The Atlanta publisher, record label owner and music promoter is, in fact, the 32nd biggest asshole, according to an issue of the satiric music publication Chunklet. "The 100 Biggest Assholes in Rock" places Owings well below chart-toppers the Butthole Surfers and Courtney Love, but it does proclaim him "the unholy fusion of David Spade and Chris Farley" and an "opinionated loudmouth" who "often tells unfunny jokes."
Since Owings is the editor and publisher of Chunklet, you have to wonder just how much of an asshole he really is -- and whether he deserves to rank higher, lower or not at all. "I included myself to take the wind out of people's sails, to show that I'm not above it," he says.
Owings -- who earns his living as a freelance graphic designer -- founded Chunklet in 1993 as a "zine," a self-published, street-level periodical in Athens. Through its contents, Owings celebrates and castigates the independent music scene.
"I stay true to the sincere insincerity of Chunklet," says Owings, a big guy prone to smiling sardonically behind black-framed glasses. "The underground community is so self-righteous, I'm happy to keel-haul all of them. There are no sacred cows -- I'll slaughter them and drink their blood."
Whether he's an asshole or an altruist, attention gravitates toward the 33-year-old Atlanta resident. Spin and CMJ magazines have praised his hilarious invective and insight on pop culture. Last summer, he landed on the "It List," Entertainment Weekly's annual tally of "The 100 Most Creative People in Entertainment." The magazine hails Owings as "It Agitator," and Chunklet is lauded for irking all the right people and "combining music-geek obsessiveness with incisive satire."
Fanzines and underground newsletters have existed for decades and typically are long on attitude and short on visual sophistication or literary elegance. Owings nevertheless credits them with expanding his teenage musical horizons beyond the Beatles. "As a 16-year-old growing up in Buttfuck, Colo., and Nowhere, Pa., zines were how I found out what was going on," he says.
Owings, whose family moved frequently when he was a child, grew up in a variety of places including Salisbury, Md., Puerto Rico and Houston, so music and zines gave him continuity in his youth. "I was a defiant young kid and was beaten up a lot," Owings says. "But maybe I shouldn't admit that. People will say, 'So that's why he's the way he is!'"
He studied business and statistics in college, but Owings received his primary education from the radio. "I spent too many years being weaned on massively eclectic freeform-style radio. It was not uncommon to have world beat, avant tape loops and Jamaican dub played back-to-back with free jazz, c-86 twee and Lower East Side growl in my nascent music-absorbing years."
After receiving his M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, Owings had dim hopes of getting a job during the recession of the early 1990s. Reasoning that "if you're going to be unhireable, do it in Athens," he followed a girlfriend there in 1991.
With an itch to voice his strong opinions about music, Owings went to the offices of the alternative newsweekly Flagpole on his first day in town and convinced them to take him on, despite his lack of writing experience. Eventually he became a music columnist, and he even tried playing in a band -- albeit briefly. "For about three months in Athens, I was in a band called A Mercy Union as a self-taught bass player, knowing nothing but Pylon and Ramones covers," he says. "I probably only did three shows with them."
In the end, Owings' Type A personality didn't jibe with the group dynamic. "I'm not disciplined as a team player. I need to be the one in charge," he says. "I was not designed to be in a band so much as in a community, so my creative direction went a different way."
Not surprisingly, Owings found himself increasingly disgruntled with the editorial process at Flagpole. "The straw that broke the camel's back was when I wrote a 3,000-word story on the Olivia Tremor Control, and it was cut to 300 words. I thought, 'Fuck this, if I'm going to go to this effort and not get paid, I'm going to do it for my own edification."
Named for a brand of ice machine Owings noticed in a Quik-E-Mart outside Athens, Chunklet first published in 1993 as a single sheet of paper folded into quarters. "Initially it was like guerrilla journalism," says Owings, who distributed copies around Athens hangouts like the 40 Watt Club and Frijoleros restaurant. "The first eight issues were photocopied, and it was a big step when issue 9 was printed."
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