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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. We could go on here and describe in detail all of Dan’s good-natured stabs at ambition, but he, himself, sums it all up quite nicely: “If you’ve ever tried and failed miserably at being a rock star (no guitar/talent), a professional bass fisherman, an extra in the movie Sleepless in Seattle (guy drinking martini in bar while Tom Hanks makes a phone call), a Madison Avenue advertising executive, a clerk/towel person at a suburban health club (named Kangaroo Kourts), an espresso street-cart owner and operator (in the one neighborhood of that coffee-swilling town, Seattle, where, remarkably, no one really seems to drink coffee), a dot.com millionaire, an MTV VJ, or a forest fire fighter, this book is for you.”
Along the way, a few lessons are learned and we are treated to one of the most original, riotously funny, unsentimental, and offbeat memoirs in recent history. Dan’s a favorite in McSweeney’s and at the very popular Moth readings in New York City. We should be happy that he failed so miserably at so many things—and took notes!
McSweeney'scontributor 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.