Book Review

BookYou'reCrazyYou’re Crazy: First-Hand Accounts
of Mental Health Struggle, Addiction,
and Trauma from the Punk Scene. Volume I.
Better Days Recovery Press, [n.l.], Revised edition 2014.
Paper, 158 pp. Edited by Craig Lewis.
Review by Francis DiMenno

What I was dreading – and what might (but shouldn’t) deter you from reading this insightful book – was the thought that it might consist of twenty-five recovery narratives: hard-luck stories in which the principles of A.A. and the wonders of therapeutic intervention are extolled to the skies. There is some of that, but not a lot. Nor is the book top-heavy when it comes to the punk rock saved my life narratives, although there are also a few of those. What editor Craig Lewis has done instead is to shrewdly curate differing points of view to assemble a volume which is more than the sum of its parts.

Before discussing the merits and insights of this volume (one of a projected three), it might be instructive to briefly discuss punk rock as a subculture. If you are looking for a set of narratives which solely focus on one set of genres or eras, you may be disappointed. Here, “punk” refers to an amorphous form which extends from the mid-1970s to the present day; one which encompasses post-punk, no wave, pop punk, hardcore, and other forms. On the political compass, the stance of the respondents tends to skew heavily in the direction of left-libertarian (Anarchism is such a dangerously misunderstood phenomenon).

Why have so many readers been so enthusiastic about this book? Perhaps because it is not full of undiagnosed narcissism or full-bore solipsism. Rather, it is a series of useful narratives which strive, in varying ways, to express what mental illness feels like, with prescriptive messages which might show at least one person a way out of the labyrinth of symptomatic behaviors, including self-medication, self-loathing, lassitude, negativity, and destructive acting-out.

Useful insights about the musical world abound. “Dingy, beer-soaked punk bars and clandestine underground spots were temples to Dionysus, the way all rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be, and I was a Maenad allowing actions and sounds to take me where they would.” (Gonzalez-Blitz, 48.) We are told that punk rock has its shamanic as well as political aspects. “…I found a way to express myself – just go off and help the revolution. Music becomes not just entertainment but ritual, confrontation.” (Blitz, 43.) “‘…[R]esistance to norms comes naturally from knowing what is better for me…. At the pace we are going, it seems like human life could end in my time, and at the least a pile of toxic garbage and dying earth will be left for the next generation… slouching into apathy… is the unforgivable, impossible path that I will never ever take. Resisting, raising a stink, knowing that those of us who value equality, justice, and a life full of joy, love, and community… are not wrong!” (Sock, 110, 117.)

But, for all the political high-mindedness on display, the less idealistic aspects of the punk rock scene are not overlooked. The respondents tend, as you might expect, to express themselves with radical honesty. “I want a community that gives a shit instead of just acting like it gives a shit – because let’s face it, every year punk gets closer and closer to being another subculture without culture.” (Rachel, 106.) “Despite its solace, [is] bohemia… also an oppressive chokehold?” (Gonzalez-Blitz, 49.) “The scene is becoming more and more like a high school clique every day and the people who make it that way should be ashamed.” (Svendsen, 94.)

Along with the ups and downs of the punk lifestyle and its sometimes strident political stances are some hard-won life lessons. “I like to avoid all drama unless I see a reason to be forceful against somebody else, or else I risk drama to explain a point, then stroke the other person’s ego.” (Chaos, 23.) “Self-hate breeds hate.” (Hollander, 86.) “… I feel that often, as real as my dark moments are, I almost want to stay trapped in pain. I want to feel bad about myself. Maybe because it’s familiar.” (Sock, 116.)

There are also some rather searing statements about the nature of depression itself which are useful to know about whether one suffers from the affliction or not. “The Depression block is an all-encompassing pressure: total and complete. Nothing else matters at that moment and almost nothing can change the feelings but time…. Your brain doesn’t want to play the games of life anymore. Depression makes you lost and disillusioned with the world, people, relationships, goals, and even things you usually like.” (Hollander, 86.)

The ways in which punk rock can be inspiring in spite of its clannishness and seeming anti-everything stance are well explicated here. “…. Punk is the only thing that proves to me that humanity is not completely fucked – punk stares this fuckedness right in the face, like Coyote, the ambiguous trickster who sneaks in to turn the page. It’s like in dialectical behavior therapy: you learn to handle bad times just by noticing them honestly and building from there.” (Anonymous, 140.)

The book also offers quite a few bits of common sense advice. For instance, this, from a registered creative psychotherapist: “There are certain illnesses which need specialized treatment by well-trained professionals… well-meaning… friends… might be unhealthy, unhelpful, or worse–dangerous.” (Anonymous, 145.) For those who are contemplating suicide, there is this insight: “I am more of a burden dead than I am alive. If I am alive, people have the choice to deal with me or not deal with me. If I am dead, I am just a ghost that haunts them for the rest of their lives.” (Christina, 36.)

Some of the best career advice I have ever seen regarding temperamental artistes is here. “…In order to relate (and be related to), one must always exercise a certain restraint in order to be heard…. If you want that one door you want to walk through to be opened – you can’t let the gate keeper know that within your mind resides several personalities…. Just smile and act normal (and don’t say anything about the purple dinosaur on the ceiling.)” (Ley, 84.)

This collection of writings opens many windows (and doors) into the puzzling enigma of madness, and is both valuable and worth your time. This book has a lot of potential to help people with their own depression, and to assist one in understanding people who live with depression and other mental issues. Want to contribute? See:

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