Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard-Living, Hair and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side (4 stars)

Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard-Living, Hair and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side

Vivid recollections of a punk's fascinating life

(Bloomsbury Circus)

From the moment Rayya Elias describes breaking her leg on the marble floor of the Syrian apartment she lived in until the age of seven, Harley Loco is a beautifully ugly memoir. Elias’ gravelly voice hustles her story onto the page; her Detroit adolescence on LSD, burnouts in the shooting galleries of New York’s Lower East Side, rehab. This is not a clichéd redemption story, rather it is a no-nonsense-baby account of her life of music, hairdressing, obsession and addiction.

The writing is bold and blistering in the second half when Elias depicts the criminalised world of heroin addiction. Her account of a stint in Rikers is filmic. There is fear and bravado in her words, which mix intoxicatingly with the dated scent of perm-chemicals in the shabby inmate salon where she ends up working. Her incarnation as ‘junkie’ hairdresser paid in Vicodin and candy feels both humane and disturbing.

Elias does with Harley Loco what Jim Carroll did with The Basketball Diaries: she gives pop philosophy a wide berth and writes about her life just because it’s fascinating.

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