I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone (by Stephanie Kuehnert)

17 06 2012

In a weird case of coincidence the cat watched the movie The Runaways, featuring Kristen Stewart & Dakota Fanning, on the same day as finishing Stephanie Kuehnert’s I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. The Runaways is a biopic about the mid-1970s all-girl band of the same name. It shows a band haunted by and finally succumbing to the number one rock’n’roll cliché: drugs. It takes a whole lot to withstand the pressure of fame, more than what a couple of pre-punk teens have in them, apparently. Something that this movie and its characters have in common with the protagonists of Kuehnert’s debut novel – besides a love for music – is the less than stable family life they can turn to when things get tough.

Emily Black, the protagonists of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, has never known her mother. When she was only 4 months old, her mother Louisa, left her and her father “to follow the music”. That’s the story that Emily has always heard about her wild rock’n’roll mom. And in a weird almost reverse sort of psychology she has put her mother on a rock’n’roll pedestal and has tried to live up to the wild image she has of her. Ever since she could walk and talk, Emily has breathed music. With her best friend Regan and Regan’s boyfriend to be, Tom, she forms a band. Emily is all about the music, which is OK of course, but not always very believable, especially when she wants it to be about punk. This is the 90s in Wisconsin (and then Chicago), so at best, they could be grunge-knockoffs, but punk it ain’t. Granted, you get the same set of rock clichés as you get in The Runaways, and clichés are obviously rooted in truth or they wouldn’t be clichés in the first place, of course,…

Anyway, so, if you can get past all the punk and music clichés, then this book is just ace: raw-ish, sort of edgy and wannabe punk. The thing that bothered the cat, though (besides the fact that of course they make it huge so very easily, and yes, drugs do ruin this and yes, of course there’s an abusive stalker boyfriend), and which spoilt her reading experience in the second half of the book was the fact that Emily’s voice started off great (daughter with a mother-complex), but then turns into this whiny voice making all of it sound more like a music memoir, than about girl figuring out who she is.  There is also Louisa’s narrative interspersed throughout the book, but the problem is that the two threads don’t really come together. Mother and daughter do have one meeting at the end, but this book ends before the hard stuff really starts for both, especially for Louisa: picking up the pieces after she left her family. I just wanted more of the mother-daughter dynamic than the rock’n’roll cliché.

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone suffers most from being a debut: too obvious at times (due to the narrator not being very subtle about the things she says), not detailed enough when it comes to actual reflection on the actions of the protagonists. To make a cliché story (and most ‘music stories’ are unfortunately fairly cliché) really stand out you need that edge that Emily Black and Stephanie Kuehnert aspire to. Too bad, because I think the heart of the writer may have been in the right place, it’s just the execution of it all that could have been crisper. But… the cat hasn’t given up on Stephanie Kuehnert yet!



3 responses

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8 11 2013

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13 11 2013

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