Cornel West at Calvin College

Unfortunately, I missed Cornel West when he spoke recently at Calvin College. However, the college has made the audio of his lecture–“Hope on a Tightrope”–available online. Few people can discuss the realities of white supremacy, the need for resistance, and the importance of hope like West, so it’s highly worth listening.

Download the file

Davey D Explores Relationship between Hip-Hop, Politics, and Barack Obama

Journalist and Activist Davey D looked at Hip-Hop's Relationship to Barack Obama

Last night, hip-hop journalist and activist Davey D spoke at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) as part of the Black Student Union’s Black History Month activities. Davey D–who traced his involvement in hip-hop back to the Bronx in the late 1970s–explained that hip-hop came out of the experience or in reaction to social oppression, both in the Bronx and with the COINTELPRO repression that destroyed the Civil Rights movement.

However, the big question for hip-hop in 2009 is about President Barack Obama and his relationship to hip-hop. Davey D explained that he attended the inauguration and had a journalist ask him if Barack Obama was the “hip-hop president.”

Hip-Hop Turns Out for Obama

Davey D argued that he could see why people might say Obama was the “hip-hop president.” There were over two hundred songs recorded about Barack Obama during the campaign from artists such as Common, Young Jeezy, and Nelly. At the same time, hip-hop artists were registering people to vote, were campaigning for Obama, and even attending the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Even artists who had not previously had much to say about politics–for example Bow Wow–were talking about Obama and encouraging fans to turn out the vote. Southern rap–known primarily for its bling–also was speaking in support of Obama.

Aside from the more popular artists who supported Obama, there were also efforts aimed at doing other work in the campaign. The Hip-Hop Caucus conducted voter registration tours. Several hip-hop activists also got involved in a campaign to move Texas from being a “Red State” to a “Blue State” by campaigning aggressively to get out the vote.

Fans also turned out in great numbers to campaign for and vote for Obama.

More than Just Jay-Z: Obama Campaign Built on Existing Political Hip-Hop Infrastructure

However, this wasn’t just about celebrity–nor was it just about Obama. Davey D explained that the hip-hop community had been conducting important political work for years and that Obama’s election built on existing networks.

He explained that events like the National Hip-Hop Political Conventions had been organizing to make specific demands of candidates, recognizing for example that people of color were facing a recession before the current economic crisis. There was Russell Simmons holding meetings in 2004 to talk about politics, and Didddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign. There was also the League of Pissed Off Voters that distributed pamphlets across the country in 2004 with candidates’ voting records and stances.

Going back further, Davey D cited Ja Rule’s efforts in the 1990s to get people of color to run for office and 2Pac’s efforts to form a political party that could disrupt the electoral process.

The infrastructure that exists to support hip-hop–especially artists such as Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, and others not actively promoted by labels–also played a part in Obama’s win. Those artists have had to develop alternative ways of distributing their music and touring, as the music industry didn’t want to support music that might empower black people. They also spoke frequently about politics. Similarly, hip-hop broke down the color barrier and made it easier for folks to accept the idea of a black president.

Beyond Concerts: A Focus on Issues Important to the Hip-Hop Community?

Davey D explained that it is only with hip-hop that people ask if Obama is a “hip-hop president.” Nobody asks if he is the “union president,” or the “actors’ president” despite those group’s support. Davey D followed the campaign closely and said that much of the media just wants to ask this about Obama without looking at the deeper stories behind hip-hop’s involvement in the campaign.

D said that there is certainly a reason to celebrate Obama’s victory, but there is also reason to be skeptical.

He said that it remains to be seen where Obama will stand on important issues such as police brutality, which is important to the hip-hop community. He also wonders whether the stimulus package will meet the needs of the hip-hop community, especially after money for schools and art was cut. Money for police was of course kept.

With the political activity of the hip-hop community over the years (going back to at least the Clinton campaign), Davey D said that hip-hop deserves more than simply having Jay-Z perform at the inauguration. Instead, he said that the hip-hop community has demonstrated its power and it deserves a seat at the table in the new administration. He said that hip-hop should remember that it helped Obama get elected and it should not be afraid to make demands on the new president.

Racist CD Distributed in Grand Rapids

A new effort aimed at distributing 30,000 CDs containing racist white power music has been launched and specifically targets youth aged 13-19. The CDs have turned up in Grand Rapids.


A new white supremacist effort aimed at distributing thousands of CDs containing racist music is targeting middle and high school students across the country, including in Michigan.

The campaign–dubbed “Project Schoolyard Volume II”–intends to distribute the CDs as a means of recruiting new members and spreading the “white power” movement to teenagers. The distribution campaign is a follow-up to a 2004 effort that allegedly distributed 50,000 racist CDs to students aged 13 to 19. The latest CD features 25 songs with titles like “Some N****rs Never Die,” “White Revolution,” “White Pride, White Passion,” and “Race Riot” from a variety of bands including the more well-known Skrewdriver and RAHOWA (RAcial HOly WAr). The CD’s marketing boldly proclaims, “Remember, we don’t just entertain racist kids, we create them.”

Music has become an important part of the white supremacist movement as it provides a vehicle for both recruiting new members and funding the movement–often bringing in more money than other fundraising methods. Over the past several years, music has become one of the primary recruiting tools used by white supremacists and it is a growing scene. According to some sources, white supremacist music has been responsible for much of the movement’s growth in the past decade.

Thirty-thousand copies of the “Project Schoolyard Volume II” CD have been produced and they have reportedly been sent to distributors across the United States. Already, CDs have shown up in Michigan, with copies distributed last Friday at the “Carnival of Chaos” show at the Intersection in Grand Rapids. In the past, racist propaganda has been distributed by the National Alliance at concerts in Grand Rapids.


A company called Tightrope distributes the CD. Tightrope’s website boasts the slogan “It’s not illegal to be white… yet” and features the image of a fist clenching a noose. On it, Tightrope sells a host of racist merchandise and even offers a page of “jokes” about African-Americans. Tightrope’s founder–Bryant Cecchini (pictured on the right with David Duke)–has been a skinhead since the age of 17 and denies that the Holocaust happened. The Southern Poverty Law Center quoted him saying “Your average kid really don’t give a damn about paint scrapings at Auschwitz… If you put it to music, they’ll listen to it twice before breakfast every day.”

Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, and Social Change

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Ross Haenfler’s Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, And Social Change is the first book I have seen that explores the “straight edge” subculture. The straight edge subculture has existed for over twenty-five years as a subset of the larger punk rock/hardcore subculture. Its members adopt a simple creed eschewing alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and promiscuous sex while immersing themselves in a musical underground that includes listening to loud and fast music, attending small concerts put on for fun rather than profit, and an emphasis on the DIY (“Do It Yourself”) ethic. To an outsider, it no doubt sounds bizarre–and indeed is on many levels–but Haenfler does an excellent job of explaining the music and the value that the collective identity has for the subculture’s participants while at the same time revealing insights into youth-based subcultures and their potential as agents of social change.

Haenfler confronts all of the common perceptions and misconceptions of the straight edge subculture–that it is overly “preachy,” that it is “moralistic,” that it is exclusionary, and others. Given Haenfler’s personal involvement in the scene and his continuing affinity for it, his ability to objectively analyze the movement is praiseworthy. He does an excellent job of pointing to straight edge’s flaws while at the same time pointing to its numerous successes. Despite all of the flaws–its male dominance, its occasional intolerance, and the propensity among a small number of its participants to engage in violence–straight edge have offered thousands of youth support for living a substance-free lifestyle, something which is certainly not encouraged within the dominant culture.

A particularly important part of the book is devoted to analyzing gender roles within the straight edge scene. Haenfler spends a considerable amount of time examining how women are able to participate within the straight edge subculture. Haenfler’s conclusions–that roles for women are limited–will not be surprising to those involved with straight edge, but the extent to which he backs up his conclusions with conversations with women and men involved in the scene is impressive. He aptly points out that while straight edge–like punk rock more generally–claims that “anyone” can be in a band or become an influential member of the scene fail to take into account the male dominance within the scene and the reality of patriarchy. In addition to his discussion of how women are limited in the scene, Haenfler examines how the straight edge scene constructs masculinity. Haenfler argues that while straight edge is in many ways a male dominated “boys club,” there is a general “progressive” form of masculinity that is favored in the scene, especially with the stated opposition to sex as form of male conquest. Still, this view of masculinity is ultimately limited because it generally fails to challenge patriarchy as few men within the straight edge scene challenge the subculture’s conception of gender.

In reviewing the book, in many ways I identify with Haenfler’s concerns about being an objective researcher, as like Haenfler I was for years involved in the Grand Rapids punk rock/hardcore scene as a straight edge member. That said, there is a possibility that my enjoyment of this book was based more on a sense of nostalgia and an ability to identify with the topic. However, Haenfler does take a very critical look at the movement and ultimately is able to make a number of important insights into how subcultures are able to challenge the dominant culture and even how members of those subcultures challenge the prevailing values of the subculture itself. Haenfler includes an extensive examination of how straight edge functions as both a subculture and even as a “movement,” examining it both on its own and comparing it to other subcultures such as punk rock. Haenfler makes a number of important observations about how straight edge has for many participants become a gateway to additional forms of resistance, explaining how many in the straight edge scene adopted vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, became involved in animal rights and other activism, and in some cases, went on to join more militant components of the environmental and animal rights movement.

Overall, Haenfler’s Straight Edge is a very intriguing book. Its appeal should extend beyond members or former members of the straight edge subculture as its complex analysis of straight edge makes incredibly important observations about the functioning of youth-based subcultures as a whole. While the book will not provide any immediate value to those involved in radical political or organizing work, it does contribute some insight into how and why the punk rock related subcultures have for years fostered a considerable level of youth participation in activism.

Ross Haenfler, Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, And Social Change, (Rutgers University Press, 2006).

Study: Radio Consolidation Limits Musical Diversity

A new study by the Future of Music Coalition, titled False Premises, False Promises, has found the consolidation of radio ownership into the hands of a relatively small number of corporations has limited musical diversity on radio. Following the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the lessening of ownership restrictions, the number of companies owning radio stations have declined since 1995. The ten largest corporations in the industry owning radio stations have increased their holdings by nearly 15 times while the fifty largest corporations have increased their holdings by 7 times. The top four corporations have consolidated their advertising revenues, receiving 50% of the market, while also increasing their listener concentration with the top four corporations having 48% of listeners and the top ten having nearly two-thirds of radio listeners. At the same time, in every local market the number of stations owned by the largest entity in the market has increased and concentration of ownership has also increased. An index created by the Future of Music Coalition found that local ownership dropped by 28% since 1996.

According to the study, this consolidation is resulting in a homogenized radio environment where just fifteen formats make up 76% of commercial programming. The largest holding corporations tend to program heavily in only eight formats, further lessening diversity. The study further found that there is significant overlap between formats with formats overlapping as much as 80%. Moreover, stations with similar formats owned by the same corporation can have play lists that overlap by 97%.

Performance Artist Gives Lecture on History of Hip-Hop and its Ongoing Socio-Political Relevance

On Tuesday, performance artists Toyia Taylor gave a lecture at Grand Valley State University about the history of hip-hop and its current state. Following the lecture, a lively discussion on the current state of hip-hop and how it can be improved was held.

On Tuesday, New York City-based performance artist Toyia Taylor gave a lecture at Grand Valley State University about the history and origins of hip-hop in the United States and the current state of hip-hop. The lecture, which was attended by over fifty students, many of whom identified themselves as “hip-hop heads,” was well received and resulted in a lengthy discussion about how hip-hop has strayed from its roots, how contemporary hip-hop has shifted both in terms of technique and subject matter, and how contemporary hip-hop can be reinvigorated as a means of moving away from the hyper commercialized state that it is in currently.

Taylor began with a historical overview of hip-hop, arguing that in order for people to improve the current state of hip-hop—which Taylor argued was absolutely necessary—that people needed to be familiar with its history. A show of hands solicited by Taylor revealed that few of the people attending the event were familiar with the history of hip-hop, revealing that if an audience of those most interested in the art form were not too familiar, that the majority of those considering themselves fans of hip-hop (especially of the commercial variety), likely are not. Taylor described how the origins of hip-hop can be traced to the decision to build the Cross Bronx Expressway (CBE) in 1953 and the demolishment of entire neighborhoods and displacement of some 60,000 residents in the Bronx. While numerous local businesses were closed and those who where able to leave, people that were generally of European descent and were able to take advantage of the $200 offered as compensation by the city, low-income African-Americans and people of Caribbean descent were housed in high-rise apartment projects located in traditionally white neighborhoods. As is generally expected in such situations, the white residents did not welcome the influx of displaced people of color and gangs formed due to assaults by whites and unemployment skyrocketed. The early gangs, bearing names such as the Ghetto Brothers, dominated the neighborhood for years until the gang leaders got together and initiated a plan to end the gang wars centering on an improvement of the community. Following a 1971 gang summit, the Ghetto Brothers, one of the largest gangs with over 1,000 members, started a Latin funk band and out of that emerged a movement of artists “spinning” records and doing call-and-response chants in the neighborhoods. The new art form, which was the origin of contemporary hip-hop, had its roots in giving a voice to people who were traditionally disenfranchised and whereas gangs used to run the streets neighborhoods came to be dominated by hip-hop “crews” that hosted street parties and developed the “four elements” of hip-hop—break dancing, djaying, rhyming, and graffiti—out of which modern hip-hop emerged.

For Taylor, contemporary hip-hop is in its current state due in large part to its commercialization and the role that large corporations such as Clear Channel play in governing radio airplay and the role of record labels in stifling innovation and how those two forces have exerted control over hip-hop. Taylor described how much of contemporary hip-hop, which she described as “pop-hop,” is produced solely with the intent to succeed commercially and gain airplay on corporate radio stations, some of which play so-called “hit” songs as many as sixteen times in one day. Taylor described how one of hip-hop’s early artists, Afrika Bambaattaa, had reservations about the recording of his music and concerns that the energy and feeling that it contained would be diminished when it became a packaged consumer good. This theme was touched on several times during the discussion when members of the audience described how many contemporary artists simply chose to adhere to a formula that they believe will sell records and eschew innovation and ignore the message that they are conveying. Many people raised the question of whether or not it was a case of corporations determining what people should hear or corporations responding to what consumers want, as the fact that many contemporary records, despite all of their problems, are still selling well. In supporting the notion that is a matter of corporations determining what people want to hear, multiple people raised the prospect that the popular hip-hop projects an image of African-Americans males as gangster “brutes” or uncivilized “others” that is satisfying to white audiences and can be used to justify ongoing racism. There was also some discussion about how conscious political hip-hop records (KRS-One, Public Enemy) used to sell and that while artists like Dead Prez, Mos Def, or Talib Kweli are not selling or receiving airplay it has more to do with corporations than a lack of interest in the music, as artists such as U2, who have always been a “conscious” band, sell millions of records.

To Taylor and those attending the lecture, it was clear that the discussion and the state of hip-hop is an incredibly important topic. Taylor described how hip-hop is not simply a form of music and that while there are some debates over whether or not it qualifies as a culture, it is important to the lives of millions of youth living in the United States for whom hip-hop provides a daily soundtrack to their lives and a form of ongoing communication. To that end, while much of contemporary commercial hip-hop may be stale sand easily dismissed, there are numerous efforts to reinvigorate hip-hop. Early hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa has made calls for those involved in hip-hop to organize against corporate radio’s promotion of violence and misogyny, while hip-hop journalist Davey D has been promoting independent hip-hop and integrating politics back into the music, organizations such as New York’s REACH have been organizing in their communities, and national events such as the National Hip-Hop Political Convention have taken place to promote “hip-hop activism” and social change via hip-hop.

Radio Payola Investigation includes Grand Rapids Station

The Clear Channel owned radio station WSNX has been included in court documents as part of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s investigation into payola deals between large record labels and radio stations.

Recently the Federal Communications Commission and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced an investigation into claims of payola deals at large record labels and radio stations across the country. Payola is a process where radio stations are paid to play songs by commercial artists as a way of getting them to the top of the charts with “compensation” for airplay ranging from money to free laptop computers. In response to these investigations, the national media reform group Free Press is working on a campaign to stop payola and has provided online resources including general information about payola, the current legal investigation, and ways for local communities to get involved.

As part of their campaign, Free Press provides a map of the United States that helps people locate stations that are under investigation for payola. Using the map, we found that one Grand Rapids station, WSNX, a Clear Channel owned station is listed in New York Attorney General Spitzer’s investigation. We contacted Clear Channel’s program manager in Grand Rapids to find out their take on this investigation. The Program Manager told us that the Free Press information was “wholly inaccurate.” Free Press was contacted and told us that “We should be clear that they’re a part of an ongoing investigation but still, technically, innocent until proven otherwise. That said, the evidence is there.” According to court documents, that evidence includes Sony Music’s naming of WSNX as a station to invite to New York City for a “Jessica Simpson lunch.” Interestingly, the lunch was planned not to gain airplay for Jessica Simpson’s “collector’s edition” of her album In this Skin, but instead to gain airplay for another Sony Music band, Switchfoot.

For those interested, ABC Primetime will be featuring the payola issue on this Thursday’s show at 10:30pm EST on ABC. It should also be noted that one of the big reasons for the increase in payola in the radio and music industry is the consolidation of ownership. Groups like the Future of Music Coalition, which came out with a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today denouncing payola, are part of a growing movement that challenges media consolidation and the threats that this consolidation has made to localism.

Mixed Reviews


In 2004, Aaron Cometbus, author of the highly regarded Cometbus zine, announced that after twenty years of self-publishing his writing in zine format that he was going to pursue other avenues for that writing. Since that time, Aaron has produced 2004’s Chicago Stories and 2005’s <Mixed Reviews.

The two titles share a considerable amount from their small, pocket size format and short length to their esoteric topics, but it is the absence of Cometbus’ distinctive handwritten prose and cut-and-paste layout that previous readers will most likely notice. Instead of being a photocopied zine, the two books were published in a comparatively stale font, thus removing much of the personality of the zine. While the writing in Chicago Stories, drawn from pervious issues of Cometbus held up well despite the layout, the same cannot be said for Mixed Reviews. Most of the material in Mixed Reviews has been published elsewhere with the content drawn from recent writings in the New York Press, the Philadelphia Independent, MaximumRocknRoll, Tokkion, Rip It Up, and Round Things. Some of the writings, such as the short stories “When the Cat’s Away,” “XXX,” and “Marta” cover the same areas that the zine did—love, books, and rainy nights—and consequently are decent, if somewhat uninspired reads. However, the various reviews, with the exception of the lone book review, were not terribly interesting.

Unfortunately reading Mixed Reviews will likely only make one yearn for the days of the photocopied zine and make those new to Cometbus wonder about the hype. Readers should instead consider picking up a copy of Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus, an anthology from 2002 that includes a large selection of writings from previous issues of his zine presented in their original layout.

Aaron Cometbus, Mixed Reviews, (Internationalist Publishers, 2005).

All the Power: Revolution without Illusion

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In the endorsement blurbs on the first page of All the Power: Revolution Without Illusion by Mark Andersen, Fugazi front man Ian MacKaye notes that “The fact that questions in a written form can at times resemble answers is a danger for most activist writers, as well as writing activists.” This observation adequately describes Mr. Andersen’s book within which he dissects and critiques various aspects of “revolutionary politics” here in the United States.

Mark Andersen is a longtime community organizer and fixture of the punk rock scene in Washington D.C. This is readily apparent as two of the recurring themes throughout the book are his experiences working with poor and minority communities in the nation’s capital and his constant use of punk rock lyrics to summarize his points.

The chapters of the book are each devoted to a particular type of organizing, within which the author offers his observations and critiques. The first half of the book deals with the punk rock subculture, college activism, identity politics and lifestyle activism as vehicles for social change. This is the more useful part of the book and the authors insights are thoughtful and based in personal experience. While he does sometimes contextualize his comments with material with other writers, such as Naomi Klein or Audre Lorde, the book does not rely much on other authors or works. For younger people, this part of the book could very well prove valuable, as it provides a perspective with a greater depth of experience than the novice activist is bound to have.

The seventh chapter, Don’t Mind Throwing a Brick, is the part of the book bound to cause the most controversy amongst radical readers. This topic addressed in this chapter is the role of violence in revolutionary politics. The author starts the chapter making a series of reasonable observations concerning the utility and appropriateness of revolutionary violence. After using several examples of international revolutionary struggles, he concludes:

“I don’t think that money or guns are the most profound base of power; I believe it is always the people. While armed struggle will sometimes be necessary, the only way this can ever work against a better trained and funded enemy is to have enough people standing behind the effort.

Make no mistake: I am hardly some wild-eyed “street fighting man.” No, I am simply a realist. Power will concede nothing essential without a struggle. Nonviolent confrontation is, of course, preferable. But when push comes to shove, this contest will tend to involve violence, at least in self-defense. This is shown by the history of my own country as well as much of the world.”

From this quite reasonable conclusion the author then launches into a several page critique of Ward Churchill’s short book Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America. While not disagreeing with Churchill’s central conclusion in that book, the author’s endorsement is grudging at best, with repeated criticism of Churchill’s historical analysis, tone, and “leaden” prose. From there the author goes on a long, and largely negative, analysis of the Weather Underground, a topic that has received a good deal of attention over the last couple years. His description of the Weather Underground contains quotes from various former members and is a highly critical, but fair examination of that group. Interestingly, the author does not devote nearly the same amount of time to two of the other armed revolutionary groups active at the time of WOU, the Black Panthers and AIM. Next the author starts a brief discussion about the appropriateness of “black block” tactics and direct action. The chapter ends with the author concluding, rightfully, that “while violence may be legitimate, even necessary in certain circumstances, it cannot take the place of a political strategy that seeks to convert masses of people.”

The next chapter, The American in Me, starts with the obligatory “where I was on 9-11” story that has become so common in books of all sorts these days. In this chapter the author talks about the possible uses of patriotism as an organizing tactic. After relating to the reader about his childhood patriotism and later disillusionment with the U.S., the author asks “If we give up on any possible redemption of this country, what is our alternative?” Somewhat surprisingly, the author answers this question by again discussing Ward Churchill, in even less complimentary terms than in the previous chapter. In the next two pages the author uses many of the same objections that the right wing is currently making in their crusade to against Ward Churchill, namely his “little Eichmanns” comment from the essay On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Churchill’s essay is easily misinterpreted and written with a certain level of hyperbole. Perhaps due to this, Andersen mistakenly assumes that Churchill endorses the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, and that he has called for other people to do the same.

The other writer mentioned often by Andersen, although in much less critical terms, is former 60’s radical, now respectable college professor and Mother Jones columnist Todd Gitlin. Somewhat surprisingly, Andersen refers to Gitlin’s writings several times, and always in complimentary terms. Considering that Gitlin was a supporter of Clinton’s bombing in Kosovo and seemingly spent more time during the 2003 invasion of Iraq criticizing the anti-war movement than actually organizing against the war, he seems an odd choice to be quoted repeatedly in a book ostensibly about revolution.

Regardless, Andersen’s book does what it sets out to do, posing questions that most serious activists will be forced to grapple with at some point in their organizing career. While not always claiming to provide the answer, Andersen accurately points out some of the tendencies and pitfalls inherent in political activism in the United States. While the book is not, nor is it intended to be a detailed analysis of all the various movements and issues confronting American would-be “revolutionaries”, the book is a good starting off point for discussion. The experienced activist may find parts of the book old hat, but others new to revolutionary politics may find All the Power to be a valuable read.

Mark Andersen, All the Power: Revolution Without Illusion, (Punk Planet Books, 2004).

Chicago Stories


Aaron Elliot’s Cometbus is perhaps the best known of the fanzines that once provided the lifeblood of the underground punk rock scene in the San Francisco bay area, and to a large extent, the United States as a whole. For much of its nearly 20 year history, Cometbus has documented punk culture, describing shows, chronicling the travels of the author through various punk scenes, and providing a personal documentary of punk culture. Cometbus’ success has always been that rather than simply interview bands and review records it address the intersection of punk rock and the personal and how the ideals and ethics of the punk scene manifest themselves in the author’s everyday life.

Chicago Stories collects numerous stories from Aaron’s tenure in Chicago, all of which appeared in previous out of print issues of Cometbus, and compiles them into a sharp looking pocket-sized book. However, while the stories are the standard Cometbus fare–and as such are well written–the book is typeset rather than handwritten which considerably detracts from the personal nature of the zine. Certainly longtime readers of Cometbus will recognize Aaron’s writing, and new readers will appreciate Aaron’s tales of growing old, spending time in diners, and passing the day browsing book stores, but without the “Cometbus” handwriting, the book loses the charm of its zine counterpart.

Cometbus has long been one of the best zines and Chicago Stories provides some introduction to what all the hype is about. Aaron has a knack for taking seemingly mundane and trivial aspects of both life and punk culture and making them seem at once significant and interesting. While Chicago Stories is a good way of becoming acquainted with Cometbus and the zine underground, readers looking for a more through introduction would be better served picking up a copy of <Despite Everything for a more complete anthology of Cometbus.

Aaron Cometbus, Chicago Stories, (Self Published, 2004).