Monday, April 8, 2024

Lester Bangs - The Punk Rock Machine - National Screw - November 1976

How did this magazine come into my possession?

When we lived in New York, in our East Village apartment block... there was this informal tradition of people leaving stuff out by the mailboxes - old books, old records, old magazines. The aging bohemian / arty residents of the coop often had cool things they were offering to the commonweal -  Cahiers Du Cinema collections... a complete run of 1970s Artforum, left out in stages, to a fitful rhythm, over months and years... (I snatched and hoarded them all, have them still in a box in storage... never once looked at them). 

Occasionally, an actually intriguing and worth-keeping record in decent nick amongst the old Bread albums and Nana Mouskouri...  e.g something on Chatham Square, Philip Glass's indie label, I seem to recall. 

A hell of a lot of drek too... things no one would want... shabby used clothing... tea towels... unappealing crockery... defunct bits of outmoded audio technology .... half-finished tubes of ointment!

However the copy of National Screw was not left out by the mailbox area. The person who offloaded it clearly felt it was not for general view... there were after all children living in the building... 

What this resident did was to leave his old culture crap by the garbage chute on our floor

Now I had heard that someone in the building worked in the porn industry, or had once worked in it.. 

At any rate, boxes would appear, by the chute, containing old - and by today's standards, tame -  porn mags... some publications catering to specialist sexual tastes but fairly mild...  and, interestingly, some counter culture magazines too... including an issue of a late 1960s publication called Orpheus (a kind of digest of pieces in other Underground Press periodicals)  where every single copy had a bullet hole through it... They must have stacked the print-run in bunches and fired shots at them. A sales gimmick, or maybe a statement about the underground press and the persecution it faced? 

Anyway, among these dusty yellowed publications was a still bright, glossy copy of National Screw - the (shortlived - 1976-77) nationwide magazine version of Al Goldstein's NYC tabloid sex paper Screw... 

"First and best in the field it created" goes the legend for this "sex review".

The word "screw" in itself profoundly dates the publication, but amazingly it stills exists online, long after Goldstein's passing. 


Naturally the words "punk rock" on the cover caught my eye - and lo and behold, it turned out to be by Lester Bangs!

The history of rock writers earning a crust from skin mags is worthy of investigation... Mick Farren did some work in that field...  I believe Xgau contributed to Playboy...  I knew a Melody Maker writer who had a second channel of income from working for the woman behind The Sex Maniacs Diary and related publications. 

Well, Spin magazine was founded and chief-edited by the son of Penthouse man Bob Guccione.

Rock press straying into porn zone - from the NME Xmas edition 1977

The interface between the rock world and the porn world in the 1970s is a recurrent theme at Pete Stansfield's blog. Usually porn mags covering certain bands or scenes. 

Unexpected convergence of the world of Goldstein + Screw with the world of alternative rock - a  compilation, on Amphetamine Reptile of all places, as reviewed in Melody Maker in April 1996

This same mysterious neighbour on our floor also put out a whole bunch of VHS cassettes onto which he'd recorded both series of Rock Follies, from when PBS had first shown it in America, some years after the original airing in the UK. 

I watched them all avidly -  only to discover that the final episode of the second series was missing.  


  1. Stuff like this makes me suspect that the entirety of post-war culture was a kind of giant explosion of piffle.

    Feeling this more and more, as we move further away from it.

  2. Well, you zoom out far enough from any cultural epoch, it becomes nonsensical - that's just the nature of a bunch of people with simultaneously interrelated and wildly divergent tastes and viewpoints being around at the same time.

    If the postwar era is exceptional in that sense, it's just because there was so much of it, compared to the modern era where I think a lot of people think and communicate near-exclusively in memes and shitposts (John Ganz had a brief comment about Musk this weekend that connected this with the techno-fascist bleeding edge: )

    1. Or Lyta Gold, just now on Bluesky: 'wild how much of written culture these days is geared toward people who live on their phones and isn’t interested in or even aware of the existence of the very or semi-offline / feels like more and more novels, nonfiction books, essays, reviews are score-settling with 1-5 media people whom the vast majority of human beings living in the same neighborhoods couldn’t name'

    2. I suppose the digital nature of contemporary culture drastically reduces its half-life, whereas the semi-permanent nature of post-war media allows it linger on enough to increasingly baffle us.

      In fact, I think the intensity and vehemence of digital culture is a corollary of its ephemeral existence. Which means that current piffle won't last long enough to confuse future generations.

  3. For me counter culture and porn mags have always been related since the best of them, all the new stuff, arrived at Mexico City s Tower Records. And BTW the most celebrated novel of the early 2000´s here, think it was published in 99 or something like that, is Diablo Guardian. The protagonist, a young mexican woman who goes to New York is pennyless and she frames her fight for survival as an effort not to end up in the classified ads in Screw. Altough clearly its not the 70's but the 90´s

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. And Playboy here was considered high culture, the editors had "intelectual" status, and musicians and famous characters of all kind got interviewed for it