By Bob Ruggiero
The Best of Punk Magazine
Edited by John Holstrom
It Books. 372 pp., $30.
While the thought of a hardcover, slick-papered, coffee-table book anthologizing the decidedly low-rent, ragtag Punk magazine might seem the antithesis of punk, even a curmudgeon like Johnny Rotten would have to spit a gob in appreciation of the nicely done result.
Reprinting the best from the influential magazine’s 1976-79 run — much of it for the first time since original publication — the book includes wild and suitably anarchic interviews with most major punk players, including Lou Reed, Ramones, Patti Smith, Sex Pistols, the Heartbreakers, Iggy Pop and David Johanssen. Add to that a wild amalgamation of underground comics, fakes ads, “Do It Yourself” songs, commentary, reportage, and even paper dolls.
Magazine co-founder Holstrom also includes contemporary reflections on the then-decrepit Bowery, the punk scene (which he, staff reporter Legs McNeil and photographer Roberta Bayley were part of, not outsiders), how some articles came to pass, and the struggles of putting out a fringe magazine in the ’70s.
An accomplished cartoonist, Holstrom’s own Harvey Kurtzman/Will Eisner-influenced work is seen throughout; he also drew the covers for the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin albums. And with most interviews not typed but hand-lettered in comic-book style, the magazine was clearly a labor of love.
But the book’s highlights have to be the reprints of the magazines two major “fumetti” style graphic novels, incorporating photos of a who’s who of punk rockers hamming it up for the camera, and Holstrom’s comic-book effects.
The 40-plus-page Mutant Monster Beach Party — starring Joey Ramone and Blondie’s Deborah Harry as ’60s movie-inspired star-crossed lovers who try to stay together amidst murderous bikers and Andy Warhol — is famous in its own right. The Legend of Nick Detroit features Richard Hell in a noirish tale that also includes hot Nazi lesbians.
The Best of Punk does take quite a bit of patience to digest. Don’t try to read it straight through or you’ll lose vision and perhaps sanity with the wild layouts. But its you-are-there (or were there) thumb on the pulse of a scene, a city and its participants makes this a vital get for fans of the music. Or hot Nazi lesbians.