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Songs Only You Know: A Memoir plunges us into the Detroit hardcore punk scene with eighteen-year-old Sean and spans a dark decade during which his father succumbs to crack addiction, his younger sister spirals into a fatal depression, and his sense of home crumbles. Sean’s salvation is music, and the many eccentrics and outsiders he befriends as frontman of a band once referred to by Spin Magazine as “an art-core mindfuck.” Sean’s prose whips from mordantly funny to searingly honest while offering an unflinching look at a family in crisis, low-rent music subculture, and the hard-earned identity of its author. A story of young manhood that deserves a place alongside Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army and Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Songs Only You Know is a beautiful, devastating exploration of family, friends, and one young man’s musical dream. It marks the arrival of a fiercely original literary voice.
“Sean Madigan Hoen is not merely an immensely gifted writer, but also a seeker—of redemption, of clarity, of hard family history. There are moments of Songs Only You Know that seem almost too painful to bear—but only almost. What carries the reader through is both the naked beauty of the prose and the deep human certainty that it is always better to face the truth than to flinch away from it. No flinching here. I admired every page of it.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things
“Songs Only You Know is a truly moving book, full of pain, longing, strangeness and even grim comedy, and one of its greatest triumphs is the way Hoen describes a certain creative intensity -- youthful, monstrous, fragile -- that is both life-giving and dangerous, especially in troubled times. Maybe everybody has a song, but Hoen sings his with fresh phrasing and genuine feeling.”
—Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts
“I don’t know anyone who has described that terrible yearning for ecstasy and immolation through music as lucidly as Sean Madigan Hoen in Songs Only You Know. Only a thorough initiate of the scene who also had some genius with language could summon the demotic yet electric voice for the job. If there is ruefulness, now, for the way he treated his body, his girlfriends, and his family, he wisely reprises in his book, in neon detail, the fever that once placed him in the same drunken boat with Iggy Pop, Rimbaud and Artaud.”
—Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award-winning author of Lord of Misrule
“Here’s what you get when you mix Nick Flynn with Karl Ove Knausgaard: a book of almost spooky clarity and relentless compassion. I bet when Songs Only You Know gets translated to Norwegian they’ll call it My Struggle (With Drugs and Rock-n-Roll). Which would kind of get it, and kind of wouldn’t. Because it’s also universal, and ridiculously readable, and Hoen has, in this memoir, brought his life pinned and wriggling to page, and you can’t help but be moved by it, and even yourself changed.”
—Darin Strauss, National Book Critics Circle award-winning author of Half a Life
“Sean Madigan Hoen puts raw need indelibly on the page—the need for family, for belonging, for alcohol and drugs, and for a music that will burn all those things away (and if the music fails, try more alcohol and drugs). Hoen’s younger self thinks, ‘To achieve self-invention, you first evacuate the truest parts of yourself,’ not quite knowing yet that the sort of evacuation he craves is only ever temporary: the check always comes due. This moving, often brutal memoir records Hoen’s long journey back toward the truth.”
—Bill Clegg, author of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man