If you’re reading book reviews in Razorcake, I feel like I can make two assumptions about you: one, you are familiar with the concept of punkhouses and, two, you know who Aaron Cometbus is. If I’m wrong (and it’s totally fine if I am), a punkhouse is that rundown house where a group of punks all live, usually with a bit of a roommate revolving door, that hosts various amounts of drunken hedonism, community activism, or some combination of both depending on the group of folks involved. And Cometbus is one of the few genuine legends in underground punk writing, having published, among many other things, his incredible zine Cometbus for the better part of the last four decades. The co-editor, Scott Satterwhite, was a prominent Pensacola punk and longtime resident of the house discussed in this book, and currently teaches literature at the University of West Florida.
Oral histories have become an incredibly popular way of documenting scenes, but what sets this particular one apart is that, instead of giving us only interviews with recognizable names, it highlights the more interesting (though nondescript) people who actually lived at 309, a long-lived punkhouse in Pensacola, Fla. that existed from punk’s resurgence in the beginning of the ’90s through the first decade of the ’00s. The background to these interviews being compiled is a push from Satterwhite and some other scene vets to turn the fabled 309 into a museum honoring its history and the (debatable) impact it had on the community.
Whether or not the participants think this is an idea worth pursuing tends to color how interesting their interviews are to the layperson who might not have heard about this house, or ever been to northern Florida before. Many of them speak with an ironic detachment about not just this idea, but also the fact that this would be fodder for a book at all. Some others, such as Cometbus and Satterwhite themselves, or Terry Johnson and “Rymodee” from the band This Bike Is A Pipebomb, really delve into anecdotes in a way that beautifully colors in the feeling of DIY culture at a time when punkhouses felt more like communes that could change the world than just collections of miscreants trying to find themselves.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a lot, despite occasional monotony in the interview questioning. But I confess I’m not sure I would’ve reveled in it as much without the elegiac nostalgia of my own youth constantly brimming up. I read and reminisced of being at exactly this type of place at exactly this time and going to shows, befriending other weirdos, falling in and out of love, and planning the greatest schemes this world has ever seen. I hope this unique and beautiful aspect of punk culture gets written about more thoroughly in the future, and I’m happy Cometbus and Satterwhite have laid down the gauntlet for, hopefully, more to follow. –Justin Bookworm (University Press of Florida, 2046 NE Waldo Rd. Suite 2100, Gainesville, FL 32609, upress.ufl.edu)