After 37 incredible years seminal punk zine Maximum Rocknroll is bringing its print edition to an end. To say that it was a good run would be a seismic understatement. Like many punk publications before it, Maximum Rocknroll (MRR) will soon transition completely from the tangible to the digital.
Every punk who ever got ink stains on their fingers from the pages of MRR will have their own stories. They will have their own reason for why Tim Yohannan’s eternal legacy will forever influence who they are and what they do.
This is my story of how MRR influenced me. I’m guessing it’s a little different from those who grew up near the epicenter of the punk subculture. I grew up almost 9000 miles away from the Bay Area, in Indonesia, both a geographical and cultural world away. And yet, I ended up perched monthly on the pew of punk as Yohannan and the many noted writers over the decades- Mykel Board, George Tabb, even ol’ Ben Weasel- sermonised about bands, places, records, shows and everything in between. I became enthralled and romanced by the music, the attitude and the idea that pissing people off is a righteous way to live.
I had to travel far to get my issues. Maximum Rocknroll was not easily obtainable in Indonesia in the 90s. We didn’t have decent book stores let alone alternative book stores, and if there was a punk subculture brewing within the military dictatorship, I didn’t find it. My dad did travel for work however, and Singapore was a regular destination: a city that did stock the zine. And it was during my regular pilgrimages that I would stock up on issues of punk zines – Maximum Rocknroll, Flipside, Punk Planet, anything I could get my hands on – and as many CDs as I could possibly afford and carry home.
Maybe for some, picking up the latest issue of their favorite punk rag wasn’t a big deal, but for me, it was.
Hell, he’s even more punk than me
These days, the banality of having Ramones t-shirts sold at teen clothing stores aside, it is difficult to escape the aesthetic of punk. However, the age-old question of what is punk and what is not is still being asked. I’ve never pursued the punk ‘look’ very hard. I only ever spiked my hair in a mohawk once in my life, and once, I was the only person at a Rancid show who was wearing regular pants. For me it has always been the music that mattered most. I loved discovering obscure bands, incredibly small labels run out of people’s garages, shows in basements and records released because people loved doing it. I hated pop music and the saccharine culture of the mainstream and I loved rebelling against it. I loved the DIY ethic and I loved the resourcefulness and drive of those who wanted to create something against the grain. Maximum Rocknroll had all of that.
The zine was of course, not without its own controversies. After the punk explosion of the mid 90s, Yohannan clamped down on the zine’s stringent rules on what they would and would not cover. Their policies were often deemed too narrow in the scope of punk, and elitist. Some of the genre’s most noted figures including Jello Biafra criticised the zine for its practices, and some of its own writers splintered off and formed alternative zines (Heartattack zine and Punk Planet) that were far more flexible in their coverage. Perhaps I was too young or too far away to fully understand the controversies back when I was 14/15 years old. Looking back, though, I understand where Yohannan was coming from, as I understand where those who disagreed with him came from too. At the time, though, I just wanted to read the zine, all of them, and yearned to find out about new music and an alternative to the mainstream lifestyle.
As the globe became more connected, I saw growth in the ideals of punk in the form of many young punk bands. Indonesia and Singapore, just like in many parts of the world, became home to more and more bands that found a home in the pages of MRR. Scene reports from all over the world sounded more like Gilman Street, and while some of that started because Dookie and Smash sold millions of copies, it was also because the words within MRR had profound effects on people like myself and countless others. Sure, a lot of the bands sounded like Green Day, but there were also a bunch that sounded like Crimpshrine, or Blatz. MRR was instrumental in educating a generation about the possibilities and different sounds of punk.
Love, live, maximum rock n roll
Now more than 20 years since I read my first issue of MRR, I can say that the DIY attitude underpins almost everything I do. At least I’d like to think so. Sure, I like nice things, I pay my bills and have a regular job. But I like thinking differently, and I like challenging people’s expectations. If punk rock is not an attitude, then you can keep your safety pins and leather jackets.
Thanks to MRR I started a band when I was 17. We were pretty shit, but we were loud and had a fucking blast. What’s more punk rock than that?
MRR also inspired me to start this zine in 2001. It was a way for me to express my opinions, write about bands and connect with other likeminded people.
In a statement released on January 13th, the magazine wrote a farewell note citing the reasons for their shift away from print, a promise to continue in digital form, and a reminder of why.
“The landscape of the punk underground has shifted over the years, as has the world of print media. Many of the names and faces behind Maximum Rocknroll have changed too. Yet with every such shift, MRR has continued to remind readers that punk rock isn’t any one person, one band, or even one fanzine. It is an idea, an ethos, a fuck you to the status quo, a belief that a different kind of world and a different kind of sound is ours for the making.”– Maximum Rocknroll, January 13, 2019.
It is an ethos that has been the backbone of the magazine for more than three decades. From the original radio show to the mag’s steadfast black and white simplicity, Maximum Rocknroll’s influence managed to circumnavigate the globe countless times over for a generation and more.
The legacy of Maximum Rocknroll can mean different things to different people. My story is one of many I’m sure.
Maximum Rocknroll influenced people all over the world to start bands, start zines, book shows and organize communities. Despite the shift from hard copy to online zine I know their influence will remain relevant in today’s digital world. It’s an outlook, a belief and a way of life that begins with an attitude.