Time to Punk Beyonce

By Mark Judge

Would someone please stand athwart the empty hype machine that is Beyonce and yell, Stop!?

The entertainment media is in dire need of a new version of Punk magazine. Punk was an underground magazine that ran for 16 issues in the mid 1970s. It was created by cartoonist John Holmstrom, writer "Legs" McNeil, and publisher Ged Dunn. It Books, a division of HarperCollins, recently published a big and beautiful retrospective, Punk: The Best of Punk Magazine. Immersing yourself in the street art, slapstick comics, and sheer sense of fun of the reproduced back issues, you become increasingly sickened by the over-the-top deification of hype cyclones like Beyonce.

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Granted, it's not really Beyonce's fault that after her soulless and overblown Superbowl performance people actually tweeted that she was so magnificent that she may not even be human. Furthermore, I'm no fan of some of what punk brought into popular culture -- namely, a blanket of irony and sarcasm so thick that it became suspect to lose yourself in the simple joy of a simple pop song. (Johnny Rotten was interviewed in Punk, and could not name a single thing he liked.)

Nevertheless, what Punk the magazine, and punk the movement, taught rock and roll fans is something crucial: the stars aren't gods. While total abandonment to musical transcendence is natural and beautiful, punk said: don't be afraid to take them down a notch, even if you're a fan. The first issue of Punk came out in January 1976, and featured a Lou Reed cover story. Towards the end of the interview this exchange takes place:

Punk: Why don't you just give up on "Lou Reed" and do something.

Reed: There wasn't anything else to do. I don't give up. I don't give up on things. It's just that, you know, it wasn't very interesting anymore.

Punk: Are you bored now? Or are you excited by the new album?

Reed: It's all over. I'm already bored with it. I mean I've already forgotten it, I'm interested in the one after it.

Punk: Were you ever not bored?

Reed: Um...no.

Now just sit back for a moment and consider the fallout if one of today's "reporters" showed that kind of insolence to Beyonce, or her husband Jay-Z, or Katy Perry or Justin Timberlake. The interview would be ended abruptly and the celebrity ushered out the door as Twitter exploded over the "controversial" confrontation.

I'm not talking about hating a celebrity, which you can find any day in the comments section of any number of internet pages. I'm talking about a gutsy face-to-face jab, not an anonymous cold cock from the safety of cyberspace.

The interviews that Punk conducted with the Ramones, Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols show obvious appreciation of the artists, but there is an ennobling tone of equality, of the writers and readers of Punk being peers and equals to the subjects. Punk was exactly what co-founder John Holmstrom said he wanted the magazine to be: a mix of Rolling Stone and Mad magazines, with a dash of National Lampoon tossed in.

A final word should be said about the stellar job It Books has done with this compilation. Punk was published in the 1970s, obviously before the digital revolution. Interview were transcribed by hand, photo collages were cut and paste, and the art was big and colorful. Punk: The Best of Punk Magazine is a heavy book printed on heavy stock, which is perhaps ironic considering the ethos that guided the original magazine.

Yet compared to the coo-cooing and ass-kissing of celebrities by today's media, not to mention the passive populace -- Beyonce is the Queen of the Universe! -- Punk seems more critical than ever.

Mark Judge is a columnist for RealClearBooks and author, most recently, of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock 'n' Roll.

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