I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone interleaves two stories. Emily Black (in the first person), abandoned at a young age by her mother, grows into her own identity and musical career. Meanwhile Louisa (in the third person) , the abandoning mother, searches for some sort of punk rock apotheosis that will absolve the guilty secret that shadows here. I found a lot to like in this novel, a lot that felt gritty and authentic. At its core it’s a story about creativity as a vehicle to escape male-perpetrated violence, a theme that certainly resonates for me. It’s also written for an audience that’s literate in the history of American punk: Kuehnert doesn’t spell out that it’s the Minutemen that draw Lousia to San Pedro; she assumes the reader is going to know where and when the Minutemen’s music blossomed.
It does evince some of the flaws I think of as typical in first novels: it leans hard on coincidence, the ending is rushed, and there are some passages where the author is speaking a little too nakedly through the characters. There’s also perhaps a bit too much solid and realistic detail on the nuts & bolts of the regional-level band experience, which makes the less credible bits more jarring than they might otherwise be.
But I’m delighted to encounter a book that doesn’t take the tired punk-was-dead-by-1980-stance, and that embodies at least one of the self-contradictions that defines punk for me: how the anger and/or nihilism sometimes transform themselves into something uplifting and life-affirming in a way that goes far beyond catharsis. And if Emily Black’s band She Laughs were real, I would have had the first pressing of their LP, and probably seen them on the Black Cat sidestage, along with the strange dude who brought stuffed animals to wave at t he bands.