FOOTNOTES - American Sociological Association
With sociology as her “lens on life,” Donna Gaines’ music expertise and love of writing illuminate the redemptive properties of popular culture.

Donna is a punk rocker. This statement is a reference to a song by the punk rock band the Ramones and an apt description of Donna Gaines. “Edgy, smart, and fast,” describes the music Gaines loves, and it’s a phrase that has been used to describe her.

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Rock 'n' roll has saved Gaines' life, over and overagain, from the time she was an awkward hair-sprayed kid in Rockaway Beach, Queens, sniffing glue and praying at the altar of the Shangri-Las; during her life and times as an in-demand metal expert on talk shows and panels in the age of the PMRC; and on through her stint as a professor at Barnard College. All the while, she was nursing a drug and alcohol addiction and an eating disorder; the illnesses left a hole in her soul the size of a Chevy Impala.
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Donna Gaines, a writer perched between academia and journalism who has staked her life and career on rock' n' roll, knows the drugs don't work. Or the booze. Or, she now realizes, the sugar. "I've been off it since July," she says. This is definitely not the woman who careens through most of her memoir, A Misfit's Manifesto (Villard), which bears this self-portrait: "Hello, I'm Donna...a bourbon-guzzling, pill-popping, penis-addicted workaholic. But above all, a sugar-fiending cookie whore. I'd almost always rather have that bag of Nantuckets."
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Gaines is a formidable presence--writer (Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids), sociologist, professor and lifelong rock 'n' roll fan. In this memoir, she explores the connections among those facets of her personality, with the rhythmic strains of 1950s and 1960s rock as guidelines for love, solace in heartbreak, and refuge when all else failed.
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If Donna Gaines' memoir, "A Misfits Manifesto," were expressed as music, it would be the kind of song she loves: rock and roll that's edgy and smart and fast and rollicking along with the rhythm of the street, fueled by the rebel attitude that's been at the core of rock since her childhood in the 1950s. Gaines is a bundle of contradictions - a glue-sniffing, pill-popping teen-ager who now is "Dr. Gaines" and lectures the world over on adolescent violence and angst; a feminist who is a card-carrying member of the NRA and a porn connoiseur; a Jewish girl who crossed the lines early and fell for Irish boys; a two-time college dropout who is a renowned writer and academician. The only consistency in her life seems to be that she does everything at full-throttle, living her life like great rock and roll.
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Anyone as deeply involved in New York City punk and death metal as Donna Gaines could probably crank out an entertaining memoir just by osmosis. The big hair scene, however, is rooted in a whole culture of proud dysfunction, of which Gaines is a sharp and empathetic citizen. Author of "Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead-End Kids," Gaines is an acknowledged expert on adolescent anomie and pop culture in the academic world. That's her day job. Also a hot rocker chick and a bit of a wonk, Gaines has been a fan of Rockaway-style punk since its birth. Did I mention she grew up Jewish, was addicted to fat pills, had an almost-famous entertainer mother, majored in sociology, and loves guns? "A Misfit's Manifesto" would be a fun read even if Gaines weren't so damn smart. She's blessed and cursed with spot-on recall: every rock show, boyfriend, overdose, and lost soul is disinterred and presented for our inspection.
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THE JOURNALIST AND freelance sociologist Donna Gaines, author of the contemporary classic ''Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids,'' has described her own writing style as ''a mix of low culture and high theory.'' In her new memoir ''A Misfit's Manifesto'' (Villard), she recounts how a nice Jewish girl from Rockaway Beach, Queens discovered punk rock and sociological theory in the 1970s and spent the rest of her life looking for ''epiphanies out in the street, on subway trains, in bars.'' Ideas reached Gaines at her apartment in New York City.
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Gaines' second book, a memoir titled "A Misfit's Manifesto: The Spiritual Journey of a Rock & Roll Heart" (Villard, $24.95), explores many of "Teenage Wasteland's" themes, including acute isolation and the solace of pop music. Fat and lonely as a child, Gaines loved music, and as a teenager, she found community as a "burnout" in Far Rockaway. She later found family - and spirituality - in rock and roll subcultures. "I wanted to look more specifically at how music kept people alive, and how that was especially true in the suburbs," she explains.
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She was raised in Rock-Rock-Rockaway Beach, so how could Donna Gaines have emerged from
grad school as anything but a rock-music sociologist? A Misfit's Manifesto is Gaines' memoir of how a slightly overweight Jewish girl in 1950s-era Queens, New York, managed to overcome the deaths of her father and stepfather, learned to drive Catholic boys crazy with her feminine wiles, wrote a definitive study of teen-metalhead culture (1991 's Teenage Wasteland), and became a confidante of her borough's patron saint, Joey Ramone, in his final years. An unrepentant romantic (and Spin contributor), Gaines relates how her early love of girl groups like the Shangri-Las yielded quickly to surf rock and how an obsession with hometown boy Johnny Thunders turned her on to punk rock and heavy metal. "I grew up an abject fat girl" says Gaines, "and people need to see that they don't have to end up feeling miserable and crazy. They can grow up to feel really proud of who they are." These days, she lives in Manhattan, though she's spending more and more time on eastern Long Island pursuing her second love: target shooting. "People are either gonna love it or hate it: she says of her intensely personal writing style. "I worry about how I'll react if reviewers say something mean about me personally. But I have all sorts of ways to protect myself. One is, I collect guns."
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"A rock & roll memoir from "Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach," that perfectly illustrates all of our transitions from unbearable adolescent agony to black leather jacket cool - with all the misery, hysterical humor, confusion and madness the completes the process. A fun read for anyone who's life was saved by rock & roll."
Legs McNeil, co-author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

"Dr. Donna's no ivory tower academic; hers is a socio-illogic overview from the underbelly, a coming of ageless tale with the electricity and passion of a guitar in full feedback."
Lenny Kaye, Guitarist, Critic, Author

"Donna Gaines is the soul sister of every woman who's never entertained the notion of buying into anyone else's Rules or brand of 'living' for a New York minute."
Deborah Frost, Musician, Critic

"When a savvy sociologist of culture examines her own life--perhaps a life like no other--the results are astonishing, and as a cultural analysis of recent times, Gaines' autobiography will become a fundamental source. A charming paean to her family and heritage, it's also mercilessly frank, hilarious, terrifying, and oddly uplifting."
Alan Sica, Sociologist, Penn State University

"Donna Gaines has invented a new genre - the socioautobiography, a book of enormous energy, caring, and wisdom that proves, once again, that the personal is political and that women make history, but not under the conditions that they choose. Gaines shines a brilliant light on American culture and folkways. Rarely has journalism possessed such depth of perspective or has sociology been so much fun to read."
Paul DiMaggio, Sociologist, Princeton University

"A Misfit's Manifesto is a strangely beautiful prose work, wonderfully written with a charm and elegance rare among social scientists. These pages are essential reading for all students of life."
Terry Williams, author, Cocaine Kids

PRIMA DONNA, New York Magazine
"Across town..... Donna Gaines, former Barnard College professor and self-described "pill-popping, penis-addicted, workaholic Jew," talked about the movie possibilities of her upcoming memoir, A Misfits Manifesto: The Spiritual Journey of a Rock & Roll Heart. "I keep telling people it will either be Courtney Love or Joan Cusack," Gaines said with a laugh at Ann Godoff's annual cocktail party at the Campbell Apartment to celebrate six upcoming Random House books, by Gaines, Chandler Burr, Elizabeth Cohen, Azar Nafisi, Shoba Narayan, and Louise Shaffer. "But I'd really love to see Marisa Tomei play me. She's just so New York."
Marc S. Malkin, New York Magazine, 4 November 2002
Photograph by Patrick McMullan


"A powerful book."
Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times Book Review

"The best book on contemporary youth culture."
Rolling Stone Magazine

"[Gaines] sheds light on a poorly understood world and raises compelling questions about what society might do to help this alienated group of young people."
Ann Grimes, Washington Post Book World

"There is no comparable study of teenage suburban culture... and very few ethnographic inquiries written with anything like Gaines's native gusto or her luminous eye for detail."
Andrew Ross, Transition

"An outstanding case study... Gaines shows how teens engage in cultural production and how such social agency is affected by economic transformations and institutional interventions."
Richard Lachmann, Contemporary Sociology

"An eye-opening and dramatic expose of white teen life in America's Northeastern suburbs. Gaines' account offers sympathetic portraits of these teenagers, an incisive analysis of their interest in heavy-metal music and Satanism, and a powerful indictment of the programs designed to help "troubled" teens."

"Research of this nature relies far more heavily on the narratives provided by the participants that the author's interpretation of the material. The best of these studies (for example Coming Up Black, by David Schulz, Tally's Corner, by Elliot Liebow and, more recently, Donna Gaines' Teenage Wasteland) are regarded as classics in sociology because of the range and depth of feelings presented, which are unlikely to have been obtained through other methods of research."
Pacific Sociologist, Vol 6 #3, Sept. 1998

"Since its publication in 1990, Teenage Wasteland (University of Chicago Press, $15) has become something of a cult classic, the kind of book people refer to in hushed, reverent tones. The balancing act Gaines pulls off here is truly breathtaking - shifting with grace and authority between memoir, cultural criticism and vibrant scenes of great depth and lyrical power. Gaines befriends a group of teenagers and quickly penetrates their world; she becomes a passenger in their cars as they drive too fast, trying to find a place to smoke pot and blast their boom boxes. She tags along for parties in an abandoned structure called The Building - the only place in Bergenfield where they feel free. And while throughout the book Gaines riffs on the darkness of Reagan's America, painting a specific portrait of the country in which these kids find themselves, Teenage Wasteland transcends its history. Reading it now, two years after Columbine, lines like this seem-almost prophetic: Maybe this is how the world ends, with the last generation bowing out first."
Emily White, Newsday, 20 May 2001