Perspectives on the North American Punk House edited by Bryan May.
In the introduction, Bryan describes his realization that he lived in a Punk House, writing out a scenario most Punk House dwellers will quickly identify with. This includes the first of a number of references to Cometbus leaving me wondering why I’ve never pulled a copy off a shelf to even just look at all these years. I feel like this is a good sign, the perpouse of media. Not just a way for stories to get out there, but inspiration to keep digging.
Bryan’s realization was six years ago, and an e-mail interview with him produced an impressive list of Punk Houses he has lived in from 2008-13: in reverse order, Scowling House and the Glitter Dome in Portland, OR, Storey House in Santa Cruz, the Jerk Hut in Philly, Chavez Coop in Santa Cruz, Womansion and the Catrick Swayze Memorial Coliseum in Oakland. In the ‘zine he writes, “this is how we know how to live.” He goes on to keep describing various aspects of Punk House living.
I myself had a similar realization while visiting the Barnyard, a Punk House that had existed for about two years in Tucson, AZ. I’ve been able to experiment with a number of different forms of collective living over the years, from a 500 person strong Christian commune where I stopped believing in God in Uptown, Chi to a tiny farm with just two or so other people that called itself a community in southern Iowa, with many stops in between six or so to 299 other people.
But the Vegan Straight Edge Punk House, the Barnyard, and the Halfway House, all former or current Punk Houses in Tucson, have been the best experiences for me in living in community for a plurality of reasons, an experiment that started in February 2003 and has been my life since then.
Bryan mentions Punk Houses in books and movies where I’m glad to read I’m not the only one who found Suburbia troubling. He mentions a friend’s video where Punk Houses are simply described as “a house where punks live.” but disagrees and puts forward the idea that this ‘zine can help explore how Punk Houses are a little more complicated than that. This ‘zine is exactly the kind of thing I was hopping to get together while staying at the Barnyard about a year ago when I wrote a call for submissions for a Punk House Writing Project called Punk House Economics, so I was really stoked when I first read about this ‘zine, and I was not disappointed.
On page two there’s a cute Hobo House drawing by Danielle Arden Omalley, of a house with some human features and wings carrying a bindle with the quote, “OH MY DARLIN’ DEAR, YA KNOW YA NEVER KNOW WHERE YER TRYIN’ TO GO TIL YOU START GOIN'”.
Next is an untitled comic by Bela Messex which irked me more than a bit for a few reasons. It’s drawn from the perspective of someone who can picture themselves living a totally conventional life in 10 or 20 years. I’m sure many Punk House dwellers, at least in their heart of hearts probably do look forward to an unfulfilling life in the suburbs, but to me that’s just crap.
I’m 33 years old now, and I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of kids blow through being punk on their way to something else, including yuppie scumdom. I’ve actually never been a punk, just a Fellow Traveler who has dug a lot of punk bands and certain aspects of the various life styles associated with some of these bands.
Even though I can see the truth in this comic, it’s so far removed from my reality that I greatly dislike seeing it reinforce the stereotype of punx and hardcore kids (which I’m still loudly and proudly since thirtyteen is the new twenteen if you don’t sell out!) which so many people hold in the U$, namely, “Oh it’s just a phase.” I literally owe my life to hardcore, punk and a handful of real metal bands. I would have never made it through my racist as hell high school with out great music and killer shows. And since then? Nothing makes a town for me like a good punk and hardcore scene, and the mutual aid that comes along with that. There are countless things I’ve been able to do that have nothing to do with music because of the network that grassroots, underground, do-it-yourself music helps facilitate down to the even most basic things such as access to food and shelter.
Maybe if this comic was in the end it wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But I don’t know. Punk Houses and Infoshops are two forms of organization that I know are very flawed, and everyone comes to them for different reasons, but they have played a huge part in my life. I just hate to see something that has been such an important part of my life represented in my opinion like a laughable phase en route to the suburbs.
Thankfully, I feel like everything got back on track with the next contribution, Authentacity by Dani Nordani. It’s about a situation I think most Travelers in the U$ have been in. A chance meeting that turned into correspondence, then someone who you hang out with when you visit their town. But this person is very different so things are interesting. Food Not Bombs, Punk Houses from the Birdhaus in Buffalo, NY to The Lab in Missoula and hopping freight, the story is cut and pasted the old fashioned way on a few different patterns like most ‘zines used to be.
After a stick figure-ish drawing by Dani, there’s a couple nice untitled drawings by Elbow; a cat sleeping on top of your basic Punk House junk pile and another of someone lamenting the seemingly endless dirty dishes. There’s a page full of show flyers from Punx Palace in Portland from Monica Melgar followed by an excellent contribution by Saul Milgram called Everything Sucks.
In my opinion, Saul really breaks it down to the basics: “a punk house is not better or worse than anywhere else in the world.” Of course I don’t exactly agree, being at the worst Punk House has been better than being in jail or living with the Jesus People or at the Twin Oaks farm commune, but it gets a point across, it isn’t Utopia. Saul writes about coming to the realization that “punk isn’t any sort of mythical wonderland. It’s just as fucked-up and shitty as everywhere else.” (Sellout by Face Value was my anthem when I went through this with the c. 95% white metal/punk/hardcore scene I had been a part of in suburban Clevo for five years in the winter of ’99/’00. “Is the scene, a glimmer of hope, or is it all just a glorified hoax?”) The reason why I think this is so important is because it has been my experience that most people who live collectively try to represent it as the be all and end all, some even going so far as calling the whole outside world “Babylon.”
To me this is the sort of being for real that has made me comfortable in certain Punk Houses as opposed to others, and other forms of collective living. Like Saul, we’ve been willing to acknowledge short falls rather than deny or ignore them. This sort of self critical piece never comes out of something like a Catholic Worker House. It would interfere with fund raising!
The next contribution, A Portland Punk House by Jon Satin, articulates an aspect of many Punk Houses off the bat that I’m not too stoked on, “Stealing–that’s how our house survives.” But I appreciate the upfront aspects of this ‘zine over all, and this like the rest of it glosses over nothing as far as I can tell.
Jon also writes about many things that I Love about Punk Houses like dumpstering food and listening to music, and other things that I hate like firework fights.
There’s a page of photos from three different Punk Houses: Chavez and Storey House in Santa Cruz, and Catrick Swayze in Oakland, then a page full of photos from the breakfast nook at the Scowling House in Portland. What I enjoy most about these is the nearly totally illegible chalk board behind everyone that very clearly says “BIG BONG ANAL HAIR WRAPS”.
Next is an untitled drawing by Arolia from the Lil’ Mansion that I think sums up the alienation we can all feel, even (or especially?) in a Punk House. A long haired person sitting naked with their head on their knees thinking “I feel there is no room for me in my house.” The person is about half as big as the house they are sitting on, so this might be getting at something else I’m totally missing, but it reminds me of when I lived in the South Side Punk House in Westlawn, Chi in 2003/4.
Afterwards is an excellent article, also by Arolia about some of the challenges and the good things of living in a Punk House including raising children which I’ve only known a few people to do. The mention of a laundry room dweller is particularly cool to me since I’m currently living in one myself.
Next up, trapped in the closet or how our friends support and willingness to help us live our own scummy lives keeps us in cycles of dependency, comfort, or treading water, stagnation, privilege by August Nicky Golden from Story House. The title says it all, and no fear! It’s actually about living in a closet which I did for about four years when my family lived in Chicagoland in the ’80s, so I thought that was pretty cool. It’s a good, reflective article about the funk living in community can create, but also how great it can be. It strikes me as very balanced.
August mentions the inhospitable aspect of a live in slum lord, which we had at the South Side Punk House that really created a total power in balance that I wonder if it was also going on at Storey. I have found this to be true almost whenever the owner of a house lives with their tenants, especially if we work there too, such as on a farm.
This is followed by a cool poem, There’s something in the Water by Lolo.
“I’m in Grad School” by Nicky Tiso of The Doghouse is also a good reflective article. Nicky no longer lives in a Punk House but is glad they exist. Nicky writes the most about the radical politics that have always been a part of the Punk Houses I’ve lived in or been a regular hang around. At this point I feel obligated to write I’ve never gotten scabies at a Punk House. Even though they’ve already probably been mentioned more times than Cometbus, Nicky writes about them like they are ever present. Maybe they are at some Punk Houses, but over all these years, including Traveling by myself on and off for about two and a half years before I visited my first Punk House, I only got scabies once and that was at the St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Uptown, Chi before it was over run by Yuppie, missionary scum that are far worse than scabies.
But of course, maybe constant scabies were a part of Nicky’s experience, and scabies aside, problems with neighbors and the cops, a straight edge house mate’s tolerance of pot smoking, and both listening to and making music are all written about.
A fairly gross yet honest enough in spirit drawing of a Punk House bathroom called Punks Don’t Flush by Katrina complete with an industrial size role of toilet paper probably stolen from a fast food joint leads to the last and longest article, Notes on Cardboard by Dave Brainwreck. After a semi-perplexing yet amusing quote from Dante’s Inferno, Dave writes about the frustration of not writing.
He backtracks to being 15, getting into punk, then hanging out at Coyle Street, a Punk House in Portland, ME that stood four stories tall and had a great deal of the characteristics Punk Houses are known for such as shows, fires in the backyard, art work alongside drinking, more drinking, broken bikes and dead potted plants.
It reads like creativity in general, not just Dave’s was stifled there, which luckily has not been the norm for me at Punk Houses. An eviction party to end all parties is written about, and how everyone is happier without the house. The article sort of trails off as Dave writes about living alone in a camper van. It seems like a cynical note to end the ‘zine on, but again, I appreciate the honesty and have gone to live out on the streets myself after a couple crappy living situations in a row so it’s easy for me to understand.
The only thing I would really change besides maybe moving Bela Messex’s comic to the end, would be mentioning the title is from a song of the same name by The Adolescents. It’s a great tune and I would have missed this reference if it wasn’t for my house mate Roy who I watched American Hardcore with twice who was surprised I didn’t remember the part from American Hardcore with the band driving up to the Black Hole which we watched twice. I only remembered that part of the film after some prodding because they were in Fullerton where I sometimes come or go through when visiting friends in Whittier and El Monte. I’m kind of anal about this sort of stuff as an artist I’m careful not to rip off other artists, and if I do I try to give them proprs so maybe I can get other people into who ever.
Also, there are still so many topics that weren’t covered, so I think people need to hit Bryan up to get a second issue together. Such as in an e-mail Bryan wrote “at storey house, a neighbor was being aggressive to his partner, not letting her close her car door and drive away from his huge aggro self. we were on the porch drinking some beers and yelled at him to step down. he did, and twenty minutes later came over, not to beat our scrawny asses but to thank us for keeping him in check. and he said our house is a positive resource for the community.” There’s a lot of important stories like that, or rather more importantly when accountability has failed that need to be discussed.
Copies can be ordered at http://blackmold.storenvy.com/products/1524502-kids-of-the-black-hole-perspectives-on-the-north-american-punk-house-zine or write brybry at riseup dot net to see about ordering with cash.