In March 1988, Sassy magazine — founded by then-24-year-old Jane Pratt for teen girls “who felt like they were outsiders, but who could still pass for normal in the high school cafeteria” and “didn’t want to completely reject mainstream culture, but didn’t want to completely embrace it, either” — debuted on newsstands. In the 35 years since, the not-so-glossy mag has laid the groundwork for millennial/Gen Z feminist publications like Teen Vogue, Rookie, Bitch, Bust, Bustle, Jezebel, Hello Giggles, and Pratt’s subsequent publications, Jane and XOJane, and it has inspired the lovingly curated Tumblr account “Sassy Magazine LIVES” and the book How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time.
The groundbreaking magazine in fact changed many Gen X girls’ lives, including that of future Eagles of Death Metal/Palaye Royale bassist and fashion designer Jennie Vee, who to this day can still boast that she won Sassy’s “Biggest Cure Fan” contest, thanks to her figurative bloody-mindedness — and a literal blood oath.
Growing up on a farm 30 minutes outside the 80,000-population, “dreary and desolate” mining town of Sudbury in Ontario, Canada, Vee recalls, “Sassy was a magazine that spoke to me because Seventeen did not. It was on the cusp of the alternative wave that was upon us, and I felt like it was written by your cool older friends. It definitely wasn’t condescending. It was a little ‘controversial’ at times, apparently. It was cool. It was different. It wasn’t your typical teen magazine, for sure.”
Over the course of its eight-year run, Sassy introduced cover stars like grunge power-couple Courtney Love and (a magenta-haired) Kurt Cobain and ‘90s it-girl Juliana Hatfield to middle America; coined the term “Cute Band Alert,” with that unisex monthly honor going to college-rock heroes like Sloan, Luscious Jackson, Guided by Voices, the Lemonheads, Ween, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bikini Kill, and Bratmobile; inspired a recurring Phil Hartman sketch on Saturday Night Live; ran a “Dear Boy” advice column with guest writers like Iggy Pop, Billy Corgan, Mike D. of the Beastie Boys, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore; and even spawned an in-house indie band of Sassy staffers, Chia Pet, best known for the feminist anthem “Hey Baby” and a deadpan cover of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” for a Planned Parenthood benefit album.
Back in the mid-to-late ‘80s, Vee’s only connection to alternative youth culture, before Sassy came along, was MTV, thanks to her parents equipping their home with a satellite dish. Even as early as age 10, the self-described “awkward little girl” who “felt out of place everywhere I went” was drawn to the “Close to Me” music video by her own cute-band-alert, the Cure. Vee says, “I’m not the ambassador for Sudbury. … I think it’s just a grim, gray place where most people don’t leave, and I could feel that. From a young age, I just had this sense of wanting to get out and needing to escape. So, the Cure kind of became my escape. … They gave me hope in this town where I felt isolated. I could relate, somehow, as a young girl, to [frontman] Robert Smith’s lyrics.
“Music was everything to me, like a fantasy world. I decorated my room with all Cure posters. I painted it purple. I hung a chandelier. That’s how I could express myself, how I found my own sense of creativity and expression so that it gave me something to do. It was more than just listening to music. It became my world,” Vee continues. “And then I found a Cure fan club called Other Voices that was based in Norman, Okla. I had pen pals, and that was my social network. We would trade tapes and send each other these amazing packages, decorated. We photocopied pictures from magazines and painted them with watercolors. It was really an epic kind of pre-internet social network. It saved me, 100%, when I felt like I had nothing and that I was nowhere. And furthermore, the Cure’s music inspired me to play music myself. If I didn’t have that, I can’t even imagine who I would be now.”
It was a few years after her “Close to Me” awakening that a now-14-year-old Vee, poring over Sassy in her gothic purple bedroom in the fall of 1990, figured out a fantastic way to impress her Other Voices peers. “I was an early fan of the magazine and I was flipping through, and there was a full-page ad in Sassy that said, ‘Get mixed up with the Cure! Prove you’re the world’s biggest Cure fan!’” recalls Vee, whose favorite band was about to release the Mixed Up remix compilation. “So, right there I knew, it was not a random draw. It said, ‘Send us something at this address proving you’re the biggest Cure fan.’ Well, I play to win… and I knew this was something I could win. And I was determined to win it.
“I was like, ‘I got this,’ and my teenage brain’s going crazy; it’s completely taking over my life,” Vee continues with a chuckle. “I had some time here to work on this, because there was a six-week deadline, so I used up every moment. I found out with FedEx how long it would take to ship to New York to their offices, and I worked all the way up until that deadline.”
Vee says she “fancied myself a bit of a poet,” so she “decided to write 365 poems dedicated to the Cure. I was probably up to about a hundred already, so furiously — in school and after school, at any time — I was writing poetry, usually in response to a song. I’d listen to a song and then, kind of stream-of consciousness, write the poem and put it in a black Duo-Tang folder that I decorated with red nail polish. It was a whole thing.”
Vee then adds, a bit sheepishly: “And I wasn’t going to mention this — I was going to save it for what, I’m not sure — but I also signed, for the Sassy contest, each poem with my own blood.”
As if that wasn’t enough to prove to Pratt that she was indeed the biggest Cure fan among Sassy’s readership, Vee “decided that I needed to construct a dollhouse. Yes, a Cure dollhouse. I painted every room different. It was three stories. I tiled the floors with little black-and-white tiles. I made dolls. I made a Robert Smith doll with a little shirt buttoned up like his. I remembered reading that Robert Smith liked Christmas and Christmas lights and decorations, so the whole thing was Christmas-themed; because December was the deadline, I made it Christmas-themed. I even had little miniature Christmas trees with little black spider decorations and Robert Smith ornaments.
“And so, that was my entry. I put the poetry book in the dollhouse, packed this thing up, like three feet, in a box, and FedExed it. I spent like $200 sending this thing; I had two jobs at the time. I sent it to New York. And I won.”
It was a few months later that an official letter “with the Sassy return address and the little logo on the envelope” arrived in the Sudbury mail; Vee immediately “tore it open” and saw a few of her Cure pen pals’ name listed in the magazine’s ranking of top 10 Cure fans. “They were in second place, third place… but my name was on the top. I freaked out,” says Vee.
Along with bragging rights as the holder of the “Biggest Fan” title (“because I did get into some arguments with other fans over that at the time!”), Vee says “the biggest, most exciting part of the Sassy prize was an autographed print of Robert Smith — a self-portrait that Robert had painted of himself.” On her Instagram account, Vee recently posted a faded photo of her proudly holding that prize, but sadly, she says “no photographic evidence” of the actual dollhouse exists from this pre-iPhone, pre-social media age. Sassy didn’t even run photos of the dollhouse — and never returned it to Vee, either. Even now, she still has no idea where that dollhouse is or what happened to it. “You’ll just have to take my word for it,” she laughs.
Vee admits being “a bit disappointed” that the Sassy contest’s “mystery prize” was only the portrait plus “the entire Cure discography, which I already had multiple times over — and it was in CD longboxes, if anyone remembers those.” The small-town girl had been dreaming of winning “a trip to London” to “go to Fiction Records and hang out there for the day. … I thought I was going to be going on some amazing world journey!” But Vee, who now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats, would not remain in Sudbury for a long.
Just a few years after the Sassy contest — in the year that Vee’s father, who’d been “mostly repulsed by” but “accepting in a lot of ways” of her bloody Cure fandom, passed away — Vee quit high school and “took off with my bass” to the Cure’s native country, England, where she’d live for the next five years. Upon returning to the States, she’d even play bass for above-mentioned Sassy cover darling Courtney Love’s solo band. And Vee can partially credit her Sassy triumph for motivating her to strike out on her own.
“You have to create your own opportunities in the world,” Vee says, “and make the best of everything.”
This interview is taken from Jennie Vee’s appearances on the Totally ’80s podcast and the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that latter conversation is available on the SiriusXM app.
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