Thorn claims “County Line” is about her. In fact, to her mind, all of Wit’s End is—Humor Risk, too. After a long night swallowing sarcasm, rejection and bourbon from every direction, she is on her way home from Pasadena to nod off alone with what’s left of the Grim Reaper’s anesthetic. She is in a vindictive mood and too drunk to be taken for her word, but considering the lengths McCombs has gone to divorce himself from the emotions displayed on record, it’s not outlandish to think he might have led her to believe this. The genius of Humor Risk is that its chaotic viciousness is so intricate yet so universal, it could really be about anything or anyone. After hearing “Mystery Mail,” for example, Catacombs’ “Lionkiller Got Married” is a random page in any novel, as much about Brian King, Liza Thorn or Charles Manson as it is about his ex-wife. “I try to make my songs open to interpretation,” he says, “to the degree that people could just continuously create on top of my creations. If there were any breadcrumbs that lead the way back home, they’ve all been eaten.”
The next day, after his evening at King’s, McCombs is showered, clear-eyed and personable back at Rechtshaid’s place in Echo Park. Sitting on the porch, deconstructing lyrics, he says, “We’re all individuals. We’re all working on our problems. What I do is incredibly simple. I just write down my feelings and other people’s feelings, and I try to use my imagination. The answers are in the search. The search is the answer. If there’s an answer it’s don’t have an opinion. Don’t make up your mind. Just keep looking.” He is quick to lighten up, “I wanna make people dance. Even on the slow songs, I just wanna give them joy. Music’s about being free.”
Don’t hunt for McCombs between the lines. Aside from the occasional allegorical cameo, he’s not there. Leaving himself behind seems to spare him true heartbreak and affects a life of constant change. In this regard, McCombs really does embody the Scorpionic ideal he romanticizes, a stinger packing death and rebirth in his back pocket at all times. “The purpose of life is to live and change and to be,” he shouts over a mob of Hells Angels ripping by. “To exist is not to be. It’s like John Keats’ gravestone says, ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’ I think with my feet. This is a transient world.” McCombs finds his place in it not by standing up to the tide, as so many of us do, but by disappearing into it and paying close attention to its rhythm.