It all begins on Christmas morning, 1978. Dan Kennedy is ten years old and wants a black Gibson Les Paul guitar, the kind Peter Frampton plays. It will be his passport to the coolest (only) band in the neighborhood-Jokerz. He doesn't get it. Instead, his parents present him with what they think he wants most, a real-estate loan calculator (called the Loan Arranger) and a maroon velour pullover shirt with a tan stripe across the chest. It is the first of what will become a lifetime of various-sized failures, misunderstandings, comical humiliations, and just plain silly choices that have dogged this "hipster Proust of youthful loserdom," as author Jerry Stahl has so eloquently called Mr. Kennedy. Dan's hilarious and painfully awkward youth soon develops into a . . . uh . . . hilarious and painfully awkward adulthood. His first two choices for university are Yale (Lit or Drama) and Harvard (Business), so he reviews his high school transcripts and decides on Butte Community College in Oroville, California, where he studies for about four and a half weeks.
McSweeney's contributor Kennedy claims to have managed to miss just about every zeitgeist of his life so far: leaving Seattle for Austin to make music just as grunge was taking off and failing to make millions in the dot-com excesses at the opposite end of the same decade, to name two. Part mock Chicken Soup for the Slacker ("Maybe the only reason we don't do half of the things we try to do in life is because we just never get around to doing them") and part Sedaris-style essay collection, this episodic book presents Kennedy from his normal-but-awkward childhood to his normal-but-still-awkward adulthood. Early flights of Walter Mitty fantasy segue later in the book to a hard-won semi-maturity after he ends up broke in Manhattan after a failed grab at MTV VJ fame. His 30 years, though at a glance misspent, have taught him a lot-and won him a lot of friends. One of the book's main attractions for certain readers will be its shortcoming for others: Kennedy's spot-on generational references might seem alien to someone who didn't spend tthe '80s wearing Ocean Pacific shorts and listening to the Plimsouls and Oingo Boingo. Yet the main achievement here is that each potential success remains just that close in the mind of this book's protagonist; while Kennedy-the-character was constructed by and resembles Kennedy-the-author, the latter maintains a particular warmly bemused (or faux na�ve) distance from him, the signature move of the McSweeney's generation. 4-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 23, 2004
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Excerpt from Loser Goes First by Dan Kennedy
Christmas Eve 1978, and I'm ten years old. The August of one's life, really, if you're anything like me. I can remember staring at our white suburban ceiling and being keenly aware that the good days wouldn't last forever now that I was sliding down the slippery dark slope of double-digit numbers. I fell asleep wanting one thing: a black Gibson Les Paul guitar like the one Peter Frampton played. And like the one Pete Townsend from the Who played. And Ace Frehley from Kiss. The guitar would be my passport into the coolest band in our neighborhood. The only band in our neighborhood . . . Jokerz. It was Tim Caldwell's band and they were going to play the next Valentine's Day dance at school: the gig that would change everything for me. The gig that would make me no longer a quiet loner who never spoke up or took what he wanted in this life. Every girl in sixth grade would be there, plus the high-school girls who had to "volunteer" to do things like serve punch or take tickets at the door as part of their detention. They were there usually because they were caught smoking or fighting and made to perform this sort of community service as part of their punishment. And my gorgeous, sort of Dyan Cannonish homeroom teacher, Mrs. Davis, would be there. And they would all be in front of the stage. And I would be on the stage, the new guitarist in Tim's band.
When I woke up on Christmas morning, I walked down the hallway and approached the family Christmas tree in what felt like the first truly religious Christmas celebration ever held in our suburban Southern California household. I walked with the epic pace of a bishop . . . with the timing of a monk and a casual sort of confidence not unlike that of a pope or a church owner/manager or whatever men happened to walk in churches with a deliberate pace. I don't know that much about churches. I knelt before the presents under the tree like I imagine the men I was just mentioning might kneel in ceremony. My parents always went the extra mile. They worked hard, putting in extra hours at their jobs, and they'd given my sister, Trish, and me more than we thought we'd ever get. I opened my presents.