Punk Planet #80: The Last Column, 2007

Punk Planet #80: The Last Column, 2007

So I Guess This Is Goodbye…

As someone who’s always had a short attention span, I never would have thought I’d be here from beginning to end of this magazine’s history.  But as things turned out, I filed one of these columns for every single issue, and probably would have continued doing so until I was fired or carted off to the boneyard.

If anything, I thought the magazine would get sick of me.  Every time an email from Punk Planet appeared in my inbox, I’d assume the ax had finally fallen, but despite several columnist purges over the years, they always kept me around.

One anguished internet poster asked, “Why the fuck is Larry Livermore still allowed to write for Punk Planet?” and to be honest, I sometimes wondered myself.  My ideas often seemed at odds with the prevailing ones in the magazine, but never once did anyone ask me to alter anything I’d written.

I consider that worth noting, considering how I came to be writing for Punk Planet in the first place.  Or how Punk Planet itself came into being.

Through most of the 1980s and the early 1990s, there was only one punk zine that really mattered.  Oh, sure, there was Flipside, which was often more entertaining (and, some argued, more punk), and lots of smaller and specialty zines (hey, no internet; how else were the punks going to communicate?).

But if you were involved in the scene on any level, you almost had to read Maximum Rocknroll.  If your band’s record didn’t get advertised and reviewed there, it might as well not exist.  If your town didn’t get an occasional scene report, you might have to consider moving.

When all but a handful of people considered punk to be dead and buried, MRR was the voice in the wilderness that kept the dream alive.  Then came the late-80s/early 90s revival and commercial explosion; for all MRR editor-publisher Tim Yohannan’s railing against it, his magazine floated high on the rising tide, doubling or tripling its circulation and barely able to meet the demand for ad space.

MRR had its critics, even among the volunteers who worked there, of whom I happened to be one.  A central complaint was that while it portrayed itself as a voice for the entire community, it was Tim and Tim only who wielded ultimate power.  If you crossed him or strayed from his ideological perspective, you could become an Orwell-style unperson.

Things came to a head at the end of 1993.  Tim sacked one of the columnists, Jeff Bale, who’d been a one of the magazine’s co-founders.  Jeff’s crime?  Being insufficiently leftist (or, as Tim put it, “You might as well be writing for the Republican National Committee).

Jeff had grown conservative on some issues while remaining liberal on others (his stance on freedom of expression was far more militant than Tim’s).  But that hardly seemed the point: if MRR was a voice for the entire punk community, it had to recognize that not all punks thought alike, didn’t it?

As it turned out, no.  At a lengthy and contentious meeting, a large majority of MRR volunteers voted to back Tim: he could hire or fire anyone he chose.

I’d been writing a monthly column for seven years, and judging from letters, both pro and con, it was widely read.  I’d enjoyed it immensely (in those days, being a punk rock columnist conferred more benefits in terms of recognition and status than it does today), but I’d been enduring qualms of conscience about various issues for a couple years.

The Jeff Bale affair was a qualm too far.  I didn’t even agree with Jeff on most things, being more of a leftist myself at the time, but I thought the readers were entitled to make up their own minds. I especially didn’t think one man should be making decisions and passing them off as the voice of a community.

So I quit, as did a handful of other staffers, some vowing to start their own magazines as an alternative to MRR’s hegemony.  It was a classic case of the Maoist dictum, “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” but Tim had always leaned toward the Leninist-Stalinist end of the spectrum.

The fallout from that meeting led directly or indirectly to at least four new publications: Heart AttaCk, Shredding Paper, Hit List and, of course, Punk Planet.  All are now defunct and MRR, though a shadow of its former self, is closing in on a quarter century of uninterrupted publication.

Is there a lesson there?  Like stick to your formula?  Avoid challenging the audience?  Don’t start a print magazine at the dawn of the electronic information age?

I don’t think any of those apply.  Maximum Rocknroll fulfilled a valuable purpose then and still does today, but it was time for more adventurous publisheros and writers to break out of the intellectual and cultural ghetto punk was becoming.  While none of the new magazines achieved the commercial success of MRR (in alternative publishing, paying the bills and continuing to publish qualifies as success), each in its own way broadened and deepened our understanding of a subculture/counterculture mainstream critics had written off by the end of the 1970s.

Punk Planet lasted longer, reached more people, and arguably wielded more influence than any of the magazines that emerged from the dustup at the MRR corral, but now it too has run its course.  As someone who’s been here from the beginning, I’ll admit to being a bit wistful.

As some of you may know, PP had its origins in, of all places, an AOL chatroom, where a bunch of punk rockers were venting their frustration and disillusionment with what was going on at MRR.  Somebody said, “We should start our own zine,” and I responded, “Yeah, you should.”

I egged them on, telling them there was nothing to it, that anybody could publish a zine (okay, I might have been exaggerating).  Everyone said, “Yeah, we should totally do it.”  If things had gone the way of most internet discussions, that would have been the end of that, but one young man, 19 year old Dan Sinker, was ready to do more than talk.  It was above all through his will, persistence and ceaseless hard work that Punk Planet came into being and began its remarkable 13-year run.

Dan’s not quite so young anymore, but he’s lost none of his idealism or his smarts, so I expect you’ll be hearing more from him in the future.  As for yours truly, well, I’m not so idealistic or hard-working as Dan, and probably not as smart, either, so who knows where or if I’ll turn up next.

If you want to keep up with my crackpot ideas and my twisted takes on life, you can always check in at larrylivermore.com.  To the rest of you, thanks for reading, thanks for your letters and emails, and thanks just for being there.  And if you’re unhappy about there no longer being a magazine that speaks to you and for you like this one has, you know what to do: get out there and make one of your own.

 

About the Author