On The Lower Frequenices: A Secret History of the City: By Erick Lyle, 276 pgs. By Keith

Aug 21, 2008

Erick Lyle dropped the moniker Iggy Scam in 2005. I remember reading his zine Scam maybe eight or nine years before that. He’s played in a gazillion SF punk bands over the years (Allergic To Bullshit, Miami, Onion Flavored Rings, Shotwell, The Horrible Odds), published Scam and Turd Filled Donut since, what, the early nineties? and has now joined the ranks of zinesters with book collections.
On the Lower Frequencies, as a collection of those publications, works incredibly well; but then, Scam worked like a motherfucker, too. So much of that is simply because Lyle has spent years documenting his life and surroundings—he’s been homeless, he’s squatted, been arrested, battled City Hall, been on General Assistance, lived in single-room occupancy hotels—the gift to the reader is that he’s documented all of these things so well. If there’s romanticism at work here, it’s been tempered to a knife blade with realism and ardent humility. In relentless adoration of San Francisco, all things punk rock, and a ferocious advocate for the homeless, it was a pleasure poring over this thing and seeing how well Lyle’s humor, rage, and flat-out goddamn exuberance have held up over the years and through the transition to book format.
Having read various issues of Scam at least a decade ago—the guy’s been doing this for a long time—I was already familiar with some of the material in here. While the writing itself has held up over time, much of the charm of Scam’s original layout (gone are the cute drawings of little guys playing generator shows, drinking 40s with x’ed out eyes, etc.—not to mention the fact that Lyle hand-wrote much of his stuff, and, to me, his handwriting is just as iconic as Cometbus’s ever will be) has been sacrificed for the sake of readability. Apart from the titles of each piece and a few photos scattered throughout the pages, this whole thing’s formatted and typeset just like, well, a regular book. I, frankly, miss the handwriting and the silly drawings, the reprinted flyers in the margins; again, I’d be bummed if Lyle’s voice wasn’t so welcoming, thoughtful and, at times, wonderfully disgusted and pissed off.
From the infamous Scam Starbucks coupon story to trying to get Turd Filled Donut off the ground and into commandeered newspaper boxes, to an interview with SF’s Mayor at the time, Willie Brown, where he suggests people on General Assistance move to a city where the cost of living isn’t so high, to the last bits of writing in this collection—which includes a downright heartbreaking homage to the life and memory of Matty Luv—Lyle’s style is firmly grounded in the intricacies and struggles of not only surviving the day, but doing it joyously, passionately.
The stuff’s punk. It’s also smart, well-written, and filled with, as corny as it sounds, a simple lust for life that goes to very core of the struggle of the poor, that flies directly in the face of a consumerist culture that tells us we have to buy shit to be happy, a culture that turns a blind eye to the homeless, distilling it down to, “I don’t care where they go, as long as they get out of my neighborhood.”
Inspirational, great reading all around. –Keith Rosson (Soft Skull Press, 2117 4th St., Suite D, Berkeley, CA 94710, softskull.com)