Goodbye to Punk Planet
I wonder how the people at Vagrant Records feel
Maximum Rock and Roll still exists. This blows my mind. Every once in a while I'll be in Borders killing time, and I'll think about maybe picking up a copy, always eventually deciding that I'd be better off spending my $3 on a cupcake or something. Back when I was 13 or 14, that magazine meant a lot to me, though I almost never agreed with anything anyone ever wrote in it. The people at the magazine saw themselves as protectors of the punk-rock flame, staunch and fusty idealists who sneered at any music that smacked of art or money, of anything other than the protean three-chord gallop that most of the people involved thought punk should be. When the singer of the veteran British street-punk band the Varukers admitted in MRR's pages to liking the Jesus and Mary Chain, it was an earth-shaking revelation on the order of Neil Patrick Harris coming out of the closet or something. There's some chance that I'm just imagining this, but when some guy at a punk show severely beat Jello Biafra and called him a sellout, an MRR editorial actually defended the dude responsible for the beating. The magazine routinely put out jihads on bands like Fugazi and Bikini Kill, bands considered paragons of virtue in virtually every other corner of the world. MRR also employed a fucking amazing cadre of columnists, many of whom usually just told stories about getting drunk and doing dumb shit but managed to make those stories feel like great literature; very few writers have been more important in my life than the Rev. Norb. Nine years ago, MRR founder and dictator Tim Yohannon died of lymphoma, and the magazine's general viewpoint was obsolete probably before Yohannon even thought it up, but the magazine still soldiers on. As much as I loved those columns, the greatest gift that MRR ever gave the world was probably a punk-zine atmosphere so suffocatingly puritanical that a bunch of disaffected kids went off to start Punk Planet as a direct reaction. Today, Punk Planet founder Dan Sinker announced that the magazine was going under, that its next issue would be its last. Apparently, Punk Planet was undone by a shrinking readership and few bad distribution deals. And so MRR outlasted Punk Planet. Unbelievable.
I don't know if I can in good conscience call Punk Planet a consistently great magazine. Their reviews section was always butt-ass terrible, an overlong string of three-sentence snippets on self-released seven-inches that nobody would ever really need to hear. PP usually had some really long and ranty political articles, which I'd usually not read and then feel vaguely guilty for not reading, like I wasn't doing my punk duty or whatever. It also had a sex-advice columnist who usually made sex sound like the most tedious thing on the face of the earth. Still, I'm not sure I can adequately describe how important a magazine Punk Planet was for me. The magazine reacted against the MRR orthodoxy by jumping as far as it could in the other direction; music in any genre was potentially punk enough to squeeze in. I can remember seeing interviews with Mr. Lif and Mouse on Mars and Bright Eyes and Oval, and these guys would be sharing space with regressive three-chord bashers like Swingin' Utters or patron-saint indie-lifer types like Ian MacKaye and Steve Albini and Jello Biafra. And it's not like the magazine exposed me to these artists; for the most part, I was already listening to them, or I'd already decided that I didn't like them. It was just that I'd never thought of these bands in an explicitly punk context before, and it was liberating to be able to feel OK calling myself punk rock and still listening to this stuff. Through middle school and high school, I'd always considered myself a punk, and I went to great pains to figure out exactly what that meant. But as I got older and got sick of hearing a kajillion different iterations of the exact same two-minute song, I came to miss the sense of belonging that the self-imposed label granted me. Punk Planet made it a whole lot easier to grow older but to still consider myself a part of this nebulously defined punk thing, and that was important. These days, I can make my living writing Nelly Furtado live reviews or whatever without worrying that I've become a part of the monster. I'm not going to say that that wouldn't have happened without Punk Planet, but it would've been harder.
For me, Punk Planet peaked around 2000 or 2001. Back then, they had Trevor Kelly, a great interviewer and perhaps the most eloquent defender of MySpace emo working. I really liked a story he once wrote about trying to get Thursday into the magazine despite his colleagues' general skepticism toward major-label pop-emo. He eventually, maybe inevitably, ended up at Alternative Press and recently co-wrote an emo guide called Everybody Hurts that I keep meaning to read. The magazine also had a roster of columnists that I really loved, including Sam McPheeters and Al Burian, the former respective frontmen of Born Against and Milemarker, and Jessica Hopper, one of my favorite writers ever. All of those writers talked with moving eloquence about their day-to-day lives, about trying their hardest to maintain personal integrity and perspective, a constant struggle in the best of times. And even when it was cloyingly sincere, which was probably more often than I'd ever want to admit, this stuff really spoke to me. It's been a couple of years since I've picked up a copy of the magazine. Most of the writers I really liked are long gone, and I'm generally feeling OK enough with my adult self that I don't need that bimonthly shot of affirmation. Still, I always liked seeing Punk Planet staring back at me from magazine racks, bad reviews section and all. I'll miss it. And when Maximum Rock and Roll ever shuts down, if it ever does, I doubt I'll feel quite so bad about it.