Call him cynical, call him unfeeling, but don’t ever call him dull. Ritchie’s keen, restless wit drives this hilarious narrative as it speeds down two paths. The first is the story of Ritchie, his friend Elliot, his not-girlfriend Lacy, and an incredible bongo drummer called Chaos (“Chowus” to you) clumsily form a band. In alternating chapters, Ritchie is in a juvenile detention center writing out his story as part of a therapy project. At first he takes the assignment as a joke. But Ritchie is intelligent and eloquent, a natural writer, and eventually he is able to release his emotions through words.
The book is jammed full of musical references. There’s the music Ritchie likes, the music he mocks, the music he plays, the music he writes, the music of his ring tones, etc. At the end of the story, Beaudoin adds some extras, such as Ritchie’s list of 25 Worst Band Names Ever, and a discography of the book. It was hard to select just one song for Jukebooks, but led by my interest in the perverse, I selected What We Do Is Secret by the Germs.
Elliot plays the Germs while driving quite recklessly in his car. Ritchie describes the sound as “…something that’s hard and fast and harsh and fast and awesome and fast and loud and fast and fast and fast.” (p137) But he pretends he doesn’t know the band, nor its lead singer, Darby Crash. This gives Elliot the chance to explain that Darby Crash fell apart and overdosed on heroin, hence only one album. Crash’s sad story and sadder death were completely overshadowed in the news however, when John Lennon was murdered just hours later. As Ritchie says, “‘Total punk timing.'”
A film biopic, What We Do Is Secret, spent fifteen years in production prior to it’s 2007 release. Producer/director Rodger Grossman focuses on Darby Crash as he builds his band and then gradually self-destructs. Crash and the Germs also appear in a segment of The Decline of Western Civilization, a documentary about the punk scene in LA, 1979-1980.
The video clip below shows a live performance of the song, What We Do Is Secret.
-Diane Colson, currently reading This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett and listening to Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quamman and read by Jonathan Yen