John Holmstrom's brought back his landmark magazine. We celebrate its rebirth with a June 21 show at Cafe Nine.
The New Haven Advocate Presents...PUNK Magazine Nite!
With John Holmstrom, Big Fat Combo and Larry Loud. June 21, 9:30 p.m. at Cafe Nine, 250 State St., New Haven. (203) 789-8281, cafenine.com.
PUNK Magazine may not have coined the word that gave it its title, but it sure gave it new meaning. Applying the basics of rock & roll and its accompanying lifestyles to the burgeoning New York band scene, which flitted between seedy joints like CBGB and Max's Kansas City in the mid-1970s, PUNK became not just a social register for the scene but one of the most accurate depictions of it. It was slobby not slobbish, raw not slick, more hyped on images than words.
It helped that its founder, John Holmstrom, was a cartoonist. It was his comical vision of the Ramones, especially on the band's third album, Rocket to Russia, that gave the band a whole new level of fans, those who wanted to see their violent and drug-addled lyrics as funny, not creepy.
PUNK was the house organ of the NYC punk scene, but neither Holmstrom nor another one of the best known names associated with PUNK, Legs McNeil, were New York natives. They both hailed from Cheshire, though they weren't pals then as some punk historians have assumed. "I didn't know Legs in high school. I knew his brother," Holmstrom clarified in a phone interview last week. Likewise, another Cheshire-born PUNK contributor—photographer Tom Hearn, whose band Big Fat Combo will be at Cafe Nine June 21 along with Holmstrom for a bit of PUNK nostalgia—was someone Holmstrom knew in his teens only because he'd dated Hearn's older sister. Holmstrom also has great memories of Ron's Place, the legendary New Haven club (now the site of the Indochine Pavilion restaurant), which booked many up-and-coming punk bands. Other Ron's regulars that joined the PUNK staff include the cartoonists Cliff Mott and Mort Todd.
Given its influence, it's surprising that PUNK published fewer than 20 issues. Like underground comix and self-released punk rock singles, it had a longer shelf life and a different audience than its mainstream counterparts. In any case, PUNK didn't follow the usual rules for how to put together, and especially how to distribute, a magazine. Even in its heyday, he says, PUNK "would be on the newsstands but nobody would buy it on the newsstands"—they'd get it at the punk record or clothing shops.
PUNK folded in 1979, with a cover touting The Clash. Holmstrom started Comical Funnies, an alternative comics magazine, partly to demonstrate to his friend Peter Bagge (whose own Hate Comics later became the official comio of the grunge era) how easy it was to self-publish. From 1975 to 1984 he got a regular paycheck from Bananas, the kids magazine published by Scholastic, and from 1976 until well into the 90s he worked at High Times, for whom he adapted his hand-drawn PUNK Top 99 feature.
Holmstrom says he tried to relaunch PUNK in 2001, but that effort was set back years by 9/11. Now that the magazine's up and running again, Holmstrom justifies covering many of the same clubs and bands he did 30 years ago because "nobody likes these pop-punk bands there are today except 15-year-old kids. Nerds have taken over what's left of the rock critic world." That original scene, he feels, still matters. No argument there.
At Thursday's Cafe Nine show, Holmstrom says he'll "show slides and talk." He'll have copies of the just-released PUNK #21, which marks the closing of CBGB last year with a typically PUNK mix of mythologizing (with historical photos of The Dead Boys, Blondie, The Cramps and Lester Bangs) and heckling (hysterical fake ads for the club, including one for its planned Las Vegas franchise that has Lou Reed and Phyllis Diller sharing the stage). He'll also have a few back issues to give away. Besides Big Fat Combo, Larry Loud, whose 70s band The Cadavers was widely considered to be the first punk band in Connecticut, will play a set.