Aaron Cometbus: The Spirit Of St. Louis

You’ve probably heard me tell this story before, but it bears repeating: how I encountered my first issue of Cometbus. It was sometime in the winter of 1985-86, and I had been walking and riding buses around San Francisco distributing issues of Lookout magazine to the various stores and hangouts where they were welcomed or at least tolerated.

I had one last stop to make, at Bound Together, the anarchist bookshop over in the Haight, and rather than walk over Buena Vista Hill on what was turning out to be an unpleasantly cold and windy night, I hopped on the bus at 14th and Market, the one that goes straight up 14th and over the hill. Nowadays it’s the 37, but I keep thinking it was a different route number back then. Not that it matters in the slightest, but still…

The bus was nearly empty, so I took my time walking down the aisle, deciding which seat I wanted to sit in. The ride only took five or ten minutes, so it was kind of ridiculous making a big production of it, but that’s the way I was in those days. About two thirds of the way to the back of the bus, I saw a little xeroxed magazine lying on one of the seats, and immediately knew that that was the seat I had been looking for.

That was my introduction to Cometbus, and it was only a matter of weeks, if that, before I met its creator, also known as Cometbus, first name Aaron, at Violent Coercion/Youth of Today show at the New Method warehouse in Emeryville. I asked him how his magazine might have ended up on a bus seat in San Francisco and he told me, “Oh, I sometimes leave copies lying around in hopes that somebody interesting will find them.” This didn’t sound at all crazy to me, since I had been doing the same thing with Lookout.

By then Aaron had already been publishing Cometbus for something like five years (he was fond of pointing out that it predated Maximum Rocknroll; if my calculations are correct, it’s now only a year or two shy of marking its 30th year in print. In recent years, some issues have taken the form of short novels, and that is the case with the newest one, #52, “The Spirit Of St. Louis”.

Having read almost every issue Aaron has published, I can unhesitatingly say that this is one of the best. He returns to the subject matter he’s best known and loved for, the trial and travails of a bunch of marginal punks struggling to eke out an existence or an identity or at least a place to hang out and put on shows. While many of Aaron’s past efforts in this vein have come across as thinly veiled romans à clef (those of us who knew him could usually pick out who was supposed to be who within the first few pages), this newest one is more clearly fictional and – ironically – more realistic because of it. I’m pretty sure Aaron never spent enough time in St. Louis to have created the world portrayed here out of anything other than his vividly creative imagination. And he’ll probably call me tomorrow and say, “What, you didn’t know about my St. Louis years?” And I’ll have to say, no, Aaron, I really didn’t.

Enough of that, however; if you’re any kind of Cometbus fan, you’ll be wanting to read this straightaway, and if you’re not familiar with the Cometbus oeuvre, this would be an excellent place to start. You can order it through No Idea or any number of other distributors; if you’re insistent on doing it the old-fashioned way and don’t mind waiting a while, you can always write to the official Cometbus address, PO Box 4726, Berkeley CA 94704. Price? It says $3 on the cover, and I’d throw in at least another dollar for postage. It’s been a while since I’ve done mail order, so don’t quote me on these prices. But Cometbus #52: it’s a winner. Get it.

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