WELCOME TO THE FUCKING MOUNTAINS
I had been reading a lot of Dave Eggers. It was early 2007 and I had just started A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius (several years after all the critical hurrah for it, I know). I had also just decided to launch a magazine. I didn’t know a thing about either. The book, a thrift-store find, had been on my shelf for years; the magazine happened on a whim, an idle conversation between friends. That summer, rather incidentally, both became determining influences on the next few years of my life.
I was barely 20 when I met Tony; he was 17. Denver, then, felt expansive. The city seemed raw and full of possibilities, our circle of friends a growing network of unpolished talent and young bands, new kids and old punks. We were endlessly idealistic. Tony protested for social causes, I booked DIY shows and ran an illegal venue. We both learned to scam copies from Kinko’s for flyers, to make the most out of our limited resources. If there was something we wanted to do, we did it. Bike collectives, music festivals, hopping trains, going on tour—looking back now through it all, it was relatively small-scale stuff, but to us, it became everything we loved about Denver. The city was restless, and so were we, and nothing ever seemed out of reach. And, years later, that’s what we built FM on.
People always asked, “How did you start a magazine?” The answer, something Tony and I joked about, was simpler than expected: We just did. We came up with a name—in the beginning, there was talk of calling it Girl On Girl, but we ended on FM (for the Fucking Mountains, an exclamatory and loving homage to the scenic backdrop we grew up with)—and we talked for hours on everything we would and would not be, who we would and would not be. Without realizing it at the time, we wanted to be Dave Eggers. We wanted for our magazine and our twentysomething lives the same wide-eyed superlatives that a twentysomething Eggers wanted for his magazine and himself in the ’90s. (See: The middle chapters of A Heartbreaking Work, excerpt below.)
We place an ad with the local media organizations, saying that we are not this and we are not that, that this will be, unless something bizarre and terrible happens, the very first meaningful magazine in the history of civilization, that it will be created by and for us twentysomethings (we try alternatives, to no avail; people in their twenties? people of twenty?), that we are looking for writers, photographers, illustrators, cartoonists, interns— Anyone who wants to help will be put to work—we need hundreds, can use thousands. … We want everyone to follow their dreams, their hearts (aren’t they bursting, like ours?), we want them doing things that we will find interesting. Hey Sally, why work at that silly claims adjusting job—didn’t you used to sing? Sing, Sally, sing! We feel sure that we can speak for others, that we speak for millions. If only we can get the word out, spread the word, with this, this magazine.
FM debuted in October 2007. Tony and I insisted on two things: That the magazine be free, and the launch party be no-charge as well. It was not a very good business model, in retrospect, but we didn’t really care. We cared about being in the community, about really building something in Denver, about creative and inclusive events that anybody and everybody would come to—we would publish free magazines and put on free release parties, no matter what. The thought of charging for any of it? Bah! We would not do it that way. We would carve our name out of our own financial self-sacrifice.
For those first couple of summers, we did just that—and we were really good at it.
We labored over every issue, spent hours on the design of every page, found local advertisers to help us fund our project, set up photo shoots in exotic locations, had writers and editors and interns and friends working for us for free. Each issue seemed better than the last; each party bigger and more involved. Everyone believed in it, we believed in ourselves. It was the time of our lives.
Two years in, seven issues out, a dozen parties, and things started to change and to unravel. Tony graduated from college; I got a full-time job. We started to feel weary, our personal finances strained; we lost friends and were losing focus. We worked hard, really hard, but the great, big pay-off—whatever it was supposed to be (fame? local recognition? national circulation? a profit?)—wasn’t coming, and we were getting tired of waiting. Even the releases, as much as we loved doing them, became exhausting. People would trash the venue, would tag on the walls, would etch on the mirrors, would steal from the bar. It was awful and disheartening.
So we began to shift focus, to make new plans, to change what FM was, what it could be, and what it no longer should be. And then, just as we started to look forward, started to renew ourselves, something completely unexpected happened: Tony broke his foot. Really badly. There were multiple surgeries, and gross pins that stuck out of his leg. It was uncomfortable for him to stand in one place for too long. He had to wear tear-away pants. I laughed when he told me that nothing else would fit over his bulky cast. And so we decided to take a break from the magazine, one that we’ve been on indefinitely since the last release in December 2009. We’re not sure what we’re going to do next. There may be another issue yet. Or not. Or, if we continue with Eggers’ path, then we’re due soon for a literary journal and a dreamy film adaptation with Spike Jonze. Who knows? Tony and I, we’re pretty restless people.
This article was written by Tuyet Nguyen and was originally published by The A.V. Club on March 4, 2010.