Monthly Archives: March 2009

Band Geek: A Memoir by Dustin Rowles

This was on my Kindle. It’s a weird little device in that it doesn’t use page numbers. It uses units-of-information-per-page-of-the-real-book number because you can increase or decrease the font of the Kindle. So you don’t have a sense of how long something is because you only get to see one screen of words at a time, or units 353-359 of 4069. Since I don’t like to read in the first place, the Kindle tries to trick me by not telling me how long something really is. But my number one dislike of this reading method is it thwarts my habit of turning to the end of the book, reading backwards for a few pages to see if something ends well. 

Lucky for this book, I couldn’t read the end first, or I would not have read it at all based on the ending.  It begins slowly by describing the cast of cliche group hierarchy in the author’s high school.  None is really unique or different from the typical high school experience, but once the author gets into the finer art of storytelling and the interactions between the people in the groups, then the memoir picks up interest quickly. A strange quirk I noticed while reading this is that no one, including the author, is painted in a totally favorable light. Every girl the author tries to make a move on has some kind of physical flaw – a large butt, thick glasses, or small breasts. It really builds a good case for getting the hell out of the town he grew up in, except it reminded me of the saying, “Wherever you go, you still take you along.” 

Since the author’s experiences were so wildly different from mine in high school and from where I grew up, the book had me glued to the tales of conquest and humiliation. The story takes place in Arkansas, and personally Arkansas is on my list of states to never visit. Dustin is poor and lives on the poor side of town with his still-in-the-closet father, who works to jobs, and his drug addicted younger brother. His mother isn’t in the picture due to an earlier divorce.

Dustin wants to fit in with the popular band geeks (that’s an oxy-oxymoron) and uses ingenious pranks ideas to impress the high ranking band members. It’s Dustin’s wit and charm that win them over, but Dustin doesn’t want to leave any room for the band geeks to reject him, so he pretends to live at his grandparents nicer house . Almost all of his actions are based on wanting to experience a life beyond his poverty.

After infiltrating the band, Dustin goes through the usual teen rituals of first kisses, first boob touching, and first run in with the law. But what makes his story so good is that most of Dustin’s life experiences are tinted with humorous absurdity. His first kiss isn’t just awkward like everyone else, he chips his dates tooth and swallows the chip. His first second base attempt is cut short by almost gagging on nipple pubes. It’s some truly laugh out loud moments. 

The deeper Dustin attaches to his band friends and girlfriend the more he risks them finding out where he really lives and that he’s just a poor kid. In a touching surprise Birthday party scene, Dustin’s father invited his friends over for pizza and soda and his friends seem not to mind too much that Dustin lied to them. While reading, I agreed with the friends thinking in that I didn’t understand why Dustin made it into such a big issue. But then again I didn’t grow up poor or feel the need to hide anything from my imaginary friends in high school. 

Right before the ending, the story was on a nice arc to show that Dustin’s attempts to fit in didn’t need to be so grand and that there was hope in the form of college to get out of his poverty. What humor and unique perspective the beginning and middle of the book had was not repeated in the end. Dustin jumps forward a few years and he’s been in college before coming home for his father’s funeral. The author should have used his humor, wit, and charm to explore the feelings of moving past the life he became a slave to in the earlier sections. Instead he rants for electronic page after page about begin angry his dad died. He even uses the line, “I was pissed off my father died.” Up until that part of the book the father is portrayed as extremely likable and the one person who was always there for Dustin. So the outburst of sudden immature anger was extremely off putting. I began skipping over paragraphs, just skimming the dialog. 

The author could have viewed his father’s death as the finally piece in releasing the poverty that affected almost every part of him. The beginning and middle of the book seemed to be written by someone whose life was very interesting and humorous. I enjoyed reading along as they traveled through life’s tense moments but always seemed hopeful for a brighter future. But I could not relate at all to the end which seemed to be written by someone completely different who didn’t learn anything other than how unfair life was.

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