Rock and Roll Reading | Book Cellar | Literary Events | Chicago Reader
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Rock and Roll Reading 

When: Mon., Dec. 1, 7 p.m. 2008
Three of the four participants are past Reader Critic's Choices: Chris Connelly (Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible + Fried: My Life as a Revolting Cock), Stephanie Kuehnert (I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone), and Joe Meno (Demons in the Spring) will be joined by Jolene Siana (Go Ask Ogre: Letters From a Deathrock Cutter). Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible + Fried: My Life as a Revolting Cock, Chris Connelly's account of his adventures in the golden age of Wax Trax Records (1987-1993), is first and foremost a mind-numbing fugue of omnivorous drug use, punctuated by celebrity walk-ons--Martin Atkins, Steve Albini, Skinny Puppy front man Ogre--and obnoxious tour shenanigans. (Refreshingly, there's no recovery chapter.) Some serious copyediting issues notwithstanding, Connelly's a sharp guy, and his stripped-down yet vibrant descriptions are peppered with erudite left-field similes. But what raises the book above the level of it-happened-to-me is its almost accidental charting of the local industrial-disco scene. The star of the show, of course, is professional asshole Al Jourgensen, who belligerently rushes the stage every ten pages or so, and the book entertainingly details his brief, terrible reign. Connelly, by contrast, is well known as one of a very few genuinely nice people who inhabited that toxic milieu, and he comes across as just that--a person who'd be really lovely to get high with. But what comes through just as clearly is that, as a lot of us on the fringe of that scene suspected, it really was about the drugs, the notoriety, and the trim first; the music second; and the fans a distant last. --Brian Nemtusak Emily Black, the heroine of Stephanie Kuehnert's exuberant debut novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, starts off a rebellious teen growing up in the nothing-ever-happens-here town of Carlisle, Wisconsin, where the only escapes are sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. But for Emily the sex is empty, the drugs just make her head pound, and rocking out is the only thing that comes close to filling the void left by her mother, Louisa, who split when Emily was an infant to "follow the music," chasing bands of the moment across the country. Or so Emily's been told by her devoted dad. Emily starts her own punk band (the book's title is nicked from a Sleater-Kinney song), and on a wave of glowing word of mouth they go from playing warehouse gigs on the outskirts of Carlisle to headlining shows at the Fireside and Metro (Kuehnert's a Forest Park resident and Columbia College grad). From there they get signed, go on tour, hit number two on the Billboard chart, score a gold record, and land on the cover of Rolling Stone. But is it enough to bring mom back? "You don't abandon everyone you love unless you're desperate," Emily says at one point, and when she cuts short a tour with the group to go on her own cross-country quest to find Louisa, she learns maybe more than she'd hoped to about her mom--and about herself. --Jerome Ludwig The 20 clever and sometimes surreal stories in Joe Meno's new collection, Demons in the Spring, reveal the workings of a curious and inventive mind. The pieces are diverse in style and setting, but for the most part their characters are all trying to navigate a world that's at best indifferent and more often bewildering or downright cruel. In "Miniature Elephants Are Popular" a widower purchases a tiny pet elephant to relieve his loneliness. But on their walks together the little creature is intensely attuned to the misfortunes of others—it grieves when passing a butcher shop and eventually sacrifices itself to save a lost little girl. "The Unabomber and My Brother" examines filial responsibility via a younger brother's feelings toward his older, bipolar sibling. "Art School Is Boring So . . . " is a very funny piece about an art school girl who despite being completely self-obsessed still arouses sympathy. (Meno, by the way, teaches at Columbia College.) If there's a single theme that ties all the stories together, it's voiced by a character in "Oceanland," in which a CPA returns home to work at his family's failing marine park: "So you have to be happy in a world that isn't as good as you think it should be." Each story is poignantly illustrated by a different artist; contributors include locals Ivan Brunetti, Nick Butcher, Paul Hornschemeier, Cody Hudson, Anders Nilsen, Archer Prewitt, Jon Resh, and Jay Ryan. --Jerome Ludwig

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