Love, Death, and Photosynthesis
Don Giovanni Records
Bela Koe-Krompecher has created something unique in Love, Death, and Photosynthesis, a time-jumping memoir covering addiction and recovery, an elegy to lost friends, and a love letter to the ’90s Columbus, Ohio indie/punk scene. Opening in 1988 and ranging from the early ’70s up to 2018, Love, Death, and Photosynthesis is a series of short vignettes adding up to a remarkably heartfelt memoir of loss, loneliness, music, and ultimately acceptance and recovery.
Koe-Krompecher’s loving, yet at times fraught relationships with Jenny Mae Leffel, his high school girlfriend-turned best friend and Jerry Wick of the band Gaunt comprise the emotional center of the book. Both are gifted musicians with self-destructive streaks and drinking problems, as well as contagious senses of humor and fun that keep Koe-Krompecher hooked.
“The validation of laughter is one of the finest feelings a person can have, a small jolt of pleasure in the desert of the mundane. Jerry, Jenny, and I were all gifted with the ability to wriggle smiles out of others. Jenny and Jerry, in spite of the darkness that crept around their edges, were two of the funniest people I have ever encountered.”
Rather than turning them into cautionary tales, Koe-Krompecher ably humanizes the two. And in a scene and age where drinking and outrageousness is celebrated, it can be difficult to recognize mental illness or alcoholism, especially when you’re sharing drinks and adventures. Even so, Koe-Krompecher deftly describes the heartbreak, anger, and confusion of dealing with a loved one’s undiagnosed mental illness.
Through it all, there is music. Koe-Krompecher has a gift for describing those long, aimless days haunting used record stores or working half-heartedly at your minimum-wage job until that three-minute song or five-band bill later that night makes it all worthwhile. And if the music you’re so dedicated to doesn’t register on the larger world’s radar, well, that’s not really the point, is it?
-bc”Nobody got famous, nobody ever really made a dent in any product counting mechanism like Billboard magazine or the clanging of cash registers, but we cherished one another as if our lives depended on it, night in and night out. We discovered that success wasn’t the prize, the prize was the friendship, and the making of art for fuck’s sake. That is what an Ohioan does— not always stylish, but always sincere.”
Plus, he describes a band having “squalid sounds would frighten the paint off a witch’s house,” a phrase I really wish I had come up with.
Koe-Krompecher is as honest documenting his own drinking problems and failings as he is with his friends, and manages to strike a nice balance between sensationalizing and recounting. You feel for everyone in Love, Death, and Photosynthesis, applauding their successes, hoping that they are able to break their cycles, even if you know some of them won’t.
Love, Death, and Photosynthesis is equal parts heartbreaking, funny, and melancholy and will haunt the reader long after finishing the book.