Reading Joe Carducci’s Enter Naomi has helped me deal with the loss of the friend I wrote about a few weeks ago. The book chronicles Carducci’s relationship with Naomi Peterson, staff photographer at SST Records back in the 80’s. It also documents the road that Peterson took to get to such an achievement as well as the road to her premature death at the age of 39.
Peterson’s name was not only synonymous with the bands on SST Records, she became the eye to many of the most influential bands of the 80’s and early 90’s. Then, the name that graced so many credit listings suddenly became scarcer. It was a second edition of Rollins’ book Get In The Van before her death was made public.
It is made public again and goes deeper into her life with Enter Naomi. Carducci provides succinct descriptions of her days growing up Asian-American in Southern California, detailing a teenage Naomi who seemed to struggle with her mixed heritage even when she was as beautiful as any California blonde darling.
Her dark clothing and dyed hair gave way to the underbelly of Southern California’s emerging punk scene, and with her good looks and bubbly personality, she worked her way in.
She picked up a bottle for courage and a Nikon camera as a reason for being there. After one too many late nights out, her father banished Naomi from their home, hoping to get his daughter to follow the American Dream that he tried to provide as a serviceman.
Instead, Naomi followed a different path, this one to SST records. At first, it may have been just a chance to crash, but later it became the place where her talents were fostered and utilized.
What is interesting is how Carducci attempts to spin a narrative of her life only after she passed away. There is almost a sense of guilt in his words-and from others who provide their memories over someone they ultimately didn’t know anything about when she was alive.
We hear about her struggles with identity, but nobody explains why. We learn about her failed relationships, but little is know why. We hear about her struggles with alcoholism, but again, we don’t really know why.
Naomi, it seemed, spent more time trying to capture the stories of others through her camera and not enough time trying to relay her own. Within those struggles of identity was a woman who cared more about creating the identity of others. She felt out of place, yet found a home with a bunch of similar outsiders, and the more she got closer to them, the more she realized that her own burdens might have been a but more superficial than the punk rocker from the broken home in front of her lens.
With these gaps, Carducci begins adding bits of the SST family to the story, which can be a bit long-winded to anyone who isn’t familiar with it.
Luckily, I was. The names of Greg, Raymond, Mugger, D., Mike Watt, and a host of others, leap from the pages like old friends, even though I don’t know any of them. Like Naomi, SST seemed a little bit like family to a lot of us. Their bands came at critical times in my own life, so to hear their names is all the more comforting.
We read about them in fanzines and through second-hand information. They seemed larger than life, but works like Enter Naomi show us how it all was part of an incredible moment of d.i.y. ethos and a tremendous amount of hard work, one that did not produce its rewards for at least another decade.
And by then, everyone just seemed too exhausted to fight anymore, Naomi Peterson included.
I remember. I’m sure a lot more people do, too.
That’s why Enter Naomi ultimately becomes some kind of blessing to have.
Because there was really very little beyond her artistic fulfillment that benefited her and rewarded us. There was very little in terms of financial compensation, and after a while, it’s easy to understand why someone would finally just cash out and try to lead a normal life.
Even today-as of this writing-there isn’t even a Wikipedia page devoted to Naomi Peterson.
Enter Naomi was written in 2007.