Songs Only You Know by Sean Madigan Hoen
Reviewed by Molly
As someone who has hovered around noise/hardcore for years, Sean Madigan Hoen’s new memoir, Songs Only You Know, struck a note in me both as an explanation for the power of the music and a way to understand it in a more intimate way, outside of the concerts. Hoen spent the better part of his early adulthood making brutal sounds, harsh noises, and drawing inspiration from free jazz while creating a spectacle onstage that would make Ozzy Osbourne look, well, family friendly.
Hoen makes a point to mention that during his youth, he refused to combine family and relationships with his musical life. Here, therefore, is the first integrated portrait of his life, both creative and domestic. Although he took a while to tell any of his friends and band mates, his music was his main way of working through some serious issues, including his father’s drug problem, his sister’s depression, and his own struggle with dependency and depression. His music drew inspiration from his anger, and one can feel properly amazed by the creativity that can be inspired by life’s more traumatic events.
Songs Only You Know evokes the cathartic power of creation, whether through music or in regards to society, and a sizable part of the story functions as a love song to Detroit. The decline of Hoen’s father from a factory manager into crack addiction seems to mirror the decline of the city from once proud motor city into dilapidated metropolis. On the other hand, Hoen’s journey from angry teenager screaming into a microphone to literary voice of a place and subculture shows another, more inspiring side to the city. Descriptions of crazed tours in filthy jalopies bolster this image of discovery born out of decline.
Hoen’s writing is terse, brutal, and rhythmic, driving the reader with the pace of a drum. It’s clear that some parts were harder to write than others, and correspondingly, more lyrical. Another Bullshit Night In Suck City meets the first half of Just Kids, with a little bit of Almost Famous thrown in. Well, Almost Famous only if you replace the groupies with scabies. Read while blasting some hardcore, noise, or jazz and prepare to feel very cool.
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