The Strange Case of Maximum Rocknroll


(originally published May 20, 2008)                                                                                  

For years now, there’s been these clumps of  “gutter punks” flopped out on the sidewalks of Berkeley.   They sit there spare-changing and getting drunk and stoned and fighting.  But mostly they just sit there.  They remind me of a bunch of beached flounders.  They seem like some kind of stunted organism that has stopped developing.  When I look at them, I often get this strange acid flashback . .

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I saw the Sex Pistols last concert at Winterland in January of 1978.  I remember saying to a friend during the ride home:  “When punk rock hits the high schools, its gonna catch on like wild-fire.”  And then  . . . .   nothing happened.  So I figured I was wrong about Punk Rock like I was wrong about most everything else.

Then, in the summer of 1982, when I was living in quiet Humboldt County, I got an excited phone call from my friend Mary Mayhem.  “Its unbelievable!”  said Mary.  “There’s been all these punk rock shows with all these kids with mohawks slam-dancing and stage-diving and bouncing off walls!  Its wild!”

I was madly in love with Mary at the time, so I dragged my ass back to San Francisco and checked out a punk band called Fear at the Elite Club (formerly the Filmore West).  It was indeed wild.  And I decided to start an underground punk rock newspaper to capture the energy of this emerging youth culture.  I interviewed Fear and that was the big feature for what became TWISTED IMAGE # 1.  Around the exact same time, MAXIMUM ROCKROLL # 1 was published, with somewhat similar intentions.

So I’d always feel a weird connection with MAXIMUM ROCKROLL.  Like two seeds that were spawned from the same soil, but developed in quite different directions.  From the beginning, the differences were clear.  MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL saw the punk rock movement as a progressive social force.  They were constantly proseletyzing on behalf of “the scene” and urging kids to join up and get involved with “the punk rock community.”  I, on the other hand, could sum up my feelings by a review I wrote for the record “Punk & Disorderly” in TWISTED IMAGE # 1.   “Punk rock is the perfect soundtrack for the Apocalypse.”  Like a war reporter, I looked at punk as a fascinating, but ultimately dark and destructive, historical movement.  Join up at your own risk, kiddies.

So TWISTED IMAGE and MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL mostly existed as two seperate parrallel universes.  But then in the late-80s I was working as a free-lance cartoonist and writer and my stuff was getting published in hundreds of zines, mags, comics and newspapers.  So MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL started running a column and comics by me every month.  We were co-existing fine until one issue when the publisher of MRR, Tim Yohannon, published a glowing eulogy for the just-deceased Huey Newton, the former Black Panther leader, along with a glowing book  review of fellow Panther George Jackson’s prison diaries.

Well, this slightly irritated me.  Because, in fact, Huey Newton was a violent, crack-dealing, murdering lunatic.  No hero in my book.  And the same goes for George Jackson.  In fact, Jackson’s book was actually ghost-written by Fay Stender (a Berkeley activist), who later repudiated her own bullshit after she got shot and paralyzed for life by one of Jackson’s thugs for, allegedly “betraying the revolution.”

So I submitted a column for the next issue of MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, mildly chiding them for glorifying this thug Huey Newton, and laying out the real story about Jackson’s book.

Before the issue went to press, I got a phone call from Tim Yohannon telling me they had decided to drop my column.  “It has nothing to do with your politics, of course,” he assured me.  “But the MRR collective has decided that you’re a bad writer that nobody wants to read.”

Now, I may not be Shakespeare, but my writing has been read by millions of readers, so it was mildly annoying to be told that my work was no longer up to the high literary standards set by a magazine that was mostly written and read by 17-year-old boys (and chronological adults who still had the minds of 17-year-old boys).  And plus, Yohannon was full of shit. And he knew it, and he knew that I knew it.  So I told him to get fucked, and I told him they couldn’t run my comics either (the only publication I ever denied my comics to, so there’s another MRR claim to fame).  It wasn’t like my ego was bruised or anything  —  hell, as a free-lancer, I’d had my work rejected and accepted by hundreds of editors, it went with the territory. But something about the whole deal stunk.

TIm Yohannon  —  the MRR co-founder  — was an interesting character.  He was one of those guys who talked like a lawyer.  Virtually everything that came out of his mouth (in my experience) was a lie, or double-talk, or purposefully misleading (then he could defend himself by saying TECHNICALLY he hadn’t been lying).  Just one of those types.   A little weasel who was endlessly described as “manipulative.”

This manipulative quality was a trait that came in good stead when, for example, he was working through all the buerocratic red-tape that it took to get the Gilman Street Project going.  And he was the driving force behind that thing.  I remember as early as 1983, when I was still a San Francisco bike messenger, Yohannon coming up to me and talking up the Gilman Street project.  And its still going today, perhaps the possitive side of Yo’s legacy.  For the East Bay youth now have a place where they can blast out punk rock power chords and scream and yell at ear-splitting volume.  As well as learn valuable life-skills such as how to publish a fan-zine and design rad band logos.  By all accounts, Yohannon was a hard worker, with excellent organizational skills.

I’m not sure what exactly irked me the most about Tim Yohannon.  For he was a man who inspired many, many irkesome reactions.  As well as many of the possitive variety, too.  He had been a radical, campus activist in the late-60s.  And now here he was in the ’80s, proseletyzing that same failed bullshit to another generation of naive youth.  He was always railing against “the multi-national corporations,” of course.  Which was odd, considering that Yohannon worked for one of the biggest corporations in the state —  the University of California  — with full health  benefits and retirement plan.  Something I doubt many of the punk kids who bought into his dead-end vision of anti-corporate rhetoric, would enjoy.

And, of course, anyone who came into the Maxi pad with a record from one of those “evil corporate record companies”  —  for instance, fake punks like the Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones, etc  — was  instantly banned from the Maxi kingdom as a hopeless poseur.  Ahh, the evil corporate media.   But even odder, Yohannon would then turn on his television set and watch “Perry Mason” and all the other corporate junk that spewed from his TV set.  But somehow, that was different.

Probably nobody railed more than Tim Yohannon  against those “sell-outs” who exploited the sacred punk rock movement for personal gain.  But, oddly, probably nobody reaped more benefits from the Bay Area punk scene than Tim Yohannon himself.  Like the house he was able to buy for himself (oh, excuse me, it was owned by “the Maximum Rocknroll collective”).  And Yohannon decided who could live there and who got kicked out and what the ground rules of the house were (one of his odd rules were “no boyfriends and girlfriends allowed”  — which I guess meant that all the chicks were open season for the host).  Or the little metal box stuffed with $20 grand that he kept under his bed, and he decided who would or wouldn’t get chunks of the dough, as well as who would be beholden to him.

But Yohannon  — selfless saint that he was  — did this all for The Greater Good of the Punk Rock Movement.  So it was cool.  It probably all came down to the fact that he was a 50-year-old geezer who liked to hit on teenage chicks.  It usually comes down to that, doesn’t it.  But I’m sure he did this for the greater glory of punkdom also.

In truth, he reminded me of the nerd who never got to hang out with the cool clique in high school.  So now he was living  out his fantasy as a middle-age man, the head of the coolest clique of high school punks.  Weird when you think of it.

Yohannon called all the shots at MRR from beginning to end.  Then, the stooges and yes-men that made up “the Maximum Rockroll collective” would rubber-stamp whatever decision Yohannon had come up with.  So it was held up as a sterling example of socialism in action.  And here’s to the new punks, same as the old punks.

Finally, he ended up getting cancer and died at age 52.  I suspect, as it often is the case with these things, that his own body got sick of hanging out with him and checked out. Just as so many of his former friends and associates came to the same conclusion.  For his last request, as he lay on his death bed, he requested from his huge and legendary record collection, “The Ha Ha Song” by Flipper, those legendary nihilistic burn-outs.   And, on that note, he faded into eternity.

MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, the magazine, still lives on today.  I stumbled upon a copy a couple years ago.  And it looks remarkably the same as it did in 1982.  It was a strange sight.  Like discovering a petrified fossil under a rock  — this dead thing, frozen in time, where nothing new can ever grow and develop.

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Ahh, these weird nostalgic musings as I pass the gutter punks flopped out on the sidewalk.  Its a long way from 1982.  Perhaps these gutter punks need yet another “anti-corporate” lecture from the political geniuses at MRR.  Or perhaps they need to get a job.

8 thoughts on “The Strange Case of Maximum Rocknroll

  1. PPS I just came across a copy of the latest issue of MaximumRocknRoll at the library. Which is a weird experience. The format is pretty much exactly the same as it was in 1982 aside from the ground-breaking innovation of moving the columns to the back of the issue and the zine reviews to the front. ZOUNDS. I wonder if Crawford is still fueding with them. Ha ha. The only name I recognized is Mykel Board who was just named the editor. He must be, what?, about 65, and he’s still editing a teeenage fanzine? Weird. I guess 30 years of hacking out that column has finally paid off. . . .Its weird because I can’t help thinking back to 1982 when I actually thought that magazine was relevant for awhile (was that just my imagination? or the drugs?). I remember going to their suburban-like pad in 1983 to interview the whole crew for a Twisted Image exclusive. It almost seems like another lifetime. Which maybe is why its so eerie to see an actual copy of that rag. Like seeing a ghost. Personally, I thought we captured just about everything worthy of being captured in the punk rock scene in those first 10 issues of Twisted Image. Which I still think are classics. Which is why I, unlike some people, moved on to other things and other subjects after that. . . . Well, thats enough ranting from me.

  2. It’s amazing to me that people just keep setting up dogmatic empires that they can rule, and still rail against other dogmatic empires(corporations). I mean,how much intelligence does it take to figure out the contradiction?

    1. Ha ha. You nailed me on that one. I gotta cop to that. But I think its not so much that I carry a “grudge.” But I always wanna get in the last word. Thats my sickness.

  3. I knew Tim pretty well. He was a good friend of Ike Eilands, and a fan of our blues band Backwater Rising, and he hung around a lot . This would have been in the late 60’s, when punk didn’t exist. He was a fervent lover of music . You cackling over his unfortunate early death is unseemly, and unkind.

    He left a positive long term legacy that Im sure would astound and tickle him no end.

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