SONGS ONLY YOU KNOW by Sean Madigan Hoen


A Memoir
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Perceptive, sprawling memoir of a young man’s escape from cascading family tragedies into the noise-punk underground.

Hoen’s debut offers an intense panorama of the 1990s Rust Belt. As his hometown of Dearborn, Mich., contracted economically, what remained was a decayed landscape simultaneously urban and rural, rife with dark temptations. The author’s family life began imploding when his father went from a stable career at Ford to a crack cocaine addiction. Hoen’s response was to strike out on tour with his band, Thoughts of Ionesco, which developed a cult following for its members’ intensely messy, gruesome live performances. As he engaged in the punk rituals of angry music and destructive carousing, he tried to keep this lifestyle separated from his long-suffering mother and his fragile sister, a sensitive, earnest girl who went from bullied outcast to her own hedonistic scene, concealing the depths of her depression. She committed suicide at 22 while hospitalized after several abortive attempts. As he mourned his sister and made amends with his father (still secretly using), he tried to develop a more sophisticated songcraft: “The trouble was that the sad, simple music I wanted to make was beyond my range.” Hoen returned to an aggressive post-punk sound with his next band, The Holy Fire, which gained critical praise and a recording contract. However, the author found that this only led to nonstop touring and deepening debt, while his own substance abuse and failing health led him to wonder if he was following his father’s path. Hoen writes with an acute eye and colorful yet controlled prose, but the overlong plot arc contains repetitive scenes of tour life and personal strife; this approach comes to feel rambling and slackens the power of his observations.

A dark, knowing look at addiction, rock ’n’ roll, and the ties that bind.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61695-336-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2014


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