My punk coming of age happened in the early 1980s, and by then the music had morphed into hardcore, with its shaved heads, flannel shirts tied around waists, and a sometimes disheartening snot-nosed machismo.
But despite the stupidity inherent in any teenage/young adult endeavor, there was still a sense of community, of being part of something that was better and more authentic than anything in the mainstream. We kind of thought we had invented it. We looked at hippies with disdain, and even the punk of the 1970s seemed tame and drug addled. It was the fanzine that gave hardcore a cultural touchstone, a document of a scene that was sometimes playing silly internal games of “we’re better than you.” The fanzine was the Xeroxed commune that kept it all from falling apart. I was schooled by way of Maximumrocknroll, Flipside, and our local Boston zine Suburban Voice. I didn’t know at the time that they all owed their existence to a magazine filled with long-haired stoners. I wish I had. Hardcore was limiting in its way. Punk rock actually had a soul and a creation myth. The canonical text was Punk.
Started by underground cartoonist John Holmstrom, Punk had a short fuse but a huge explosion, printing only eighteen issues from 1976 to 1979. It’s impact is undeniable, not only helping to coalesce an entire underground movement -- often spilling out the of doors of CBGB -- but putting bands and musicians like Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Patti Smith on the map, and jump starting the career of The Ramones. Because Punk evolved out of underground comix, it used the grammar of comics as its primary mover. Every word is hand-written, and photos and drawings are merged to brilliant comic effect. Punk was vulgar, obscene, obsessed with sex and cartoon violence. But it was the music that mattered.
Punk: The Best of Punk Magazine from It Books lovingly reproduces substantial excerpts from each issue in a beautiful large format hardcover. The reproduction quality is outstanding, looking like it was done from the original proofs. But again, it’s the music that matters. Here are early interviews with The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Patti Smith, Johnny Rotten, and John Cale. There are band profiles, reviews, and outstanding photos, including a ridiculous sexy layout of Debbie Harry. And the take-none-of-it-seriously philosophy was hardcore and something that later punk offshoots could have benefited from. Punk: The Best of Punk Magazine is essential, a glorious documentation of the importance of the 1970s generally, and the New York underground scene in particular, on pop culture.