create a context for E. F. Schumacher's "Economics as if People Mattered."
What's in the Fringe Market? We focus on publications, events, and products that we find interesting, fun, and enlightening. We publish printed and electronic periodicals including Fringe Ware Review, TAZMedia, and Unshaved Truths; operate a retail bookstore and mail order service selling street tech, gizmos, wearable subversive memes, etc.; host an Internet mailing list for information from/about the cultural and technological fringes; and organize events with other organizations on the Fringes.
We're learning that people can survive quite nicely without huge corporations, huge governments, and huge dogmas pushing their lives. So here is the FWI alternative: start your own corporation. Trade with other like-minded people throughout the global village. Encourage innovation and promote entrepeneurship. Promote fair, cooperative business practices. Emphasize products that facilitate creativity, health, and play. Explore consciousness alternatives. Build community through advanced, available technologies, e.g. computer networks. Respect and consider the natural environment by promoting sustainable resource use. Have fun, be weird, and make what it takes to survive.
Welcome to the fringes of art, technology, and society. From here innovation emerges, and here survival, through cooperation and use of the unexpected, counts. --Thanx!
Europa eventually re-opened in August in a much smaller space up the Drag next to Mojo's Daily Grind. The previous tenant had been Relaxtion Plus, a modeling studio / whorehouse. Every so often an old guy would wander in looking confused, then announce that he once got the best blow job of his life "right here where these books are now."
Jeff G. and Andrea at Europa II - 8.29.95
I worked there for a little while - mainly just to help Lynn with the autopsy. We were more than sick to death of the French. After we left, they kept the corspe jerking around for a few more months and finally closed in April of '96.
From the Austin American Statesman:
Are you ready to live your life on-line? SXSW Multimedia Fest looks toward a future of existing in cyperspace
In the summer of '96, I stopped into FringeWare to say hello to Patrick and he told me that FringeWare was going to move into the space where Europa was. Said they needed help and asked if I would like a job. I didn't have to even think twice about it.
In July, we painted over the FringeWare Store sign and opened the new store at 2716 Guadalupe.
This is when I met many of the extended and ever-weirder FringeWare family: Monte and Jen, Jim and Jamie, Heath, Paul, Bro. Russell, Don Webb, Don Rock and scores more out there "in the ether."
FringeWare on the Drag - Note the old Europa sign
Patrick and Chris right after the Store opened.
From the FringeWare Website - just before relaunch:
Sometime in the middle of 1996, a meteorite (designated ALH00023 and believed to have originated during a comet collision with the planet Mars) struck the offices of our Internet service provider. The ensuing explosion killed over forty innocent bystanders and wounded several children playing at a nearby schoolyard. Goverment officials immediately quarantined the premises to conduct a lengthy search for biological and/or radioative residues found near the meteorite impact. Consequently our server has been down for months and our magazine has delayed publication until our staff can resolve these most immediate matters. Meanwhile, we've opened a new, award-winning store on "The Drag" in Austin, so please come and spend lots of money there while you're waiting for our server to be restored.
Jeff and SKC - June 1996
Wiley and Pandora - July 1996
The Kill Zinesters Tour was an idea hatched by Bunnyhop publisher Noel Tolentino and Darby Romeo, publisher of Ben Is Dead. The tour developed as a means of `trying to strengthen the zine community,' Tolentino said back in Summer of 1996. The tour included Tolentino and Romeo, Seth Robson (co-publisher of Bunnyhop), Dishwasher Pete and Larry from Genetic Disorder, with a few other zines joining the tour for legs of the trip. The plan was simple, rent a Winnebago and tour the States hyping zines, with assistance from local zinesters in each city to organize, host and promote an event.
Austin Chronicle: Critics Picks: Best of Austin: New Fringe Bookstore/Zinestore/Place-Type-Thingee: FringeWare Inc.
I was pretty happy about this. Right off the bat, it appeared that at least someone "got it." I particulary like the "combat the forces of mediocrity." I think we quickly scared away most of the Mighty Ducks crowd though.
From Conference Center
If you talk about the Austin zine scene, there's only one logical place to start. And that would be at: Fringeware
Austin American Statesman:
Grassy Knolledge: Fringeware Books, 2716 Guadalupe St., 494- 9273, open New Year's Eve until 9 p.m.
From the Postmarks Section of the Chronicle:
Dear Austin Chronicle: