There’s an inscription on a plaque inside the base of the Statue of Liberty that bares on it a sonnet called “The New Colossus.” Written by noted American poet Emma Lazarus, the inscription is probably best known for its containing the phrase “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that Lady Liberty’s trademark spiked crown has been adopted in headdress form by a great many in the punk rock community. This scene has a long, well-worn history of serving as a last bastion of acceptance for people that have been marginalized by the mainstream, viewed as “weird” or “different” or “strange” or, of course, “crazy.”
Enter Craig Lewis. The Boston-area based writer and zine publisher and punker and mental health professional, who’s been profiled on these pages before, has compiled a book called “You’re Crazy – First-Hand Accounts of Mental Illness, Addiction and Trauma from the Punk Rock Scene.” Published by his own Better Days Recovery Press, the book clocks in just shy of 150-pages; by all means a more-than manageable one day read. But instead of Lewis trying to tell his subjects’ stories, the two-dozen-plus stories come straight from the horse’s mouths.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the compilation is that twenty-five authors carry with them twenty-five different stories and twenty-five different styles of conveying their messages. Some come across as nervous; rightfully so, as this may the first time that many tell their stories outside a therapist’s office – or at all. Some authors seem obviously well-versed at sharing, and are able to apply a modicum of humor to what can obviously be dark subject matter. If you’ve ever been in the halls of an AA or NA meeting, some of the stories may sound familiar in a “names are changed but the stories are real” way, with authors presenting the mental health version of a textbook drunkalogue. It would be unfair, or perhaps unnecessary, to give reviews of each individual story, as the goal of many such stories is progress, not perfection. Still, there are some noteworthy highlights.
“Disease,” written by Jessica Rosengrant, serves as my favorite read, both contextually and stylistically. Though this may serve as a spoiler, Rosengrant’s story plays as an allegory, with her struggles with addiction serving as her best friend, and ultimately her worst enemy. Matt Hollender’s “Me Or The World” is more of an essay or a think-piece which serves as general good advice for well-living. “Pat’s Story,” by Pat Thielges, starts with a bang, almost literally, as it begins with an honest description of the author’s unsuccessful suicide attempt. The story that follows, “More Than Just A Tag” by an author known only as Q, is arguably the most compelling read. The author tells a tale of being, by many accounts, a “normal kid,” who somehow ended up in the care of the state mental health system, only to eventually “become sick.” Particularly humbling is the story’s post-script, which reveals that sometimes we’re at our most vulnerable when we feel like we’re at our most stable point.
The common thread weaving all of these stories together is punk rock. The husband and wife duo Eric Blitz and Jenny “DevilDoll” Gonzalez-Blitz tell very different tales (stylistically and materially) and yet wound up together, firmly entrenched in the local community. While the acceptance and judgement-free zones provided by the world of punk rock in many, if not most, cases are seen a a guiding light, it’s important to note, there’s also an overarching need for the scene to continue to take care of its own and and to not stab the backs of the most vulnerable (the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free) and indeed the most passionate amongst us. It’s a necessary looking-glass into our world and the characters in it, and can be an inspirational piece that may hopefully serve to shed a light on one of the proverbial elephants in the room; we may or may not be crazy, but we have each other!