I grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of a man who arguably loved jazz music more than he loved me.
So when I say that I grew up in San Francisco, what I really mean is that I spent my childhood in record shops, bookstores, and coffee shops turned concert venues. At Radio Valencia, I used to play geo-safari backstage with the daughter of Glenn Spearman, a brilliant saxophonist, and we’d escape the adult world of booze, jazz, and intellect together. At Bean Benders, a club in Berkeley, I made pastel drawings of lamps and gifted them to musicians who made music that I could fall asleep to, a favor for understanding that this little girl had a bedtime. I’d hand them my drawings, and then make my way to a giant carriage, the Cinderella horse-drawn kind that was inexplicably real and physically there. I’d lift up the velvet rope and sign that read DO NOT SIT IN THE CARRIAGE, and fall asleep inside.
So, the Berkeley and San Francisco that Aaron Cometbus describes in his twenties are the ones that I know from my childhood. In The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah, when Cometbus describes watching the fat, unrepentant owner of Rasputin and Blondie’s eating a slice, I can remember holding my Dad’s hand, ordering Pepperoni, and staring at
Ken’s bulge over his pants. He asked me ‘What are you looking at?’ And I swear to God, I thought that his skin was going to rip-off, revealing that he really was a wolf, and he’d eat me like Little Red
Cometbus captures what it was like to come of age in California, identify as a punk, and look wistfully at a past you never knew you had. And so, I looked forward to reading his follow up, The Spirit of St. Louis in the same way that you might open a cereal box as a kid, certain of the prize within.
The Spirit of St. Louis chronicles the end of an era. Punk is dead, and you can feel his devastation as his tribe dies or scatter and the music stops. And yet, he can’t move on. His friends are still the people who he squatted, played, and created fanzines with. He still thinks of plumbing as a luxury, hates yuppies/hipsters, and has the rebelliousness of a teenager with none of the energy to back it up. He’s at an impasse. As an old punk he doesn’t know whether to abandon everything that defines him or hold onto a philosophy that was never enough for him in the first place.
If you’ve ever been a part of a movement, sub-culture or collective and had your identity shatter, you should read The Spirit of St. Louis. Cometbus doesn’t put the pieces back together, but he lays them out to reveal why nothing fits.