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.

IDEAS: So how did a glue-huffing suburbanite like you become a public intellectual? And why did you choose journalism over the academy?

GAINES: Taking speed after yeshiva when I was a teenager was stimulating, and I've always been passionate about rock music, but nothing had ever electrified me the way thinking suddenly did around 1969-after I dropped out of college. When I went back to school a few years later, and began studying sociology, for the first time ever I could see through the taken-for-granted reality; suddenly, the world became beautiful in a way that only good cocaine-the kind that isn't cut with anything, I mean, had ever made it. To me, sociology with a small s is sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll-it's a dirty discipline. But there's just no stimulation, no passion in the profession known as Sociology, not any more. That's why I don't have health benefits.

IDEAS: In your memoir, you claim that the eminent sociologist Lewis Coser-your teacher at SUNY Stony Brook-and the punk band The Ramones are the only reason you survived grad school.

GAINES: The tenure process doesn't reward people for being interesting or original. What's worse is that during it, the humility so necessary for scholarly rigor is gradually displaced by humiliation. I was a Ph.D. lobotomy until Coser-this elegant, old-world European scholar-encouraged me to apply my own alienated street humor to some very lofty ideas, like ''alienation,'' ''deviance,'' or ''ethnomethodology,'' the study of how people invent and convey shared meanings in everyday routines. The Ramones helped me learn to write; they served as my de facto dissertation committee. In a very direct way, they chronicled everyday life in the profane world as I lived it and popular culture as I loved it-everything ''serious'' scholars are taught to avoid.

IDEAS: Joey Ramone in particular wasn't just a role model to you-you've claimed that he's your imaginary friend.

GAINES: Long before I actually met him, Joey was my personal savior. When I was drinking wine and eating cheese with my upper-middle-class professors and feeling bad about my Queens dialect, or about the fact that my parents liked to go bowling, I'd just imagine Joey snarling, ''Yeah, honey, but I can DANCE.'' And then I'd be walking on stars.

(Return to main Press page)