PUNK magazine relaunch


The best transposition into print of TV, trash, and the residue from a thousand previous pop explosions, all in one dense, chaotic tabloid slick.

Gene Sculatti, The Catalog of Cool, 1982

PUNK magazine, the zine that started it all, is trying desperately to make a comeback.  in 2000, john holmstrom and the gang published PUNK issue #0, the 25th anniversary issue of "the first, best, and greatest zine of all time".

in 1975, john holmstrom had a vision.  he wanted to make the greatest rock 'n roll magazine of all time.  inspired by MAD magazine, alice cooper, and the dictators' "go girl crazy", he, legs mcneil, and ged dunn started making plans to launch what became the only accurate documentation of the 1970's new york rock 'n roll scene.

We really didn't have anything to be idealistic about, and I was so sick of hippie culture. People were trying to keep up those peace and love ideals, but it was so devalued. That was the era of real hip capitalism too, and you just didn't buy it anymore. It was exhausted, but, because what hippies stood for was good, no one could let go and say "this is over."

Mary Harron

I hated hippies.

Legs McNeil

It was like you were forced to be optimistic and caring and good. And believe in peace and love. And, even though I probably did, I resented everyone telling me what to believe. I disliked hippie culture, I found it nauseating and prissy and sentimental, and smiley-faced.

Mary Harron

[Holmstrom] was the one who really followed rock & roll. He was the one who turned Ged and I on to the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, and the New York Dolls. Up until then I just listened to Chuck Berry and the first two Beatles records, and Alice Cooper.

But I hated most rock & roll, because it was about lame hippie stuff, and there really wasn't anyone describing our lives - which was McDonald's, beer, and TV reruns.

Legs McNeil

Ged was always talking about decades defining themselves in the middle. In the '40s it was the war, in the '50s it was rock 'n' roll, and the '60s were defined by the period from '65 to '67. We knew the CBGB's scene was hot so I guess it was the right place, the right time and the right idea.

John Holmstrom

Then one day we were riding in the car, and John said, "I think we should start a magazine."

...But I didn't understand why Holmstrom wanted to start a magazine. I thought it was a stupid idea.

John said, "But if we start a magazine people will think we're cool and stuff and want to hang out with us."

I didn't get it. Then he said, "If we had a magazine, we could drink for free. People will give us free drinks."

That got me. I said, "Okay, then let's do it."

Legs McNeil

now that the magazine was an official project, all it needed was a name.  'punk rock' was a term only used by a handful of rock critics and fans.  the actual decision to use the word 'PUNK' as the magazine title is a foggy subject, and the story goes a few ways.  all we know is that it was like the music:  short, simple, catchy, and crude.

There's a lot of confusion lately in that a lot of bands that were glam are now considered punk. Nothing could be further from the truth. Punk was a reaction against glitter & glam. Glam was about excess. Punk was about minimalism. Glam was about fashion--platform boots, spandex, makeup. Punk was anti-fashion--sneakers, denim, leather. Glam was about theatrics and flash. Punk was about fast and loud.

John Holmstrom

The name "PUNK" came from me. John wanted to call the magazine Teenage News, which I thought was a stupid title. Years later, I found out it was from this unreleased New York Dolls song. I didn't know this at the time. I just thought he was being stupid.

Legs McNeil

The word 'punk' goes back to the '60s, but we were calling it punk rock in 1974, and in '75 they were referring to garage rock revival. Groundsville Station was punk rock, and Alice Cooper was punk rock. I remember getting copies of NME in the summer of '75 and they were calling AC/DC, the Bay City Rollers, and Eddie and the Hot Rods punk rock.

John Holmstrom

So I thought the magazine should be for other fuck-ups like us. Kids who grew up believing only in the Three Stooges. Kids that had parties when their parents were away and destroyed the house. You know, kids that stole cars and had fun.

So I said, "Why don't we call it Punk?"

The word "punk" seemed to sum up the thread that connected everything we liked - drunk, obnoxious, smart but not pretenious, absurd, funny, ironic, and things that appealed to the darker side.

Legs McNeil

Legs McNeil came up with the name, but more important than that, Legs was also the first person to call himself a punk.

John Holmstrom

I thought, What a brilliant title! I don't know why it seemed so brilliant, because this was before there was punk, but it was obviously so ironic.

...It was so funny, bratty - it was so unexpected - and I thought, Well, that's really great. So I said, "Oh, I'll write for you," even though I didn't know what it was about.

Mary Harron

Legs named this magazine. I used PUNK at his suggestion as I felt the word was so overused that it was now meaningless. I still feel the same way.

John Holmstrom

I always thought a punk was someone who took it up the ass.

William S. Burroughs

Legs came up with the name, but it was a DUH moment, as I remember... Ged didn't like my first suggestions (and his opinion mattered since he had the money!) and I started asking, Well, what would I call a magazine that would be about comics, cool movies, and punk rock? And Legs said, "Why not just call it Punk?" And that's why I thought it was a brilliant name and jumped all over it. But Legs doesn't remember little details like that...

John Holmstrom

So John said "Okay. I'm gonna be the editor." Ged said "I'm gonna be the publisher." They both looked at me and said, "What are you gonna do?" I said, "I don't know." I had no skills.

Then John said, "You can be the resident punk!" They were laughing hysterically, and I was kinda like, "Okay, gimme some beer."

Legs McNeil

It was a few days after we thought of the name that I asked what Legs wanted to be listed on the masthead as, and he said "I want to be the Resident Punk." I was like, "Great!"

John Holmstrom

At the time, PUNK Magazine said everything that needed to be said about the New York scene.

Leee Childers

The key word - to me, anyway - in the punk definition was "a beginner, an inexperienced hand." Punk rock - any kid can pick up a guitar and become a rock 'n' roll star, despite or because of his lack of ability, talent, intelligence, limitations, and/or potential, and usually does so out of frustration, hostility, a lot of nerve and a need for ego fulfillment.

John Holmstrom

their advertising methods were a little unorthadox.

John Holmstrom and his living cartoon creature, Legs McNeil, were two maniacs running around town putting up signs that said, "Punk is coming! Punk is coming!" We thought, Here comes another shitty group with an even shittier name.

Debbie Harry

The next thing we did was go out and plaster the city with these little posters that said, "WATCH OUT! PUNK IS COMING!" Everyone who saw them said, "Punk? What's punk?" John and I were laughing. We were like, "Ohhh, you'll find out."

Legs McNeil

i think the best thing about PUNK was that it WAS so crude.  it wasn't fine art, it wasnt high society's take on music, it was journalism from the same type of people who were in the bands.  you didnt need a college degree to write for PUNK magazine.  all you needed was creativity and a sense of humor.

College boys. Not exactly. Legs was thrown out of high school. I dropped out of art school. Now put me down because I know how to read. Go ahead.

John Holmstrom, in a rebuttle to an angry letter to PUNK.

 EVERYTHING SUCKS, you say? All those channels and still nothing on TV? And every movie you see, you know what the ending's going to be ten minutes after you sit down? And forget about reading, 'cause all that new ficton tastes like Lite Beer? And how about all those memoirs from people without any lives? (And let's not even talk about music.) Well, remember, there's always The Simpsons!

Leg's McNeil's Fun Page, Punk, v2, issue #0 (25th anniversary issue)

We did this big photo shoot with models buying leathers, but when the pictures came back we were like, Oh my God, this is the most pretentious, horrible thing, we can't run this. So after a few beers we just started destroying the pictures. We thought, We can't publish this, but Ged was like, Why not? When it was published it looked great. It seemed that with the magazine, the cruder we got the better it looked.

John Holmstrom

Everyone would get so pissed that I was asking these stupid questions that they'd start yelling at me and then something would happen. And if it was funny enough, Holmstrom would make it into a comic strip. I think more than listening to what anyone had to say, the idea was to make something happen.

Legs McNeil

Oh yeah, I've read that... or a bit of it. That's the one with the bad spelling... yeah, I like that, that's good.

Johnny Rotten, in an interview with Mary Harron, PUNK, issue #8.

The whole idea for PUNK magazine came from two inspirations: John Holmstrom's teacher at the School of Visual Arts, Harvey Kurtzman, who was the cartoonist who started Mad magazine, and the Dictators' Go Girl Crazy!

Legs McNeil

At the end of my stay at SVA Harvey Kurtzman recommended me for a job as editor of a new humor magazine. For about two weeks I thought it was going to happen, the publisher hired me, etc. Although it turned out to be a scam,
the experience broadened my horizons. I was like--the great Harvey Kurtzman thinks I can edit a magazine! F'N A! So I thought about starting a magazine instead of a comic book, and it seemed like a cooler thing to do (especially
since most comic book types are total geeks!).

John Holmstrom

We thought everybody was gonna love it because we loved it. It was all about bad TV and comic books: everybody read comic books.

...It was very naive, but we just thought what we were doing was better and more interesting than anything else.

Legs McNeil

I believed comics and rock had similar heritage; it all started in the '40s, they were the two popular art forms that grew up in America together and they were getting closer and closer. This seemed the perfect match.

John Holmstrom

I didn't want to do the magazine. I thought it was stupid. It seemed like work!

Legs McNeil

stupid or not, it did catch the attention of at least one of its early influences:  creem magazine's lester bangs (watch the movie "almost famous").

When Lester Bangs was still editing Creem in Detroit, he had called us at the Punk Dump and told us PUNK was the greatest magazine he'd ever seen and that it made him want to quit Creem and work for us immediately.

John Holmstrom

As for Punk - not the first, but the last, best and only one that does things we would never think of.

Lester Bangs, Creem, August 1976

soon enough, though, lester started to cause problems, raising racial and gay issues.  he wrote an article supposedly exposing the "gay mafia", after the dictators' dick manitoba was attacked by drag queen/glam rock singer wayne county, and the rumor spread that PUNK was homophobic, even though the article was never actually published.

he also wrote an article entitled "the white noise supremecists", calling the PUNK staff racists.  although he claimed both articles were meant to be a joke, the burned bridge was never really rebuilt.

Gay liberation had really exploded. Homosexual culture had really taken over - Donna Summer, disco, it was so boring. Suddenly in New York, it was cool to be gay, but it just seemed to be about suburbanites who sucked cock and went to discos. I mean, come on, "Disco, Disco Duck"? I don't think so.

So we said, "No, being gay doesn't make you cool. Being cool makes you cool, whether you're gay or straight." People didn't like that too much. So they called us homophobic. And of course, being the obnoxious people we were, we said, "Fuck you, you faggots."

Legs McNeil

The epitome of all that's wrong with western civilization is disco. Eddjicate yourself. Get into it. READ PUNK.

Death to Disco Shit, an editorial by John Homstrom, PUNK, issue #1.

The great thing about punk was that it had no political agenda. It was about real freedom, personal freedom. It was also about doing anything that's gonna offend a grown-up. Just being as offensive as possible. Be the real people we are. You know?

Legs McNeil

We weren't racists. But we were unashamedly saying, "We're white and we're proud." Like, they're black and they're proud. That's fine.

...That's what I thought was cool. If you're white, you're like us. You don't try to be black. What I thought was stupid was white people trying to act black.

...And we were really rejecting that. We were rejecting the fifties and sixties instructions on how to be "hip."

John Holmstrom

these obsticles, along with things like english fanzines, punk bands becoming either heavy metal bands or disco groups, and a publisher that couldn't be trusted, all led to the demise of PUNK in 1979.

but there is hope.

At first I just wanted to mark the 25th Anniversary with a special issue. But since getting back into the scene I am amazed at the number of good, even great, punk rock bands out there. It seems to be a renaissance. It's as if after 25 years people have finally figured out how to do it right. So I am hoping to get PUNK back so we can kickstart the scene into high gear and help separate the good underground bands from the mediocre bands that know how to market themselves.

John Holmstrom

seems punk ain't dead afterall.

I want to restart PUNK because I think there are a lot of great bands worth writing about & working with. And I am hoping to find some maverick young journalists. But magazines and websites publish so much crap it seems like there aren't many examples of good writing to inspire people. Most of the writers who send me stuff send me samples of the same old crapola. So if I can pull this off I will have my work cut out for me.

John Holmstrom

i could tell you to order a bunch of issue #0's or back issues that cost around 30 bucks, or even a few t-shirts for your little brother, but demand was never really an issue.

One reason I had to pull the plug on PUNK in 1979 was that we had so many subscribers--something like 2500. Printing and mailing an issue to that many subscribers meant we were beyond the "Let's stage a benefit and raise the money for one more issue" stage. I needed serious financing by then but the economy was in even worse shape then than it is now!

John Holmstrom

what PUNK needs is donations.  i dunno, maybe there's another way.  seems like it would be easier to publish a magazine that's successful now that the internet has made it so easy to get word of mouth started.  go to www.punkmagzine.com with any sugestions you might have, or if you wanna get involved some other way.

don't let PUNK magazine fade into non-existence.


read more about it:

PUNK Returns to CBGB's

Photos from PUNK 25-year Reunion

Where to buy PUNK



john holmstrom, legs mcneil, ged dunn