Songs Only You Know: Hits and Misses

Editor John Barrios, Fiction, March 15th, 2014

...a faith in all things punk, in a city set to destroy itself...

sean madigan hoen's memoir songs only you know

Sean Madigan Hoen’s memoir tackles the challenging quest of a young man trying to escape the diminishing family bond before the bond breaks itself, through life on tour in a Detroit-based punk band. It’s a life choice, to be sure, one many say is no choice at all, but something one is born into. One is also born into repeating the crimes of one’s father. Here, Hoen recounts his father’s crack addiction, and ultimately his own drug issues, through a haze-induced sprawl of writing which at times leaps from the page with a bent elbow of mosh pit bravado, before spewing itself back up in repetition in a bathroom stall while the last band plays itself to pieces in an adjoining chapter.

This is also a sociological examination of Detroit, and its surroundings, through the eyes of a troubled youth viced in the grips of music’s potentially empty promise of salvation. The bleeding point no one shares is that the same line which walks one to freedom also drags towards to hell. Sometimes back. Hoen is one of the lucky few to wake up on the other side of addiction, lofty dreams held high to come true, and a faith in all things punk, in a city set to destroy itself and anyone crazy enough to love it.

As fearless as some of the touring stories may be, and as harrowing as the family life is pitched against the backdrop of a dying city and its music, there is a bit of rambling to the narrative. If the book was trimmed like a solid punk song, stripped bare of the fluff, only delivering the core of truth in a howl which scrapes the bottom of the soul, similar to Hoen’s own music, then this would be tops in the growing genre of little-known-musicians-writing-excellent-music-biography shelf. Unfortunately there are a few songs in this book which should have been saved for the B-sides collection. Regardless of the filler, Songs Only You Know is an excellent read.

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John Barrios

John Barrios is a poet and musician. He has been part of the band Curious Hands for eight years. He graduated from Buffalo State College and chased his dreams in the Bay Area for a decade before landing on his literary feet in Portland, OR. Barrios was part of the original team at NAILED, and was a Contributing Editor until May 2014.