A Salute to Tim Yohannon

Tim was such a control freak, he even planned his own death. No memorial service, he said. No tributes. Not even a mention in his own magazine, Maximum Rock-N-Roll.

Jo said it to his face. “You can’t tell us what to do about it,” she said. “You’ll be dead.” But Tim just laughed.

Now we laugh too, talking about the Tim Yohannon statue we should build, part in tribute and part in spite. At as many tributes and memorials as possible, we get sappy and sentimental. He would have hated all the nostalgia and reverence. Why mourn the past when there’s work to do? Because, Tim, it helps us see where to go from here. For someone who made so many enemies, he sure had a lot of friends. I wonder who will miss him more.

Those who respected Tim for his stubbornness, his morality, his demands for responsibility and accountability; or those who hated him for it, and used his fanaticism as a defense for their own lack of character and hard work.

Of course it wasn’t that simple, because Tim was a pain in the ass to deal with, and often wrong. But he carried on, and that’s what really matters to me. Through personal attacks, physical threats, and years and years of hard work, he carried on without bitterness or a crippling sense of nostalgia. Working his day job of loading crates at the Lawrence hall of Science, spending all his free time working on the Maximum Rock-N-Roll radio show and MRR magazine, then turning all profits back into the community.

These profits and Tim’s knack for organization launched the Gilman Street Project club, Blacklist Mailorder, and the Epicenter record store and community center. In short, his hard work provided the radio show we could all listen to while doing the dishes, the magazine we could be bored by, the club we could stand outside, the place to mailorder our shitty fanzines, the record label to put out our shitty local bands, and the record store where we could play free pool and use the bathroom. Even taken at its lowest level, and taken for granted, it was the scenery and soundtrack for our community and the framework for keeping that community alive and self- sufficient. It’s easy to be critical of institutions, including Tim Yohannon, who was himself sort of an institution. But who has the passion and patience to create and uphold those institutions for everyone else to be critical of, take for granted, to measure themselves against?

I remember one show at Gilman, a young cute boy up at the microphone giving an impassioned speech against Tim and Maximum Rock-N-Roll. At the end of the speech a young beautiful girl came up and gave the boy a rose. The crowd cheered, the boy and girl congratulated themselves, and in a house across the bay Tim Yohannon continued typing and typing and typing. Where had the boy and girl been years earlier when Tim was breaking up fights at shows, confronting the skinheads, doing more than anyone to further the political agenda of punk? Where were they two years later? Naturally, they had moved on with their lives. The boy quit doing his fanzine and moved to Santa Cruz, the girl grew out her hair and got a job as secretary for a slumlord. They still stopped by Gilman occasionally, but they had their own lives to think about now. Meanwhile, Tim kept on typing and typing, and that year donated the MRR profits to fifty fanzines and small newspapers, including Slingshot. What the moral of the story is, I don’t know, except that life is cruel, Tim deserved the rose, and being right once is not as admirable as being wrong ten times and right ninety.

For someone so serious and hardworking, he sure laughed a lot. He had a way of laughing not just at your jokes, but also your troubles and criticisms and almost everything. Laughing with you, not at you, even though he started laughing first. I don’t know how he did that, but it was a good trick. It got you laughing at your troubles, and life itself, and at Tim for having such a weird, annoying laugh. It was contagious and really comforting.

It’s to sappy to say that when they made Tim they broke the mold, but also funny, because if they hadn’t, two or three Tim Yohannons would be running around working everyone to the bone and laughing that annoying laugh, and we would have lost our fucking minds. But though there’s no more mold and no more Tim, you can still see his imprint on a lot of lives.