Twisted Image #6

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This one was kind of a weird classic in it’s own way. Twisted Image #6 from 1983. In one issue, interviews with arguably the greatest mainstream cartoonist, Charles Schulz, and the greatest underground cartoonist, R. Crumb, of the 20th century. . . Where else are you gonna get something like that for 75-cents??

The Lusty Lady

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Back around 1990 I used to know this beautiful young stripper. She was the girlfriend of a good friend of mine. So that’s how I got to know her.

She was about 19, with a wholesome, girlish beauty. She had big, glassy cat-eyes, and short but thick black hair, and long long legs. She was a number. Generally she dressed fairly conservatively when she wasn’t working. But — like a lot of off-duty strippers — she usually had this subtle, little extra dash of sexuality to her look that hinted at her possible availability.

She worked at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco. One of the hipper strip clubs (lot of women with tattoos and piercings). And we would sometimes have long conversations on the telephone, and she liked to titillate me with stories about some of the weird things her customers asked her to do (like pissing in a bucket or doing weird lesbian acts). I had worked at the Mitchell Brothers strip club when I was a young man (no, not as a stripper). So we had that mileau in common. So we would trade stories about some of the weird stuff we had seen. I was fascinated with the subject of sex back then and used to think about sex all the time (every now and then I could also think about sports, but that was about it).

We also both wrote columns for one of the more prominent punk rock zines of the times. So we had that in common, too. And we would exchange gossip about some of the local hipsters and scenesters that we both knew.

But I think the main reason she was interested in me was because I was good friends with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend — the one before her. And i think she sort of viewed the ex as a potential rival. So she would sort of ply me for information about her character (and potential weaknesses) in case she ever got into a cat-fight with the ex over the boyfriend, and needed some weapons in her arsenal. She was kind of Machivelian like that, viewed the people around her as kind of chess pieces on a chessboard, And you always sensed that her interest in you was tied into whether you were useful to her. She had a cute, girlish manner, but you could sense a definite hardness under the surface. Something I guess you needed to survive in her profession. With its underlying premise of: You can use me if I can use you.

Like a lot of young lovers, she and her boyfriend had their fair share of drama and spectacular fights. And sometimes they’d break up, and she’d be crying and wailing and imploring him to take her back. I think my friend could never get used to the fact that his girlfriend was a prostitute (she was too classy to be a streetwalker, but I think she usually had a string of sugar daddies lined up on the side).

Anyways, they finally had one last big fight and broke up for good. And that was the last I ever saw of her.

Until around 1998. I was walking across the Berkeley campus when this attractive, young co-ed stopped in front of me and said “Ace??” Turned out she was using the money that she earned stripping to put herself through college. Which I thought was admirable. So many of the women in that mileau get stuck in that sexual underground. And when they lose their sexual attractiveness they’re pretty much used up. But when youre beautiful and intelligent and full of ambition (like her) all sorts of doors open up to you.

We sat on a campus bench and talked about old times. Her ex-boyfriend — and my friend — had ended up killing himself. “I don’t know what I saw in that loser,” she said (like I said, she was a bit of a hardened case).

And we talked about the punk rock zine we used to write for. I ended up having a falling out with the publisher, concluded he was slimy and dishonest and disassociated myself with his magazine. But he had recently died, so the local punk scene was buzzing with glowing tributes and hagiography in honor of the allegedly great man. So she asked me if that had changed my opinion of him. “Hell no,” I said. “I still think he’s a dirtbag.” (I guess I’m a little hardened myself).

And that was the last time I ever saw her. I have no idea how her life turned out. But if I had to take a guess, I’d say she married some rich guy and lives in a suburb somewhere, and is a prim and proper and respectable middle-aged lady. And most of the woman at the local PTA would probably never guess about her colorful past history.

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Age

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I was thinking how significant one’s age is.  For example, when they mention somebody’s name in the newspaper one of the first things they usually mention is the person’s age.  “So-and-so, 48” or “So-and-so, 27.”  So I guess it’s one of the defining characteristics, maybe even moreso than race or sex.

One phrase that always annoyed me:  “It’s just a number.”  While I can appreciate the sentiments (“You’re only as old as you feel”) one’s age is a LOT more than “just” a number.  Your age not only reflects your geriatric situation, it also reflects the generation that you came of age with.

I distinctly remember the heavy symbolism every time my age hit a new decade.  My 20th birthday party when a friend said:  “No more teenage wasteland.”  And all the ramifications of that.  I remember writing an editorial when I turned 30, oddly titled “Turning 30.”  Speculating on all the significance of that.  It was like the warm-up period of my 20s was over and now it was time to get serious.

Now, at age 57, I’m actually looking forward to turning 60.  Just so I can get it over with.  “OK, I’m 60.  I’m officially old.”  Rather than still be on the fence at 57.  When I turned 50, I was still in vigorous health and I didn’t feel  much different than in my 30s.  But at 57 I notice a significant difference.  The inevitable signs of “old man” syndrome.  After a relatively light physical work-out I’ll feel exhausted; aching muscles, the whole bit.  I’ll lie down and then when I stand up I’m not sure if my legs are gonna buckle underneath me.   Along with the realization:  “It’s no longer about getting into BETTER shape.  But just slowing the rate in which my health degenerates.”

I remember when I first jumped deeply into the Punk Rock scene in 1982, at age 25.   Most of the punkers on the scene at the time were high school age, 17, 18 to early 20s.  So, at 25 I remember feeling for the first time being on the other side of the generation gap, re Youth Culture.  Five or six years can make a big difference at that age.  One of the reasons I was so fascinated with the Punk Scene was because I was madly in love with this woman, age 26 who had recently “gone punk” and was going out with this high school punk kid, age 16.  So that was a minor scandal at the time.  (And in a related aside, regarding the “underage” thing, the “It’s-just-a-number” defense holds zero weight with a judge in a court of law).

I remember there was this guy on the scene at the time, Tim Yohannon, age 35, who was one of the self-appointed “leaders” of the Punk Scene back then.  I remember it was a regular topic of discussion:   “What’s with this creepy old guy who wants to hang out with high school kids all the time?”  Oddly, Yohannon ended up dying at age 52 in 1998. But now when I look back at it from my perspective at age 57, 52 seems amazingly young!   So I guess I’m the creepy old guy now.  Its all relative, I guess.  Age.  Relative to a lot of different things.

 

Punk Rock 1982 Punk Rock 2002

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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

The Strange Case of Maximum Rocknroll


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(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.