City Paper is not for tourists
On Monday Punk Planet magazine announced that its latest issue would be its last, citing “bad distribution deals, disappearing advertisers, and a decreasing audience of subscribers.” It wasn’t surprising news—-when the owner of distributor Publishers Group West declared bankruptcy last December a lot of independent publishers took a huge hit—-but it was still sad to hear.
In the mid-’90s the biggest punk zine out there was Maximumrocknroll—-a finger-staining rag that was forever lecturing you about something or other when its prose wasn’t outright unreadable. Stepping into that arena, Punk Planet made the genre feel like something that wasn’t trapped in 1982—-its spiritual point of reference was the Ian MacKaye who started Fugazi, not the Ian MacKaye who started Minor Threat—-and it took a self-critical, follow-the-money attitude toward its own scene without being ridiculously doctrinaire about it.
That might be PP’s greatest legacy: it took punk so seriously that it was willing to apply real reportorial energy into it. In 1999, when I was working on a story about the Dead Kennedys suing each other, I quickly learned that PP had done some fine advance work on the story and had the (convoluted) facts of the case straight. In time, I got to know one of the zine’s editors in San Francisco; when he asked me to write a blurb for the first edition of its excellent collection of interviews, We Owe You Nothing, I was more than happy to pitch in. And I was thrilled when I was asked to contribute a story about a group of activists who changed the signs on San Francisco’s Bush Street to Puppet Street the night before Dubya’s first inauguration.
Still, I don’t recall so much as flipping through an issue of Punk Planet in the past five years. Maybe it started sucking, though I doubt that. Maybe the Web killed it: Thanks to blogs, you no longer have to go to a record store and find PP to read poorly written, wrongheaded reviews of CDs that five people care about. (The zine’s enthusiasm was infectious, though: Surely I wasn’t the only person who got suckered into buying a Snapcase album because of something PP wrote.) Maybe the generation that grew up with the zine got cynical and realized that doing stuff like changing street names in the dark of night is ultimately a toothless gesture. More likely, though, the means by which punk-loving, politically aware people interact with one another no longer involves a nicely designed, perfect-bound magazine. Whatever that replacement is, it has big shoes to fill.