This week sees, improbably but happily, zine writers and punk-culture chroniclers Scott Satterwhite and Aaron Cometbus roll into Park Ave CDs to talk about being a "weirdo in the Deep South" through the lens of their recently published book, A Punkhouse in the Deep South: The Oral History of 309. This tome, released through University of Florida Press, tells the history of Pensacola's 309, one of the longest-running punk houses in the United States, through the words of people who called it home. Expect metric tons of funny, freewheeling and heartbreaking tales on the night from two skilled storytellers who've lived the life and done their time in the 309. The event will be free but limited capacity, with face masks required. RSVP through Eventbrite to reserve your spot. Satterwhite talked to Orlando Weekly about the book and his stint in 309.
What is the importance of punk houses to the cultural ecosystem of the underground, especially in Florida? And what made the 309 house notable enough for chronicling?
They're important to the local culture because they're part of the culture. Punks are often left out when discussing what makes up a city or a community, even though they're clear reflections of those towns. Nothing against the symphonies or rock venues, but you learn more about the cities you live in by listening to local punk bands than you ever would by listening to the symphony. Punk in D.C. or the Bay Area is a reflection of their world, and Florida punk is definitely a reflection of Florida.
The story of the 309 punk house isn't necessarily unique, except for its ability to stick around. This is for a number of reasons, but its longevity and continuity are a big part of its story. The stories of 13 people are chronicled here, stretching a 25-year history, and they tell a story of punk that's never really told. It's not a story about bands, even though most of the people played in bands, but instead it's a story of how we actually live.
Our story itself isn't unique, but oddly enough, no one has ever told the story about how punks live, and that's what makes this story important. We're part of the culture, too, and now our story is being told in our own voices.
Do you remember the day you moved into the 309 house?
I moved into the house not long after I got out of the Navy. The punk scene in Pensacola was very welcoming, and the people at 309 knew me because I wrote a zine. There was a room open, and they knew me from my zine and the bookstore I worked at, and thought I'd be a good fit.
When I moved in, we had about four or five people living there. All beautiful people. You'd hear people working on songs. People were painting. Some were writing zines. There was almost always someone cooking. Always. That's what I remember most.
How did outsiders in Pensacola view the house?
The neighbors saw the house differently. Some definitely hated us, sometimes for good reason, but often because of their own stereotypes of who we were and what we were doing. A lot of the neighbors really liked us, though. We'd share food often with the older folks around the corner. I met my wife Lauren at 309. When our daughter was born, one of our neighbors brought us baby clothes. It was sweet, but also shows how we were definitely part of the community.
- Photo courtesy the 309 Punk Project
Talk about gathering the interviews and stories for the book. How did you and Aaron collaborate on the finished manuscript?
The stories were gathered through an Oral History class at the university where I teach. A friend of mine, Jamin Wells, thought the stories from 309 would make for a good study with his class and asked if I could give him a diverse group of 309 alumni who could respond quickly for students working on a deadline. I got in touch with people who'd been in touch over the years, who were easy to reach. The students did the interviews. The interviews were a bit awkward because it's hard to really grasp what it's like to live in a punk house, but that forced the residents to explain their lives in detail in a way that they likely wouldn't have done with me or Aaron.
The interviews were conducted between February and March 2020, with the last ones finished as COVID-19 shut down the country and the university. That's when Aaron and I started talking about the interviews. A book was never in the thoughts of anyone when this class project began, just a collection of interviews for the archives at the 309 Punk Project and the university. But as we started to read the stories, it became clear something else was here.
Aaron and I started bouncing the idea of a book off of each other through letters, stamps and paper and envelopes through the USPS in the spring of 2020. We edited, heavily edited, and in many instances transcribed, the interviews. Less than a year later, we have a book. It's really a pretty amazing process that likely wouldn't have happened if not for the pandemic. We had more time on our hands than expected. Having a project did a lot to keep up our spirits, and made us really appreciate our friends even more than before.
Is it surreal doing a DIY tour for a book about DIY culture, in 2021 no less?
Yeah, it's a bit surreal, especially at this stage of our lives, but it also feels natural. It's nice to drive around the Deep South with a book about the Deep South talking about what it's like to be a punk in the South. That's basically what we talk about in our performance, and basically what our book is about — what it's like to be a weirdo in the Deep South. Aaron and I have been good friends for well over 20 years, since he first moved into 309 in the late '90s, and it's been great to strengthen that friendship with the book and the tour. It's like a punk version of that Willie Nelson song each day. Considering everything that's gone on, it's really a miracle that we're alive and that we're able to do this tour and that this book exists.