Love, Death & Photosynthesis
During the heyday of the late '80s indie underground, high school sweethearts Bela Koe-Krompecher and Jenny Mae Leffel moved together from small-town Ohio to the big city of Columbus to pursue education and a dream of something more. When they arrived, the two met Jerry Wick, a prickly malcontent and lead singer of the punk rock band Gaunt, and the trio quickly forged a contentious friendship that would be challenged for the next 20 years by addiction, mental illness, homelessness, divergent whims and tragic paths. They bonded over their obsessive love of music, especially the scrappy, welcoming world of independent labels and bands, where heroes could be a neighbor, a bartender or even a know-it-all behind the counter of a record store. Through the label Koe-Krompecher and Wick launched, and the music Leffel made, these three friends gained fans nationwide and garnered unexpected critical acclaim from The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, SPIN and more while sharing the stage with bands like Superchunk, Mudhoney and Guided by Voices. At its heart, Love, Death & Photosynthesis is a story of the love between friends and the power of music to pull people together—often in spite of themselves—in the universal search for connection.
"Love, Death, & Photosynthesis is such a generous text. One that offers both a timeline and a soundtrack of living. One that populates a world with people who could easily be your kind of people, immersed in days and nights that could be your days and nights. I loved this book for how it acts as both an intimate profile of a time and era, and also a mirror through which a reader can see their own history, their own affections, and their own music."
-Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
"Bela Koe-Krompecher’s Love, Death & Photosynthesis is a remarkable book: an exploration of indie rock, a memoir of drinking and, then, not drinking, and ode to Columbus, Ohio, and most of all an elegy for a handful of musicians—particularly the haunting singer Jenny Mae—who lived hard and bled art and died too young. Koe-Krompecher, a co-founder of Anyway Records, is one of the spindles that keeps the indie-rock world spinning and Love, Death and Photosynthesis is a wild, real tender combination of Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Michael Azzerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. Hell, Love, Death and Photosynthesis isn’t even a book—it’s a juke box, the wonderous kind that you find in a dive bar and that seems, suddenly, to contain every song you need to hear."
-Daniel A. Hoyt, author of This Book is Not For You
"Bela so beautifully writes about the connection between love, identity and an underground music scene- if music’s been the way you’ve made sense of the world this book will move you to tears."
-Matt Sweeney, VICE/Guitar Moves
"Anyone who spent the 90's watching bands in half-empty bars and mixing their brains with other underground misfits will recognize themselves in the great stories Bela Koe-Krompecher tells in Love, Death & Photosynthesis. But Bela's vivid memories are full of surprises too, and there's something universal about the way he unravels his past, giving it an emotional weight that resonates beyond all the lost nights and dearly departed comrades."
-Marc Masters, contributor to Pitchfork & The Wire, author of “No Wave”
"In Love, Death & Photosynthesis, Bela Koe-Krompecher gives us a memoir that arrests, entrances, repulses even as it fascinates, pulls the reader close enough to whisper in the ear, holds at arm's length to assess life's ruins, and explores the sanctuaries we build within and around that wreckage. It's a book born of fresh young Ohio corn fields and autumnal brass marching bands, just as it inhabits barrooms dank with despair yet illuminated by the melodic rings and howling squalls of music—the ever-present, blessed music—that holds it all together. Crushingly sad and defiantly hopeful, it's a paean to Jenny Mae, it's On the Road for the Rust Belt, it's a desperate diary of struggling for equilibrium in a wildly spinning life, a broken-bottle bare-knuckled account of the '90s Columbus music scene, and a sober love letter to hope and forgiveness. There's real blood and tears and, yes, laughter in these pages."
—Matthew Cutter, author of Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices
"I'm guessing I met both Bela and Jerry on Mudhoney's first stop in Columbus circa 1988, but it's a bit murky. Whenever, it was an instant kinship based on music, records, & booze. Fellow Travelers. I know these people, but if I didn't, I'd feel like I did after reading this. A beautifully vivid, heartbreaking tale of friendships cut far too short."
-Steve Turner, Mudhoney
"Love, Death & Photosynthesis is an incredible look at friendship, loss, creativity, and growth. Koe-Krompecher writes beautifully about the thrill of loving music, booze, late nights.....and facing everything that comes next. Throughout the story, he is able to honor the two very important friends he lost, who burned bright but left early. In explaining the ways they touched him and changed his life, he delivers a great reflection on grief and a hopeful tale of moving forward. Really amazing, super moving and, of course heartbreaking. A story beautifully told and does a lot to honor to both Jerry and Jenny."
-Craig Finn, The Hold Steady