Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side

Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side

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by Rayya Elias
     
 

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“Terrific. . .Rayya’s stories blew mine away.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
 
“A classic, blood-stained love letter to bohemian NYC.” – Craig Marks

When she was seven, Rayya Elias and her family fled the political conflict in their native Syria, settling in Detroit. Bullied in school and caught between the

Overview

“Terrific. . .Rayya’s stories blew mine away.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
 
“A classic, blood-stained love letter to bohemian NYC.” – Craig Marks

When she was seven, Rayya Elias and her family fled the political conflict in their native Syria, settling in Detroit. Bullied in school and caught between the world of her traditional family and her tough American classmates, she rebelled early.

Elias moved to New York City to become a musician and kept herself afloat with an uncommon talent for cutting hair. At the height of the punk movement, life on the Lower East Side was full of adventure, creative inspiration, and temptation. Eventually, Elias’s passionate affairs with lovers of both sexes went awry, her (more than) occasional drug use turned to addiction, and she found herself living on the streets—between her visits to jail.

This debut memoir charts four decades of a life lived in the moment, a path from harrowing loss and darkness to a place of peace and redemption. Elias’s wit and lack of self-pity in the face of her extreme highs and lows make Harley Loco a powerful read that’s sure to appeal to fans of Patti Smith, Augusten Burroughs, and Eleanor Henderson.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
You know you’re in for a memoir of dysfunction, depression, drugs, drink, and despair when Elias declares that as a child “being bad was what I did best.” By the time she was seven, she and her family had left Syria because of increasing political and religious tensions and moved to Detroit, because of its large Arabic community, to start a new life. Elias soon discovers that there will never be a better life, for her parents were more interested in using America for what they can get from it than in Americanizing. Bullied at school and failing to fit in at home or at school, Elias remains an outsider trying to find a way into a circle of friends and into this new world; soon enough, she has rejected so much that there is a void inside her, and she starts to fill that void with drugs, sex, and punk rock, hardening herself against the pain. In this compulsively page-turning memoir of her search for herself, Elias takes us on a tour of her hell as she moves from Detroit to New York’s Lower East Side; once in New York, she sells drugs, does drugs, discovers new and more powerful drugs, falls in and out of love, becomes an award-winning hair stylist, performs with punk when she can, goes to jail, and eventually hits bottom and goes straight. Haunting and mesmerizing, Elias’s story captures powerfully the vulnerability of being an outsider and the deep yearnings to be a part of something, to fit in. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Syrian-born Elias reports on four decades absorbed first in the punk movement on New York's Lower East Side and then as a drug addict who finally achieved redemption.
Kirkus Reviews
A junkie's-eye view of three decades of addiction in Detroit and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. First-time author Elias, who has been clean since 1997, has enough distance to speak on her past unashamedly, with cleareyed intelligence and without judging her younger self too harshly. The youngest child of a prosperous Syrian family that immigrated to the suburbs of Detroit in the 1960s when she was 8, the author suggests her addictions were a response to the disruption that alienated her from her happy childhood in Syria. Her perspective remained that of the feisty little girl who fought back against bullies and earned the respect of her peers through a kind of reckless experimentation and a constant need to prove herself. "I always knew I couldn't be ‘the best of the best,' " she writes. "I think at a very young age I decided to become ‘the best of the worst,' which seemed to attract even more attention." Rather than take the path toward bourgeois security taken by her older siblings, Elias started a post-punk band, earning a living as a hairdresser. In New York, her dual careers seemed ready to take off, but her personal life was more complicated. While living unhappily with an adoring boyfriend, she fell deeply in love with a married woman who declined to leave her husband. Elias self-medicated with ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and Valium--anything to ease the pain--and soon found herself helplessly addicted. When snorting heroin became too expensive, a punk-scene friend reluctantly introduced her to mainlining. Thus began a descent into street life, homelessness, petty crime and jail time, alternating with temporary spans of redemption and health followed by heart-breaking relapse. Though slow to get going, the second half of this memoir is strong stuff, with some truly amazing stories well-told.
From the Publisher
“Elias’ spiky, punky memoir takes us from her idyllic Syrian childhood to her plunge into sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and more drugs in New York City’s East Village.”
— Elle
 
“More than a memoir, Elias’ tale –from Syria in the 1960s to New York in the 1980s – offers a street-level snapshot of some of history’s most critical time periods.  Through her intimate storytelling, we get a glimpse into the highly personal struggles of addiction and the powerlessness of those caught in its grip.” 
— Bust Magazine
 
"Rayya Elias's life reads like Huck Finn on heroin. Her story of fleeing Syria as a child,  growing up in Detroit and spending her young adulthood trolling around the East Village is as American as they come, including as it does immigration, addiction and hard won deliverance. Through it all Elias's voice burns fire hot and is completely engaging."
— Darcey Steinke
 
“Rayya’s writing doesn’t come out on the page feeling like it was squeezed from a standard-issue literary toothpaste tube. Instead, her stories are like tough little stray creatures, born in the lowest hollows of the dirtiest street corners, which then – as you watch, breath held – fight their way to rapture.” 
— Elizabeth Gilbert
 
 “Rayya Elias's Harley Loco grabs you by the throat on the very first page, and then never stops shaking you — even after you've closed the book. It's a punk song disguised as a memoir: raw, slashing, gritty, and shot through with all the wild confusion of youth. But it's also wise, unpredictable, and relentlessly affecting.” 
—Jonathan Miles

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670785162
Publisher:
Viking Adult
Publication date:
04/04/2013
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
 
Praise for Harley Loco

“[A] compulsively page-turning memoir…Haunting and mesmerizing, Elias’s story captures powerfully the vulnerability of being an outsider and the deep yearnings to be a part of something.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“First time author Elias, who has been clean since 1997, has enough distance to speak on her past unashamedly, with clear-eyed intelligence and without judging her younger self too harshly…strong stuff, with some truly amazing stories well told..”Kirkus Reviews

"Rayya Elias's life reads like Huck Finn on heroin. Her story of fleeing Syria as a child,  growing up in Detroit and spending her young adulthood trolling around the East Village is as American as they come, including as it does immigration, addiction and hard won deliverance. Through it all Elias's voice burns fire hot and is completely engaging." —Darcey Steinke

“Rayya Elias's Harley Loco grabs you by the throat on the very first page, and then never stops shaking you — even after you've closed the book. It's a punk song disguised as a memoir: raw, slashing, gritty, and shot through with all the wild confusion of youth. But it's also wise, unpredictable, and relentlessly affecting.” —Jonathan Miles

“Rayya Elias's twisted, devastating memoir of a life lived on the margins can take its rightful place alongside The Basketball Diaries, Please Kill Me and Just Kids as a classic, blood-stained love letter to bohemian NYC.” —Craig Marks

“Rayya Elias's recovery/coming out/East Village memoir brutally and honestly reminds us that replacing love with drugs keeps a woman a child. The redemption here is in her Syrian immigrant family. Their undying love and persistence remains her anchor and moves the reader to that place of transcendence that only unconditional love can create.” —Sarah Schulman

“Do any of us really know ourselves?  This kind of exploration into the human spirit is what true religion is about.” —Deborah Harry

Meet the Author

Rayya Elias was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1960 and moved to Detroit in 1967. She is a musician, hairdresser, filmmaker, and also sells real estate to make some extra scratch. She lives in New York City and Little York, New Jersey.

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Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
SaySaah0 More than 1 year ago
I was asked to review Harley Loco, a memoir written by a gay ex-junkie hairdresser who was born in Syria and made her way to the drug capital known as the East Village (via Detroit) where she made her name as a hairdresser/punk rock musician (yes, musician) while skipping, like Dorothy going to Oz, through all the rungs of junkie hell. I didn't want to read this book. First of all, I have personal knowledge of the Christian/middle-eastern family structure and any one of this brave girl's trifecta of secrets would take her out. For myself, a book about a world-class junkie who was also a world-class hairdresser? No. I was going on a long train ride and it was on my Kindle so I took a peek. I was surprised to see a preface by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray Love, a memoir I found difficult to swallow whole hog. Yet I was intrigued by Gilbert's unabashed adoration of Ms. Elias and her book. There are people who don't want - can't stand - an ordinary life. I know what that feels like. Rayya Elias, the narrator of this absorbing memoir could not tolerate being ordinary. If Eat, Pray, Love varnished the truth to make a good story, Elias left her truth beautifully unvarnished in Harley Loco and wrote a compelling memoir that pulled me in completely. Elias is a brave soul who is a magician at yanking her life out of the fire just as it begins to look like a descent into hard misery or worse. It's like reading a book version of The Perils of Pauline except Elias' perils are heartbreakingly real. With memoirs of the harrowing kind, you want to see redemption, you want a happy ending. This impressive memoir of a gay Syrian hairdresser with a musical bent whose demons come close to destroying her countless times is the happiest of endings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I want to join! ~ Amber~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*makes the list*