ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
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.
Most readers probably will know Gaines best as the esteemed sociologist who authored "Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids," a landmark empathic look at adolescent anomie. Fans of rock and popular culture - especially readers of New York's Village Voice newspaper - know her as a correspondent on everything from the Ramones to Jews online. In this book, Gaines manages to cram all her disparate cultural interests and twists and turns of her life's journey into one rough-cut diamond and displays them like glittery facets under a jeweler's loupe. The book starts off innocuously enough, with a rather conventional narrative about her parents (her mother was widowed twice, so Gaines writes about having three dads in her life) and growing up in the New York suburb of Rockaway Beach. Early on, Gaines brings in rock and roll as the soundtrack to her life, to the point of taking rock critical detours from describing her increasingly wild, addiction-prone youth. She goes to great lengths to explain the appeal of doo wop, the New York girl group sound, and later, punk rock, heavy metal and the Ramones. Always, the music served as cultural guideposts for her various obsessions. And, she evocatively captures the fancies and foibles of growing up. "As nature began to torture my body into uninvited childbearing functions, the Matron Saints of Big Hair poke to me, direct from the heart," she writes.
The first part of the book is a rush, her life flashing by with urban flavor and a jumble of friends identified mostly by streetwise nicknames: Muggs, the Swamp Foxes, the Thieves, Swytie, all cruising their 'hood and growing up too fast. Given the excesses she enjoys, it's a wonder she's still alive by the time she graduates from high school. She begins to find self-motivation in her 20s, when she realized that "at a certain point, you know your parents think you're a loser." She writes, "Unless I made a move, all the world would ever know about me is that I was spoiled, dumb, passive, intermittently fat, lazy, and unable to do anything right. The would be my life story. The end."
In the second half of the book, Gaines finds her calling - as a sociologist, which she realizes she was even as a kid - and then falls into writing for the Village Voice and then other publications, balancing her academic professional life with an alcoholic, night-crawling rock and roll alter-ego known as Tessa. By the end, she's at peace with the whole of herself and understands her place as an outsider, a misfit. In fact, she offers the moral of the book right upfront, in the Author's notes: "You can transcend the urge to self-destruct and find the courage to be who you areâ€¦. Whether you are a loner by choice or resignation, labeled an outcast or you just feel like one, you are not alone. In fact, you're among some pretty awesome folks." Like Donna Gaines, for instance.