The Road to Everywhere

Aaron Cometbus's 20-year journey into the heart of underground America

Aaron Cometbus
Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus
Last Gasp

This is a love letter.

It goes like this: Once upon a time in the early Nineties, I did something ridiculously stupid and somehow got away with it. It's a long story, but the gist of it is that I rode the damn Greyhound bus around the country for six weeks using a fake "go anywhere" pass I'd forged at a copy shop in Minneapolis. As you would assume, it was a fairly miserable, soul-crushing experience overall, but at the time I was a fairly miserable human being in general, so it suited me fine at the time. Sort of.

Living hand-in-mouth: A cover of Aaron Cometbus's zine
Living hand-in-mouth: A cover of Aaron Cometbus's zine

I'd had enough by the time I hit California. I was broke and tired, had lost 20 pounds, and was dangerously close to losing my fool mind. It was time to stop riding the bus. San Francisco seemed as good a place as any to mop myself up. The one person I knew in the area was vacating his room for a couple of weeks, and I snapped at the opportunity. It was a punk house, smack in the belly of punk-rock Oakland. The folks who lived there were nice enough, but all I could do at the time was shut the door and not emerge for four days. Most of that time was spent wallowing in my own misery (make that "misery"), and when one of the house members knocked on the door, inviting me to go watch the Chinese New Year celebration in the city (and drink), I immediately declined. Two more hours of wallowing and I bolted out the door, hoping to catch up with them.

Chinatown was a madhouse: hordes of people, fireworks, screaming. There wasn't a chance in hell of me finding them. I felt like an absolute moron. I sat on the curb and cursed myself for turning down the one opportunity I'd had in the past two months to go HAVE FUN with NICE PEOPLE. Instead, I was by myself yet again, sad, lonely, and a million miles from home. I tried to enjoy the parade but couldn't. I started walking toward the train back to Oakland.

About a block later I looked up from the pavement and stopped dead in my tracks. There was a face speeding toward me that I knew. It was Aaron stinking Cometbus, a ubiquitous punk-scene presence I'd last seen 2,000 miles from here in a Stadium Village copy shop, where he was running off copies of his zine at 4:00 a.m. I sat there sputtering for two seconds--all the time it took for him and his friend (both of them wearing sneaky-assed grins) to get a hold of me. They did not pause or break stride in any way--they just grabbed my arms as they went by, dragging me along with them.

"We're going this way now."

And we did. We went that way. As always, with Aaron, it's pretty hopeless to try to avoid going along for the ride.

This is a love letter, not a book review. There are a good number of you reading this right now who know exactly who Aaron Cometbus is, and exactly what Cometbus is. To you I say: Hi, how are you? To those of you who have no earthly idea what I'm talking about, I say to you also: Hi, how are you; and furthermore: This is your lucky day.

Either way, both groups should rejoice, as Last Gasp of San Francisco has just released Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus, a ridiculous telephone-book-sized tome compiling selected moments from 40-odd issues and 20 years of the Cometbus zine. It is huge. It is thick (the pages aren't numbered, and there are enough of them that counting is out of the question); it is firmly packed; and it is dead cheap ($14.95!). The thing is just a treasure, any way you'd care to slice it. And it is my belief that you should go out and purchase one for yourself right now.

There. That's that.

Now, were this an actual book review by a real writer (as opposed to a jackass who bends guitar strings for a living) this would be the part where I tell you all the important things about Despite Everything: what the book is about, what it means, how it fits into the grand scheme of things, etc. The truth of the matter is, I don't think I could describe this book if I tried.

Frightening as it may be, sometimes the easiest way to come at things is to report the hype first, just to get it out of the way, and work backward from there. There is a quote on the back cover of Despite Everything that reads: "Cometbus is considered a classic in the subterranean world"--Time magazine. As I said, it's hype. But it's also the damn truth: Cometbus has been in a league of its own for quite a while now, and deservedly so. Many great zines have come and gone over the years, but the ones that have exhibited the intelligence, consistency, honesty, and pure writing ability of Cometbus can be counted on one and a half hands. And the ones that are still around in 2002 can be counted on a couple of fingers. Like any great zine--or, more to the point, any great body of writing--Cometbus has refined and honed itself to a degree where you can say that there's nothing else like it anywhere.

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