A formative coming-of-age graphic memoir by the creator of Afro-punk: a young man’s immersive reckoning with identity, racism, clumsy teen love and belonging in an isolated California desert, and a search for salvation and community through punk.
Apple Valley, California, in the late eighties, a thirsty, miserable desert.
Teenage James Spooner hates that he and his mom are back in town after years away. The one silver lining—new school, new you, right? But the few Black kids at school seem to be gangbanging, and the other kids fall on a spectrum of micro-aggressors to future Neo-Nazis. Mixed race, acutely aware of his Blackness, James doesn’t know where he fits until he meets Ty, a young Black punk who introduces him to the school outsiders—skaters, unhappy young rebels, caught up in the punk groundswell sweeping the country.
A haircut, a few Sex Pistols, Misfits and Black Flag records later: suddenly, James has friends, romantic prospects, and knows the difference between a bass and a guitar. But this desolate landscape hides brutal, building undercurrents: a classmate overdoses, a friend must prove himself to his white supremacist brother and the local Aryan brotherhood through a show of violence. Everything and everyone are set to collide at one of the year’s biggest shows in town…
Weaving in the Black roots of punk rock and a vivid interlude in the thriving eighties DIY scene in New York’s East Village, this is the memoir of a budding punk, artist, and activist.
“Punk is James Spooner’s salvation as he comes of age in a racist world, but punk culture is also a microcosm of that world. The path to reconciliation—with himself, his parents, his peers—is navigated with exquisite nuance and compassion. A beautifully drawn story.” — Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
“James Spooner’s documentary AFRO-PUNK not only exposed racism in the punk scene, it inspired a movement that centered Black and Brown punks everywhere. In his new memoir, we learn about the major pitfalls and minor triumphs that put Spooner on the path to realize his dream of an all Black mosh pit. Beautifully written and illustrated The High Desert is a must-have for every music fan. After I finished reading it I kept wishing a second, third and fourth volume would magically appear so it didn’t have to end.” — Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill & Le Tigre
“Washington DC is a long way from Apple Valley and the circumstances of James’ introduction to the punk underground are vastly different than mine, but there’s something so recognizable in The High Desert that I felt like I was there. I suspect in a way we were all there at one time in our lives, navigating and negotiating as we figured out just who the fuck we were and who was with us. I loved this book.” — Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat & Fugazi
“This reminds me of how punk can pull us out of a pit, give us legs to dance on, and words to scream with our dumb drunk beautiful friends. This already feels like a classic.” — Ben Passmore, author of BTTM FDRS and Your Black Friend
James Spooner is an accomplished tattoo artist, illustrator, and filmmaker. He directed the seminal documentary Afro-Punk. Spooner is also the co-founder of the Afro-punk Festival. Spooner’s work has appeared in NPR, Vice, The Village Voice, The New Yorker, Vibe, Fader, MTV, NBC News, and Variety. He is an ongoing guest curator for the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and previously programmed for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
368 page black and white hardcover with dust jacket