- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
It all begins on Christmas morning, 1978. Dan Kennedy is ten years old and wants a black Gibson Les Paul guitar, the kind Peter Frampton plays. It will be his passport to the coolest (only) band in the neighborhood—Jokerz. He doesn’t get it. Instead, his parents present him with what they think he wants most, a real-estate loan calculator (called the Loan Arranger) and a maroon velour pullover shirt with a tan stripe across the chest. It is the first of what will become a lifetime of various-sized failures, ...
It all begins on Christmas morning, 1978. Dan Kennedy is ten years old and wants a black Gibson Les Paul guitar, the kind Peter Frampton plays. It will be his passport to the coolest (only) band in the neighborhood—Jokerz. He doesn’t get it. Instead, his parents present him with what they think he wants most, a real-estate loan calculator (called the Loan Arranger) and a maroon velour pullover shirt with a tan stripe across the chest. It is the first of what will become a lifetime of various-sized failures, misunderstandings, comical humiliations, and just plain silly choices that have dogged this “hipster Proust of youthful loserdom,” as author Jerry Stahl has so eloquently called Mr. Kennedy.
Dan’s hilarious and painfully awkward youth soon develops into a . . . uh . . . hilarious and painfully awkward adulthood. His first two choices for university are Yale (Lit or Drama) and Harvard (Business), so he reviews his high school transcripts and decides on Butte Community College in Oroville, California, where he studies for about four and a half weeks. We could go on here and describe in detail all of Dan’s good-natured stabs at ambition, but he, himself, sums it all up quite nicely: “If you’ve ever tried and failed miserably at being a rock star (no guitar/talent), a professional bass fisherman, an extra in the movie Sleepless in Seattle (guy drinking martini in bar while Tom Hanks makes a phone call), a Madison Avenue advertising executive, a clerk/towel person at a suburban health club (named Kangaroo Kourts), an espresso street-cart owner and operator (in the one neighborhood of that coffee-swilling town, Seattle, where, remarkably, no one really seems to drink coffee), a dot.com millionaire, an MTV VJ, or a forest fire fighter, this book is for you.”
Along the way, a few lessons are learned and we are treated to one of the most original, riotously funny, unsentimental, and offbeat memoirs in recent history. Dan’s a favorite in McSweeney’s and at the very popular Moth readings in New York City. We should be happy that he failed so miserably at so many things—and took notes!
Are You Ready to Rock!
Christmas Eve 1978, and I'm ten years old. The August of one's life, really, if you're anything like me. I can remember staring at our white suburban ceiling and being keenly aware that the good days wouldn't last forever now that I was sliding down the slippery dark slope of double-digit numbers. I fell asleep wanting one thing: a black Gibson Les Paul guitar like the one Peter Frampton played. And like the one Pete Townsend from the Who played. And Ace Frehley from Kiss. The guitar would be my passport into the coolest band in our neighborhood. The only band in our neighborhood . . . Jokerz. It was Tim Caldwell's band and they were going to play the next Valentine's Day dance at school: the gig that would change everything for me. The gig that would make me no longer a quiet loner who never spoke up or took what he wanted in this life. Every girl in sixth grade would be there, plus the high-school girls who had to "volunteer" to do things like serve punch or take tickets at the door as part of their detention. They were there usually because they were caught smoking or fighting and made to perform this sort of community service as part of their punishment. And my gorgeous, sort of Dyan Cannonish homeroom teacher, Mrs. Davis, would be there. And they would all be in front of the stage. And I would be on the stage, the new guitarist in Tim's band.
When I woke up on Christmas morning, I walked down the hallway and approached the family Christmas tree in what felt like the first truly religious Christmas celebration ever held in our suburban Southern California household. I walked with the epic pace of a bishop . . . with the timing of a monk and a casual sort of confidence not unlike that of a pope or a church owner/manager or whatever men happened to walk in churches with a deliberate pace. I don't know that much about churches. I knelt before the presents under the tree like I imagine the men I was just mentioning might kneel in ceremony. My parents always went the extra mile. They worked hard, putting in extra hours at their jobs, and they'd given my sister, Trish, and me more than we thought we'd ever get. I opened my presents.
*Maroon velour pullover shirt with a tan stripe on the chest
*Blank journal with photo of autumn leaves and covered bridge on front
*Special kind of calculator that easily figured interest and appreciation on real-estate investments (?)
I was confused by the calculator, and I thought I might have even accidentally opened a present meant for my father. I looked over at him and figured the big smile on his face meant one of two things:
*That he was also confused and trying to figure out why I got the "Loan Arranger" calculator he wanted, or . . .
*His smile was some sort of vote of confidence in a bright future that he assumed awaited me in real estate.
There were other presents. But none of them were a black Gibson Les Paul guitar. But then my parents said there was one more present. They loved to do this. God bless them for this, I thought, a little surprised that the whole religious feeling was still with me in our little ceremony. My parents would let us get real happy about the other stuff and say thank you and everything, and then my dad would look over at my mom and in his best relaxed-guy, confident, comic timing say, "Honey, I think we just might have forgotten one or two things." And that was our cue to really turn up the excitement. So you would always want to kind of keep your excitement to a certain level so you had a little extra to lay on when the final round came. Sort of play at level seven so you could go up to ten for the final gift encore. Maybe this year my final present would be the black Les Paul guitar.
So my parents came back into the living room. With that we were told to close our eyes, and we did. We could hear them getting our final present in position in front of each us. I strained my ears to hear the sound of an open E note in case my father's blue terry-cloth bathrobe had accidentally brushed against the strings of my new black Les Paul guitar.
And in that silence came a moment of panic and this thought raced through my head: I'm a really quiet kid. What if I only secretly and quietly pined for my guitar? What if they had no idea I wanted it? I wonder if I ever even said I wanted it out loud. Like right now, for instance. I'm only thinking all of this, but I might remember it as something I said out loud.
I closed my eyes even tighter in hopes of somehow hearing better. I saw myself taking my new black Gibson Les Paul to the gig. The gig goes great. The Nieblas Middle School Valentine's dance has never been rocked like this before. And in the middle of playing "Surrender" by Cheap Trick, Karen McCall (hot) throws a note up onstage. I can't stop to read it, because I'm in the middle of a big solo that is making everyone in our school hold their hands up in the air and sway them back and forth. So I motion to Bruce, our roadie, to get the note and tell me what it says. He holds it up in front of me while I play. It says "Will you be mine?" and then it has a check box that says "yes" and another check box that says "no." I yell above my solo to tell Bruce to mark the box that says "yes." I'm, like, kind of yelling in his ear while I keep playing the solo, "Dude . . . check 'yes' and hand it back to her." He does it in a very uncaring way, as if he's done it a million times before. I don't mind his nonchalant attitude. He's not paid to worry about my love notes. He's paid to worry about our gear. When we come offstage into the multipurpose room, she's waiting for me in our dressing room (PE equipment closet), and since she is there it means we are together now. And there are other gigs like this one . . . and then middle school was over. And then there was high school. And we decided that it was time to grow up, because there were certain things that just didn't make sense now that we were young adults in the real world of high school.
So we dropped the z and become Joker. And we played everywhere, the coolest band at Fountain Valley High. And people loved us even more. And then we made the best move of our career: We dropped out of high school, because touring and making records was all we ever wanted to do and everything else was just getting in our way. Joker was finally on the radio and education would have to take a backseat to touring the States and Europe. We didn't need no education. We didn't need no thought control. No dock sarcasm? No ducks in chasm? I can never hear what they're saying in half of the Pink Floyd lyrics. The more we toured, the bigger things got. Karen couldn't take the pressure of having me away all of the time, so we broke up. But I don't mind . . .
It's all so fine /
'Cause I traded love to see the world /
See the world /
See the world
That's a lyric from one of our songs. Tim wrote it. It was called "Traded Love" and then in parentheses it said "See the World." And then the world all started to look the same to me. Because there was never time to actually see anything. When people ask me what it's like to see the world, I like to say, "Take a trip to your local airport five times in one day." Or sometimes I say, "It looks like the stadium in any city you've ever been in." Sometimes I'll combine those two and say, "Go to your local airport and hang out there for an hour or so, then drive to the nearest stadium and hang out there for the rest of day."
And then lawyers got involved. Seems there was a problem with being fifteen and not attending school, and so it was mandated that we have tutors on the road. My tutor was named Candy Sinsation. She was five feet nine, blond, wore fishnet stockings and leather boots, had long legs, and she had a flair for U.S. history and math. She taught me a lot, but she couldn't teach me to get over Karen. And she couldn't teach me to want any of this anymore, because I was already tired of being at the top. You know, there's a reason they call being on top of the charts being number one with a bullet. Because sooner / or later / you wanna shoot / all of this down. Also one of our songs. Tim could write 'em; I have to say that even to this day. I tried to bring a song in here and there, but usually my chords were cliche and the arrangements were strained. The lyrics were usually esoteric fantasies too personal for people to relate to.
FOR KAREN Music by Caldwell/Kennedy, Lyrics D. Kennedy Published by Joker's Muse (ASCAP)
I have taken you here /
To the finest steak house in Orange County, California And you look beautiful tonight /
Next to the unique plants /
And contemporary chrome lights.
And being here /
Means we're going together now. (Repeat x3)
Later, we are relaxing on /
An expensive modern art type of sofa /
And I let you know /
That this is my own apartment.
(Backup vocals: Somehow we both know that . . . )
Being here /
Means we're together now. (Repeat x3)
I have a Porsche Targa with a radar detector /
My parents don't live here /
I'm rich and legally /
Living away from them now /
It's called minor emancipation.
Yes, I still love them /
Karen, please be an adult about it /
I'll get you a daiquiri from /
The two-thousand-eight-hundred-dollar /
Professional machine in my kitchen /
Maybe tomorrow, we'll take a classy trip on /
A thirty-one-foot sailboat.
Daiquiris and talking /
Means we're together now. (Repeat x3)
I had spent my whole life (since I was eleven) trying to get to the top. Over two years and eight months of doing whatever it took to get there, and now that I was finally there, all I wanted to do was come down. Our plane took off from Wyoming, or China, or whatever one rainy morning, and I closed my eyes and wished to God for all of this to stop. I closed my eyes so tight and wished so hard. The jet engine's whine turned into the voices of my parents.
They were saying, "Hey, guy . . . you can open your eyes now." And I did.
I'm still in the living room Christmas morning and my sister is ecstatic, laughing, smiling and thanking and hugging and jumping. She's looking at her final present, the cool leather handbag that she told our parents she wanted. To this day my sister is really good at getting what she wants. Great career. Great husband. Great house.
And I was staring at my final present: a silver-and-black General Electric portable cassette player.
My dad leans over and goes, "You've never come right out and said it, but it's kind of clear to your mom and me that you seem to like music."
I'm staring. I shouldn't be staring. He tries to break my eye contact by talking.
"And this plays music!"
"Well, it records it, honey," Mom clarified. "He can record songs from the radio with it."
I spent the rest of my Christmas break in my maroon velour pullover, using my new calculator to figure out the interest on housing loans and the projected appreciative value of various houses on our block . . . and trying to figure out how the hell I would join Tim Caldwell's band with a General Electric portable cassette player. When I wasn't trying to figure fake real-estate deals, I was writing in my blank journal—with the covered bridge and autumn leaves on the cover—about how nothing was working out for me. At first I didn't really even know what the covered bridge was. We've lived in Orange County, California, since I was born, so I don't think I've ever seen one. I thought it was an elevated cabin or garage of some kind. Wait, there's one of these on the front of the margarine my mom buys at Albertsons. And also on the wheat crackers she likes.
On my first day back at school after the Christmas break, I heard the rumor that Tim had gotten in trouble and was going to get suspended. Part of his sentence was that Jokerz wouldn't be playing the Valentine's dance. Or any dance. So now, in my darkest hour, it seemed nothing much mattered. Even if I did figure out a way to join the band, there would be no gig—and so really, what was the point? There was a band called Magik that had played a lunchtime assembly last year before summer break, but nobody liked them, so they probably wouldn't get the Valentine's gig. Plus, they were all in their forties and they probably didn't need a thirteen-year-old guitarist.
Posted October 13, 2003
The fact is you will laugh plenty while making your way through Dan Kennedy's life of funny mistakes and choices. I have seen Kennedy's work in a few places online, and was glad to find he has cracked the brick and mortar publishing code. There is really not a bad note hit in this debut of stories, lists, letters (Even a fake suicide note made from the subject lines of junk email that somehow delivers levity in one of the book's darkest fantasies), in each chapter. Even at his comedic and twisted best, this guy is delivering some kind of insight without beating us over the head.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 7, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted March 19, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted December 24, 2009
No text was provided for this review.