The rebirth of Punk: John Holmstrom’s fanzine returns


By Orli Van Mourik

In 1975, a 21-year-old former art student named John Holmstrom decided to start a magazine that married his two favorite art forms: Punk rock and comics. So he rented a rat-infested storefront in Chelsea, recruited his friends Ged Dunn and Eddie “Legs” McNeil to help out, and set to work.

Holmstrom’s fanzine was crude, but it was also cool. And, in the end, it attracted so much attention that it galvanized a movement, making bands like The Ramones, Blondie and The Sex Pistols famous in the process. Now, some 30 years later, Holmstrom has decided to re-launch Punk, and re-energize New York’s rock scene. The Villager sat down with him last week to talk about the past and the new Punk magazine.

A lot of people credit Punk magazine with making punk rock a household word. Did you consciously set out to define a movement?

Yes. Eddie, Ged and I were all really media savvy. Ged used to say, ‘A decade defines itself in the middle, not at the beginning.’ We realized that we were in the middle of the decade and we could define the culture. We were precocious.

Your co-founder Legs McNeil, who went on to write what is widely considered the seminal history of punk music, “Please Kill Me,” claims to have coined the term ‘punk.’ Is that true?

I think he’s backed off that, because so many people have called him on it. It’s been researched. Greg Shaw [creator of the fanzine “Mojo Navigator”] coined the term in the early ’70s.

Punk magazine covered everybody from The Dead Boys and Iggy Pop to Blondie and the Clash. Who were your favorites?

Blondie and The Ramones were our favorite bands on the scene. As people, in addition to their music. They were really fun to hang out with.

We were very close friends with The Ramones. Danny Fields, their manager, credited us with enabling them to get their first record contract. The story in our first issue convinced Seymour Stein at Sire Records to sign them and get the record out as soon as possible.

The new Punk magazine came out in December. What prompted you to re-launch it?

When I go to the newsstand, I see a lot of magazines devoted to [punk] culture that seem to be doing pretty well, and I say: ‘Why isn’t that me? I had the idea first.’ It’s sort of like if Hugh Hefner went to the newsstand and saw a lot of imitations of Playboy.

I’m not expecting Punk to be like Rolling Stone. I don’t think we’re going to sell 500 million copies. But I think we can be successful. There’s no Lester Bangs anymore; there’s no more Ramones — there’s no CBGB’s! [But] if there’s a Punk magazine out there, there’s still a thread that connects today’s Punk rock with the past.

With CBGB’s gone, is there really a New York punk scene worth covering?

We’re preparing a special issue on CGBG’s, since you mention it. Someone has to do it. But we are trying to mix it up. We’re covering the original punk rock from the ’70s, some of the hardcore scene in the ’80s, and moving on to the ’90s and new bands.

Which new bands do you think are worth hearing?

Well, they’re not a new band, but I’ve always liked The Bullys. They’ve been around New York for years. We put them on the cover of the last issue. That was a story I really wanted to do, because I knew the leader Johnny Heff. His day job was working on Ladder 11 and he perished on September 11. I really wanted to write something about that. Every time you hear about a rock ‘n’ roll guy, it’s an overdose or a car accident or something sleazy. This was the first time in rock ‘n’ roll history that there’s been a hero who gave his life saving others.

Tell us about the next issue.

Our cover story is about the Sid and Nancy tragedy. Eileen Polk, who was around the scene back in those days and was one of people interviewed in “Please Kill Me,” did the story. There are a lot of pictures of Sid and Nancy that people haven’t seen, so I think [readers] will be interested.

Copies of Punk are available online at www.punkmagazine.com.