Emily Black, heroine of this '90s-era novel, grows up in a small Wisconsin town where everyone expects her to turn out "bad," like her mother, Louisa, who abandoned husband and daughter early in Emily's childhood. Emily eagerly imbibes the legends about Louisa (her favorite: fleeing town on the back of a motorcycle, a teenage Louisa hurls her high heels through store windows on Main Street) and tells herself she doesn't miss her mother, yet Emily nurtures herself on Louisa's punk-rock ethos, eventually forming a band. Debut author Kuehnert keeps the story raw and gritty as Emily's band starts making it on the music scene, throwing in plenty of sex, booze and drugs, but weakens her grip by alternating Emily's story with Louisa's. The two are briefly reunited in a coincidence-heavy, rushed ending. The writing runs toward excess ("In the dim moonlight, remorse bruised circles under her dark eyes and traced lines around them") but the intensity of the characters' emotions and experiences will beguile many teen readers. Ages 14-up. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramoneby Stephanie Kuehnert
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/big>/b>/big>
A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.
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 the music, shouldn't it lead her right back to Emily?
"Teeth. Punk. Combat boots. Attitude. Feminism. Family. Girls with guitars. Relationships that jack you up. Sharp things of the not-good kind. Friendships. Love.... It's all here; it's all pure and real." Melissa Marr, New York Times bestselling author of Ink Exchange
"A fierce and wild ride." Laura Wiess, author of Such a Pretty Girl
"A wonderfully written andevocative story of a mother and daughter parted by circumstance and joined by music. I heartily recommend it." Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting
- MTV Books
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- SIMON & SCHUSTER
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 2 MB
- Age Range:
- 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
Altars. Saviors. Rock 'n' roll. I braved my fear of spiders, dust plumes as thick as L.A. smog, and the stench of dog piss that the last owner of the house had let permeate the basement to tirelessly search my father's record collection for my next holy grail. Sitting on that cold, dirty, painted cement floor in my blue jeans, with the Wisconsin winter creeping through the tired walls and windows of our house, I dug through crates of albums, feeling their perfect square edges poke between my fingers. The slap of plastic dust cover against plastic dust cover was so satisfying, but the best moment came when I found the record I wanted, slipped it out of its paper jacket and onto the record player. The needle skipped and skittered for a few seconds until it found its groove, the first chord scratching its way through the speakers, a catchy chorus reverberating in my ears. Earthquakes. Rock gods.
Music was in my blood. My mother left me with my father when I was four months old so she could follow the beginnings of punk rock around the country. Detroit. New York. L.A. We never heard from her again. Neither of us was resentful. She had her reasons. At least that's what I told myself.
Two months after she disappeared, my dad moved us from our tiny apartment in Chicago to Carlisle, Wisconsin, the small farming town fifteen miles beyond the Illinois border where he and my mother had grown up. When we first returned to the land of lush fields, acres of corn, and barns that sat fat and yawning at the ends of dirt roads, people talked. It was just that kind of place, a small, tight-knit community; any deviation from the norm was grounds for discussion.
Before areas were incorporated, when land was simply land, Carlisle was born of a general store that farmers flocked to from miles away. Back then, the men talked about their work while picking up seed and parts for aging equipment. Their wives came for cloth and the foods they could not raise themselves. They exchanged advice about family matters and gossiped about the other women who had asked them for advice.
As the years passed, the government bought up land to build roads, and corporations turned family farms into giant factory farms. People moved closer together, and from the general store sprung a main street scattered with businesses. Two miles away a food-processing plant opened. The sprawling community shrunk into a town made up of the farms that remained nearby and the former farming families who took jobs at the plant or opened storefronts. Side streets attached themselves to Main Street in a neat grid near the center of town, but farther out, roads meandered around fields. From above, the layout of Carlisle looked like straight hair -- parted in the middle by Main Street -- suddenly gone curly at the ends.
But everyone still knew one another. Everyone still gathered in front of the store or at the tavern to talk. No modernization would ever change that.
I don't want you thinking I'm from some completely backwoods town, though. I grew up with all the modern comforts: indoor plumbing, cable TV. What set Carlisle apart from urban areas was the way everyone clung to history. Not like this-war-started-on-this-date history, more like where-was-your-grandfather-during-the-blizzard-of-1921 history. From snippets of conversation, I knew who I was, who my family was, and how we fit into town lore. The most popular topic from the time I came to Carlisle until the day I left was the high school football team. The second most common topic was the people who didn't seem to care about normal things like football, the people who just weren't quite right.
Like Paula Collins, whose parents had both perished in a barn fire when she was sixteen. She inherited all the money they'd squirreled away and the land they lived on, and she never left, never married, never rebuilt that barn. Or Norma Lisbon, who was well on her way to being the town drunk even before her son, Eric, killed himself. After Eric died, her husband stopped speaking, became a total mute, and Norma was drunk, disorderly, and doing something gossip-worthy nearly every day.
Or like my family...
My parents, Michael Black and Louisa Carson, had created quite a scene in 1974, when they sped out of town on my father's motorcycle. As a teenager, I walked into many discussions about it at the local gas station and grocery store, but my favorite version, the only one I took as gospel, was the one my mother's best friend, Molly Parker, told me.
It was an unusually warm day in April when Michael and Louisa fled, Louisa's eighteenth birthday, and she made sure all of Carlisle knew that she was an adult and finally free to leave the tiny town that had smothered her with old- fashioned morals. My father concentrated on the drive, thinking the only way to save the girl he loved from all the anger that ate away at her heart was to help her escape. His black leather jacket and wild, coffee-colored curls made him look so dark he almost blended in with the road, which was appropriate because before Michael Black was seen in the company of Louisa Carson, no one in Carlisle had ever noticed him. As she had since she arrived in the town at the age of ten, the pretty but untamed doctor's daughter, Louisa, was the one causing the ruckus. Burning down Main Street on the back of his Harley, she held on to Michael with one arm, her bleached-blond hair tangling like corn silk in the wind as she turned dangerously in her seat to shout obscenities and shake her fist at Carlisle. Outside of Carlisle Groceries and Meats, a crowd of middle-aged women doing their weekly shopping and work-worn men picking up packs of smokes on their way to the job gathered to gawk at the spectacle. Louisa tugged off her black high heels and whipped one through the window of the grocery store, the other against the Old Style sign that flickered above the doorway of JT's Tavern. With that final act of aggression, she wrapped both arms around my father's chest and never looked back.
So, when my father returned almost three years later in a blue Chevy Impala with me, Emily Diana Black, asleep in the backseat, everyone had questions. They contemplated why he'd returned alone, wearing a wedding ring and carrying a milk-skinned baby with a shock of hair as dark as her last name, and blazing, green eyes that left no doubt she was Louisa's. They theorized about why Louisa had left him and wondered if I would end up as wild as she had been.
Molly overheard one of the many conversations in Carlisle Groceries and Meats soon after our return. As Molly put little jars of baby food into her basket, Mrs. Jones, wife of the store owner, openly discussed the situation with her customer, Sarah Fawcett. "Well, Michael had some of those hippie tendencies. That's probably how he ended up with that woman," she stated frankly, pushing the paper bag with Sarah's things across the counter to her.
"Oh, I remember," Sarah agreed. "Long hair, and that bike, of course."
"Yes." Old Mrs. Jones tightly clamped her thin, pasty lips together to give a dramatic moment of pause before she shared her vast knowledge. As one of the most well-known people in Carlisle, she considered herself the authority on every topic. "Michael was from a good family. Not a rich family like hers," she added snidely, "but the Blacks have lived around here forever. I don't know what he saw in that girl, but I'm sure she was a terrible wife, which'll drive even the gentlest man to his wit's end eventually."
Sarah nodded enthusiastically: at the time she was a young wife, seven months pregnant, and wished to prove she had the moral fiber that others from her generation, such as Louisa, lacked.
Molly emerged from the aisle and headed angrily toward the counter. Mrs. Jones continued, "I'm sure three years drained the rebellion from him..." When Molly slammed her basket down, Mrs. Jones paused and stared at her from wrinkly eye sockets, then finished her sentence. "Now he's back to raise his daughter right."
That was the consensus of the town. When my dad took work at the plant, people seemed to remember that he was the quiet son of a respected farmer, so they disregarded any of his remaining eccentricities, such as never removing his wedding ring, and the talk simmered down to a whisper until I reached my high school years.
My dad and I lived in a house that was big but cheap, weathered but solid, old but transformed by the rock 'n' roll energy that he and I breathed. My dad raised me on music. Our living room was a temple, plastered with posters of Bowie and the Rolling Stones. A framed, signed Beatles record hung over the stereo, which was our altar in the center of the room. A photograph of my mother sat on the left speaker, and an ever-changing stack of records on the right. My dad's taste ran the gamut, from classical to blues to punk to folk. Even into his forties, he amazed me by discovering the best underground bands before I did. Three records never left that stack on the speaker: one each by Johnny Cash, Leadbelly, and the Clash. The basement held crates and crates of other records, and as I grew older, that became the place I ran to immediately after dinner.
I knelt on that cold cement floor, dust clouds poofing up around me as I flipped faster and faster through the albums. "There has to be something good in here. Don't tell me it's all folk crap," I complained, craving noisy guitars the way other nine-year-olds hungered for candy.
"That's rock, too, Emily," my father chided from behind me, looking slightly disappointed that I wasn't finding nearly as much satisfaction in his old record collection as he did. His dark eyes drank in every album cover, mouth twitching with a memory, a line that wanted to be hummed, or words in the record's defense that would have been wasted on me.
"No, it's not noisy enough," I replied. I wanted something that you could feel in your throat when you played it loud, something that churned through your stomach and shook you to the tips of your toes. Something that scraped out your insides and made you want to dance without them. Just as I searched for the steepest hill to ride my bike down, I hunted for music that would provide the greatest thrill.
My dad's wavy hair fell across his brow as he laughed softly. Everything about my father was soft except for his hardworking hands. Just twenty-one when I was born, he still looked young, more like an older brother than a dad. However, since he stood over six feet tall, so much bigger than I was, I always viewed him as my protector. As tough as I acted, on many occasions I buried my tear-drenched face in one of his flannel shirts to be soothed by the sound of his voice or the thump of his big heart. Most important, he was also my playmate. He went along with my nightly exploration of the records, sharing in both the delight and the seriousness of my mission.
"It's gotta be noisy, huh?" He smiled impishly. His brown eyes sparkled like they were lit by stage lights. "Your mother would be proud of you," he said. The glimmer in his eyes changed just slightly; a sense of longing always emerged when she came up in conversation.
"Are any of Louisa's records around here?" I asked. I rarely referred to my mother by anything other than her first name. She was even more distant than the rock gods in Rolling Stone. I had nothing of hers but photographs. I possessed the energy and voices of my icons through their music, but I remembered neither about Louisa.
"Somewhere. I don't know if you're old enough yet," my father teased, scooting away from the crate to stretch out on the floor.
"Louisa left some records with you!" I exclaimed, my hair slicing through the air between us as I twisted around to look at him. I'd been asking that question since I was five years old, but he never answered. I knew I had to have those records. They would be my mother. They would let me know her voice, her thoughts, the stories she would have told me before bed. They would help me re-create the moment I knew I would never remember: the night she decided she could no longer ignore punk rock's summons and kissed me good-bye. "I'm old enough! I can't believe you've just let 'em rot down here, Dad! Damn!"
"Emily, don't swear," he scolded affectionately, leaning back with his hands behind him.
"I'm sorry. I just want them so bad...." I took a breath, imagining how I would finally create my own altar, how I would stack Louisa's records right next to the little stereo that sat across from my bed. "I just know they're so cool!" I exhaled, curling my dusty fingers in my long, tangled hair and then leaping onto my father. He sat up quickly to catch me.
"You are certainly Louisa's daughter." Dad grinned. "Nine years old and you want to make the windows rattle and the floorboards creak with blasting speakers." He slid me off his lap, stood up, and led me past his tool bench, the furnace, and boxes full of Christmas decorations to a little closet that I'd never looked in, certain it only contained bugs and mice. It was surprisingly clean, and up on the top shelf perched a red milk crate with about twenty records in it. My holy grail.
Play it harder. Play it faster. Louder. Harder. Faster. So loudhardfast that I forget your name. After all, did I even know it in the first place? Those were the first lyrics I composed myself. I wrote them the summer I turned fourteen. As a little girl I felt the music in my gut and in the tips of my fingers, making me want to sing at the top of my lungs and learn to play guitar as well as my father. When puberty hit, I started to feel music between my thighs. My legs stretched long and slim, and my hip bones jutted out. I dressed in vintage blue jeans so worn they clung to me without being tight in that trashy way the girls with big, ratted bangs at my high school preferred. My hair, still as dark as my name, hung straight and thick, dusting the middle of my back when I pushed it behind me. The only makeup I wore then was black eyeliner and red lipstick.
Every weekend I walked around town with Molly's daughter, Regan. Since I was a baby, I'd spent my days in Molly's home while my father worked. Molly treated me like the sister of her two girls, Regan, who was only four months older than me, and Marissa, who was four years older. My dad told me that Louisa would have loved it that I was best friends with her best friend's kid. Regan even looked like Molly, a tiny but feisty girl who stood a few inches shorter than me, the red highlights in her chocolate hair glistening in the sun as we prowled the streets of Carlisle.
Main Street had changed since Louisa made her dramatic exit sixteen years earlier. Two blocks beyond CarÂlisle Groceries and Meats a strip mall had sprung up where Main Street became County Highway PW, the speed limit jumping from twenty-five miles per hour to forty-five right in front of the entrance to the brand-new Wal-Mart. Regan and I spent our Saturday afternoons in that vast, brightly lit emporium of crap, shoplifting everything from sodas to candles to black bras.
On those treks down Main Street the summer before freshman year, I heard whispers of my mother's name. People talked because of how much I'd grown to look like her on the outside, but I knew that I was most like Louisa on the inside. I understood why she'd hated Carlisle. Like all small Midwestern towns, it evolved slowly. It lagged at least a decade behind when it came to any cultural advancement. As the rest of the country moved into the nineties, Carlisle hung on to 1979. The women still had badly feathered hair. The men who whistled at Regan and me from their battered pickup trucks still had Styx and REO Speedwagon blaring through the speakers. Louisa, who'd entered her teenage years in 1969, lived in a town still stuck in the fifties. Like her, I saw two ways to escape Carlisle: sex and rock 'n' roll. For the first time, I thought I heard my mother's voice inside of me. Play it harder. Play it faster. Louder. Harder. Faster. So loudhardfast that I forget your name.
The first guy I slept with was a musician. Sam thought he was destined to be the biggest rock god the world had ever known. I thought so, too, but hell, I was only fourteen. Back then, we spent our days at Wal-Mart and our nights at River's Edge, an abandoned warehouse three miles from the outskirts of town and just as far from the nearest farmhouse. Kids came from all over two or three counties to listen to the raucous, angry music that bands pounded out at the Edge, the closest thing rural southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois had to underground rock, and the only place where Regan and I could find cute punk boys.
The afternoon before I met Sam, as Regan and I slid black lace panties on in the fitting room at Wal-Mart, she shouted over the partition, "Tonight's the night, Emily. We're going to find you some sexy punk to fuck out at River's Edge." We'd made a pact at the beginning of the summer that we wouldn't enter high school as virgins. Since Regan had hooked up with a guy at River's Edge the previous weekend, it was my turn to seal the deal.
I zipped up my jeans and shouted back to her, "I don't care what he looks like as long as he's in a band." I was, of course, being somewhat sarcastic. He had to be in a good band.
"That's my girl." Regan laughed as we stepped out of our stalls at the same time. The clerk standing outside the fitting room, a plump woman with an overprocessed perm, gaped at us, horrified.
"You're Molly Dahle's daughter," she hissed at Regan, flecks of spit curdling her coral lipstick. "You better watch it or you're gonna end up just like your mama," she continued, wearing the look of a satisfied hog, "knocked up at sixteen."
Regan glared at the woman, her hazel eyes turning the color of embers. She dropped the clothing that we'd been pretending to try on and corrected, "Parker. It's been Molly Parker for eighteen years now. Let me guess, you were prom queen? Class of '74? And you laughed your ass off when my mother dropped out to have my sister. But here you are now, fat and old, and my mother is still as thin and pretty as she was back then. Not to mention she's happily married, whereas you...I bet you haven't gotten laid since prom night, you dried-up -- "
"Shut up!" the woman bellowed, cheeks flaring and watery blue eyes bulging. Wal-Mart shoppers from intimate apparel to housewares gawked.
Regan gazed innocently at her audience. When she wasn't glaring or cursing, Regan's size made people think she wasn't a day over twelve. She backed away from the clerk, acting shocked. "I'm sorry, ma'am," she said sweetly, but loud enough for the silent store to hear. "I thought the customer was always right."
Regan and I sashayed through the racks of clothing toward the aisle. I glanced back and saw the store manager storming toward the clerk. I had no doubt she would try to tell him whose children we were, but the beauty of the new Wal-Mart was that it was run by folks from outside of Carlisle and even attracted many of its customers from surrounding towns. At Carlisle Groceries and Meats, Regan and I had been watched since the age of five for signs that we were like our awful mamas. At twelve, when we got caught smoking cigarettes behind the store, it was attributed to the evil we'd sucked down in our mothers' milk. But the managers of Wal-Mart viewed us as their corporate offices instructed. We were customers and the employees were not to let petty, small-town gossip interfere with proper customer service. As the manager lectured the clerk about this, Regan and I exited without suspicion, new underwear beneath our jeans and purses stuffed with stolen makeup and lighters.
Still snickering, Regan and I trekked through town, passing houses with big wraparound porches, painted bright shades of white, yellow, blue, and red. Downtown Carlisle was the nicer part of town. Farther south, the sun-faded and boxy houses looked as if a major snowstorm would reduce them to a pile of waterlogged boards. Our families lived in the area in between. At the intersection of Main and Laurel, we parted ways. "Marissa and I will meet you at the Edge at eight tonight," Regan reminded me.
Of course, they were late.
My dad dropped me off on his way to play music with the guys from his high school band. It wasn't a serious project, but Dad joked that it kept him in touch with his roots and helped him escape my noise.
I waited for Regan and Marissa on the outskirts of what was used as a parking lot at River's Edge. Cars lined up next to the warehouse, their tires treading worn gravel, broken glass, and thick ruts of dirt. Where I sat, grass struggled to grow in gnarly tufts, nourished by spilt beer and cigarette butts. Just a few feet away from me, it was lush, green, and tall, which made the area surrounding the warehouse look like the patchy head of a balding man.
No one knew where the name River's Edge came from. There was no sign that a river had run anywhere nearby in the last century, the nearest being the Pecatonica, five miles away. Maybe it was the name of the company that once owned the building. Even my dad, who met my mother there eighteen years earlier, had no idea. But I enjoyed the rural tradition of legend, and River's Edge was steeped in it.
In the late seventies, when someone -- maybe the cops, maybe the electric company -- noticed that the warehouse was being used, they shut it down for a couple months. Then someone -- or maybe a few people -- bought the property. No one knew who'd done it because nothing at the Edge changed when it secretly reopened. Making it into a legitimate club would have meant security, controlling underage drinking, and taking a cut from the money the bands made. The mysterious owner just left an old paint can with a sign that said "Donations" on the wooden table by the door where bands put their flyers and sold their silk-screened T-shirts and low-quality demo tapes. We all kicked in cash whenever we could so the electric bill could be paid and the roof kept leak-free.
River's Edge ran like a co-op. Volunteers did sound and lighting. Bands scheduled themselves on a calendar backstage. There were three slots a night and rookie acts who didn't know anyone else to sign up with chose a random date and opened by default. Bands from farther away called their friends to be added to the calendar. It created an intricate underground rock network so appreciated by everyone that fighting was rare, despite the edgy, volatile nature of the music.
During my dad's time, the sound at River's Edge transitioned from folk to garage punk, and it managed to survive the plastic metal of the eighties. Punk rock still thrived when I started seeing shows there, music that shared some similarities with what was brewing in the Pacific Northwest at the time, but we played it faster, like our lives depended on it. I have no idea why my father allowed me to hang out there. He probably assumed I went to appreciate music the way he'd raised me to, not realizing that rock possessed me the way it had my mother. If he'd had any idea that I was getting drunk and checking out boys, he would have tightened the reins. But my dad was very trusting and I was very good at concealing things from him.
I took a swig of cheap, watery beer and squinted through the fiery red light of the setting sun, searching for Marissa's black Pontiac. Pollen tickled my nose and late-August humidity thickened the hazy air. I finished most of my drink before Marissa and Regan showed up. Regan stumbled out of the passenger's door with a half-empty bottle of wine in her hand. Marissa stepped out gracefully, a lit cigarette dangling from her bloodred lips. Regan and Marissa both wore the same shade of lipstick, but other than that they looked nothing alike. Marissa resembled their father, tall with sandy hair and aquamarine eyes, while everything about Regan was dark; she inherited the Native American features of Molly's father. Marissa stood fluid and curvy, possessing the elegant confidence that Regan and I hoped we'd find in our own bodies in the next four years. At the same time, Marissa was still bad-ass enough to be our idol. The black halter dress she wore revealed the phoenix tattooed on her left shoulder and her creamy arms, toned from years of playing bass guitar.
We were a mismatched trio. Although I acted like the third sister, I obviously wasn't. Paler than both of them, my skin exuded the spooky glow of a full moon. They were both lean and muscular, and I was bony. Truly, we were not a trio at all. Regan and I were the inseparable pair, and Marissa the kind older sister who provided rides, tried to impart wisdom, and sighed when we ran recklessly ahead, ignoring her.
"Good evening, Emily." Marissa reached through the window into the backseat of the car for a beer. "Help yourself to the good alcohol," she added, noticing the Old Milwaukee I held.
I set down my can and stood up as Regan loudly slurred, "Tonight we're getting Emily laid!" She chucked a box of condoms at me, which were most likely the rightful property of Wal-Mart.
I rolled my eyes and threw the box back at her.
"That's all she's been talking about since we got in the car. Having some regrets about sleeping with that drummer last weekend, Regan? Need someone to share in your misery?" Marissa teased, her cheeks rising with her smile.
Regan stuck her tongue out at her sister and bent down to retrieve the condoms. "No, I just want her to get it over with. The first time's no good anyway. It's like opening a wound."
Marissa chuckled, rounding the car to meet us. "How would you know, Regan? You've never had a second time. Maybe it's always like that."
Regan raised her bottle of wine, uncoiled one of the fingers wrapped around the neck, and jabbed it in her sister's face. "How do you know, Marissa?" she mimicked. "Maybe I screwed that drummer twice."
Marissa shook her head wisely, her long hair shimmering. "If you had any more sexual experience, you would know that no teenage drummer could do it twice in an hour. Besides," she added with a giggle, "I know you overheard me saying that 'opening a wound' thing a couple years ago."
Regan blushed indignantly. "Shut up!"
"Oh, Regan," Marissa sighed, "you'll learn. You're both too smart to end up little groupies." She patted us on the tops of our heads in a motherly fashion and started toward the large, gray building. I watched her black high heels clicking steadily through the dirt and imagined that they were just like the pair Louisa had furiously thrown as she exited Carlisle. I wanted more than anything to combine the cool dignity of Marissa with the uninhibited rage of my mother. And I was convinced that Regan was right, that I would just have to get rid of my virginity to do it.
The opening chords of a fast punk song reverberated inside the warehouse. Feedback sizzled like lightning flashing across the darkening sky, beckoning us. I grabbed a fresh beer from the car and linked my arm with Regan's as we strode toward the entrance. She took a big gulp of wine and pondered her sister's words. "We're not groupies, are we, Em?" she asked, sounding somber.
"Nah, we're just bored."
Regan's enthusiasm was quickly renewed. "So, you'll let me pick out a guy for you tonight?"
"What the hell," I agreed, swallowing half the beer to catch up with her drunkenness. "You'll probably pick a better one than I would."
"Great!" Regan squealed. She ripped into the condom box and handed me a strip of them. "You'll need these, then. Better safe than sorry!" I pocketed them as she pulled me through the wide doors of the warehouse. "When I find him, I'll give you a sign."
Signs were the only way we could communicate inside. No one really monitored the noise level at River's Edge since there were no neighbors to complain. The warehouse had great natural acoustics. Across one end stretched a stage, built back before my father's time. It was ridiculously large, allowing bands that shouldn't have been performing outside of their own basements to feel like they were playing at an arena. The stage was located near a side door, so equipment could be unloaded easily. The small backstage area had a dingy, olive-green couch and a few raggedy chairs. Throughout the warehouse, ladders on the wall led to a catwalk that snaked all the way around the inside, eighteen feet above the floor. Sometimes kids climbed up there and watched the band, legs dangling through the metal rails. They dared each other to dive into the thrashing crowd below, but no one ever did.
Audiences ranged from twenty to two hundred kids. Regan and I always scanned for faces we recognized from school. A crew of three older boys, all of whom wore the same leather jackets and spent lunch smoking in the parking lot, showed up semiregularly, but it looked like everyone else was at the game -- football, basketball, baseball, whatever season it was. The kids at River's Edge arrived in groups of three to five. Like us, they attended rural high schools filled with guys who donned Packers jerseys every Monday and chicks who wore their boyfriends' varsity jackets with miniskirts or too-tight, acid-washed jeans. At school, multicolored hair, shredded and patched clothing, and studded, spiked accessories stood out like a neon billboard in the middle of a cornfield would, but at River's Edge those things blended right in.
By my senior year, when some of the local bands had begun to make names for themselves, more people started showing up -- some of them from as far away as Milwaukee and Chicago -- to see the legendary place where those country kids had gotten their start. They were probably disappointed to find it was much like any other club on the inside -- dirty and dark, the concrete floor covered with that slimy mixture of ashes and beer -- and we were the same group of kids found at any rock show. After all, it was the nineties. Just because we lived in the sticks didn't mean we were completely cut off from subculture. We just took more shit from our neighbors and classmates for looking strange.
The crowd thinned at the back of the warehouse by the main doors, but the area up to fifteen feet away from the stage was packed with sweaty, bouncing bodies. Regan barreled in, shoving burly guys twice her size out of her path. She liked to be right up front, getting slammed into the stage with the rhythm of the song. For some sick reason, I enjoyed being trampled and bruised, too. It was another phase that Marissa said we'd get over soon enough. Unless she really loved the band, Marissa stood at the back, splashing her drink on anyone who stepped on her toes. Since she played in July Lies, one of the best bands in the area, Marissa was queen of the scene. Regan and I could have shared her glory, but we liked to get hot, sticky, beat up, and dirty with the masses.
That night, however, Regan dove into the crowd on a mission; I knew she noticed him when I had. Sam's band was playing when we walked in.
I'd never seen or heard them before. They had a dumb name, Dead Smurfs or Mikey's Mom or something like that, but Sam was definitely practicing to be a rock god. His guitar hung low so that everyone could see his bare, tattooed chest. He had unwashed, blond hair that picked up the color of the lights. He thrashed a chord so hard that a string snapped, lacerating his finger, and he let it bleed. His voice was guttural and sexy. The music was fast and loud, just the way I liked it.
I pushed through the pit, grabbing at Regan, who always danced with her elbows swinging to knock away all the bigger bodies threatening to crush her. She threw her arm around me in a sweaty embrace and then shoved me in front of her so that I was standing directly in front of Sam. Entranced by him, I couldn't even tell if he was genuinely a good musician or if he just knew how to manipulate acoustics and energy. All I saw was that he oozed sex and danger. Regan agreed. After two songs, she pelted him with condoms, which she must have drunkenly decided would be a good sign.
I whipped around, mouthing "Bitch!" at her. She laughed hysterically and pointed over my shoulder. I turned back to see Sam smiling down at me, his baby-blue eyes thirsting for fame.
It wouldn't be the last time I was deceived by a rock god, but it was the only time that my disappointment was unforeseen. Of course, I hadn't expected or even wanted romance, but I had craved at least the pleasure of pain. I thought Sam would touch me with the raw power he used to play guitar. I thought he would kiss me and leave bruises on my skin as black-and-blue and dangerous as his voice. And I thought he would be able to satisfy the burn between my legs that surged every time I heard a distorted guitar. I slept with him because we worshipped at the same altars, because he oozed frenzied, furied rock energy, because I knew I could absorb it, make it mine. He thought I loved him for his inevitable future rock-god glory, but I had no interest in watching from backstage or vibing to the records he made, gleaming with gratitude that I was his muse. I thought that if we fused together, the world would screech like an amp so charged it caught fire. But it wasn't anywhere near that good.
I waited for him behind the stage and he made a beeline for me. After he introduced himself, Sam kissed me hard, shoving me against a steel beam. He tasted like stale beer. He bit my lower lip before thrusting his tongue into my mouth and exploring it violently. I dug my fingernails into his bare back and raked them down, feeling his skin splinter like weak wood. The scratch would become my trademark, the signature I left on every guy I hooked up with. He moaned into our kiss and I felt his pleasure vibrating down my throat and into my stomach. Sam pulled his hot mouth away from mine just enough to whisper, "Let's go outside."
Behind Marissa's car, we tumbled to the ground, pulling our T-shirts over our heads and tugging off each other's jeans. Night had fallen while Sam's band played, but the moon lit the sky. Our nakedness was protected from the eyes of others by darkness, though we could still see each other clearly. Sam rolled on top of me, hands groping greedily, stripping off my underwear and then his own as he sloppily sucked on my neck.
"Whoa!" I firmly planted my palm against the Celtic cross tattooed on his chest. "Condom?"
"Right pocket of my jeans," I demanded.
"Oh. Good," he mumbled, scrambling backward and rooting through the pile of balled-up clothing at our feet.
Yeah, thank god for Regan. No matter how hot and heavy the action, I wasn't about to risk babies or STDs.
When he finally got the thing on, he climbed back on top of me. Then he was inside me. I closed my eyes waiting, at first, for the powerful, hungry feeling I'd felt in his initial kiss. After a few minutes, I opened one eye, still expecting, at the very least, the bleeding ache that Regan had mentioned. Nothing. It didn't feel like dancing while getting bruised by shoulders and elbows and knees. It didn't even feel like drunkenly screaming along to my favorite song. There was nothing raw or even energetic about it. The only thing remotely musical that I could compare it to was tapping my foot. The band inside butchered an Iggy Pop song. As the tone-deaf singer wailed, "Can you feeeeel it?" I wondered the same thing. And the answer was, "Not really."
I opened both eyes to see Sam thrusting into me in a way that was so not rhythmic that I doubted whether he'd ever heard music, let alone played it. His eyes squeezed closed, brow furrowed in intense concentration. I thought briefly that maybe I was in so much pain I was numb, but then I felt bits of gravel and broken glass digging into my butt. His sweaty hair fell into his face; the moonlight that trickled through it made it look translucent, as fragile as a spider's web. That's when I saw past the grimace on his face, the tattoos that he'd probably conned someone into giving him, and realized how much he resembled a little boy. He was probably two years older than me, but his inevitable lack of experience still didn't justify my disappointment.
I groped behind me for the beer that I'd left nearby, praying for a swallow of lukewarm backwash to alleviate my annoyance. Sam's breathing got faster and more labored, like he was working really hard. He pressed his cheek against mine, his chest rubbing against my black bra, which he hadn't even bothered to try to remove. I felt his leg muscles twitch and then he collapsed against me, leaving me with the impression of a dying fish.
When he finally rolled off of me, I quickly pulled on my jeans. Sam sighed. "I'm going to write a song about you," he murmured.
I stifled my laughter with the beer can I'd found. Before he could make any more embarrassing statements, I got dressed and walked away. My idea of rock gods had been ruined. They were nothing more than little boys wearing stolen scowls. I knew that the next time I saw Sam play, I would realize his songs sucked. He would be nothing without his rock-god hair flying, his arms flailing, his chest dripping sweat, and his intense eyes zeroing in on every girl in the audience who believed him to be raw power. I would notice that he couldn't even play four chords. And most important, I'd know that the sex wouldn't even last through three songs.
"Maybe he was just really bad," Regan said, peering sympathetically at me as I lay stretched out in the backseat, reveling in my disillusionment. The wind blew in from both her and Marissa's open windows, and I hoped that the smell of dirty barns was cleansing me of the scent of Sam's sweat.
"Well, regardless of that, I learned one thing. No guy fucks like they sound when they're onstage or blaring at top volume on your stereo. And I'm sure this knowledge will change my life," I quipped cynically.
Regan winced. "I swear I'll pick a better one next time."
"So will I," I said with a laugh.
"You girls need to do what I did," Marissa chimed in. She turned down the original version of "Gimme Danger" that I insisted she put on so my memory of the song wouldn't be tainted, and met my eyes in the rearview mirror. "Start your own damn band!"
Regan and I fell silent, but as the car sped toward the same part of Carlisle Louisa had blazed out of, I knew we both were thinking that Marissa was right.
Copyright © 2008 by Stephanie Kuehnert
Meet the Author
Stephanie Kuehnert got her start writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades in eighth grade. In high school, she discovered punk rock and produced several D.I.Y. feminist Õzines. She received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and lives in Forest Park, Illinois. This novel is her first. Visit her website at www.stephaniekuehnert.com.
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Emily Black was born for rock and roll. Her father always told her stories about how her parents lived for the music. Music was what took her mother away from her. At least that's what Emily has always been told.
Emily has never needed her mother. That's what she's always told everyone else. But the music written by Emily tells a different story. Emily and her friend, Regan, have dreams of being rock goddesses. During their high school years they form a punk band. After a crazy escapade, they coerce Tom to join the band, as well. The group forms She Laughs, and the rest is history. Or it should be. But everything about Emily always goes back to her mother. And why she left.
The angry, bitter songs Emily writes reflect her subconscious desire to mourn for her missing mom. Then, after a nasty break-up with her boyfriend, Johnny, Emily knows what she must do. She sets off on her own quest to find her mother, who has not wanted to be found for the past nineteen years. But Louisa Black has secrets of her own and will do anything she can to prevent anyone else from getting to close to her bad vibes.
Told in a dark, woeful manner, Emily must come to terms with her real need for her mother. She's always been the strong, confident one, telling all that she never missed not knowing her mother and that all she's ever needed is her dad. But as Emily goes from adolescence to adulthood, the hidden desire to know her mother forces its way to the surface, leading Emily on a journey that reveals more about herself than she expected. And her journey may just bring her closer to her mother than she thought possible.
I absolutely loved this story! Ms. Kuehnert writes a powerful story of a young woman trying to be her own person, but always having the specter of her mother's past hovering over everything she does. Music is infused throughout the entire story and plays an important part in the character development of Emily. I could relate to the musical references in the story and could almost believe that Emily was a real musician, not a character created by the author. I was sad to come to the last page, wanting the story of Emily to go on forever.
(Note of advice. The story tends to be a bit graphic with sex and drugs. This is definitely written for the older teen reader.)
"Move aside Max Ride and make way for my new favorite chick: Emily Black! I am obsessed with punk/grunge music (like Sleater-Kinney for instance, haha) and the nineties so when I saw this book I knew I was going to have to read it, and boy did I. This book came alive for me in a way that no other book I have ever read has and I felt like I was there in every moment through all the ups and downs. I loved the relationship between the band members, and the relationships Emily had with both Michael and Molly as parental figures. There is just too much I loved about this book that I could be blabbing on all day, but nobody wants that. Just go read it yourself and you'll see why it replaced the longstanding favorite book on my shelf, I'll definitely be rereading it myself and probably carry it around just as religiously as I used to carry around The Angel Experiment when I was a teenager. Too bad my new favorite punk band doesn't actually have any music because I would totally buy a She Laughs album...sigh." (This review can be found on goodreads under "Lydi")
Next res try puting a "." Between bad words
I have read this book so much. I cry at everything. I love it. It's everything I fear and loathe and envy. A must read.
This book was great!
i read this book in 3 days it is amazing if you know anything sbout true punk rock like The Ramones, Misfits, The Misfits, Lower Class Bratts, Sub Humans, ect. read this book Stephanie is an amazing writer. the story is a,l in the book and raw emotion.
I wanna be your Joey Ramone was such an amazing read. If you're interested in great rock music from the seventies and eighties and you love a little teen rebellion, you'll surely love this book. Emily Black creates a band using music as her holy grail,in hopes of her mother finding Emily in the jest of all the notorious rock n' roll. But Emily then ends up finding something more pretentious through her music, something that may just test her emotions. This is such a good book by Stephanie Kuehnert and I hope to read many others by this specific author in time. Highly recommend. =)
I Want to be your Joey Ramone is a terrific read. I felt so close to all the characters and I could relate to Emily's plights and struggles with ease. It's a recyled stroy line but spruced up with interesting quirks. The book touches on some senstive subjects (rape, addiction) but it's all so saddly real. I never wanted to put it down for a second.
A good read!IWBYJR is in a niche by itself - definitely something out of the ordinary. Having seen the Ramones and the Clash in the late 1970s this book hit the spot for me. Highly recommended!
I didn't like it in the beginning, and it took me a while to get into it. It did pick up though, and I managed to finish it quickly after that. Although some situations seemed surreal, the characters were realistic and edgy. The ending left too many open ends for me to be satisfied though.
I had this book on my to read list simply because the title is a song by Sleater-Kinney, a band I adore. I didn't immediately buy it after I first saw it in the store. Finally after I bought it, I couldn't put it down. From first chapter on you are engrossed in the story of Emily Black. You want to be this girl whose soul embodies everything rock'n'roll. From her given name to the fact she got dealt a mother who left her a year or 2 after she was born.
Definately a must read and a favorite!
For Emily Black, music is everything. It's what made her parents fall in love way back when. It's what her mother Louisa was following when she left baby Emily. It's what Emily has to stay in control of her life. Music draws her from her dreary life in Carlisle, Wisconsin to River's Edge, an abandoned warehouse where rock bands play. River's Edge is where Emily got her fill of sex, drinking, and rock 'n' roll, and where her dreams of being a punk rock goddess began. So she and her best friend Regan form a punk band named She Laughs, and Emily can't help but hope that by playing music, she'll bring her mother home. Soon, her band is swept up in the dangerous world of rock music. Her band has a lot of talent, but so many ups and downs in Emily's life lead her away from the music. There are the bad boyfriends, the death of her grandparents, the involvement with drugs and self-medication, and a year wasted searching for her mother. But eventually Emily finds her way back on track, and her friends are still waiting for her to come back and pick up her guitar. And so she does, because music is all she has. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is a beautiful coming-of-age story that I will never forget. Reading along from both Emily's and Louisa's points-of-views was heartbreaking at times, because they've both experienced so much pain in their lives. The story that Stephanie Kuehnert has woven has lessons on everything from friendship, family, love, drugs, and learning to love, or at least accept, the person you are. The story is filled with so much raw emotion, and I nearly cried at the ending because I didn't want the story to be over. I have to admit that I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is like no other book I've ever read, and that is definitely a good thing. I've learned so much from this novel that I never would've expected from first glance. It made me want to find my inner punk rocker and scream along to deafening punk music. I promise you won't regret picking up this unforgettable novel. I definitely look forward to more amazing novels from Stephanie Kuehnert.
I don't even know where to begin. Nothing I could say would do this book justice. It's one of the most raw, heartbreaking, and touching novels I've read. Ever. Yikes. The thing I admire the most is that I think the author really wrote from her heart. You can tell just by the way the story is told that she cared deeply about what she was writing about which is the key to any good book an author who is connected to her story. What's amazing is that this is Stephanie Kuehnert's first novel. How someone can write something this fantastic on her first attempt in the published world is...can I use the word amazing again? The characters are deep, detailed, and flawed. The plot is twisting and you flip the pages to find out what comes next. This book really takes you away into the trying, yet exhilirating world of rock and roll. You feel as if you're going through all of Emily's triumphs and trials with her and rooting for her as she alternately makes it big and falls hard. I think I'm running out of superlatives here. Or maybe I've uses so many that they don't have any meaning any more. But they are all deserved. So let me use a few more here this book is really amazingly fantastic and you all need to go pick up a copy quickly. Really. :P