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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Jul 21 1999
Punks at War (Sort Of) Jeff Bale wants to be perfectly clear about the reasons for the existence of his punk fanzine Hit List. Yes, he helped found the stalwart San Francisco monthly punk bible MaximumRocknRoll well-nigh 20 years ago, and yes he left that zine shortly after founder Tim Yohannan died in April of 1998. And yes, he was frustrated with MRR's rigid stance regarding what is (and isn't) punk. But he also wants to get all that out of his system.

"I bent over backwards to try to prevent our magazine from coming off as some sort of anti-MRR vehicle," says Bale, who started Hit List six months ago out of Berkeley with Mel Cheplowitz and Brett Mathews, both MRR alums. Inevitably Bale had to explain the zine's reason for being in its first issue, citing disillusionment with MRR's post-Yohannan editorial direction, among other concerns about punk rock coverage in general. He would've liked that to be the end of it, and even told the stable of writers and columnists he helped assemble for Hit List -- an old-school who's who that includes The Big Takeover editor Jack Rabid, Feederz frontman Frank Discussion, and East Bay Ray -- that he'd like the anti-MRR sentiments toned down, or not expressed at all. "I don't believe in censorship," he says, but adds, "I don't want mudslinging."

Problem is, MRR went ahead and slung mud. The April issue of the zine, which came out shortly after the first issue of Hit List hit the stands, included a column attacking Cheplowitz -- one that outraged him so intensely that he pondered filing a libel lawsuit. Cheplowitz still gets upset just thinking about it. "Because of garbage like that nobody takes MRR seriously anymore," Cheplowitz says. "They inherited something, ran it into the ground, and their staff is such a bunch of wimpy conformists that no one is ever held accountable for their actions. It was a great community resource for a long time -- now it's more like a hate group."

For Cheplowitz, creating his own zine is the best revenge. Initially, he didn't want to return to the world of punk review and reportage, but wound up starting Shredding Paper anyhow out of his home in San Rafael. Now on its third issue, Shredding Paper has a more open-minded stance about the music it covers, including nice words about indie pop and even -- gasp! -- good records that occasionally come out on major labels. The back cover of the zine's second issue took a shot at his former employer with a fake cover of a zine called "Maximumcrocknroll," with a subhead that proclaimed "Pretending it's 1978 since 1987" and flagging features like "The Complete History of Punk Rock (as Written by a 12 Year Old)." As the coup the grace, a picture of a moist towelette is superimposed on the faux cover, referring to the finger-blackening effect that paging through MRR has.

"Hit List and Shredding Paper are doing what should have been done a long time ago," says Joel Schalit, who works out of San Francisco as an assistant editor for Chicago's Punk Planet, acknowledged as one of the first major punk fanzines to challenge the MRR approach and ideology. "MRR was all things to all people until about five years ago -- people didn't feel the need to do anything on their own. The more journals we have, the more possibilities we have for offering opinions. It increases the democracy that's needed to exist in the scene for so long."

Tip Top, Take 2 Nadine's Wild Weekend, the Northern California music showcase that starts its second annual three-day festival on Aug. 5 (and of which SF Weekly is a co-sponsor), had pulled in a variety of San Francisco venues for its performances. One of them was the Mission's intimate Tip Top Inn. But not any longer.

As previously reported in Riff Raff, the Tip Top had been working to start operating again as a regular music club after being beset with critical e-mails and general ill will within the musical community. Tracy Arnbrister had come in to assist with booking at the club, bringing in PA equipment from her own rental firm and generally sprucing the place up. But about two weeks ago, Arnbrister left her job at the Tip Top, citing difficulties with management. She took the PA equipment with her.

Because Arnbrister was the point person for using the Tip Top as a Nadine's Wild Weekend venue, her departure forced organizers to rearrange their plans. "When I received that info [that Arnbrister had left]," says Northern California BMI liaison and Wild Weekend executive producer Nadine Condon, "I decided that the situation was too unstable for us to include this venue in the weekend. No bands had been confirmed, the schedule was still in flux, and we just fit what bands we thought we may put there in other slots in other venues over the weekend."

-- Mark Athitakis

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

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Mark Athitakis


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