- Craig Graziano
Punk: The Best of Punk Magazine follows the history of New York City's Bowery music scene with actual reprints of the homemade zine's existence from 1976 to 1980. What's captured on these black and white pages is an anti-movement—a reaction against the well-intentioned but ultimately toothless peace and love ethos of the late 60's.
New York was a dump, seemingly destined for ruin. Rock music was gasping for air, trying to find sustenance from the softly vacant likes of Toto, Bread, or Seals and Crofts.
John Holstom and Legs McNeil did not expect things to improve. But when they heard a new band called the Dictators, a change started to manifest. The Dictators wrote songs about hanging out at burger joints, drinking Coca-Cola for breakfast, and being "Teengenerates." It was stupid enough to also be absolutely brilliant, and it encapsulated Holstrom's and McNeil's lives like no other music they were hearing at the time.
To get the chance to interview and hang out with the band, Holstrom suggested that they start their magazine. He was a budding cartoonist and had a wicked sense of humor. McNeil, who had no discernable skills other than drinking and causing a ruckus, asked what he was going to contribute. Holstrom declared that he could be the mascot. A real-life Alfred E. Neuman.
The first issue of the magazine has a famously nasty interview with Lou Reed, legendary member of the Velvet Underground, esteemed solo artist, and dedicated curmudgeon.
Holstrom and McNeil ran into Reed at the Bowery bar CBGB's and somehow convinced him to talk, exclaiming, "We're gonna put you on the cover!" Reed sarcastically replies "Oh your circulation must be fabulous." The tension continues, but Holstrom hilariously turns the interview into a comic strip, transforming Reed into a skeleton, Jughead, and a Picassoesque figure. Mid-interview, Holstrom insists on going to get hamburgers, dragging Reed along.
Sloppy but fun encapsulates the Punk Magazine ethos. The interviews alone are fantastic primary documents of the scene at the time, but these issues also have great side pieces, like a mad-lib section where you plug in the words to your own blues song, the Punk of The Month feature, and Punk's Top 100, a bizarre list of what the magazine liked at the time of each issue. Star Wars ranks pretty high; everyone loves Star Wars.
And, talk about ambition: two entire issues are comic strip movies—photographs with word bubbles to display the dialogue. The best of these features Heartbreakers frontman Richard Hell as a ex-detective in The Legend of Nick Detroit, written by Legs. Attaboy, Legs! We knew you could contribute something!
But my favorite exchange in the entire collection is this one from Brian Eno, a self-declared "non-musician" who, in addition to making his own gorgeous ambient and rock albums, has produced bands such as Talking Heads, Devo, and U2. Eno is a master of sound and acoustics, so it should come as no surprise when he interrupts the interviewer mid-question. He excitedly gushes, "Do you realize that we are experiencing perfect acoustics right now for an interview? You'll never get better acoustics than this....sorry."
On top of that, you've got interviews with Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Deborah Harry, and so many others. So what's the deal? Why are you still reading this when you could be reading Punk!?