Happy Family Interviews


John Holmstrom: December 2004

 

 

Issue #1

January 1976

 

 

 

Issue #3

 

 

 

 

Issue #15

 

 

 

Issue #16

 

 

 

Issue #17

Final Issue

 

 

 

 

 

Punk Book

 

 

John Holmstrom has always been a prominent figure to us whenever we trace the roots of punk rock and punk in general. Many roads lead to PUNK MAGAZINE, which JH created in late 1975 and published in 1976. To us at ramonesmania.com, it remains the bible of punk (old testament).

John Holmstrom was also the artist chosen for the back cover of the album Rocket to Russia, the pinhead on the rocket, and the front cover of Road to Ruin, one of the most reproduced images of the Ramones ever.

We asked John Holmstrom a few questions...

Ramonesmania: Starting PUNK MAGAZINE...why would you even dare in those days, knowing Seventeen Magazine and those other cheeze magazines dominated the day for kids. What were you thinking?

JH: Actually there were a lot more cool magazines around back in the 1960s and '70s. The underground newspapers and comics books had just disappeared a few years before, CREEM magazine and National Lampoon were going strong, amazing comics stuff was being published in France, and the hottest, top-selling magazine was Hustler--when they were at their most outrageous.

Ramonesmania: How did the Rocket To Russia art by you come to be in terms of the relationship w/the band, and the idea...during a real actual cold-war no less?

JH: Things were fine between Johnny and Joey back then, as far as I could tell... Oh, wait--you mean the Cold War between the US and the USSR!!!

The whole Rocket to Russia thing came about when Johnny asked me to come up with some ideas for the inner sleeve. I did it on spec. We set up a photo shoot with Roberta for "Teenage Lobotomy" at Joey's loft based on an idea he had. He wanted a dinner setting with some raw brains on a plate. Turns out it sounded like a better idea than it looked in black and white... And I asked Bobby London to do some sketches and I did a bunch.

I showed Johnny a layout with all these different, multimedia images for the songs and he said, "We want you do do all of the songs as drawings." I was flabbergasted. Then he said, "Can you finish them in three days?"

I'm a slow illustrator--which is why I found it impossible to make a good living at it--but said "Sure, no problem."

Somehow I got the inside sleeve done. Johnny and the rest of the band liked them, and then he asked me to draw the back cover. He described the concept--a pinhead riding a rocket with the cartoon world map. He even described many of the details he wanted to see on the map, like the capitol building in Washington D.C. and the Empire State Building in NYC. Again, they needed it like, the next day.

The artwork now hangs in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.

Ramonesmania: Which issue of PUNK MAGAZINE was your all-time favorite and why?

JH: My favorite issue is Punk number 15: Mutant Monster Beach Party. It took us a year to write it, and about six months to shoot it. Then it took about three months to letter and lay out. It was a lot of work.

For anyone who doesn't know, this was the surf-movie/photo comic that starred Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol and Peter Wolf, and co-starred half of the New York City scene. For instance, we got John Cale to appear in a scene when we ran into him at a bar called the Pirate's Cove where he was drinking. Edie "The Egg Lady" Massey from John Waters' movies agreed to appear in it after Legs and I appeared as Special Guests at the First Annual World Sleaze Convention, where she was the Guest of Honor. She was so inspired that she started her own punk rock band. Lester Bangs, Bob Gruen, Tish and Snooky, Mary Harron, Scott and Stu-Boy from the Dictators, and so many others appeared in it.

Peter Wolf was the best, though. He bugged me for months to be in a photo comic (which we like to call "fumetti" after the Italian word--Fellini got his start directing them). When he showed up he really got into the part. He was one of the best actors we ever had.

Ramonesmania: What happened to you after PUNK MAGAZINE folded? In the 80'S

JH: Misery, pain and more misery... I freelanced, published some fanzines (Comical Funnies and Stop!), and tried to find a way to bring Punk magazine back. I tried a book, I tried a movie... Nothing worked. The 1980s were so horrible.

Ramonesmania: You were at High Times Magazine in the 80's. Did you get incredible weed or what? Damn - PUNK then HIGH TIMES MAGAZINE!!!!

JH: Actually we began working there in 1976. The founder was a big fan of Punk and a good friend. But, again... The 1980s... Uggghhh. I can't talk about it anymore. Can't we talk about something that's more fun?

Ramonesmania: Last one on this...How did the High Times Magazine gig come about for you? That seems like the coolest segway possible.

JH: Back in the mid-to-late 1980s, the editor wanted to make it cool, and had all these ideas for a garage rock revival that would be spear-headed by High Times. it seemed like a natural.

There were a few clubs featuring garage rock like the Lismar Lounge and The Mind's Eye, garage bands like The Chesterfield Kings, the Lyres, The Treaks and the Fuzztones were getting a lot of attention, there was a lot of excitement. Then it all kind of fell apart.

Ramonesmania: What did you do after High Times ended for you, in the early-to-mid 90's right?

JH: No, I was there until 2000. Then I tried to republish Punk magazine.

Ramonesmania: Is PUNK today, as a kind of pop-culture now, a sellout or still alive and well.

JH: All of the above.

Ramonesmania: Punk-Light? Evolved or ass-backwards?

JH: What is now called "punk-pop" or "pop-punk" is basically an evolution of what we used to call "power pop." There were a few power pop bands at CBGBs in the old days: The Marbles, Milk 'N' Cookies, The Poppees... Even the Ramones were considered power pop by some people. Their sound was definitely based on pop and they even played ballads, unlike most punk bands today.

I would be disheartened if all you had out there was bad pop-punk but in fact, most great punk rock bands ware never recognized. Think about it. The Stooges were considered a joke in the 1970s, it's a minor miracle they play to arena crowds now. The Velvets never sold records. The New York Dolls bombed. The Ramones never enjoyed mass appeal. The Misfits never made it big. D-generation were supposed to be big, they never got past the club stage. I could name dozens more but you get the idea.

On the other hand, how many lame bands can I name that made it big and sold millions of records? That's easy, right?

"Popular" doesn't mean "good." In fact it's almost always the opposite. Most people have atrocious taste in music.

Ramonesmania: The internet meets punk; and I mean punk rock music/bands and punk culture in general. What do think about that as far as like, has it been good? Where can it be better on the net for punk rockers.Front cover art by John Holmstrom

JH: Punk rock, since it's a small phenomenon that doesn't depend on shopping malls and MTV to sell CDs, will probably benefit more from the internet than some other forms of music. I like the fact I can learn a lot about a new band that someone tells me about by visiting their Website.

Since the Web is always evolving, it's difficult to say where it can get better. Of course, what would be better for everyone is a system where artists and musicians can make money from their work! But I am not sure if that can ever happen.

Ramonesmania: We must ask ya' John, what do think about the way the Ramones came through it all, through punk, through the times that evolved around them, and finally the accolades that came to them post-tragedies.

JH: I think it's great, of course? I was one of the first big fans of the band. I went to see them at CBGB's when there was nobody bothering to sit in the tables near the stage--when we interviewed them for Punk, we were all alone at the first table stage center. Nobody else was near us. So of course it's been exciting to watch the band evolve through all of its changes, and it's been gratifying that at the end of their careers they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that they're recognized as one of the greatest bands of all time.

Ramonesmania: Well, the big question for us, what's up with PUNK MAGAZINE today and am I going to be able to renew my original subscription finally after 25 years?

JH: We're hoping to start selling subscriptions in a few months, and to have the first new issue out before the summer. Lots of exciting things have been happening, it all seems to be coming together after all these years and all the struggles.

Ramonesmania: Great John. We look forward to it!


 

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