"This book is hella good. Joe Meno manages to sink into the teenage-outcast experience, challenge segregation, and provide step-by-step instructions on dyeing hair pink in this realistic account of finding your identity. After reading Hairstyles of the Damned, I'm glad I'm not in high school anymore."
--Amy Schroeder, Venus magazine
"Hairstyles of the Damned is observational comedy of the best kind, each glittering small detail offering up a wave of memories for anyone alive in the latter part of the previous century. Did you imagine you had forgotten the smell of arcades, the allure of muscle cars, the dress codes and emotional rebellions, the cringing horror of adolescence? Beware: Joe Meno can make you remember."
--Bee Lavender, HipMama magazine
"Joe Meno knows Chicago's south side the way Jane Goodall knew chimps and apes--which is to say, he really knows it. He also knows about the early '90s, punk rock, and awkward adolescence. Best of all, he knows the value of entertainment. Hairstyles of the Damned is proof positive."
--John McNally, author of The Book of Ralph
"Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock. From the opening sentence to the very last word, Hairstyles of the Damned held me in his grip."
--Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic, Chicago Sun-Times
Hairstyles of the Damned is an honest, true-life depiction of growing up punk on Chicago's south side: a study in the demons of racial intolerance, Catholic school conformism, and class repression. It is the story of the riotous exploits of Brian, a high school burnout, and his best friend, Gretchen, a punk rock girl fond of brawling. Based on the actual events surrounding a Chicago high school's segregated prom, this work of fiction unflinchingly pursues the truth in discovering what it means to be your own person.
Meno (How the Hula Girl Sings) gives his proverbial coming-of-age tale a punk-rock edge, as 17-year-old Chicagoan Brian Oswald tries to land his first girlfriend and make it through high school. Brian loves video games, metal music and his best friend, Gretchen, an overweight, foul-mouthed, pink-haired badass famous for beating up other girls. Gretchen, meanwhile, loves the Ramones and the Clash and 26-year-old "white power thug" Tony Degan. Gretchen keeps Brian at bay even as their friendship starts to bloom into a romance, forcing him to find comfort with the fetching but slatternly Dorie. Typical adolescent drama reigns: Brian's parents are having marital problems, he needs money to buy wheels ("I needed a van because, like Mike always said, guys with vans always got the most trim, after the guys who could grow mustaches"), he experiments with sex and vandalism. Meno ably explores Brian's emotional uncertainty and his poignant youthful search for meaning, both in music and in his on-again, off-again situation with Gretchen; his gabby, heartfelt and utterly believable take on adolescence strikes a winning chord. Meno also deals honestly with teenage violence--though Gretchen's fights have a certain slapstick quality, Brian's occasional bouts of anger and destruction seem very real. He's a sympathetic narrator and a prime example of awkward adolescence, even if he doesn't have much of a plot crafted around him.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Punk Planet Books
August 31, 2004
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Excerpt from Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno
The other problem I had was that I was falling in love with my best friend, Gretchen, who I thought the rest of the world considered fat. We were in her crappy car and singing, and at the end of the song "White Riot," the one by the Clash, I realized by the way I was watching her mouth pucker and smile and her eyes blink and wink, we were way more than friends, at least to me. I looked over at Gretchen driving and she was starting to sing the next song, "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?" by the Clash again, and I said, "I love driving around with you, Gretchen," but because the radio was so loud all she could do was see my mouth move.
It was a Tuesday around four in the afternoon, the first semester of our junior year in high school, and neither one of us had anything to do, because Gretchen had just recently been fired from the Cinnabon at the mall for flipping off a female customer when she asked for more icing, and I wasn't allowed to work because my mother was very overprotective of me and insisted that I only focus on studying. I yelled something to Gretchen again and she nodded at me and then turned her head back to drive and kept on singing and I guess I looked over at her, at her short blondish-pink hair--some of it hanging in her face, some tucked behind her ear, some dyed brighter pink than the rest--and I watched the way her mouth moved again and I noticed she didn't ever wear lipstick and it was one of the reasons I think I liked her; and also I smiled at how she was holding her small white hands on the steering wheel very seriously, like she was a new driver, which she was not, because she was seventeen and had been driving way before she had gotten her license last year. I also looked at her breasts; I looked at them and they were big, very big, more than I knew what to do with, and I guess the truth of the matter was they were big because she was fat, and it didn't matter to me then, not the way it would if I was like hanging out with Bobby B. or some other guy at the mall, and he'd be like, "Check out that porker," and I'd be like, "Yeah," and then I'd laugh. Gretchen was fat, I mean not like obese, but she was definitely big, not her face so much, but her middle and behind.
Worse than that, she was known for kicking other girls' asses on a regular basis. It was not very cool. There was the awful hair-pulling incident with Polly Winchensky. There was the enormous black eye she gave Lisa Hensel. There was the time Gretchen broke Amy Schaffer's arm at a Halloween party--you know, when Amy Schaffer had rolled her eyes at Gretchen's costume, when she came as JFK post-assassination, with the black suit and blood and bullet holes, and Amy Schaffer said, "You really do look like a man," and Gretchen just turned and grabbed Amy Schaffer's arm and twisted it so hard behind her back that Amy Schaffer's school drama days were ended right there, just like that, so that poor Amy Schaffer had to go around for the next two years milking sympathy, like a fucking martyr wearing her air-cast everywhere, long after it could have possibly been needed for anything recuperative.
Also, well, also Gretchen wasn't the most feminine girl in the world, sincerely. She swore a lot and only listened to punk, like the Misfits and the Ramones and the Descendents, especially when we were in the car, because, although it had a decent stereo for a Ford Escort, there was a tape that had been stuck in the cassette player for about a year now and most of the time that was all it would play, and you had to jab the tape with a pen or nail file to get it to start, and the tape was the same handpicked mix Gretchen had thought was cool a year ago, which according to the label on the tape was what she had called White Protest Rock, version II.
Gretchen's mix-tapes, her music choices, were like these songs that seemed to be all about our lives, but in small random ways that made sense on almost any occasion. Like "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?" Maybe it meant I should tell Gretchen how I was feeling. Or maybe it meant I should just go home. To me, the tapes were what made me like her, then love her so much: the fact that in between the Misfits and the Specials, she would have a song from the Mamas and the Papas, "Dream a Little Dream of Me" or something like that. Those mix-tapes were the secret soundtrack to how I was feeling or what I thought about almost everything.
Also--and I don't know if I should mention this or not--Gretchen always called other people, even our friends, "douche-bags" or "douche-holes" or "cunts" or "cunt-holes" or "cunt-teasers" or "cunt-wads" or "cunt-heads" or even "cunt-asses," which doesn't even make sense when you think about it, things like that. The way she swore amazed me and again, it probably made me like her a lot more than any other girl I had ever met because she didn't ever seem to mind hanging out with me.
OK, so the thing of it was, the Homecoming Dance was like in three weeks and I hadn't asked anyone and I wanted to ask Gretchen, but I hadn't for good reasons: one, I didn't want her to know I liked-her-liked-her; two, I knew she liked Tony Degan, this white power dude; and also--and this is the worst thing so I hate to admit it--but well, I didn't want the photographs. You know how they make you take your picture and everything? I didn't want photographs of me at Homecoming with a fat girl so that in fifty years I'd have to be reminded of what a loser I was because, well, I hoped things in the future were going to change for me.
"Do you want to go get something to eat?" Gretchen asked. "I am fucking starving, because I don't know if you noticed or not, but I'm a big fat cow."
"Whatever," I said, turning the radio down so we could talk. "Where do you want to go eat? Haunted Trails?"
Haunted Trails was on 79th Street, this monster-movie-themed miniature golf course and video arcade, really the only place we or any of the other stoners and punks hung out. "No, wait, forget it," she said. "All those kids'll be there and I look so gross. I'm supposed to be on this diet where I only eat white foods, it's like racist or something. Seriously. I am disgusted with myself, you know? I practically am a boy. Look at me. I practically have chest hair. I could join the football team or something."
"Shut up," I said. "You just said that so I'd say how you look OK, so I'm not even saying it."
"Oh, you figured me out, douche-bag. No, I mean it, look at me: I'm practically a boy; I practically have a dick." And as she slowed the crappy blue Escort to a stop at the next light, she bunched the front of her jeans up so it looked like she had an erection. "Look, look, my god, I have an erection! I've got blue balls! Oh, they hurt! I need help! Give me some porn, hurry! Come on, let's go rape some cheerleaders! Oh, they hurt!"
I laughed, looking away.
"Forget it, though, seriously. I am so disgusted with myself. Hey, did I tell you that I'm in love with Tony Degan again?"
"What?" I asked. "Why don't you forget him? He's like fucking twenty-six. And a white power asshole. And, I dunno, that should be enough."
"I'm not really in love with him. I'd just like for him to totally de-virginize me."
"You know, just have some meathead who doesn't give a shit about you, just get it over with, you know, so you wouldn't have to talk to him ever again? That way, it wouldn't be like uncomfortable afterwards."
"Yeah, I could see how being like raped by some white power dude wouldn't be uncomfortable."
"Exactly," she said. "That's why you're like my best girlfriend."
"Gretchen, you know I'm not a girl, right?"
"I know, but if I think of you as a guy, then I have to worry about what I eat in front of you."
"But I don't care how you look," I said, and I knew I was lying.