By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Aaron Cometbus gets to punk’s roots in less self-conscious fashion. A veteran of various Bay Area punk bands (including Pinhead Gunpowder, with Billie Joe of Green Day), Cometbus has been publishing his zine under various guises since 1983, when he was 13 years old.
The size of a piece of letter paper folded in half, most issues of Cometbus are meticulously scripted in the author’s own hand. Almost always a solid tome of text wrapped in a black-and-white cover showcasing either a busy line drawing or taffy-pulled Xerox art, the zine’s format alone presents Cometbusas both an authoritative source and a do-it-yourself fringe statement.
Originally tracing the bands coming out of the lively East Bay punk scene, Cometbus is now filled with tales of punk rock communities, either diaristic jottings or anthropological explorations. Some issues contain accounts drawn from the author’s gypsy lifestyle as he crisscrosses America and the world. And, increasingly, the zine is devoted to Cometbus’ short stories — dry, cleanly written accounts of anarchistic group houses or the lives that flit through a small-town punk scene. The context alone, captured in Cometbus’ clear, nonjudgmental gaze, makes each issue burst with funny and absurd detail.
The newest issue’s 84 pages include 33 brief interviews with the workers of the Dead End: A Collective Café, a place that contends with crackheads smoking up in the bathrooms, co-owners with heroin habits, and Rex, a fill-in employee who gave up his membership in the collective after he began to fantasize about how to “kill everyone in the café.” (“Mines,” Rex says, “Little Tiny Mines. I wanted to put them under the floor tiles in the dining room.”)
With only words at his disposal, Cometbus is far more successful than Childish at offering an uncontrived and appealing picture of contemporary punk. Punk usually dies when examined in such detail. But punk needs light to provide a beacon, to make its message available to a next generation of punks, to help them through rejection and hardship. Cometbus’ world accepts all comers, while Childish, with his silly clothes and his manifestoes, spends much of his time scaring people away.
I’m coming to believe that punk has seen too many through the door, that maybe it can’t help us anymore, that it may be as moribund as the rock & roll sound to which it’s been tied. But then I read the words of one of Cometbus’ interviewees:
We just take care of each other, and make sure that everybody always has a home, food, whatever they need. Cigarettes. Or just a feeling of safety, a feeling of well-being. It’s like the inner-city Waltons on drugs.
It might not make a sound anymore, but punk lives.
Issues ofCometbus are available for $2.50, cash only, from BBT, P.O. Box 4279, Berkeley, CA 94704.THEE HEADCOATS | Elementary Headcoats: Thee Singles 1990–1999 | (Damaged Goods) COMETBUS | Written and edited by Aaron Cometbus