For a purported personal zine, Al Burian’s Burn Collector is strangely outward-looking. His philosophical musings on expat culture, life in Berlin, punk rock, and other topics are based on his own experiences, but they aren’t just stories. Burian raises plenty of questions without answering them, putting his reader in a position to consider these everyday ideas in a new light. His essays are a fine counterpoint to the legions of navel-gazing zinesters that populate the perzine genre in that they aren’t meant to chronicle his life, but instead connect it with larger social and existential problems.
Issue #15 is based largely around Burian’s life in Berlin, where he’d been living for one year when he wrote it. Two of his stories describe a toothache he had abroad and his slight panic at managing his health in a foreign country, while another section details the people and sights he sees on the street. Burian shows loyalty neither to his country of origin (the US) nor his adopted home; instead he looks at Berlin as a flawed but fascinating place to be. His interview with fellow expat Liam Warfield adds to this impression; Warfield tries to see Berlin as more than a tourist or artsy city by visiting non-touristy parts of town. However, both visitors worry about increasing gentrification and influx of “hipsters.”
One thoughtful essay looks at a scientific study that, for Burian, proves happiness and a realistic view of the world as essentially incompatible. Maybe it’s the idea of happiness that’s flawed, though; later, Burian writes of happiness not as an achievement but as a right way of living, or pursuit of “the good.” Neither essay gives a definitive answer, but they definitely touch on deeply held assumptions (or maybe just suspicions) that we all have. Burian makes the leap that most personal zine writers seem to attempt – to make connections between the personal and universal, and touch upon common concerns with humor and dexterity.
A fairly large section of the zine excerpts Anne Elizabeth Moore’s reflections on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the aftermath, both in Germany and abroad. Examining the use and misuse of the Berlin Wall’s legacy, and looking again at life in a partitioned city, Moore draws some surprising conclusions about socialism and radicalism. Burian’s reflection on May Day in Berlin, as a social event and staged encounter between radicals and police, fits in neatly with her essays.
In a seeming parody of the magazine format, Burian includes a “reviews” section in which he talks about a museum, famed squatting locations, his own LP collection, and more in a somewhat rambling and, again, philosophical fashion. His thoughts return again to gentrification and a seeming loss of radicalism among young people; meanwhile he wonders if he’s lost his own sense of activism and become part of what he used to rage against.
Burn Collector is sort of like sitting down with a friend for a chat, if that friend were highly analytical and interested in finding deeper meaning in seemingly mundane experiences. Burian is a good writer and thinker; he has clearly considered these essays for a long time, and he bolsters them with his own experience. If you’re looking for a perzine with punch and pathos, check out Burn Collector.