Punk Rock Science Fiction: Travis Fristoe and Aaron Cometbus Make the Case for Radon

I might have done a bit of a double take when I saw it on the shelf at Book Thug Nation. A book about Radon, written by Aaron Cometbus and Travis Fristoe? Yes, I thought: I will read this. And so I picked it up and devoured it not long afterwards, back-to-back with the latest issue of Cometbus. Did it hurt that the book’s look and feel evoked the 33 1/3 series? Probably not.

Radon’s name was one I knew more by reputation than by sound. No Idea had sent me a copy of their album 28 back in my zine-editor days, and it’s remained around, the kind of album I might pull out on a quiet day and turn up. I knew that they were from Gainesville, that they’d been at the root of that city’s punk scene as I knew it, and, dimly, that they’d reformed a few years ago. In this book, Cometbus and Fristoe each use an essay to make the case for why 28 is a kind of sleeper classic — and why the band as a whole is critically important — and it’s a convincing one.

A note early in this book alludes to Cometbus’s contribution being born of the same line of thinking that led to the latest issue of his zine. I’d assumed that implied some sort of overlap of scenes or people; instead, it’s much more thematic in nature. His perspective, unlike Fristoe’s, is more of an outsider’s, someone who admired the music made by Radon. “[M]y connection with them is not a personal one,” he writes; instead, his purpose here is to make a broader point, even if he does have some stories to tell about the band themselves, as well as their music. “We’ve gotten in the habit of taking things for granted and only appreciating what we have once it’s gone. We’ve barely even made an effort to figure out what we’re doing here in the first place, and what this whole punk thing is about,” he writes. “For me, Radon is a good place to start.”

Fristoe, by contrast, does have more of a Gainesville-centric take on the band. “Florida will always be a science fiction place,” he writes, and throughout his section of the book, he makes the case that the band’s constantly-revised lyrics and invocation of post-war chemical anxieties are rooted in that same mentality. Fristoe writes of moving there at 17, of seeing the scene evolve: there are references to the Fest, and to Florida punk bands from Against Me! to Palatka. His essay is no small accomplishment: in a short span of time, he makes a concise argument for the band’s importance, charts the evolution of the Gainesville scene, and shares key moments from his own life. It’s forceful and impassioned without being showy, and it’s all the more convincing for that.

After reading these two essays, I realized what I needed to do. It isn’t much of a surprise, but it probably couldn’t have ended any other way. I found Radon’s 28 on my shelf, slid the green vinyl out of its cover, set the turntable to 45, and let the needle fall. “Audio Illusions” has been lodged in my mind ever since.

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1 comment

  1. Wow! A solid reminder that UK punk is so superior to US punk. I think there’s just too much pop in the US strain (though somehow The Buzzcocks pulled that off without messing things up, didn’t they? so perhaps that’s not the actual issue). You can just see it trundling down the path to Green Day and that’s surely not a good thing?