COMETBUS #54 In China with Green Day by Aaron Cometbus
Living in New York City as I do, we here are lucky to get shows, books, movies, whatever, on a regular basis before others do. When Larry Livermore a few weeks ago tweeted that COMETBUS #54 was available in “select bookstores” in New York, I knew the ones he meant, those stores in the city that carry ‘zines such as Book Thug Nation in Brooklyn and Bluestockings and Forbidden Planet in Manhattan. A few days later, on January 29th, I went over to Book Thug (it wasn’t at Bluestocking yet) and picked up a copy for myself and Abbey Fox, a long-time reader of Aaron Cometbus’s work. I brought it home, cracked it open, read it until 3:00 in the morning, fell asleep and finished it the next day. While reading, I tweeted from my personal Twitter:
OMG COMETBUS #54 “In China with Green Day” is awesomer than fuck. And I mean that — his writing about gd & their friendship as well as the far east and himself is kinda magical. Can’t put it down — I’m being a little over the top, but seriously, it’s a glimpse of the band we rarely get. And its written with love — of course I haven’t gotten to the end yet, so who knows what road it’ll take! — Aw he doesn’t like the opening band or the bunny, lol. That’s going to interesting, lol. Hahaha. — Aw, he’s reassessed his opinion of the opening band cause they are also fans. Sweet. :) — I’m sorry, last one: NEVER ATTEMPT TO EAT A LIVE OCTOPUS. Can’t. Stop. Laughing. — Aw, he talks about Eddie, Mehdi, and George! — Chapter 18 will make you cry. — Nearing the end… and i feel the same way as he does when the tour begins to end… — be prepared…he has nothing nice to say about Green Day fans…especially middle-aged women…point taken…guilty as charged? i dunno. — well…except for the malaysians.. — luckily, he’s as hard on himself as he is on fans. kudos, dude. — “Everyone has their own perspective, and each thought that theirs was the clearest one.” pg. 94. bingo. — finis…a love story…honest, straightforward, no mincing of words…his stinky socks remind me that I need to take a fucking shower now.”
In a nutshell, it was brilliant. The best thing I’ve ever read about Green Day, and I read a lot of stuff. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me feel like I had an inside glimpse into how the band relaxed or got ready for shows, how it was to travel to places such as Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan, and most special of all, how the friendship between Cometbus and his friends, Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre (and to some extent Jason White, second touring guitarist, and Bill Schneider, their personal manager and bassist for Pinhead Gunpowder) had evolved over the many years that he’s known them. Kudos, overall to COMETBUS #54. Two thumbs up… except…
There were a few things I was bothered about. If I had reviewed this earlier, I would have mentioned these things as bothersome, but in passing, and not harp on them… like I’m about to do. I took these few things with a grain of salt from a salty writer, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t floored… or saddened… or bothered… or couldn’t talk about with others… two specific things in the work dealing with fans… one of which was written about by Livermore on his blog. I was specifically called out on something that I said on Twitter. You can read all of that on Larry’s blog (and don’t miss the comments while you’re at it). Now, I feel like I’m obligated to respond to a Twitter conversation instead of actually just reviewing COMETBUS #54. Something that Larry didn’t have to blog about but felt obligated, I suppose, to do so. I suppose I didn’t have to talk about it on Twitter in the first place, either.
Cometbus and Green Day Fans – Superfans Are Us… and YOU
Cometbus starts off the volume with this mantra, aimed at himself: “Don’t be judgmental, don’t be difficult, don’t be self-righteous. Just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. Don’t be judgmental, don’t be difficult…” and then later, he judges the videographers when they got on his bad side by taking photos of beggars without giving alms (that would bug me, too) and that their ideas of photo ops were basically stupid (which also according to his description, seems true, Green Day photographed in a Thailand tuk tuk vehicle does sound a little silly). How the crew was snobbish because they felt that they were “doing real men’s work,” and never really warmed up to him as a former roadie, except for the pyrotechnics guy, who went out of his way to be kind. How their security (three guys all of you who have been to a Green Day show lately have seen) were goons… but intellectual and articulate ones.
He relents a teeny bit on the photographers and crew and a lot on security as #54 moves forward, and says, “I’d been unfair, and let my imagination and assumptions carry me away. It was the same way with the photographers and the crew; the temptation to paint them with a wide brush was hard to resist but, inaccurate.” In other words, he had given them a chance and seen them through a different light as opportunities presented themselves over his two weeks with Green Day in the Far East to actually talk with the photographers, the crew and security. In fact, he writes about a really nice conversation between him and one security man in particular is very touching.
In short, I surmised from his words that talking to people one-on-one is different from judging people from afar… Something that he does not afford to a specific group of fans that rub him, as highlighted below, the wrong way.
Let me say here that the first time I read Cometbus was over the last two years. I’m not a long-term, star-struck fan from back in the day, and from what I understand (and have read) there’s a lot of things in Aaron Cometbus’s works that make you go… woah. He’s a great writer and brutally honest about himself and others. In #54, he talks about how his relationships with both Al Sobrante and Billie Joe went sour at certain points in their friendships, and about his own foibles, too. So all in all, when I finished the 97-page love story to his friends, I was pretty thrilled and touched when I got to the end, as well as upset by a few things, too. Larry’s blog post calls out those fans who felt or may have felt that they were targets in the first of two passages below, when in fact, Cometbus takes it one step further to admonish all fans of a certain stripe as terrifying Green Day groupies, as quoted in the second passage below:
The first passage in question reads:
As excitable as the Japanese fans were, they were still preferable to the comparatively sedate Green Day stalkers back in the States. Those were an eerie bunch, mostly lost-looking middle-aged women and glassy-eyed teens, plus the occasional Green Day groupie family that contained both. Where the dads were, I don’t know—though that may have been the point.
Armed with seemingly inexhaustible expense accounts and trust funds, they crisscrossed the country attending every single Green Day-related event. That kind of frivolousness I could understand in a once-in-a-lifetime or one-last-wish scenario, but not every single week! The decadence of it made me sick. I was grateful, and a bit shocked, that none of them had followed us halfway around the world. The Japanese fans were starstruck, but not crazy enough—or rich enough—to devote their whole lives to the band.
— In China with Green Day?!! by Aaron Cometbus, pg. 88-89
The second passage on page 34 contains a sentence that reads: “Only the most terrifying Green Day groupie would recognize any of the Big Three after they’d stepped offstage.” “The Big Three” are Jason White, Jason Freese (keyboardist and saxophonist), and Jeff Matika (back up vocals and guitar). The nickname, “the Big Three,” is a term of endearment that these three musicians dubbed themselves as the band’s touring musicians from the recently-ended 21st Century Breakdown tour. In two paragraphs, Cometbus basically speaks of the gift of anonymity that befalls the Jasons and Jeff, unlike the near non-existent anonymity of Green Day themselves. That the “Big Three” can walk the streets and not be harassed, as opposed to Billie Joe, Mike and Tre, who are easily recognizable. He goes on to say that not being part of the band, just employees, must be hard on them, too. That I can understand, but then he throws the “terrifying Green Day groupie” line in as he mentions disappointed fans staring at the entourage, trying to find someone actually in the band.
In essence, for those of you out there who are smugly (and you know who are) thinking that the first passage doesn’t apply to you, there are many of you who the second passage, those “terrifying Green Day fans [who] would recognize” the Big Three does apply to. So get your knickers out of a bunch in any gripes about “Superfans” and take the time to actually digest what Aaron Cometbus has written about you. Of course, there are tons of people out there who haven’t read COMETBUS #54, so that is, admittedly, kinda hard to do at this point, I know.
Call Me a Superfan Again and I’ll…
Larry Livermore, who follows both Abbey Fox and me on Twitter, posted a question on Facebook presumably after reading the conversation we were having with other Green Day fans about the first passage. He asked, “Why are they so sure they’re the ones being talked about?” So, I guess I should answer that. Here goes:
First of all, I’m nobody. I don’t hang with Green Day like Aaron Cometbus or Larry Livermore do and shoot the shit. I’m just a blogger who started a project in June 2009 to write about Green Day’s tour and just kept going after it ended. I have gotten over 70,000 “hits” here since then, and a small return readership. When I started the blog, I had never seen Green Day play live before May 2009. I didn’t have any Green Day albums (or many albums for that matter) except for American Idiot. Since then, through crazy happenstance, I have met Green Day, and they and I don’t know each other from a hill of beans. I have spoken with Aaron Cometbus two times, and both conversations, while brief, have been pleasant and he was gracious. I have seen him as the drummer and lead songwriter of Pinhead Gunpowder when they played their amazing show for their friend Anandi last year at Gilman, and while the show was awesome, his actions toward female fans turned me off to no end. I got called a bitch-woman-child on this blog by a commenter for going to see Pinhead Gunpowder because in his words, “I was only there for Billie Joe Armstrong.” Larry Livermore is an acquaintance, and I have seen his band, the Potatomen, play when they reunited for a show last year. I am friends with people who know Green Day, and I love those people with all of my heart. I have gone to multiple Green Day shows and events (not every week, as Cometbus writes but over the period of the tour), have seen American Idiot the musical in Berkeley twice and way too many times (with and without Billie Joe Armstrong as St. Jimmy) on Broadway. I hang around the stagedoor talking with other fans and my friend the stagedoor guy and occasionally, the crew and a band member. I have a friend who plays with the AI band sometimes. I have seen John Gallagher, Jr. play at Rockwood as well as ensemble member Declan Bennett at Ars Nova. I have stood on the St. James Theater. I have exactly three personal fan photographs (one with Billie Joe, taken by a friend who I didn’t ask to take it, as well as a group photo with him when Dawn, an Iraq and Afghan War veteran I interviewed on this blog, met him in NYC), and one with Mike Dirnt, who jokingly took the photograph himself when another friend and I couldn’t take a self-portrait to save our lives. I have exactly one autograph of Billie Joe Armstrong. I have seen the Foxboro Hot Tubs play. Twice. I have traveled to England to see them, to Montreal, to California, and to numerous shows on the East Coast. I will be going to see Mike Dirnt’s band, The Frustrators, in the East Bay next week. I have written about mostly all of these events on this blog (though I keep some things to myself)… my personal memories of great times and I have shared these happenstance good memories with you. I have met fans — the most wonderful (and yes, not so wonderful) women, men, teenagers, and families along the way… a community… a Green Day Community.
I am middle-aged and a woman and I fit the description that Cometbus writes in regards to crisscrossing the world to attend Green Day events. Except, I ain’t lost-looking, am not eerie, and ain’t got no trust fund or expense account, that’s for damned sure. Does that answer your question, Larry? Or better yet, why did you frame the question that way in the first place?
Do I consider myself a Superfan? I hate that word with so much passion you don’t even know. A superfan connotes to me an evil bitch who goes around unkindly ripping everything that they can from a band or any entertainer or a jealous person when they themselves are unable or unwilling to do the thing that they want the most to do… follow their dream and have an adventure. Am I suppose to have some sort of cape with my superfan costume? I was raised in a bar, with music, and one of my dreams in this life (after all the other ones were dashed, but it’s not like I didn’t try to attain them) was to follow a band, listen to music, have a good time, and collect the memories of it, like some people collect books or records, and write about them. Catalog them, if you will. Heck, I am an archivist, and that is what we do.
But maybe, I am a superfan, though I have never, to my knowledge, as some accuse “superfans,” rubbed the things I’ve done in anyone’s face, and if I have, I apologize for that. For a long while, I didn’t even tell anyone I wrote this blog, because, y’know, it’s kinda crazy, and what would my friends think! I have tried to be as humble as possible and while I have failed here and there at that, I am always amazed at anything that comes my way. I have written this blog with respect to Green Day as people, from what I hope, is a grown-up perspective. There have been times in my brain when I’ve felt entitled (as some accuse these superfans) and have mentally kicked myself for even thinking it. I have gotten pissed at times that a certain website (which I happen to like a great deal) has never once mentioned my blog though I mention them all the time. So, while I wouldn’t call myself a superfan, because it’s a stupid, hateful, word, you might call me that. I call myself a fan, and a lucky and grateful one at that.
What I am not is a stalker or a terrifying groupie. (Well, except for that one time when I fangirled all over Billie Joe at an American Idiot talkback — something that I’m completely ashamed of.) Hence, I did not think that Cometbus was talking about me, but I do have the capability of asking myself, as a cursed Pisces will do, am I that person? And neither are the majority of Green Day fans who have occasionally fangirled and fanboyed with me or have or have not crisscrossed the planet and happen to be able to recognize the Big Three offstage.
Of course, your definition of me may be different owing to the description above. I don’t know, and frankly, the more I think about it, the more I don’t care.
“Don’t be judgmental, don’t be difficult, don’t be self-righteous. Just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. Don’t be judgmental, don’t be difficult…”
What was my motivation when I started this blog? Was I trying to get close to Green Day? Was it fame? Glory? A writing project? Boredom? Loneliness? Accomplishing something? Doing something crazy before I die?
Maybe a little bit of all those reasons but… No… my motivation was to get away from writing about genocide… literally. And now with all of this damned stupidity about Superfans and what not, of reading comments from people slagging each other off because of old grudges or trout dances or punk rivalries or jealousy or writers who are friends of the band and have a special place in their hearts who don’t give one good goddamn about his friend’s bands fans… I kinda feel like I did when I almost went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. the day that a white supremacist walked into it and killed the security guard back in 2009. I was ten minutes away from that damn incident and decided at the last minute not to go. I just want to get away from everything Green Day for awhile.
What is a Stalker?
Enough about me, let’s get back to what Cometbus wrote, specifically on the definition… or at least, a description of, a stalker, since none is clearly provided for in COMETBUS #54. Let me tell you what a stalker, as Aaron Cometbus judges a group of people that he, unlike the photographers, the crew, or security, at Green Day’s latest tour that he is able to speak with and warm up to, lumps a bunch of people into, really is. This is what I wrote in the comments on Larry’s blog:
You want to know what a real stalker is… ask my movie actress friend who was stalked by a woman for six months [sending her messages through Facebook, her blog, leaving things at her house] until that said stalker called the police saying that my friend was being beaten up… the police came to her house and everything was fine… and then the stalker showed up at my friend’s home with a sex toy. Needless to say, that stalker… the true definition of a stalker… spent two months in jail because she refused to post bail for trespassing and harassment until her court date. Court ordered psychiatric care and a restraining order are now permanently in that woman’s life… now THAT is a stalker.
Fans, Superfans, Stalkers
So, with all of that long-windedness said, what’s my take on all of this?
What Aaron Cometbus writes is his opinion, combined with his views of the hyperactivity of fans that he’s seen over the years, mixed in with his own punk perceptions and views. There’s nothing wrong with that. From what I gather, he lives a relatively simple life filled with books and writing who just happens, through happenstance, to know some famous people. He is, as well as you, entitled to opinions. In COMETBUS #54, he tells a wonderful story of friendship filled with obvious love and he doesn’t slam all fans. In fact, there are a few descriptions that are both funny and touching, including a great story about a haywire cultural incident that happened in Singapore between a fan and Billie Joe onstage, some moments of truly obsessed and stalkerish behavior in Japan (but at least they are funny), and, a particularly powerful incident where he dances with a group of Malaysian fans at one of the shows. And he writes that it’s decadent and frivolous for a group of people to follow a band for many shows and events during a tour. And you know what? He’s right. If he had left it at that, it would have been fine. But he goes on to judge those fans whose decadence and frivolousness he deems so completely wrong as “armed with seemingly inexhaustible expense accounts and trust funds” that that is where the problem of his own prejudices and misreading of people, lay. It’s not about me and whether I take it upon myself to follow a band (or whether I’m a superfan, a fan or a stalker), or as Larry Livermore asked on Facebook, “Why are they so sure they’re the ones being talked about?” It’s about Aaron Cometbus and how he misjudges people who love the same band that he does but who do not have the friendship to travel in first class with them for two solid weeks.
And who does he misjudge? Women in their middle-life, who may have finally come to a point in their lives to do something wild and crazy after a lifetime of work and saving, or maybe after divorce, or maybe after being widowed, or hell, even still married, to travel! To hear music! To see their friends who happen to be fans too and have met for the first time after years of Internet talking! And yes, to see Billie Joe shake his ass as well. Or teens… kids just starting out in life and on a grand adventure with their favorite band and their friends! And families that may or may not be broken, but are taking an adventure on their own, without (or with) dad in tow, and bonding with their children over something crazy… music. Some of them may even have trust funds and expense accounts, but it’s their money. In this respect, though, I think back to his view on the photographers that didn’t pay the beggars for taking their photograph. It would bother me, too… if I didn’t know that many of these people that I have met along the way and have talked with, don’t have trust funds or expense accounts.
When Cometbus writes that fans… folks who haven’t had the opportunity to travel like I or many others have, are “terrifying Green Day groupies” just because they recognize the Big Three… what the fuck is that all about? Not only does he slag off a specific group of superfans (god I hate that word), but he also slags off the “ordinary fan,” who just may happen to know what those three dudes look like. I don’t know. I can’t even fathom the meaning behind those particular words.
I know that there are crazy fans. There are those fans who do nothing short of stupid things and I don’t need to tell you what those things are, you can pretty much conjure them up in your mind. Their actions sometimes terrifies me and makes me feel badly for Green Day, or any band, movie star, or public figure, for that matter. These fans invade privacy, put into danger, stalk their children, impersonate them, scream at them, and hound them to no end for just a little piece of them. This behavior is wrong, short and simple. But not every fan or superfan (urgh) does it. Not everyone can be painted with a broad brush. Not everyone has an expense account or trust fund. Not everyone is a stalker.
I guess the bottom line with me is that it’s hard enough being a Green Day fan when punk and music circles constantly slam them. You can’t mention Green Day in many music forums without some commenter writing about how good they used to be. I don’t mind a rational discussion of the issues of fandom and its subsequent problems. But I don’t need one of their friends to slam me as a fan, too. Particularly when the band has named their new live album pretty much in honor of their fans and particularly when that friend does not write informed distinctions about those very same fans.
A great friend of mine who talked with me about this said that fans should just boycott the work. To that, I say no. The problem with that is that overall, COMETBUS #54 is brilliant, and every fan (whether they can recognize the Big Three offstage or not), will quite enjoy it. I stick by those words I tweeted back on January 29th when I started reading the issue: “OMG COMETBUS #54 “In China with Green Day” is awesomer than fuck. And I mean that” I also will keep in mind Aaron Cometbus’s mantra: “Don’t be judgmental, don’t be difficult, don’t be self-righteous. Just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. Don’t be judgmental, don’t be difficult…” In that respect, maybe I have misjudged Aaron Cometbus. But I have only his words to go by on that.
“Everyone has their own perspective, and each thought that theirs was the clearest one.”
COMETBUS #54, In China with Green Day, pg. 94.