I’ve long held a romantic notion of the San Francisco punk scene. In my mind, the Bay Area was the ultimate spot, with streets lined by young crusties selling zines and drinking 40s. So, when I found out that the newly resurrected Cinders Gallery in Williamsburg was having a San Francisco punk reading night featuring zinester Erik Lyle, literary huckster Savannah Knoop and Maximumrocknroll columnist Kat Case, I threw on my most tattered duds and prepared for a night of swooning.
Though the show had officially started, the new incarnation of Cinders—a block or so away from its original location, right next to the BQE—was sparsely populated until Knoop walked in. Then, slowly, a crowd seemed to form around her. Since moving to New York in the wake of the social experiment that was JT Leroy, Knoop has hastily churned out contributions to New York culture, including the performance art duo called AMASS, her monthly dance party Woahmone and a soon-to-be-released novella from which she was about to read. Knoop, in a black-and-white jumper, explained to me that she and the two other readers were all connected through San Francisco activism.
"Erik Lyle and I used to live in the same office building in San Francisco and we’d see each other a lot in the elevator," she said, explaining that it had become common at the time in San Francisco for people to take up residence in office buildings.
Lyle arrived wearing a blue buttondown shirt and a black baseball cap, looking more like a L.A. surfer dude than an East Bay Gutter punk. Then it occurred to me that the outfit was probably dumpstered. Atop a small table inside Cinders sat copies of his zine Scam, which featured numerous guides to scamming, cheating and stealing in order to further a punk rock lifestyle. Next, Kat Case arrived in a sleek black dress and Cinders seemed suddenly full.
The room was full of mostly grownups who sat quietly as the readings commenced. Knoop read from her work in progress, about a woman trying to get on general assistance while being haunted by the voices of her pet fish. Lyle’s work focused on a fictional graffiti artist on the lam, and Case brought the evening home with a story about two ladies in trouble after trying to cross the border with a cache of pills. Afterward, the crowd broke for smokes and beer as the film Maggots and Men was set up for a screening.
Outside, I asked Lyle what his teenage self would think of the presentable adult before me.
"I feel like I’ve kept pretty true, I still hustle any way I can to get by," he said. "I still sell zines for cash, do crime, whatever it takes. I’m still making it in the most expensive city in the country."
I tell him about how I used to romanticize San Francisco, but add that while it’s expensive, Brooklyn feels like the place to be.
"Honestly, we’ve finally killed off the hippies and the baby boomers and now it’s our time, he said. "The punk rockers control Brooklyn."