Dying Daily #39: A Life of My Own (book review)

I want to say I feel better, but I think I feel more tired than yesterday. There is just a deep exhaustion in my body right now, and it hurts to breathe. Luckily, breathing is optional.

One of the cool things about being sick is catching up on reading, and since book reviews were something I wanted to incorporate into this blog, here we are.

Over the past few days I read Harley Flanagan’s autobiography Hard-Core: Life of My Own.

Harley was one of (many would say the) founding influences on hardcore music in New York, and a legendary figure in that scene. Founding and playing with the Cro-Mags would cement his place in many ways, but his life story is worth reading even if you’ve never heard of him.

That being said, this book is not for everyone. There are copious amounts of language and even more blood and violence. Harley grew up homeless on the Lower East Side in New York, long before the gentrification and polishing of the city throughout the nineties. This book is packed full of street fights and and broken skulls and people twitching on the pavement.

So why am I reviewing it on a blog dedicated to the idea of living intentionally because we will die someday?

The primary reason is that reading a book like this really helps us zero in on just how good a vast majority of us have it in this life. When you read Harley’s book you know within a few pages that this is a kid that never really had a chance. He had gone bad at an age when most people still believe in Santa Claus. This book is a glimpse into a world that exists “out there” for most of us, and is one that we rarely, if ever encounter. It may be hidden, but there are millions and millions of people across the world trapped in it. Harley’s autobiography humanizes this world, and helps us see just how easily we could have wound up in it like him.

This book is also a raw look at poverty and what it does to people. There is no lionizing of the poor and disenfranchised, and no glorification of being poor. Harley’s honesty allows us to see the complex and troubling nature of people, and what they can turn into when survival is goal. He seems very honest in his writing, and does not paint himself as a victim or an angel.

I found a lot of value in remembering that there are a lot of choices I am not forced to even consider, and in trying to honestly consider what kind of person I might have turned out to be if I had been forced to make them.

Lastly, I enjoyed the balanced and (in my mind) more realistic idea of redemption portrayed here. Throughout the book, Harley struggles with who he is and what he does, but a good heart is evident even in the darker moments. I think this good heart wins out at the end, but there is no squeaky clean closure and he remains (by his own admission) a difficult character. He doesn’t portray himself as achieving Buddhahood or figuring it all out, and a theme of karma/consequences/sowing and reaping remains until the very last page.

As I said, this book is not for everyone, but I think everyone should read it.

If you have the slightest interest in punk rock/hardcore then it is a must, but there are things for everyone in it.