OK, allow me to embrace my inner teenage rock chick. I want to randomly muse about an amazing book called I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert. They say: “A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.” But, I say: “Best. Book. Ever.” I stumbled upon this book a few months ago, by accident, on Amazon. I was sold, first, by the title, which is taken from the song by riot grrrls Sleater-Kinney from their 1996 album Call the Doctor. Then, I was sold by the cover, and, finally, by this short synopsis:
“The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones. Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back. Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?”
So, I ordered the book, immediately, and it was waiting on my doorstep two days later. I opened it and, on the first page, I found this quote from Kurt Cobain: “I like the comfort in knowing that women are the only future in rock ‘n’ roll.” Does that look familiar? Yeah, I took it. In the acknowledgements, Kuehnert, who, in her youth, was first a goth, then a punk and a riot grrrl, explains that music is what sparked her desire to write. Then, she says in regards to women in rock:
“Sure, Nirvana gave a voice to millions of freaks like me and The Sex Pistols introduced me to punk rock, but the first time I heard Courtney Love scream that she was ‘pretty on the inside,’ it saved my angry, 13-year-old soul. Then, ten years later, when rock n’ roll was suffering at the hands of macho dudes and whiny Pearl Jam knockoffs, I heard Brody Dalle of The Distillers, and she restored my faith.”
Brody Dalle, punk rock goddess, restored her faith!
Then, after the acknowledgements, on the next page, the lyrics to Social Distortion‘s “Don’t Take Me For Granted,” from their 2004 album Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll are printed! Stephanie Kuehnert definitely had me before I even read one word of her story, but, soon enough, I found myself lost in the life of Emily Black, one of the best rock chicks who never existed!
Now, IWBYJR is considered YA fiction, but it’s much grittier than typical books in that genre. Emily Black, and her friend, Regan, drink and get high, regularly, and have casual sex, often, with no consequences. But, what makes this book special, for me, is that it’s as much about Kuehnert’s passion for punk rock music itself, post-1991 (which, if you don’t know, is the year that Nirvana changed the rules), as it is about angry punk rocker Emily Black’s dreams of making her band, She Laughs, the best punk band ever with the hope that her music will bring her mother back home to her.
Emily’s band, fueled by her raging vocals, takes the indie scene by storm, in the wake of Nirvana‘s success, eventually scoring a major label deal, and, even the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Her mother, Louisa, knows, listens, and loves her daughter’s music, even when she first heard Emily sing on her indie debut: “You’re gone!! And I don’t miss you at all!” But, she does. And, Louisa still listens, because every song Emily writes is about her. Sadly, Louisa still runs from the guilt of a dark secret that consumes her, that makes her feel that she’s not even good enough to be Emily’s mother.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
The ending of IWBYJR, where Emily and Louisa meet, by chance, in a bus station, is heartbreakingly beautiful. I re-read that final scene three more times after reading the entire book, twice (in the same week, no less!), and it killed me every damn time! But, in the end, the conflict is not resolved; and, now, I hope for a sequel, like Emily continues to hope that, eventually, her mother will, in fact, come back home.
Kuehnert’s soundtrack for IWBYJY (which can be found on her website) allowed the second time reading this book, so soon after the first, to be as fun and exciting as that first time. Her soundtrack includes Courtney Love‘s “Mono,” from her amazing 2004 solo disc America’s Sweetheart, and that song is exactly how I imagine Emily’s band would sound. And, Emily Black is, I’m sure, modeled after Courtney Love.
Emily, in fact, could have written the lyrics to “Mono.” They are about her, it seems. Or Kuehnert wrote Emily with that song in mind. Emily named her band She Laughs as a reaction to a one-night stand with a “rock god,” as Emily calls the punk rock boys in bands she prefers to “fxxx,” who mocked her when she said she was starting her own band. Courtney sings, “And, oh God, I wanna hear you say / I wanna hear you say that I am so much better than you,” and, that’s exactly what Emily wants to hear, and, why she pushes so hard to become a “rock goddess.” She wants to be taken seriously as a punk rocker, and not just a female punk rocker, but a punk rocker, plain and simple.
Anyway, IWBYJR is an amazing book, if you love chicks who rock. Read it.
Website: Stephanie Kuehnert Official Website