He went cold turkey two days ago, and getting over Joe Camel's hump seems to be causing some internal tremors as he sits in a loft in the crumbling West Bottoms, discussing how his Dandercroft magazine got its name.
"I used to date this girl leprechaun, and one day this alien jumped out of her chest and said, 'Dandercroft! Dandercroft! Dandercroft!" Bersuch says calmly, as if giving directions to the DMV. "That's how I came up with the name. Sadly, the leprechaun died. But the alien is still around. I can hear it running around my room every now and then."
Nicotine withdrawal is a bitch.
Of course, Bersuch is joking. At least I hope he is.
Then again, this is the sort of humor you might expect from someone who has the acuity and audacity to start his own publication on a frayed shoestring.
"[The name] just popped into my mind," Bersuch says. "Although afterwards, I found out it means dead skin buffet. And it kind of makes sense. The music people make is like dead skin that they leave behind. And this is kind of like a buffet of a lot of different music, or dead skin."
Uh ... check, please.
Then again, Dead Skin Buffet would be one hell of a name for a magazine catering to the black-eyeliner crowd. But when Bersuch first came up with the idea for Dandercroft a year ago, his vision went beyond profiling bands with names like Hambürger Bloodclöt or Daycare Necrophiliac.
"I didn't want it to be connected to any genre," Bersuch says. "I didn't want people to say 'There's a punk 'zine, or 'There's a metal 'zine.' I just wanted it to be a weird little 'zine covering all kinds of music."
Bersuch has succeeded on one count at least, making "weird" his own private science.
Among other oddities, each issue includes an installment of "Bloated in the Head," Bersuch's comic strip, in which the protagonist delivers absurd monologues such as "My gay friend Smithy thinks that I should buy a stuffed animal and feed it pencil shavings. But I stopped using pencils years ago."
Maybe it isn't the cigarettes. Maybe it's just John Bersuch.
Not that he is much different from any other J.Q. Hipster. He's your average mutton-chopped 25-year-old in black-rimmed glasses. A man with a fetish for Aqua Teen Hunger Force and a curious hatred for Kenny Rogers who is also a member in three local bands.
Bersuch served as a drummer and keyboardist with defunct acts like Trouble Junction and Big Jeter and now sits in with Forrest Whitlow and the Crash, Bacon Shoe (his "comedy rap" solo project) and Minds Under Cover, a band whose latest artistic direction Bersuch matter-of-factly describes as "cybernetic suicide meth metal with keyboards."
Right. One of those bands.
But Bersuch differs from the usual suspects when it comes to publishing acumen. He did, after all, distribute his own gross-out comic strip as a youngster.
"I've always wanted to have my own magazine," Bersuch says. "But I never had anything to write about except people melting from toxic waste."
Turns out disenchantment was all he needed.
"Actually, I think I was complaining about how hard it was for bands to get into the Pitch," Bersuch says. "Someone said something smartass like 'Well why don't you start your own magazine?' So I did."
And last August, the first issue of Dandercroft rolled off the presses.
"I was really scared," Bersuch admits. "I didn't know if it would last. I just wanted to make it past the first one."
Mission accomplished. Dandercroft hit the supply-and-demand cycle at low tide, quenching the thirst of a region once awash in quality 'zines like Flavor Pak and Micromag. And Bersuch didn't fuck around.
Dandercroft barely qualifies as a 'zine -- typically a subversive publication written by fanatics on the back of cocktail napkins and Chinese takeout menus -- because the print quality is almost too good. The first run was 1,000 copies. There were twice that many for the third issue (released April 1), which clocks in at a hefty 64 pages and includes a free local-music compilation album.
"I've thought about making it smaller," Bersuch says. "But I want it to stand out. I want it to kick ass."
Every facet of the magazine courses through the berserk Mr. Bersuch, who shares writing duties with a small stable of volunteers. Aspects of the magazine's design are relatively inspired, though the writing seesaws between entertaining and obnoxious, irreverent and irrelevant.
An interview might include the question "What comes first: the monkey or the sweet potato?" or a musician's response "We have this thing -- retards versus midgets -- who would you rather fuck? You can't go to jail for fucking a midget."
Both of which are freaking awesome.
But whereas the material puts a welcome spotlight on local acts, Bersuch's one-man show isn't without complications. People who publish 'zines are not completely altruistic musical Mother Teresas, spreading the good word about bands as if they were helping lepers in Calcutta; 'zines are often vanity projects, overripe with self-indulgence and lacking in self-restraint.
Frequently, Dandercroft features meandering (and mind-numbing) interview transcripts. As contributor Michelle Cagle wrote in her introduction to an Ike Turner Overdrive profile, "It might be hard to read and only fairly accurate as far as who said what, but it sure was fun."
Glad you had a good time.
There is also a concern that impartiality gets brutalized like a Hitler piñata at a bar mitzvah. Some readers might look at the bands featured in Dandercroft and feel compelled to connect the dots in a Six Degrees of John Bersuch diagram. Consequently, the softball interviews and kid-gloves criticism can read like an elaborate playbill for a massive scenester circle jerk.
"I try not to make it all my friends' bands," Bersuch says. "It's not all about me ... [but] if I'm going to spend all this time doing it, I'm going to write what I want."
Fair enough. And perhaps it's ludicrous to expect a local music 'zine run by a stalwart of the local music scene to be neutral. But the real issue is how many issues Bersuch has left in him. His ambitions come at a high cost. And even though many readers support Dandercroft, most have balked at the idea of paying for it.
Thus, the short existence of Dandercroft has relied on advertising, donations and benefit shows. But goodwill can last only so long. And one has to question the life expectancy of a product that must sustain itself through charity.
But financial drain is only part of the battle to keep Dandercroft afloat. In addition to his myriad musical endeavors, Bersuch juggles a job with Guiding Light Electric. He pieces together each issue on his computer. Volunteers helped him glue each compilation album into the latest issue. He delivers papers in his Volkswagen Golf, and he paid $300 of his own money for the final push of Dandercroft's third issue. And every dollar he reaps gets sown into the next issue.
"Sixty-four pages by yourself takes a long fucking time," Bersuch says. "But I want to do it myself."
Few people can sustain that pace. Virtually all 'zines have brief shelf lives. And despite Bersuch's dedication, there's no guarantee Dandercroft will be around next year. He estimates he can produce three more issues at his current three-month pace before he'll reach a crossroads.
"If the money situation got easier, I could do it forever," Bersuch says. "I want to do it for as long as I can. But I could quit right now, and it wouldn't matter. Dandercroft has already done something good."