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Mondo 1995 (Part II) 

Mondo 2000 nailed the emerging cybersexcomputerdrug zeitgeist with its first issue in 1989, making media mavens out of its founders, Queen Mu and R.U. Sirius. But the trippy, fractious family that was Mondo began to implode in 1993, torn asunder bu inter

Wednesday, Oct 11 1995
The Mondo folks had no reason to flinch: A week later they were featured on the cover of Time magazine's "Cyberpunk" story in what could have passed for a paid advertisement. The cover was designed by Bart Nagel, and the layout, which mimicked the Mondo book's design, was illustrated by Mondo artists and photographers. Paragraph after paragraph was devoted to descriptions of Mondo articles and topics. Wired rated only a passing mention.

Accompanying the article was a photo of Nagel, R.U. Sirius, and Queen Mu standing in a field, the royal trio of cyberpunk prankster publishers. But unknown to Time readers was that Sirius and Mu were barely on speaking terms. He had already left the magazine. Most staffers say it was over the U2-Negativland story.

As the magazine's popularity rose, its staff was solicited by celebrities hoping to get into the pages. Neil Young, Italian astrophysicist Fiorelli Torenzi, Dan Aykroyd, Michael Penn, Billy Idol's "people," even Buffy Sainte-Marie approached the magazine asking for press. So when U2 guitarist The Edge asked to be interviewed, R.U. Sirius summoned his friends from Negativland, a Bay Area band that had been sued for copyright infringement by U2's management for sampling the Irish band's music on its release U2.

When The Edge phoned on schedule for the interview, members of Negativland were there to conduct it -- unbeknownst to The Edge. Negativland skillfully drew the guitarist into a philosophical discussion in which he described the artistic liberties U2 had taken in appropriating video images and music onstage during its "Zooropa" tour.

The shocker came when R.U. Sirius told The Edge that he was, in fact, talking to the band his management company nearly sued out of existence. Brilliantly revealing U2 as hypocrites, the article caused a huge rift at Mondo when Queen Mu balked at running it. She was tired of Negativland, and since she was paying the bills, she could make the calls.

"This was the centerpiece of the issue," remembers Hultkrans. "It was a huge fight."

"I just blew up," says Sirius. "It was probably a confluence of a lot of other shit leading up to that." He quit, walked out of the meeting and out of the house, and later faxed in a formal resignation.

Hultkrans rewrote an introduction to the story and Queen Mu graciously ran it in 1993's issue No. 8 as scheduled, but Mondo 2000 had faced its future.

"If [R.U.] is not here," thought Nagel, "it's not going to be fun anymore."
Sirius left the magazine and started looking for work at mainstream magazines like Details and Spin. His approach was not the most tactful employment solicitation.

"Let's face it, I had an attitude: 'Hey, I'm gone from Mondo 2000! I can fucking come in and remake your goddamn magazine until it means something!' That didn't go over too well," he says.

He eventually slinked back to the Mondo House, and traded his ownership shares for a steady salary and financial security. Nobody said anything.

"It was like Long Day's Journey Into Night," says Hultkrans, "where everybody sort of dances around the problem."

Queen Mu's idiosyncrasies also ran through other departments, recalls Stickrod, who, in addition to advising the magazine for a time, also shared responsibility for advertising sales.

"Alison personally alienated more advertisers than you can imagine. She developed this theory that the reason she couldn't get big-name advertisers is that the agencies didn't respect her because her rates weren't high enough. So one day she arbitrarily tripled the rates."

"She was always frustrated because she couldn't understand why we weren't selling more [advertisements]," says Miles Hurwitz, an independent media rep who hustled ads for several issues. "And one of the reasons is because the rates were ridiculously high."

"This is a place I'd done a lot of footwork, and had opened the door up to them," says Stickrod of Apple Computer's ad agency. "There are people I can't talk to now because Alison came in and raised so much hell."

Queen Mu may not have been the greatest leader of a sales force, but the magazine did attract ads from the likes of Xaos Tools, Geffen, New Line Cinema, Logitech, and other big-ticket concerns.

But the magazine's erratic publishing schedule also made it difficult to develop a solid advertising base. "Had they just come out quarterly as they had promised," says Hurwitz, "that would have been helpful."

Mondo's pro-drug association continued to haunt advertisers, a bargaining chip often used by Wired ad reps, so Queen Mu began orchestrating the tone to appear more mainstream.

"I think that was a big mistake," says Stickrod. "That was the place that made them interesting and hip. She was losing touch with her constituency -- the thing that made them outrageous and interesting."

Nagel also winced at the changes. "The rest of us thought, 'We've already gotten mainstream coverage here -- why don't we just continue doing what we're doing?' It's not like we were going to lose any ads."

Wired scrupulously avoided mentioning Mondo, but its contents page revealed that it had looked long and hard at Mondo's back issues.

The cover story in its premiere issue was written by Bruce Sterling, a frequent Mondo contributor. Also on the masthead were R.U. Sirius as contributing writer and Randy Stickrod, who was thanked under "tea and sympathy." The second Wired detailed the Crypto Rebels, "cypherpunks" battling for the right to encrypt, a subject first covered by Mondo. Posing on the cover, among others, was St. Jude herself, who had coined the word "cypherpunks." Wired's third cover featured Brian Eno, previously written up in Mondo; the fourth cover story was written by Mondo alumnus (and Mondo House guest) William Gibson.

Paying writers 20 times as much as Mondo, and paying on time, the more commercial Wired quickly skimmed the best of the rest of the Mondo talent pool: St. Jude, Branwyn, Rucker, Barlow, Ito, and Jaron Lanier.

About The Author

Jack Boulware


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