Some of the publications of B.N. Duncan


B.N. Duncan was one of the most relentlessly creative people I’ve ever met. In the 30 years I knew him, I don’t remember a single day going by when Duncan wasn’t creating something: writing, drawing, photographing, painting, sculpting, publishing.

The art flowed out of him naturally and effortlessly. If not compulsively. Like eating and sleeping and breathing. And probably just as necessary to him. He wasn’t an artist who waited around for “inspiration” to strike — he was always inspired. And you’d never hear him talk about “writer’s block.” Are you kidding?? He couldn’t have stopped it from coming if he had wanted to.

These are some of the publications B.N. Duncan produced during his lifetime. And I was there for the creation of most of them. Looking over his shoulder as he first came up with the idea, then worked to create the piece, and then finally produced the finished product.

One of my favorite Duncan moments was right after the latest issue of his magazine TELE TIMES had been published. Hot off the presses. Duncan would take out a copy — the ink still shiny and barely dried. And he’d lie on his big brass bed in his cramped little hotel room on the fourth floor of the Berkeley Inn. With a warm cup of coffee and a pack of smokes. And he’d lovingly leaf through every page, every word.

B.N. Duncan.



It must have been around 1993. I was at the height of my minor league fame. And the USA TODAY newspaper sent a reporter and a photographer to interview me at my studio apartment in Berkeley for an article in their esteemed national newspaper.

And i remember the photographer spent an hour taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs of me at my “drawing board.” I had a table in the kitchen of my studio apartment where I drew all my comic strips.

And when the article came out in the USA TODAY, the editors had picked the WORST photo — of the hundreds of photographs that the photographer had taken — to run along side the article. This photo taken from a distorted angle that made me look particularly freakish. Because that was the angle the USA TODAY newspaper wanted to play up with this particular article “Weirdo Underground Artist Ace Backwords.”

If they had wanted to play me up as a heroic figure, they would have picked one of the photos where I looked really cool..

Or if they wanted to play me as an evil person, they would have picked one of the photos where I looked dark and sinister.

That’s how the media game works.

Generally the media doesn’t “report” the news. They try to “create” the news.




It’s funny the things you remember. . .



Yesterday somebody posted on the internet this cover from an old issue of Twisted Image from back in 1982.  And so I was looking at it last night.  And it’s funny the things you remember . . .

The thing I remember from that period. I was so broke I couldn’t afford the real Letra-set type fonts for the headlines. So I made xeroxes of the fonts from a sample catalogue. And cut out each individual letter and glued them on the paper to make all the headlines. Ha ha. Sheesh.  (If you look closely you can see the letters aren’t lined up exactly straight.)
And whenever I look back at my past I’m always struck by how fast it all went by.  It’s like, one moment you’re in the middle of this dynamic scene.  And then the next moment, you blink your eyes and it’s all gone.  It’s all ancient history from a bygone era.
Whenever I think of the past, I always get this image in my head of this train that’s behind me, barreling down the tracks in reverse.  And every day the train gets farther and farther behind me . . .   There goes 1982, barreling down the tracks.  And all the people, places and scenes from 1982 keep getting farther and farther away from me.  Until  finally they all vanish from view and are gone.  Just like entire civilizations have come and gone and are now completely forgotten.  Just like entire Universes disappear in a blink of an eye.  Swallowed up by the endless expanses of Eternity . . .
And yeah, I also remember those Letra-set xeroxes.   3-cents a copy back in 1982 . . .

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.

Aaron Cometbus

March 12, 2008

A couple weeks ago I got interviewed by Aaron Cometbus of the legendary COMETBUS fan-zine.  Aaron is another one of those guys I consider “from the class of ’82.”  One of those teenage punk kids who was profoundly influenced by the whole punk scene at the time.  That whole scene died for me by 1984.  But, apparently, its still going.  Spotted a review in the latest EAST BAY EXPRESS about Aaron’s “legendary punk band” that was making a “rare” appearance at Gilman Street.   The line stretched down the street, some people had been waiting all day in the hopes of getting in for the show.  Aaron’s band features the front-man from Green Day  — Billie Joe Armstrong.  So that shows you how plugged in Aaron is to the whole scene.  He’s sort of the literary rock star of the scene.  Regularly referred to as a “punk rock Kerouac.”  The thing  — COMETBUS  — mostly goes over my head.  Probably because I’m 10 years older than Aaron and have already “been there and done that” by the time Aaron gets to it.  But I’m impressed by how much the kids of his generation relate to his writiing.  And he’s an undeniable “star” in a scene thats produced precious few of them.

He caught me at a flat moment. We sat there on the sidewalk by “my spot” on Telegraph & Haste and I chain-smoked and tried to think of something signifigant, or at least clever, to say.  And mostly failed.  I’m always intimidated by handsome guys.  Even when they’re nice guys like Aaron.  Aaron Cometbus always reminded me of the cool guy in high school who effortlessly hung out with the coolest of the cool crowd.  But never looked down on the un-cool kids.  Which only made him seem cooler.

“I always thought your 25-cent book vending table idea was a stroke of genius,” said Aaron.

“More like a stroke of desperation,” I said.  “Somehow, I never pictured myself at age 51 selling junk on a street corner.”

He asked me about the exciting Telegraph Avenue scene.

“Its pretty much turned into a skid row,” I groused.

We gossiped a bit about the old fan-zine scene.  Darby Romeo, of BEN IS DEAD zine, was rumored to have completely dropped out and turned into a recluse and joined a weird religious cult.  Turns out she’s in Hawaii working for a school that teaches young girls how to surf.  Which seemed exactly right for a former SASSY afficionado.  So there’s your fan-zine up-date.

Aaron and I chatted some more.  I don’t know who gets more props: Me, name-dropping him.  Or him, name-dropping me.  Probably him.  He’s got way more “Google search” hits after his name.  Which is the new barometer for fame.  Myself, I’m sort of a weird, minor-league legend in certain circles. Which is nice.  But it doesn’t help pay the rent.  Or alleviate this persistent painful rectal itch.  So, in other words, I’m fucked.

Araon asked me about some obscure, sappy comic strip I had done about a Paul McCartney album (“Red Rose Speedway”) back in 1987.  Which is weird that he would remember it 21 years later, it was only published in one place, the UC Berkeley college newspaper.  But I guess thats why he’s the Kerouac of punk.  Kerouac, of course, was known for his attention to detail. Had a bit of a photographic memory.

Anyways, we concluded our chat, shook hands, and went off with the rest of our lives (as horrifying as that prospect can sometimes be).

Now I’m at Raleigh’s across the street, drinking a pint of dark beer and watching a dull college basketball game.  I’ve wasted this whole day. I’ve wasted so many days.  And yet, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.  What ARE we supposed to be doing? I’m surrounded by bums who never do anything. They sit around and get stoned and drunk all day long and make noises (“socializing” I guess its called).   Others of them hang around coffee shops all day doing nothing.  Zombies. Then there’s the ones who camp out at the public computers on the campus playing mindless computer games all day long.

Then there’s the drones who work at the local establishments.  Frittering away their hours, “watching the clock” until Friday when they can sit around and watch TV all day.

Then there’s the hordes of Asian college students swamping the campus, just looking to slot into the machine like mindless clones.

And then there’s me.  I guess I’m a zombie, too.  Water seeks its own level, right?  But then, I did draw a memorable comic strip about Paul McCartney back in 1987, so at least there’s something on my resume.

I kept looking for a “scene” to plug into.  And when one wasn’t there, I set out to make one myself.  And that turned into an even bigger horror.