Raising the Maximum Punk Age

Back in the early days of punk, the kids used the age of 30 as the marker for when someone was too uncool to be part of the scene. Who would ever get that old, right?

Well, this summer, one of the most important punk institutions passed through that barrier.

Happy 30th birthday to the fanzine, Maximum Rocknroll!

Not so funny now, is it?

Fanzines were self-published magazines focused on a certain topic. An equivalent to modern day blogs, people wrote about something they were interested in. That put the fan in fanzines. You could write a fanzine about science fiction, or bands from your music community, or, if you were a racist jerk, white supremacy. You could then trade your fanzine with publishers of other zines, and hence you had a transmission of information outside normal channels. Some fanzines were one page long written by one author, and others were hundreds of pages with interviews, photos, letters from readers, classifieds, advertisements, and everything else you can think of.

Maximum Rocknroll was one of the latter. Started by Tim Yohannan in 1982, the fanzine was a medium of information and communication within the local Berkeley music scene. Maximum Rocknroll was released once every couple months in the beginning, and this later changed to monthly. Soon, the fanzine gained a circulation of roughly 20,000 and its readership spanned the globe.

Yohannan was a baby-boomer and Communist who believed in the members of the next generation acting as an extension of the 1960s’ counterculture. This extension, however, was on the youths’ own terms, with Yohannan acting as a moral and political barometer. Much like Neil Young was considered the “godfather of grunge” by the later milieu in the Pacific Northwest, Yohannan was a punk rock fatherly-figure in the Bay area, sometimes literally. The frontman of the band MDC, Dave Dictor, related that when the group was arrested in Canada on a trumped-up weapons offence, it was Yohannan who bailed them out, and then did not follow up on having them pay him back in full.

Yohannan’s strict political and social views alienated some and angered others; however this is not surprising in light of the publication he ran being a forum for a diverse group of individuals with varying beliefs. Ray Farrell, cofounder of Maximum Rocknroll Radio, remembered that youths “maybe have difficulties with how their parents are raising them. A lot of those basics – how you take care of yourself, how you find a way to be happy without a lot of the trappings of a capitalist society – that’s a lot of what Maximum Rocknroll helped kids to start to understand.”

While a leftish bias permeated the fanzine, it also stimulated debate over issues that were of particular importance in the underground, especially in the letters section, where readers wrote in and debated everything from bands, to politics, to ways of living. Not only did the fanzine give voice to the contentions of a generation, Jeff Bale, who helped start Maximum Rocknroll with Yohannan, stressed its role in communication: “[b]y virtue of even publishing these things, we created this whole synergistic network of exchange. We expanded the punk rock scene in the Bay Area and all over the…world.”

Bale isn’t exaggerating – even folks living on the other side of the Iron Curtain contributed to the zine, with punks smuggling “Scene Reports,” (descriptions of their local punk communities) out of countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary for subsequent publication in Maximum Rocknroll. When Dezerter, a Polish punk band, was unable to release music in their home country, DOA’s Joey “Shithead” Keithley snuck the tracks back with him to North America, for release on Maximum Rocknroll‘s record label.

The fanzine connected people. For an example, when Mike Burkett, better known as Fat Mike from the band NOFX, joined his father on a business trip to Italy in 1984, he took along copies of Maximum Rocknroll and knocked on the door of the house of a man in Florence that had contributed a scene report to the fanzine. All the musician had to say was, “[h]ey, I’m a punk rocker from America,” and this meant instant access into the local underground milieu where he interacted with its participants, drinking beer, recording music, and attending basement shows. Indeed, Andy Asp, the front man for the band, Nuisance, reflected: “Maximum Rocknroll was sort of the Internet of its time.”

Have a friend with a birthday of their own coming up? Order them their own “Free Pussy Riot” benefit compilation now!

And…don’t forget to check out the Maximum Rocknroll Archives

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Explore posts in the same categories: "Intellectual" Sources, Punk and Politics, Punk and Protest, voices from the underground

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