bummed.

30 June 2007, 2:12 pm

cover of Punk Planet's final issue

I’ve subscribed for the past few years (my wunnerful girlfriend actually helped me make the leap from newsstand customer to subscriber) and I’ve noticed over the past year or so that it’s a real conversation starter if I get a cup of coffee or something after I get the new issue out of my mailbox. Unfortunately the conversations have always been pretty much followed this form:

Stranger: Wow, cool, Punk Planet! I didn’t know that was still coming out!
Me: Yeah, it’s great, you can subscribe at punkplanet.com, it’s so easy, and I think you can still pick it up at Newbury Comics or wherever.

It’s clearly not good when your core audience doesn’t know you exist. So this is maybe not a total shock. But it’s still a blow.

I think my first issue was #49, so I was around for somewhat less than half the run. I remember a jerky adolescent guest star on the always-self-consciously-hip Gilmore Girls wearing a Punk Planet T-shirt before I was reading the mag regularly, but I think I’d actually bought the book We Owe You Nothing: The Collected Punk Planet Interviews before that.

Whatever. When I picked up that first copy, it was love at first ink smudge. Punk Planet was the missing link between Harpers and Ms. on the one hand and Maximum Rock’n'Roll on the other.
Although it was based in Chicago, Punk Planet’s vision of punk always felt very “DC” to me: much more about an anti-authoritarian and D.I.Y. stance than any specific stylistic attributes of music (or fashion).

Over the handful of years we spent together, Punk Planet hipped me to a lot of kick-ass records, but it also published some of the most unflinching journalism I’ve read in that time. I will always wish some of their reportage on Iraq had found a wider audience; it’s hard not to imagine that it could have changed the course of recent history.

*

The last nails in Punk Planet’s coffin were pounded by the bankruptcy of its distributor, the Independent Press Association, which has silenced other voices and still threatens more. One of Punk Planet’s final articles turns an eye towards the organization that buried it.

I’ve always found the role of the distributor suspect in the book, magazine, and music worlds. It seems like an anachronism. Just-in-time fulfillment is feasible these days, so why persist the old system of retailers over-ordering and then returning unsold stock? It plays havoc with the publishers’ cash flow, and the distributor squats in the middle, leeching profit from the exchange, without contributing anything of lasting tangible value.

I was prepared for an article that really excoriated the IPA, and yet the picture that emerges is one of mismanagement and naiveté rather than greed and malice. Even the man brought in from the big-budget magazine world to straighten out the IPA’s finances gets a fair shake; the article suggests that by the time he came aboard, the downward turn in the IPA’s finances might already have been irreversible.

It’s one final, shining, example of why Punk Planet will be so badly missed. Just were you’re certain that the othodoxy predetermines the content, they zag away from expectations, taking a last clear, hard look, and calling it as they see it.

5 comments on “bummed.”

  1. 2fs

    I suspect another factor is the recent postal-rate increase schedule, shepherded by Time Warner and the like - which lets big-budget items like Time and Newsweek by with small rate increases, while small-circulation periodicals (such as, I’m presuming, Punk Planet) have to deal with enormous increases (up to 30 percent). Info here.

  2. Paula

    Sorry, this is almost completely off-topic, but you just articulated something about Gilmore Girls that I’ve been feeling for years, but never knew how to say, whenever anyone expresses suprise that I don’t watch or like the show. I usually just say “I hate that glib banter,” but it’s really more about the “self-consciously hip” factor, which rubs me the wrong way. It knows how cool it is or wants to be, and it seems inorganic somehow. Like those old advertisements for Gen X cola.

    That’s not to say that you were using the descriptor disparagingly, but that is nevertheless a helpful insight.

  3. 2fs

    Eh…but let’s say that you’re a writer for a show who happens to be into a bunch of cool bands (in other words, let’s just say *you’re* a writer for a show). You have a character who’s basically a music nerd. Do you pretend not to have that knowledge of bands such a character would be in? Do you pretend that someone like that wouldn’t, in many cases, sorta parade her knowledge - or at least, prattle on about with her friend (who’s into a lot of the same music)? The problem I have with this particular complaint (not exclusively yours) is that when shows attempt to deal with indie rock, they’re condemned no matter what. If they’re “too” hip, they get accused of name-dropping; if they’re not, they get accused of being clueless about what actual, hip teenagers/early twenties are listening to.

    Thing is, what you read as “cool” and “self-conscious” I read the same way…but as a character trait: the *character* is self-consciously cool…because also self-conscious, in the way many people like that would be. (For fans: I’m talking primarily about Lane Kim, but Rory to a lesser extent.) As for the “glib banter”: the show never pretended to be realist about that - it’s clearly a takeoff/homage to ’30s screwball comedies. That Amy Sherman-Palladino & Daniel Palladino named their production company Dorothy Parker Drank Here tells you something…

    Plus which, under all the razzle-dazzle, you had actual, human characters who developed in more or less realistic ways (despite the dialogue) over the run of the show. Same’s true of the relationships among those characters.

    Okay, I’ll stop fanboying now!

  4. Flasshe

    Everything 2fs said. If you have a character that’s supposed to be hip to the scene, what’s wrong with them actually name dropping hip bands (or mags or websites) that a hip character like that would be into? I suppose they should be talking about Britney Spears or Fleetwood Mac or Sha Na Na? It just seems like a really odd complaint to me. I guess if you think that the creators/writers are just looking up random names of supposedly hip bands on the Internet instead of truly being into those bands themselves, then that might be a problem. But I don’t think that’s what was happening on that show. And even if it was, at least they were making an effort. Where else on network TV (aside from talk shows) could you hear Twin Cinema (in the background of a party scene), and what’s wrong with that?

  5. summervillain

    Paula, I was indeed “using the descriptor [somewhat] disparagingly.” I guess the question is the degree to which one thinks that indie-rock references rise naturally from the characters, versus the degree to which they’re inserted as an attempt to appeal to a given market demographic.

    Sometimes I also feel that pop culture references are a lazy stand-in for actual character development (in much the same way I think an over-reliance on sounds-like comparisons is a symptom of lazy music reviews).

    When I was watching Gilmore Girls, I thought it was sometimes on all side of those divides. (Obviously, that’s an extremely subjective judgment on my part.)

    The Punk Planet shirt, at the time, seemed to me more like a cheap signifier (he wears something that says “Punk” on it so the audience knows he’s rebeillious) and less like a natural choice for the character.

    (Now I’m going to go play the new CD from “Dude, Did That Girl Just Tell You She Likes Cloth?” IbillyIbillyPhonic catalog # ZKD-349182.)

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