Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Black Halos - January 2006 @ Grant & Green Saloon, SF

L-R: Denyss McKnight, Billy Hopeless, Adam Becvare
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Billy Hopeless
Both photos: Devorah Ostrov

L-R: Denyss McKnight, Billy Hopeless, Adam Becvare
Photo: Devorah Ostrov

Billy Hopeless
Photo: Devorah Ostrov

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Punk Magazine: The Birth Of A 'Zine And A Genre

Debbie Harry & Anya Phillips as Nazi Dykes in
The Legend of Nick Detroit: A Film Starring Richard Hell
Punk magazine #6
Originally published in American Music Press - February 1994

By Devorah Ostrov

Magazine staffs are a lot like bands; and the best magazines, like the best bands, are infused with a heavy dose of their creator's (often warped) personalities. Such was the case with Punk magazine, which existed for 17 issues between 1976 - 1979.

"Punk wasn't about the bands," emphatically states its founding editor and art director John Holmstrom. "It was about us."

In 1971 Holmstrom graduated from high school - where he had been the star of the school play, winner of the Kiwanis English award, and the first to be caught by the police for smoking pot. In '72 he moved from the small town of Cheshire, Connecticut to New York where he attended the School of Visual Arts. There he studied cartooning under such masters as Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. But when Kurtzman offered him a job (albeit at a non-existent magazine), Holmstrom felt he was ready for the real world.

After stints at Screw ("It wasn't considered smut back then. It was this radical underground magazine that explored the frontiers of sexuality.") and Scholastic's Bananas magazine (his "Joe" strip for Bananas paid the rent for ten years), he returned to Cheshire. It was here, while working with a theater group called the Apocalypse Players that Holmstrom met Eddie "Legs" McNeil, the troupe's P.R. Agent.

John Holmstrom
"Legs was supposed to get us gigs and make us famous," laughs Holmstrom. "See how famous we are?"

At the time, McNeil was a high school freshman who, says Holmstrom, "would drink one or two beers and pass out!"

Before Holmstrom returned to New York, the two, along with a third friend, Ged (G.E.) Dunn Jr., collaborated on a 16-millimeter film called The Unthinkable (in which four mentally retarded gangsters escape from a mental institution and steal all the town's toilet paper; McNeil produced).

Soon after, McNeil dropped out of high school and followed Holmstrom to New York to pursue a career in film. Dunn, bored with University life, joined them, using his school money to finance the threesome's new venture.

At first there was talk of two enterprises: one would be a film company headed by McNeil; the other would be a publication headed by Holmstrom. And Holmstrom already had the magazine's unique format in mind: "I always thought that if you could marry comics and rock 'n' roll - kind of Zap and Creem - you'd have the perfect hybrid."

A 'Zine and a Genre Are Christened: "Let's see... I think it was while we were stealing trees..." reminisces Holmstrom.

CBGB Summer Rock Festival ad
It was the summer of '75 and McNeil's film company needed trees to transform a roof top into a forest. While driving back from digging oaks out of the nearest woods, Holmstrom suggested calling their magazine Teenage News (after the New York Dolls' song). McNeil thought that name was "stupid." Instead, he suggested Punk.

At the time, the scene beginning to form around a Bowery bar called CBGB (an acronym for Country Bluegrass & Blues) was garnering some media attention but it didn't yet have a label. Owner Hilly Kristal was calling the music of the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Television "street rock." But, says Holmstrom, the term "punk rock" was already in use amongst some journalists.

"Bomp magazine would use it to describe the garage bands of the '60s; Lester Bangs had used it to describe Iggy and the Stooges in the early '70s; the Bay City Rollers were then being called punk rock; Eddie and the Hot Rods were being called punk rock. The term was all over Creem, but I don' think Legs knew this. I knew it because I read Creem. That's why I liked the word."

In John Savage's exhaustive tome, England's Dreaming, McNeil recounts the conversation that followed the naming: "John said, 'I'll be the editor;' our friend Ged said, 'I'll be the publisher;' and they both looked at me and said, 'What are you going to be?' 'I'll be the resident punk!' It was all decided in seconds."

In July, Holmstrom attended the CBGB Summer Festival where he discovered the Ramones. "This was it! I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard!"

In October, Holmstrom, McNeil, and Dunn moved into their new headquarters - an abandoned trucking company storefront at 356 10th Avenue, which they rented for $195 a month.

Debbie introduces Joey to her dad
Mutant Monster Beach Party - Punk #15
In November, they began putting together material for the first issue. Their first interview was with the Ramones.

According to Holmstrom, "Lou Reed was there with Danny Fields (at the time manager of the Ramones and editor of 16 magazine). Legs went up to Lou and asked if we could interview him. Lou was just about to lose his label deal over Metal Machine Music and said, 'Okay.' We ended up hanging out with him for hours!"

By the end of the year there were posters up all over the city announcing: Watch Out! Punk Is Coming! The folks who hung out at CBGB thought it was some cheesy out-of-town band they were supposed to be watching for.

"Everybody at CBGB was waiting for N.Y. Rocker," says Holmstrom. "We beat N.Y. Rocker's first issue by a week or two and flipped everybody out!"

Printed on 50 lb. offset paper and folded in a broadsheet format, Punk #1 was published on New Year's Day 1976. Instead of typesetting (they couldn't afford it), each and every word was painstakingly hand-printed; photographs were turned into cartoons; cartoons were used to tell entire stories.

David Johansen imparts his wisdom
to Legs McNeil
John Savage describes the visual impact of one story: "...the surrounding artwork is as important as [Lou] Reed's insults: the Ramones play on the interview tape and one can see them in photograph form. When the interviewers follow Reed down the block, there they are in the cartoons. The effect was both immediate and distanced, a formal innovation on a par with Mad magazine..."

Much like the music it chronicled, Punk could be stupid, as in this exchange between Legs McNeil and Richard Hell in issue #3:

Legs: I'm gonna throw up.

Richard: Go in there first okay?

Legs: Yeah, will you talk...

Richard: While you're gone? No, I'll turn off the tape recorder.

Or it could be intellectual (from the same interview with Richard Hell):

Richard: Did you ever read Nietzsche... he said that anything that makes you laugh, anything that's funny indicates an emotion that's died.

But its real accomplishment was in unifying all the disparate CBGB's groups into a valid "scene." Its first editorial - Death To Disco Shit - was an ultimatum:

Editorial - Punk issue #1
ISSUE #1: Published January 1, 1976. A Holmstrom-drawn caricature of Lou Reed graces the cover; inside is a four-page comic strip interview with Reed. "A lot of people told me, 'It's the best thing you've ever done and it's the best thing you'll ever do,'" says Holmstrom. There's also a feature on Marlon Brando: The Original Punk; a Ramones centerfold; a Legs McNeil "Famous Persons Interview" with cartoon personality Sluggo ("It gets tiring playing a stupid tramp, you know..."); and a photo essay called "Cars and Girls" which outlines McNeil's dating tips.

Lou Reed - cover of Punk #1
Dunn put up the $5,000 needed to print 5,000 copies. Folding the 17x22 sheets would have cost extra, so this was done by hand. Two thousand copies were given to a distributor who was "supposed to" put them on newsstands all over New York. Supposed to? "He didn't," says Holmstrom. The remaining copies were all sold or given away.

In fact, the first issue became such a sought-after collector's item that back issues were priced at $25, in an attempt to discourage ordering. "We heard that somebody broke into an apartment in Detroit and the only thing they stole was a copy of Punk #1," boasts Holmstrom.

Creem, Rock Scene, the Soho News, and The Village Voice all gave the first issue enthusiastic write-ups. Lester Bangs said he wanted to leave Creem to move to New York and write for Punk; Danny Fields proclaimed Holmstrom a genius; and Lou Reed said the 'zine "knocked him out."

"Everybody was falling all over themselves to praise us!" recalls Holmstrom. "Girls who wouldn't look at us before were suddenly trying to pick us up! It was great!"

ISSUE #2: Published March 1976. Using two different photos of Patti Smith on the cover was, reflects Holmstrom, "dopey." As well as an interview with Smith, this issue includes the Talking Heads, Marbles ("What a mistake") and Television ("Boring"). A three-word review of Bob Dylan's Desire album reads: "Sludge, mud, suds."

Patti Smith - cover of Punk #2
"It was a mess," sums up Holmstrom of #2. "The whole issue is so wimpy. People said it was horrible. And it killed us because we printed more (7,500) copies."

ISSUE #3: Published April 1976. ("Boy, that came out quick!" marvels Holmstrom.) A brilliant issue that begins with a beautiful Holmstrom-drawn cover of Joey Ramone. Inside, it's revealed that Joey likes girls who are fun and out of their minds; Tommy's fave TV show is Zorro; Dee Dee's pet peeves are crummy sound systems and nagging, pushy girls; and Johnny's dream date is a night at Jack in the Box! There's also a year-by-year diary that follows our heroes from high school in Forest Hills to the release of "Blitzkrieg Bop."

The Ramones' story is accompanied by half-a-dozen pics taken by then-novice photographer Roberta Bayley. Holmstrom recalls the session and how it led to the cover of the Ramones' debut album: "First we shot them in their loft in front of their banner. Then Legs said there was a cool playground around the corner, 'Let's take them there!' So, we took all these pictures in front of a brick wall for the magazine. Then Danny Fields called us up, 'Have you got anything? Any pictures at all?' The Ramones had hired some famous photographer to do their record cover... 'The pictures look horrible.' They looked through Roberta's and found that one great picture from the session that became the album cover. They only paid her like $100."

Joey Ramone - cover of Punk #3
Plus, the gang interviews ex-New York Doll David Johansen, who says: "We maintained [the Dolls] on a very democratic level. I mean, you can ask Jerry about that." Pam Brown interviews the Heartbreakers and Jerry Nolan says: "There was a certain member of the Dolls that sorta had most of the say and I disagreed with him completely." Holmstrom's mother writes a Letter to the Editor: "Please pay your bills. Find a job that will pay you and let the cartooning be a sideline. You have wasted a lot of time already. Love, Mom." Debbie Harry models Punk t-shirts, and Legs conducts a "Famous Persons Interview" with Boris and Natasha:

Boris: We have certain members of de so-called "Free World" which have plagued our organization for years... a certain squirrel...

Natasha: And a very dumb moose.

"This issue was really sharp!" enthuses Holmstrom. "$850 worth of ads in it according to my copy."

By this time, Rough Trade was distributing the magazine, air-shipping thousands of copies to the UK. "I would have to say that Punk helped create and fuel the English scene," states Holmstrom. "I don't think it ever would have happened like it did if it weren't for this magazine. When Blondie went over there, Chris Stein told me that everyone was throwing up because Legs threw up in the Richard Hell story." (And there's certainly no doubt of Punk's influence on such later English do-it-yourself fanzines as Sniffin' Glue and Ripped & Torn.)

Beware of Imitations! Punk is the BEST! From issue #11
ISSUE #4: Published July 1976. Iggy Pop is on the cover. "We let Pam Brown interview him," says Holmstrom, "and that was kind of a mistake. Iggy wanted to talk to me. I met him later on, we talked about insects and stuff." Also: an interview with Richard Hell's female alter-ego Theresa Stern; Legs goes to Gilligan's Island; Debbie Harry is the pin-up centerfold; and Lester Bangs contributes "Diary of a Cabby," a story based on Taxi Driver.

Iggy Pop - cover of Punk #4
"Lester was obsessed!" laughs Holmstrom. "He would play the movie instead of music and he would force everybody to listen to it."

Most surprising was a Holmstrom-penned review praising the new Donna Summer record. Did he really like Donna Summer?

Holmstrom: Yeah...

But what about that "Death to Disco Shit" editorial in issue #1?

Holmstrom: I wrote that as a joke! I was shocked when everybody took it seriously and this big anti-disco movement happened.

ISSUE #5: Published August 1976. Holmstrom self-effacingly dubbed this the "Special Dull Issue." He explains: "It wasn't that interesting. I ran into Lou Reed at a party and he told me how fucked up the magazine was. That's when I got determined to do something cool." This decision led to...

The Monkees - cover of Punk #5
ISSUE #6: Published October 1976. "The Legend of Nick Detroit: A Film Starring Richard Hell." Legs McNeil wrote and directed; Roberta Bayley and Chris Stein (among others) operated the cameras.

The first of Punk's photo/comic special issues follows the adventures of Government Agent/ inhuman killing machine Nick Detroit (Hell) and his faithful sidekick Norris McGillicuddy (McNeil). The cast features a plethora of New York's finest including Lenny Kaye (Special Agent Victor Martino), Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (ruthless murderers in barber shop), David Byrne (Special Agent Reed), David Johansen (Tony the Rose), Tuff Darts (a squad of armed goons), the Marbles (coppers), Helen Wheels (General George the Dyke), and Debbie Harry and Anya Phillips (Nazi Dykes).

It had been a couple of months between issues #5 and #6. "We had pretty much stopped publication," explains Holmstrom. "We ran out of money after #5."

The Legend of Nick Detroit:
A Film Starring Richard Hell
cover of Punk #6
Enter Tom Forcade, publisher of the very successful High Times magazine. "Tom came into the office in the summer of '76," recalls Holmstrom. "He put his feet up on the table and said, 'I'm gonna make you rich and famous.' He was going to distribute Punk and set up a company to sell advertising for us."

With the publication of "Nick Detroit," Holmstrom and McNeil were the toasts of CBGB. "I remember after it came out, Legs got mobbed! Twenty people surrounded him! He was freaking out! He didn't know what to do."

An optimistic 10,000 copies were printed, but the issue bombed and High Times backed out of its deal. "In retrospect it's wonderful," reflects Holmstrom about issue #6. "But nobody wanted to read it then. Everybody wanted to read record reviews, I guess."

ISSUE #7: Published February 1977. The special Upside-Down issue - every other article was printed upside-down. "I went nuts!" declares Holmstrom. Patti Smith was on the cover for a second time. "It was between her, Blue Oyster Cult, Eddie and the Hot Rods, or Satan," says Holmstrom. This issue also includes Lou Reed's rapidograph drawings, an interview with rock journalist R. Meltzer, and comic strip record reviews.

Patti Smith - cover of Punk #7
Punk was back in business thanks to Tom Katz (a pseudonym). Katz had received a $20,000 settlement from the City of New York for the wrongful death of his brother; he gave the entire amount to the struggling magazine.

ISSUE #8: Published March 1977. For the first time, there's an English band on Punk's cover - the Sex Pistols, of course!

Johnny Rotten talks while Bob Gruen takes photos; Holmstrom does a phoner with Frank Zappa; McNeil interviews Hitler; a big ad announces a non-existent Battle of the Bands between the Ramones and the Dictators ("The gig fell through," says Holmstrom); and a letter to their landlord indicates the conditions under which the magazine was produced: "Front door lock must be installed and secured properly, raw sewage leaking from ceiling frequently, gaping hole in the ceiling must be patched, leaky toilet and plumbing fixed, regular heating - we have not had any heat in two days..."

"I'll never forget when they came to fix [the leaking raw sewage]," says Holmstrom. Somebody flushed the toilet upstairs and sewage was gushing all over Legs! He was sleeping and he wouldn't wake up. I was like, 'Legs! Raw sewage is on you! Get up!' And he was like, 'I don't care. I wanna sleep.'"

The Sex Pistols - cover of Punk #8
Publisher Ged Dunn was fired after this issue. "He didn't know what he was doing," asserts Holmstrom, pointing out that the $20,000 given to them by Tom Katz was now gone. "He wasted what little money we had on some typically crazy publishing philosophy: put out a glossy product and get the advertising... blah, blah, blah. We should have just been run efficiently and economically. Instead, we were going out of business every six months."

As an early indication of the problems to come, Holmstrom refers back to the naming of the 'zine: "Ged wanted to call it The Punk Journal. He wanted it to be very pretentious."

ISSUE #9: The first of the fabled "lost" issues of Punk. If it had come out, it would have featured the Damned on the cover.

Inside, you might have read the interview with KISS. "We ran into them at Lou Reed's party," says Holmstrom. "Paul and Gene made a point of talking to us. They seemed like cool people and I didn't mind their music." You could have perused the excerpt from William Burroughs' Junkie, or mused over a comic strip entitled "Life of a Fly." Alas, #9 never saw the light of day.

The printers were paid in advance and, according to Holmstrom, "We gave them the original layout so they'd have high-quality artwork to reproduce from." However, when he went to collect the 'zines, the print shop had disappeared - along with all the artwork!

"All the machines, printing presses and stuff were gone! The worst thing about it was we had rare, one-of-a-kind photographs of William Burroughs hanging out with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac on the road... priceless stuff. The last thing I expected was that the printer would evaporate into thin air."

David Johansen as Tony the Rose & Cyrinda Fox as Tony's Lady
The Legend of Nick Detroit: A Film Starring Richard Hell
Punk magazine #6
ISSUE #10: Published Summer 1977. A cartoon version of Debbie Harry strikes a Betty Boop pose on the cover. The issue opens with photos from the Punk Benefit Concert hosted by CBGB. The two-night affair (May 4 & 5, 1977) raised $2,000. Performers included Alex Chilton, the Dead Boys (joined by the Dictators' Ross the Boss), Suicide, the Patti Smith Group, the Cramps, the Lester Bangs Conspiracy (Bangs' stage debut, not counting playing the typewriter with B.O.C.), Richard Hell & the Voidoids, and Blondie. An auction also helped raise funds. "Debbie Harry's underwear went for $25 or $50!" exclaims Holmstrom.

Elsewhere in this issue: Eno gets philosophical ("...the most embarrassing aspects of the things you do are normally the ones that are most interesting..."); Blondie goes on tour and Chris Stein takes photos to prove it; Twiggy talks fashion ("I think people are gonna do what they want, which I think is lovely"); and the Ramones are #1 on the new Top 99 list. (Other stuff deemed cool by Punk readers: towels #16, carbon monoxide #51, and parking lots #71.)

Debbie Harry - cover of Punk #10
Lining up groups for the benefit was easy. According to Holmstrom, the bands on the CBGB scene were grateful for Punk's coverage, and in return were always happy to lend a hand.

"What happened was, we would often write an article on a band and the next month they'd get a record contract. At the time it happened, the Ramones credited us with getting them signed. Danny Fields told us, 'Thanks a lot for the publicity you did. It helped get us the deal.' Blondie told us the same thing. They said, 'We'll be forever in your debt.' And the Dead Boys the same."

Did Holmstrom ever use this power for evil? "I do remember one [unnamed] band who offered us $500 if we'd put them on the third cover, but we didn't do it. So, we were pretty committed to whatever vision we had, as screwed up as it was." (Hint: When the aforementioned mystery band broke up, their newly solo lead singer did make it onto a cover. For free!)

ISSUE #11: Published October/November 1977. Handsome Dick Manitoba and an American flag fittingly share the cover. "We wanted to do the ultimate Dictators' story," says Holmstrom. And they did. Beginning in 1971 ("Andy started his first band - Grand Funk Salinsky..."), the band's history to that point is charted on an almost daily basis. (October 31, 1974 - "Manitoba does his infamous White Castle french fries act, during which he ate hamburgers and threw bags of french fries at the audience, yelling 'Rock 'n' roll? BAH! Who needs it?!'")

Handsome Dick Manitoba
cover of Punk #11
In the news: Russ Meyers directing Johnny Rotten in a major punk rock movie, and Blondie is recording their second LP. Elsewhere, John Cale holds court ("People aren't stupid - they can tell when someone's disinterested in what they're doing"); Lester Bangs reviews the Dead Boys ("They are evil, they are everything you would not want your mother to marry"); and San Francisco's thriving scene gets a nod with our representative band Crime.

Putting Manitoba on the cover was a risky move. "We really went to the wall for the Dictators," confirms Holmstrom. The previous March, Manitoba was involved in what became known as "The Wayne County Incident." At the time, Punk reported: "Dick was on his way to the men's room so he stepped over the stage. He called Wayne County a homo. Wayne County called him a fat fuck and slugged him with a microphone stand." And, states Holmstrom, "Everybody was for Wayne County. The Dictators were basically blacklisted. Everybody in New York hated them." Issue #11 was not a big seller in New York.

ISSUE #12: Published January 1978. Robert Gordon (recently split from Tuff Darts) is this issue's cover boy; eight-year-old Nellie Kurtzman (cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman's daughter) is the "Punk of the Month;" the New York Dolls garner a five-page photo spread with text declaring: "If they stuck it out they could've been like the Beatles - leaders of a new sound/ generation." Meanwhile, a photo/comic pairs Debbie Harry and DEVO in "Disposable DEVO;" the Turtle Mountain Community School in Belcourt, North Dakota cancels its subscription in a huff ("We were under the impression the magazine was for kindergarten and elementary levels"); and the Ramones are still #1 on the Top 99.

Robert Gordon - cover of Punk #12
"I didn't like this issue very much," admits Holmstrom. "Legs was in the hospital for drinking." (One page features a fun maze titled "Help Legs Get Out of the Mental Hospital.") Still, Holmstrom states, "this issue sold fantastically!"

Issue #12 also saw the return of High Time's support (the full-color ad for e-z wider rolling paper is a dead give-away). "We didn't have the money to print this issue," says Holmstrom, "so I went back to Forcade and he said, 'That's funny, I was just going to get back in touch with you. I think it's time for us to try again.'"

ISSUE #13: The second "lost" issue. Some of the features scheduled for this issue were carried over to the next issue (the Bay City Rollers interview), others were never printed (the cover story on boxer Sugar Ray Leonard). Ostensibly, this issue was skipped because of superstition. According to Holmstrom, in reality Forcade was pushing for "a big thing on the Sex Pistols."

ISSUE #14: Published May/June 1978. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, portrayed as puppets (perfect!), are on the front cover. The Bay City Rollers, portrayed as gigantic people-eating, building-crushing monsters (perfect!), are on the back cover. In between, Holmstrom - along for the ride - records the Sex Pistols' tour of America.

Atlanta: Sid managed to get lost and gave himself a nice wound in his arm...

San Antonio: They played "New York," John spitting the words "You fucking little faggots" at the audience.

The Sex Pistols - cover of Punk #14
Dallas: A punkette from L.A. gave [Sid] a bloody nose so he wiped the blood all over himself. He was so out of it he was playing with three busted strings on his bass.

Tulsa: I walked to the elevator carrying a six-foot pair of steerhorns. John was waiting there with his bodyguard... "What the FUCK is THAT?" "Steerhorns," I mumbled... "Want them?" Greed overcame his face in a strange smile...

San Francisco: Malcolm was extremely depressed after the show. "Fuckin' awful show, wasn't it? They were just like any other rock band." Everyone connected with the band felt the same way.

For their part, the Rollers are portrayed as being even more heinous than the Pistols. The article's author notes: "These guys never spend any money! They eat McDonald's food... They can't even buy their own cigarettes..."

This 56-page, action-packed issue also gives us Dorian Zero: "That was one of my finest moments!" brags Holmstrom. "He says to me, 'Put it this way, if I can get over by being called punk rock I'll do it.' He's NOT a punk, but he's calling himself a punk because he wants to be FAMOUS? How stupid can you get?" In the news: Amanda Lear - sex change or not? Legs conducts a "Famous Persons Interview" with Combat star Sgt. Saunders ("Live hard, fight hard and dig a lot of foxholes. That's my motto."), and Holmstrom and Angus Young talk about girls:

John: What kind of girls do you like?

Angus: Dirty ones.

John: Girls who don't wash?

Angus: No, just dirty cows.

Plus, Edith Massey gets aggressive about breakfast cereal ("Pebbles... that's what I had for breakfast, and these little punks better have the same thing. Maybe with a little raisin or two on it"); Lou Reed's Street Hassle is reviewed ("Of course it's great" -- J. Holmstrom); and it's not too late to order your 1978 Punk calendar featuring Suicide, Iggy Pop, the Paley Brothers, cartoons, and important dates - like Heckle and Jeckle's birthdays!

A Legs McNeil "Famous Persons Interview"
with Boris and Natasha - Punk issue #3
Punk was looking mighty spiffy by issue #14: lots of full-color photos and chunks of it was professionally typeset. "Forcade was trying to get us to come out on time and be a 'real' magazine," moans Holmstrom. "It was killing me."

But now there was big-time competition in the form of a new bi-monthly, nationally distributed magazine ingeniously called Punk Rock. Published by a conglomerate called Stories, Layouts and Press, Inc., it was a shoddy attempt to cash-in on the bandwagon. Its writers had names like Nancy New Age and Sheena Ramona. Meanwhile, the editorials insulted its readers en masse ("Hello, all you spoiled, middle-class little assholes..." began one) and Holmstrom personally. "They called me an asshole," he says. "It was awful."

Mutant Monster Beach Party - Punk #15
In this issue, Punk responded to its rival: "We are not jealous of our honestly acquired position or of other worthy publications devoted to modern music," stated Holmstrom's proclamation which urged "fans and readers" to check out other underground 'zines like Slash, Bomp, and Zig-Zag. "These magazines, for the most part, are put out by people who believe in what they write. They don't write for money. They're not covering the latest youth fad."

ISSUE #15: Published July/August 1978. "Mutant Monster Beach Party: an original Punk International Production." Holmstrom designed this issue, while Bruce Carleton illustrated the cover; Roberta Bayley took the photographs. Punk's second photo/comic special - and its most ambitious undertaking - stars Joey Ramone as a dreamy surfer boy and Debbie Harry as the beach bunny he loves. It's a simple tale of boy meets girl; mad scientist accidentally turns assistant into hideous blob of quivering nuclear slime which escapes the lab and helps Bothersome Bikers stomp all over surfers and kidnap girl; Martians in flying saucer help boy get girl back; monster turns into Peter Frampton; girl turns into Edie the Egg Lady.

The sizable cast includes Andy Warhol (mad scientist), Chris Stein (Debbie's dad), Peter Wolf (head biker), Scott Kempner and Ivan Julian (surfers), John Cale and Lester Bangs (bikers), David Johansen (priest), and Joan Jett (maid of honor).

Mutant Monster Beach Party - Punk #15
The wedding photoshoot
Advertised as "coming soon" as far back as issue #10, "Mutant Monster Beach Party" was two years in the making. "We were shooting this all the time," says Holmstrom. "When Debbie introduces Joey to her father, that was shot at the sound studio when the Ramones were recording Rocket to Russia."

During the making of this issue, some of the cast went from obscurity to worldwide fame (Blondie's Parallel Lines was released that summer and the band would reach #1 with "Heart of Glass"), but Holmstrom only recalls one tense scene. "We were doing [Joey and Debbie's] wedding shot. It was one of the last pictures we did, and Debbie was visibly agitated. You can tell she's getting tired of hanging around all day waiting to do a photo shoot for us."

Unfortunately, like "Nick Detroit" before it, this photo/comic sold "horribly," says Holmstrom. "It put us out of business." Again.

ISSUE #16: Published March/April 1979. On the cover: a cartoon send up of John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever character. "[The movie] had come out six months earlier," notes Holmstrom. "It was a very smart thing to do."

Inside: Shrapnel star in the "Brat Patrol" photo/comic ("Shrapnel - the janitors of justice, are out to sanitize New Jersey...") and Bob Geldof insists he's not just in a band to get rich, famous, and laid more often ("I'm in it for revenge as well, to prove to people that in fact I was never a nobody, that I was always a somebody and that the rest of them can eat shit!"). An interview of sorts with Sid and Nancy - excerpted from the upcoming film D.O.A. - fills up the centerfold:

John Travolta - cover of Punk #16
Nancy: Wake up and answer him.

Sid: I'm answering...

Nancy: He asked you a question... It's no time to go to sleep!

Sid: Grunt... What was the question again?

Punk's new Resident Punk, 15-year-old Jolly (Legs retired from the position to manage Shrapnel), reviews some records:

The Doors/An American Poem
"Who said this was good?!? This stinks!!!"

The Ramones/Road to Ruin
"Best album of the year."

Plus, the Bottom 99 makes its debut (Studio 54 is listed three times!), and the Ramones are still #1 on the Top 99.

It had been nearly half a year since the "Mutant Monster Beach Party" issue. The magazine was being sued for an old printer's bill and was declaring bankruptcy.

On October 13, 1978 Punk held its 1st (and last) Annual Awards Ceremony - as much to say farewell as to honor the groups. Posters advertising the event promised: "Meet Jolly! Mutant Monster Live in Person! Be Able to Buy Drinks! A Special Concert by a Surprise Rock 'n' Roll Band!" The day before the show, Sid (or someone) killed Nancy.

Poster advertising the 1st Annual
Punk Magazine Awards Ceremony
"Everybody flipped out," understates Holmstrom. "There were television cameras all over the place and nobody wanted to talk to the media. Nobody wanted to be there."

Not quite the spectacular event he'd hoped for? "Oh, it was spectacular alright. Lou Reed (winner of the Class Clown award) hasn't talked to me since."

Some of the grisly details were printed in issue #16. "[Jolly] was the emcee and provided a fine target for the evening's beer bottles, glasses, pieces of table and assorted projectiles... The awards themselves - various novelty items such as plastic dog turd, lemons, brooms, or baseball trophies mounted on Budweiser cans left over from the night before - proved totally worthless as most of the recipients were too embarrassed or afraid or smart to go on stage anyhow."

On the positive side, this issue sold "like hotcakes" and John Spacley - "the one drunk who was so obnoxious he had to be thrown out" of the awards show - became Punk's new publisher!

ISSUE #17: Published May/June 1979. The last official issue. In a Punk exclusive, Jolly interviews "that fantabulous rock band," the Rolling Stones:

The Clash - cover of Punk #17
Q: What's your favorite color?

Rolling Stones: Red.

Q: Are you playing any dates soon?

Rolling Stones: Yes.

Undeterred, Jolly gives the Clash a go as well...

Jolly: I saw the show last night and it wasn't so great...

Topper: Then don't do the fuckin' interview, then.

David Johansen answers the musical question: Does rock and roll go in ten year trends? ("I think locusts come out every fourteen years or something like that. That's about the only thing you can count on. Locusts.") McNeil and Alice Cooper compare booby hatch notes (Alice: "There was one girl who smashed the stereo every three or four days... she went for the TV one night and I had to stop her... If she broke the TV, I couldn't watch The Odd Couple"). Holmstrom reviews the London Symphony Orchestra's new one and the state of things in general ("This record, more than disco, more than Billy Joel, or Sid Vicious, more than the fact that punk rock and new wave is being swept under the carpet by radio programmers, Jimmy Carter, and dullards, spells the end of rock 'n' roll"). Destroy All Monsters' lead vocalist signs her pin-up centerfold: "I love you, but you're dead," and Shaun Cassidy's mug is the backdrop for a graffiti contest.

From the outset, Holmstrom had wanted to produce an underground magazine that combined rock 'n' roll and comics. McNeil's fondness for rock tilted early issues to that side. But as Legs became less and less involved, Holmstrom began working closely with illustrator Bruce Carleton, tipping the scales towards humorous art.

"Blondie In Punk" - Debbie Harry models the new
Punk t-shirt! Subscription & t-shirt promotion in issue #3
Photos by Chris Stein
Carleton designed this issue's cover collage of rock 'n' roll mayhem. And inside there were more examples of his work: a subscription coupon set amongst the Monolithic Punk Meat Grinder, and a spread depicting Leonid Brezhnev as the Punk Playmate (Goals: " become a successful fashion model and to bury the U.S.A."). Other cartoons included Holmstrom's "Ze Artiste" and his infamous "Joe" in "Joe's Pimple Pop Boffo."

"By this point I was really thinking of making Punk a humor magazine instead of a rock magazine," confesses Holmstrom. His disenchantment shows in his summation of issue #17: "This is sorta like the last Sex Pistols' gig - an Alice Cooper interview with [record company] publicity photos, some humor, but... who needs it?" According to Holmstrom, the final issue sold "really badly."

ISSUE #18: Holmstrom owns the only extant copy of #18, dubbed the "Rock 'n' Roll High School" issue in honor of the Ramones' movie it (would have) publicized. This issue also contains another comic strip interview with Lou Reed, and the Plasmatics take over the #1 position on the Top 99.

All pasted-up and ready to go, #18 never made it to the newsstands. According to Holmstrom, "The owner of the printing company took one look at it and said, 'I'm not gonna print this shit!' We had trouble with printers. A lot of them refused to print the magazine. We were too SLEAZY!"

But fussy printers weren't the magazine's only nemesis. It was really Punk's stubborn refusal to go corporate that doomed it.

Surf's up! Joey rides the waves in Mutant Monster Beach Party
Punk #15
Schedules? We Don't Need No Stinking Schedules! Punk's printing schedule was, at best, erratic. A coupon in #10 inquires "new address?" then warns "you better let Punk know in case another issue ever comes out." Needless to say, this charming unpredictability scared off many potential advertisers. But while more advertising would have meant more money and thus more issues, Holmstrom makes the point: "We were trying to do something creative and different and exciting, and you can't always do that on schedule."

And then there were the subscribers. There were just too many of them. One promotion with Creem netted 2,000 of the buggers alone! "So, we had to print at least 2,000 copies of anything we did," explains Holmstrom. "And when you get into the printing and mailing of 2,000 copies - who's got the money?"

All in all, Holmstrom is content with his magazine's historical niche. "I knew when I was doing it that I was doing something important, and something that would be enjoyed for a long time. And at the same time, something that wouldn't last long."


A few updates:
The 25th Anniversary issue

After the demise of Punk, Holmstrom worked for several publications including The Village Voice and Heavy Metal. In 1986, he contributed a comic-based chronology of punk rock for a special edition of Spin magazine.

In 1993, Holmstrom and McNeil teamed up once again to produce the short-lived (four issues) but wonderfully eclectic Nerve magazine. Several special editions of Punk have also been published over the years, including a 25th Anniversary issue in 2000 and A Tribute to CBGB in 2007.

In 1996, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain published Please Kill Me, considered to be the definitive oral history of punk rock.

The Best of Punk Magazine
book cover
In 2012 HarperCollins published The Best of Punk Magazine, an oversized book containing high quality reproductions of all the original magazines, plus behind-the-scenes stories, and an interview with Joey Ramone from the unpublished "Rock 'n' Roll High School" issue.

For more information about Punk magazine please visit:

Friday, 17 March 2017

Poptopia! I Review The Rhino 1997 3-CD Set (and basically just list all the songs)

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #2 (Fall 1997)

Power Pop Classics of the '70s, '80s and '90s
Rhino Records

By Devorah Ostrov

Pete Townshend apparently coined the term, in a 1966 interview, as a way to describe the Who's music. Greg Shaw dedicated Bomp! magazine (and his life!) to the genre. And Shaun Cassidy once claimed to be it.

Now, over the course of three CDs, spanning three decades (a total of 54 songs!), Rhino Records attempts the definitive power pop compilation. And, by including just as many obscure non-hit wonders (Blue Ash, the SpongeTones, Candy, the Greenberry Woods) as bona fide stars (Cheap Trick, the Raspberries, Todd Rundgren, the Romantics, Matthew Sweet) along with thoroughly-researched and well-written liner notes by the likes of Goldmine's John M. Borack and Yellow Pills' Jordan Oakes, they come pretty darn close!

The '70s disc has it hands down as far as familiarity goes, and for that reason will probably prove the most fun for the non-obsessive listener.

Opening with the punch of the Raspberries' "Go All the Way," the disc careens through Rundgren's "Couldn't I Just Tell You," Big Star's "September Gurls," the Dwight Twilley Band's "I'm On Fire," the Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action," Cheap Trick's "Come On, Come On," the Rubinoos' "I Wanna be Your Boyfriend," the Records' "Starry Eyes," Nick Lowe's "Cruel to be Kind," the Knack's "Good Girls Don't," Shoes' "Too Late" and the Beat's "Rock N Roll Girl." And that's just a partial listing! It's enough to make your head spin!

(On a personal note, I would've replaced Fotomaker's whiny "Where Have You Been All My Life" with Milk 'N' Cookies' quintessential "Little, Lost and Innocent." And I would've found some way to squeeze in the Scruff's "Break the Ice.")

But as disc #2 shows, the '80s were no slouch either. Included here is Phil Seymour's wonderful "Baby It's You," the Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away," "Let's Active's "Every Word Means No," the Bangles' "Going Down to Liverpool," the dBs' "Love is for Lovers," the Smithereens' "Behind the Wall of Sleep," the La's "There She Goes" and the Romantics' "What I Like About You" - perhaps the most annoyingly catchy song ever!

There's also a plethora of amazing, but sadly overlooked-at-the-time tunes: the Great Buildings' "Hold on to Something," the SpongeTones' "She Goes Out With Everybody," Candy's "Whatever Happened to Fun" and Bill Lloyd's "Lisa Anne" just to name a few.

Having a second chance to discover these gems is what makes this compilation (and the Rhino catalog in general) so necessary.

It's also heart-warming to know that power pop (sometimes in the guise of "modern rock") is alive and well (although still all but ignored by radio programmers) in the '90s! On disc #3 you'll find Jellyfish's "That is Why," Ride's "Twisterella," the Gigolo Aunts' "Cope," the Posies' "Solar Sister," Redd Kross' "Lady in the Front Row," as well as Matthew Sweet's "I've Been Waiting," and the Lemonheads' "Into Your Arms."

Plus, there's the marvellous "Rollin' Down the Hill" from the Rembrandts (who, as the liner notes point out, will probably be remembered only for the theme to Friends), and the melancholic "Proto-Pretty" from the Wondermints - a band I personally worship!

The three discs are sold separately, so you can pick and choose which you like the most, but I heartily recommend you get all three. It makes for hours of true power pop nirvana!

Friday, 10 March 2017

What I Did In School Today: I Interviewed The Nuns For My School Paper!

Richie Detrick and Mike Varney - Photo by Chris Highsmith
This was the photo used in my school newspaper, although Pat
Ryan had replaced Varney on bass several months earlier. 
Originally published in the Ohlone College Monitor - March 10, 1978

By Devorah Ostrov

The Nuns are San Francisco's top punk band, soon to take over the world. They are Jeff(vocals), Detrick (vocals), Pat (bass), Alejandro (guitar), Jennifer (keyboards and vocals) and Rafael (drums). This interview took place at their last rehearsal in the CBS studios.

MONITOR: So, how's the album coming along? When is it due out?

JEFF: We've got a May deadline, so probably May. We're gonna be the first band not to put out an album.

DETRICK: Have a great career, tour, everything!

JEFF: Sell out the "Garden," but never have a record! We won the New York Rocker poll for "Best Unrecorded Band." We've never played in New York, we don't even have a single out.

MONITOR: Are you going to tour Europe?

JEFF: Yeah, this summer.

Detrick at the Mabuhay 1978 - Photo by Devorah Ostrov
MONITOR: I've heard that punk rock is already dead in Europe.

JEFF: They've tried to supress it, but it's getting too big so they can't. Record company people don't like the music. Punk rock hasn't sold that much and they'd like to kill it, but it's getting bigger and bigger. By this summer and fall it will be real big. It's just really getting started.

DETRICK: Out here it's only been like a year.

JEFF: We played the first show at the Mabuhay, last December ('76). We rented the place. The Mabuhay was a Filipino club, and we rented it out...

ALEJANDRO: I think she knows the story (laughter). What else do you want to ask?

MONITOR: What songs are going to be on the album?

JEFF: Most of them that we do. Probably about 14... "Decadent Jew," "Suicide Child."

MONITOR: Alejandro told me that you're really a "hippie band" into love and peace. Is that true?

JEFF: Yeah, he's right! We love everybody! We love all the bands! The record company people really love us! We got turned down like, "Not them, please!" Like, "Oh, my God, not them!" The New York press hates us, everybody hates us!

ALEJANDRO: We had a confrontation with Blondie. The Ramones didn't want to play with us.

JEFF: We got along with the Sex Pistols! (Sid) Vicious liked us! Vicious is my pal! There's a guy whose intelligence is worth about like, shit!

MONITOR: Do you guys have any goals for the future?
Mabuhay flyer: October 20 & 21, 1978
Although Wikipedia says he didn't join the
Nuns until '79, the Mick Rock photo used
on this flier includes bassist Pat Ryan.

JEFF: Europe. Europe's the first goal, then the world! First you gotta take Europe.

ALEJANDRO: Strategies! Take Poland!

JEFF: We want Poland, then we'll take a piece of Italy! You have to put it into a battle. We're gonna ruin New York when we play there. We promised the Sex Pistols we'd take care of it for them since they broke up.

MONITOR: A friend of mine said the only song he liked of yours was the one Jennifer opened with.

JEFF: It's called "Lazy and Then They Come On." They (the press) go, "Jennifer taunted the audience with a slow..." Because it's slow they like it. Then they go, "Then they came on with their noise, filth, barrage, dirt!" They think we're creepy, or something.

JENNIFER: I don't know why.

JEFF: Especially me and Alejandro. How could anybody not like us?

Monday, 6 March 2017

Lords of the New Church: Hanging Out On Portobello Road

Brian, Stiv & Nick pose with a reasonable facsimile of Dave
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Originally published in Rave-Up #9 (1985). The "what we did on our summer vacation" issue.

The Lords of the New Church engage in deep and meaningful conversation while drinking heavily on Portobello Road.

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

I've interviewed Stiv Bators many times over the last eight years or so, and he's always provided some very entertaining conversation. This interview with Stiv and the other Lords of the New Church was extra special because it was done on their home turf — Portobello Road in London, England.

RAVE-UP: I'm so used to talking to you guys in hotels and backstage, it's weird to actually see you outside during the day, in public...

STIV: We actually sometimes go out in the streets!

NICKY: We're usually shopping for haddock or something, grapenuts...

RAVE-UP: The last time you played in San Francisco, there were all these 13 and 14-year-old girls at the front of the stage. Is that the influence of MTV showing "Dance With Me"?

STIV: I think so.

RAVE-UP: And then they all ran away when they saw what you guys were really like!

Stiv & Nick ham it up on Portobello
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
STIV: Did they? You're that ugly Nicky! No, it must have been Dave kicking the girl in the face. Scared the shit out of 'em!

RAVE-UP: Are you going to do more videos?

STIV: Yeah! We're supposed to do one with just a... I won't even say. Godley and Cream... but he mentioned someone... I don't know. Don't ask me.

RAVE-UP: Earlier Nicky was telling us that you want to open for some big heavy metal act when you come to the States next time...

STIV: Yeah, that would be fun! We could reach a bigger audience for one thing. America isn't as diversified as it is over here. Over here, heavy metal kids won't go to punk shows. The only difference between punk and heavy metal is the haircut, anyway. They dress the same. And now everybody's growing their hair long so...

RAVE-UP: So, tell me about the album you're working on (it's called A Method To My Madness and it was released in October). I've heard it's going to be much more over the top than your last one. Were you getting slagged off for being too commercial with "Dance With Me"?

STIV: Yeah, in a way. It was too diversified. This next one's going to be sort of like Donovan, you know songs about peace and love and flowers.

RAVE-UP: Yeah, nobody will buy that one!

STIV: We'll be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the band who sold the least albums. It's us and Wind in the Willows (pre-Blondie Debbie Harry). Naw, it's gonna be much more rock 'n' roll.

RAVE-UP: More like the first album?

STIV: Yeah, but even more so rock 'n' roll. The first album still varied off a little. This one's based around a lot of guitar riffs. The eternal E cord!

RAVE-UP: Will it be as political as the first album? Or more personal songs?

STIV: I don't know yet. No, there won't be personal songs 'cause nothing happened in my life this year. It's been boring. No tour.

RAVE-UP: You lived out at Stonehenge for a while. That must have been exciting...

Stiv goes shopping on Portobello Road.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
STIV: Yeah, that's true. It was! Stepping in cow shit, you know... I just decided that some stuff is okay personally but unless you read into it, and it really conveys the emotion, it gets boring. It's really just self-satisfying. Politically, you gotta watch what you say, too. I've already said a lot and I don't want to repeat myself. So, I don't know what the hell we're gonna write about!

RAVE-UP: The first time I interviewed you after you formed the Lords, you said that England was anti rock 'n' roll bands and you felt that the Lords would have a hard time making it in England. Has that changed in the last couple of years?

STIV: Yeah. We thought... Well, we were playing places like the Marquee and not even filling it. When our first album came out and we went on tour, we wouldn't even play London. About a year later, we played the Hammersmith Palais with the Damned. We thought we might fill it, you know? And it ended up that they turned away 3,000 kids! And most of them that came to see us had Lords t-shirts on. We didn't even know where to get the t-shirts! It really surprized us. We see the trend now moving away from techno pop. It's like everybody's growing their hair... We didn't realize how many people are into what we're into. We thought we were going to get all these punks and skinheads coming to see us, but it was all these kids that are into leather now and have grown their hair. They're the ones into the Stooges and the Dolls and Alice Cooper. I didn't realize that there were so many here!

RAVE-UP: All you need now is the press...

STIV: Yeah, good PR. In one way, it's good that it didn't happen before because it would have been too early maybe. See, a lot of bands get a lot of press in the beginning with their first album, and they're just a flash in the pan. You get everything they've got and that's it. They're gone. The Stones didn't do it till their 10th album. People don't realize that, but for a long time they only had a cult following. That's how we prefer to do it, build up a grass roots following.

Brian James & Stiv Bators
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
RAVE-UP: Are the Lords bigger in Europe than Britain?

STIV: Oh, yeah! We were voted the #1 band in Finland.

RAVE-UP: Weren't you voted best singer as well?

STIV: Yeah, that was 2nd for best song.

BRIAN: Best live band in Spain.

RAVE-UP: Does that surprize you?

STIV: Yeah, it does! In France, we're almost like the #1 new band!

RAVE-UP: Why is it though that rock 'n' roll is so much bigger in Europe than England?

STIV: The English kids follow the press too much. They're confused, they don't know what they want. They're like sheep. The journalists more or less choose the trends and program their way of thinking. The kids in France and Finland, and all that, are more suppressed. They're like the Midwest in a sense -- they're not like that, but you know, in a way -- they don't have these music papers coming out every week telling them what to listen to.

RAVE-UP: Is it true that the English kids weren't into the Lords because all of you used to be in other groups?

STIV: In the beginning, yeah. The press gave us a real hard time about that! "Outcast" bands, and all that shit! But then they did an about face 'cause we had such a strong grass roots following. The kids demanded it! So now we're getting real good reviews and they're taking us seriously. They thought we'd break up after one album. They thought we were just getting together to make a buck. But now they see we're serious.

RAVE-UP: Weren't you getting flack about being a "punk rock supergroup" as well? (Stiv was in the Dead Boys; Brian was in the Damned; Dave was in Sham 69; Nicky was in the Barracudas.)

STIV: Yeah, but they've stopped doing that. They see us as the Lords.

RAVE-UP: In a way, it's good that you've done it without the support of the press.

Stiv Bators & Nick Turner
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
STIV: Yeah, in a way it's good. It's sort of anti-press in a way. (Sarcastically) Plus, our PR agent was great! Never got us any interviews or nothing. That really helped us out! We're with IRS (Illegal Record Syndicate) now, you know, the PR company which doesn't exist!

RAVE-UP: So you kinda get interviews on your own?

STIV: Yeah. Did you ever call the office and try to set up an interview?

RAVE-UP: We were going to call them and get directions on how to get here.

STIV: They wouldn't even know.

RAVE-UP: But we couldn't find their phone number in any phone book anywhere!

STIV: Yeah. It's a secret organization. And we're their best kept secret!

* You can read my other interviews with Stiv here: