Originally published December 13, 2002
This crew of gutter punks have swamped into our scene lately, meaning sure doom for our campsite. Most of them are good guys; 18, 19, 20-years-old. But they all have this “Bad Boy” act that is almost laughable. They all think they’re such big rebels and non-conformists. And they express their rebellion mostly by getting drunk and trashing out the spots where we hang-out, and setting fires to the campus bulletin board, and pissing and puking everywhere. “FUCK SHIT UP!” is their credo, and they live by that.
They justify their brainless acts of destruction with sort of a vague, “anti-corporation/anti-society” ideology. I overheard a typical conversation between two of these “bad boy” Gutter Punks the other day.
“I never shoplift from, like, Mom-and-Pop stores, man,” said the one. “I only steal from the big, corporate-owned places. Like, I go into Andronico’s and steal big bottles of whiskey and vodka from them all the time. And I, like, give it away and share it with all the other kids, man.” Why, he’s a regular Robin Hood. And getting drunk and puking all over the sidewalk is a revolutionary act, man.
Most of the street people in my crew are older; in their 40s and 50s. Most of us have worked at mainstream jobs at some point in our lives. We have nothing AGAINST the mainstream, or mainstream people. We just prefer not to be part of it.
These punk kids, on the other hand, have a hatred of the corporations, the System, the Mainstream, Society, whatever you want to call it. “Fuck Yuppies!” they’ll yell at passing straight-looking people. The Enemy. You wonder where this pose came from….
And I flash back to 1982 and Tim Yohannon — publisher of Maximum RocknRoll. I have sort of a strange, personal connection with MRR, for my own publication, Twisted Image #1, came out at the same time as Maximum RocknRoll #1 in the fabled summer of 1982. We were both inspired by the energy and excitement that was swirling around at that time. But we both had completely different takes on the burgeoning phenomenon that was “Punk Rock 1982.” Whereas MRR constantly and enthusiastically urged young high school kids to “join The Scene,” I described the punk movement in TI# 1 (in a record review of the just- released “Punk & Disorderly” album) as: “…the perfect soundtrack to the Apocalypse.” No, I was hardly saying “Come and join the scene.”
Tim Yohannon was famous for (and probably proud of) his ability to indoctrinate impressionable young kids with his quasi-socialist, anti-corporation spew. Why, those corporations were evil. And any self-respecting punk who had anything to do with those heinous corporations was a “sell-out” or a “poseur” or worse. This was an odd stance coming from the mouth of Tim Yohannon, considering that he spent the whole time he was publishing MRR working for UC Berkeley, one of the largest corporations in Berkeley, if not the state of California. And he was entitled to retirement benefits and full health coverage, etc., even as he was spewing out his anti-corporate harangues to these impressionable young kids — setting them up to go charging down a blind-alley that led to nothing. But, as always, Tim Yohannon did it all for The Scene, so it was different.
He was famous for condemning and attacking anyone who “exploited the punk scene for personal gain, man.” And yet you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who profited more handsomely from the Bay Area punk scene than Tim Yohannon himself. Yohannon ran MRR for 15 years, called all the shots, controlled virtually every facet of it. But you see, MRR was run as a “collective,” and he had a band of stooges who rubber-stamped anything he wanted to do. So you see, Yohannon himself never TECHNICALLY gained personally from MRR. Why, MRR was proof positive of “socialism in action.” And besides, any benefit Yohannon derived from MRR was done, not for personal gain — oh heaven forbid no — but for The Good of The Scene, man. Because Tim Yohannon was such a wonderful, selfless man. Like the big house he owned — oh excuse me, MRR owned — where he called the shots and decided who lived there and who didn’t. But it’s not as if Yohannon was the de facto landlord. Oh no, it was all done for The Scene. Or the $20,000 in cash that he regularly kept in a locked box under his bed which he controlled, which he decided where it was spent and who it was given to. This, too, was done for The Scene. It was just one of the many great sacrifices he made on behalf of The Scene.
And he had all sorts of funny rules at the Maxi Pad, this too was all done on behalf of the scene. Like his rules that “couples” weren’t allowed to live there. This was done, no doubt, to break the bonds of the patriarchal, monogamous, White-Male-dominated Power Structure. No doubt. In theory. But in effect it meant that any teenage punkette that wandered into the MRR house was fair game for this 50-year-old weasel, Tim Yohannon, who would be waiting for them on his bed, with the $20,000 in cash stashed underneath, and the power to decide who gets to keep a roof over their heads and who has to leave, and you can be sure that the chicks knew what the score was. Why, Tim Yohannon was doing it for The Scene yet again. What a great man he was, this slimy little weasel. Now I don’t wish to be casting aspersions on anyone’s sex trip — Lord knows the power exchange between men and women is OFTEN a brutal exchange. But what was doubly slimy about Tim Yohannon was how his high-sounding, “selfless” ideology, always — miraculously — seemed to coincide with his own personal self-interests. Such a coincidence.
Another rule, of course, was that “corporate rock” was banned from the MRR house. Why, if some unsuspecting punk kid dared to enter the house with a Ramones album, or, heaven forbid, a Sex Pistols album (what phony corporate punks THEY were), he’d be Banished From The Scene (horror of horrors). Because the punk rock revolutionaries at MRR were against the corporations, man. Then Yohannon would turn on his television set and watch “Perry Mason” and all the other corporate drivel that spewed out of his TV set. But that was different, somehow (don’t ask me how).
And who can forget the special issue of MRR about punk chicks working as strippers and whores, with Tim Yohannon himself breathlessly interviewing the young girls. What a wonderful thing this was, according to the world of Yohannon. Young punk girls turning their backs on the horrible, sexist, corporate world to become truly independent and free-thinking riot grrl-type revolutionaries. What a wonderful role model this Tim Yohannon fellow was for his youthful and impressionable audience of teenagers.
In the late ’80s, early ’90s, I actually appeared in MRR for while. To be fair (to myself), I submitted my comics and writing to literally hundreds of publications, virtually anybody who wanted to print it. And I got published in an astonishing cross-section of papers, of which I take a certain pride. Leftwing papers, rightwing papers. Middle-of-the-road papers. Hippie papers. Punk papers. Anti-racism papers. Blatantly racist papers. Underground papers. Mainstream papers. My work appeared in everything from USA TODAY, to 8-page zines xeroxed off by high school kids. So, for about a year, my comics and writing appeared in MRR. Then one issue Yohannon wrote a column eulogizing and glorifying Huey Newton, this great, great man. In fact Huey Newton was nothing but a thug, a murderer, a rapist, a crack-dealer (though you’d never know from reading MRR). So in the next issue I mildly took Yohannon to task for this (not mentioning Yohannon by name, because I half-expected what was coming), as well as pointing out a few home-truths about another thug (oh excuse me, “’60s revolutionary”), George Jackson, who had recently been glorified in MRR.
So I get a phone call from Tim Yohannon later that week. Alas, “they” (not him of course) had decided to stop running my column. He, of course, wanted to continue to run my column. But that darn “MRR committee” had voted against it. It had nothing to do with my political views or criticism of him, he assured me (oh heavens to Betsy no). But that I had suddenly become a “bad writer that nobody wanted to read” and that my literary abilities were no longer up to the high standards set by the 17-year-old punk kids who largely wrote the magazine. He wanted to keep running my comics — which he could selectively edit, of course — but I told him I didn’t want to have anything more to do with a slimeball like him. And so, out of the hundreds and hundreds of publications that I allowed to run my work, MRR would go down as the only one that I WOULDN’T let run my work.
In truth, Yohannon was one of those slimy little weasels where virtually everything that came out of his mouth was a self-serving lie or double-talk. He was one of those guys who talked like a lawyer, endlessly shading his meaning, splitting hairs, giving purposely false impressions, saying one thing while manipulating the exact opposite thing behind the scenes. One of those guys you felt the need to take a shower after talking to him because you felt like you’d been covered with a layer of his slime.
What he mostly reminded me of was a 50-year-old loser who never got to hang out with the “Cool Crowd” in high school, so now at age 50 he finally could play at being the Big Man to 17-year-old kids, and now he got to decide who the Cool Clique was (with him as the coolest of the clique, of course). In truth, his only real talent was the ability to intellectually bully naive 17-year-old boys (or adults who still had the mentality of one).
On the other hand, there was something almost poignant and sympathetic about his partner, and MRR co-founder, Jeff Bale. Because Bale was so dumb, you sensed he actually believed it. He was the True Believer (whereas Yohannon spent so much time and energy covering up his double-talk, you knew on some level that he knew it was bullshit). Recently, Bale — 20 years too late — came to the startling conclusion that Maximum RocknRoll was pushing “a rigid, politically-correct orthodoxy” on the unsuspecting public, man (tell me its not SO, Jeff!). And that MRR was stifling the free expression of free-thinking iconoclasts (like him). So he began publishing a dull, generic, “alternative” rock rag to set the world on fire (alternative to WHAT, you might ask). Why, The Scene has been saved at last! This was so hilarious to me, I couldn’t resist getting in a few digs at Bale’s expense. To which Bale responded by bragging about the incredible “impact” he’s had on the world (unlike me, of course, whose criticisms of Bale were no doubt inspired by my jealousy at his great accomplishments…whatever THEY happened to be). I wrote back: “People like you and Yohannon are just typical politicians who saw the parade going by and jumped up in front and pretended to lead it; parasites who attached themeselves to the energy of youth-culture.”
In truth, the punk kids that fell for MRR’s political blather were just cannon fodder sacrificed at the altar of Yohannon and Bale’s worthless, “failed-60s-radical” political horseshit.
MRR is still being published to this day. And it is a most peculiar specimen to behold. It is as if the world froze in the summer of ’82. And there is Maximum RocknRoll. This dead thing. This petrified fossil from a bygone era. Like something you’d find under a rock. Where nothing new ever grows. Endlessly repeating the same endlessly-repeated blather. Forever. This dreary smudge of black newsprint. Strange, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, the gutter punk kids are flopped out on the streets of every city in America, begging for money and fucking shit up (but at least they’re not supporting The System, man). Maybe what they need is yet another anti-corporate, anti-America lecture from the political geniuses at MRR to set them straight