Comets Flame Out: Empathy Loses to Nostalgia in Seattle as We Lose a Landmark and a Big Piece of our Humanity

BartTransplants to Seattle, at least normal transplants, (people who like conversation with humans and not conversation with mountain trails or, I’ll say it, bored baristas pointing at tip jars) get miserable quick. My wife and I moved to the Capitol Hill neighborhood in 2006, and we stayed there for a long, lonely year. It was at the end of this year that I finally wandered into the Comet Tavern, to buy advance tickets to see a friend Henrik Bjornsson and his band Singapore Sling, and to suddenly discover Seattle had a pulse.

The Comet I walked into in 2007 looked like a converted shed, and it smelled worse . . . like an earthy kind of cheese. The staff, who had the weary look of people accustomed to Faulknerian levels of disappointment, informed me I didn’t need tickets for a Comet show. I stuck around. Drank a beer. Read a book. Left because I had to go to the bathroom, but I didn’t have to go bad enough to use the one at the Comet.

Comet-framed-posterWithin two years, my band The Foghorns had made our big debut in Seattle, then played almost monthly gigs, almost exclusively at the Comet. We developed our new sounds, wrote songs about life around booze with the ultimate critics–the locals– judging us extremely vocally. I remember having a stiff show, and hearing, at the beginning of three songs “Hey waiter!!” Positive quotes are slightly less memorable. You’d get the weird quiet, or you’d get people singing along . . . even on new songs. (A key point: I’ve played more than two dozen gigs at the Comet in various bands, and I’ve never seen an ACTUAL CRITIC, that is, someone who writes about music for publication, at the Comet. Another key point: I’ve been fortunate enough to be featured as a pick in publications– but NEVER for a Comet show.)

For The Foghorns, we got our degrees from The Comet, playing constantly, moving from early weekday gigs to Thursdays to, finally, weekends. The experiences–nothing ever quite going right, but every gig reminding you WHY you place music. Through gigs at the Comet, we formed a fraternity of bands I admire: Jeremy Burk (now performing as Yucca Mountain), Lonesome Shack, Skeletons with Flesh on Them (now Roaming Herds of Buffalo), Casey Ruff, Corespondents, Friends and Family, Tango Alpha Tango . . . the list goes on.

I mean, I have a set of photos of my favorite Northwest musical acts standing next to the Comet restroom, because the lighting was so creepily brilliant. So the place is great. This, for example, of Nate Rogers from Friends and Family backstage.

And now there’s news it’s gone. And my reaction is . . . well, shit. And . . . lord it was a great ride.

But closing the Comet is not a tragedy. I have been in bands for 20 years, in a lot of celebrated venues. I used to watch bluegrass at CBGB (bands who played there could never draw, complained about the sound, and swore door money was always light). When I tick off my favorite clubs, 90 percent of these venues have something in common. They closed. A lot of the venues that stayed open became sports bars, or Spanish tapas bars, or some other nonsense.

Would I love to return to Sirkus in Reykjavik, or Galapagos in Brooklyn, or CBGB in Manhattan? Yes, ye,s and not really. But they’re gone. Of my favorite touchstone bars, really there’s only one bar that remains that I feel affection for, as an entity: The Blue Moon in Seattle.

The obvious answer, well, I quote the Scottish artist Robert Montgomery and paraphrase Keats, “All Palaces are Temporary Palaces.”

But this being . . . life, the closing of The Comet is worse than just loss. There is a Save the Comet Facebook page. But there’s also a horrible bummer. There’s an article from the Seattle Weekly.

I know what it is to be owed back wages: I’m a government employee working without pay because the government is shutdown. Lord, I feel sympathy. But the saddest news, to me, is that the owner of The Comet who was forced to close is having his struggle with alcohol broadcast. He owes back wages, but he also seems to have lost his house.

Will I miss the Comet? Of course. But seriously, is the loss of a building worse than the loss of a man’s dignity, the loss of a struggle with alcohol?

I’ve loved performing at The Comet, but, shit, what I’ve been talking about, and trying to sing about, is humanity, particularly the struggles to maintain humanity in the face of challenges like egoism and alcoholism. (One of those songs has been covered by my editor, Levi Fuller.) What does the fundraiser to repay the staff of the Comet say?  “The Comet Tavern ruled, but the dickhead owner screwed it up for everyone.” I hope to God the tone of conversation about the Comet changes, or, to paraphrase some dude from Seattle, those people listening to all those pretty songs, singing along, had no fucking idea what they meant.

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One Response to Comets Flame Out: Empathy Loses to Nostalgia in Seattle as We Lose a Landmark and a Big Piece of our Humanity

  1. Bart Cameron was born to write this piece. Any singer in a band, or, as Bart is, leader of The Foghorns, who has the humility and defiant honesty to mention that he was once called a waiter by a heckler, is someone whose music I want to listen to. And someone whose opinion I trust. Plus, I’ve seen the bathroom at the Comet. So I know he’s not exaggerating.

    Struggling to maintain one’s humanity is nearly impossible in an age where coffee costs 7 bucks, a girl singer with the last name of Cyrus is in the news because she wears underwear on the outside of her clothes and competent journalism is something you read in 140 characters or less. But listening to The Foghorns makes it seem like it’s all going to be okay. And that we’ll never have to read another book or see another movie with a teenager vampire in it ever again.

    Bart is also correct when he writes about Sirkus. That was one of the few pubs in rvk where corrupt bankers wearing pinstripe suits were not invited. It was also a pub where you could get in a fight with the owner’s son, and still be welcomed back. (If it truly was the owner’s son.) Somewhat like that Comet. Both haunts had nasty bathrooms where you’d never want to loiter to take drugs.

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