Folks of a certain age may remember Adam Gnade as the editor of the short-lived indie weekly Fahrenheit. Published for a little over a year from 2003 to 2004, the music-heavy paper offered a provocative take on the local scene and, for those who remember it, Gnade’s reportage was as invigorating and fresh as the bands he was covering.
It is this era in the local music scene that Gnade revisits in Locust House, a short, moving novella that works as both a tribute and a cautionary tale. It’s easy to get nostalgic about that particular time. I know ’cause I was present at a lot of the shows and house parties where bands such as The Locust, Holy Molar, The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and Cattle Decapitation brought a newfound energy to what had previously been a stale punk and metal scene. For those who were there, many will agree with one of Gnade’s narrators when he describes the music as “the brutalest, smartest, meanest kind of punk rock” that “opened up life like a giant window with all the sunlight in the world streaming in.”
Rather than sentimentally recount scenes from a bygone era, Gnade chooses to use varying narrators and formats to paint a vivid portrait of post-9/11 San Diego. Much of the book is told in first-person narrative by characters like Frances and Tyler, who offer almost an oral history. These reflections are often heartbreakingly poignant, but it’s in the other chapters, where Gnade tells the tale of a day in the life of a young punk girl named Agnes McCanty, that he really shines as a writer. There’s also a short story of a young couple living in Golden Hill that is a touching and picturesque snapshot of the neighborhood just as the grit was giving way to gentrification.
There are moments when the novella seems disjointed and aimless. Gnade has certainly proven himself to be an excellent novelist and essayist since moving away (check out his zine-style The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad to get an idea), so I couldn’t help but crave something a bit more focused and plot-driven. Nonetheless, Locust House serves as a creative and foundational treatise of a spirited scene that now seems legendary to today’s punk kids.
“We wanted power violence with a big, loving heart and good ethics to match,” writes Gnade. It’s sentimental for sure, but for generations to come, the sentiment itself will never change.