Joyce Raskin: My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star

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Leonora Desar's picture

 Meet Alex, the teenager I always wanted to be when I was a teenager. Actually, scratch that; at *censored* years of age, I still want to be like Alex, the fourteen year old rock star heroine of Joyce Raskin’s new book My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star. Through playing music, Alex gains a strong sense of self-empowerment and identity, making Misadventures a positive model for women both young and old. Just as importantly, Misadventures is fun to read – in fact, I read it straight through without putting it down.
The book also inspires curiousity about its author, Joyce Raskin, who is a rock star in her own right, playing in the band Scarce. Here’s what she has to say to about being a teenage girl, rock star and risk-taker. What inspired you to write Misadventures?

There is so much pressure out in the world telling girls to look a certain way on the outside but not much telling them how to feel good on the inside. Rock and roll makes me feel good on the inside.

Joyce Raskin: When I was twelve years old I read the book Are You There God? It's me, Margaret by Judy Blume, and I felt like it was speaking to me. I wanted to write a book like that about rock and roll. The awkwardness of being a girl in this world and trying to learn how to love yourself is a tough thing to do as a girl. I hope that the book is like a friend that allows a girl who's struggling to feel not so alone in the world. I also wanted people to laugh at Alex and to laugh with her. Being able to laugh at myself has helped me through a lot of embarrassing things. The book started out as comics of funny short stories of rock and roll scenes about being a girl in a band. Did you write Misadventures in part to empower adolescent girls?

JR: Yes. I hope that the book helps encourage girls to go out and do something that makes them feel good on the inside. Rock and roll did that for me as a teenager and it still does that for me as an adult. There is so much pressure out in the world telling girls to look a certain way on the outside but not much telling them how to feel good on the inside. Rock and roll makes me feel good on the inside. It makes me feel strong, and through this book I hope to share that with girls who might be interested in music but never tried it. Were you similar to Alex when you were a teenage girl? Who were some of your role models?

The first of Joyce's guitar lessons for girls

JR: There are parts of me in Alex, but I think Alex is braver than I was. She is a much better skateboarder than I was too. I actually did try skateboarding but never got as good as her, although I always wanted to be the cool chick skateboarding around town like her. I never imagined when I started playing music, just like Alex, where it would take me in life. I was NOT a natural like Alex. I experienced a lot of disappointments in my life like Alex, and I really wanted to say to girls don't give up through Alex. Life is a struggle of pushing yourself to experience things, taking risks, and finding out who you are. You should never lose that struggle. Struggle is a good thing, once you see it that way, because you grow from that. It's hard to see it when you are in the middle of struggle. And it can feel so awful, but in the end the struggle helps you find out more about the person you are.

My role models growing up were Exene Cervenka, Patti Smith, Chryssie Hynde, Debbie Harry and Joan Jett. They all were individuals and rocked hard and were passionate and strong women.

C.Com: The voice of Alex is very authentic. How did you get into the headset of a 14 year old girl when writing from her perspective?

JR: I have kept a diary since I was eight years old. During my teenage years my diary allowed me to vent and express all the frustrations I was feeling, so writing in that voice felt familiar. As a musician and a writer you experience the same kind of teenage struggles continuously when you do your art. It is a battle to do what you do for no money, lots of rejection, and putting yourself out there all the time. Music is full of hormones, and emotion, and it makes me feel like a teenager when I play. So I guess I feel like I always have that voice in my head in a way of being in the moment and constantly influx.

C.Com: What advice would you give to other young adult authors about creating a teenage character that resonates authentically with readers?

JR: Books that I liked a lot as a teenager like The Outsiders and The Basketball Diaries felt authentic to me because they were based on experiences those authors had in their real life. I think every writer whether or not they choose to write about themselves can relate to a teenage voice if they think about it, as they experience those teenage emotions while they do their passion and struggle to be an artist in this world. Just like a teenager, it's hard to be a writer.

C.Com: How did you familiarize yourself with contemporary teenagers and music for the writing of Misadventures? Did you spend time with any teenagers or teenage musicians?

JR: I play in a band called Scarce and when we play shows I meet younger kids in other bands who turn me on to new music. Being a musician you kind of just walk into it without having to look for it. I wouldn't say I am totally in touch with all that's out there as with the internet there's a lot more music to wade through, but being a musician when I listen to something I listen with my music ears and not my adult sensibility. If something's good and I like it, I'll listen to it.

C.Com: What advice would you give to the Alex that we meet at the beginning of the story, or to another insecure adolescent girl?

JR: It's hard to be a girl and a teenager. Just try things, and experience things, and explore the person you are. Don't judge yourself so harshly. Be good to yourself. Take risks as you never know where it will lead you.

C.Com: What do you think of the contemporary music world and contemporary teenage artists? What bands do you listen to?

Joyce's band "Scarce" with photos from a show in Brooklyn's Union Hall.
Slideshow by Chris Pepper

JR: I think the internet is an amazing place for music and to discover music. I like the punk rockness of it all. It has gone back to word of mouth. People telling other people what to listen to, what's cool. I like the fact that the internet can be a place to put art, music, writing out there, but it doesn't stay stationary. It moves. People react to it and they can put their own piece to it. I love the conversation the internet creates. I hope that this book becomes part of that conversation and girls will share with each other their experiences and support and encourage each other and continue that conversation to each other. I am so excited about all the women out there doing music now like Neko Case, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, Feist, Joan Wasser of Joan as Policewoman, Alisson Mosshart of the Kills, Frances McKee of the Vaselines, Mary Timony of Wild Flag, Jane Mckeowen of Peter Parker, and so many more that I could go on. Girls Rock Camps are exploding on both coasts and I can't wait to see what new music groups come out of those campers.

C.Com: What do you envision happening to Alex after the story ends?

JR: I am writing the next book right now actually. In fact I have in mind to write a couple more books that follow Alex through until she graduates from high school about all her adventures and follies in finding out who she is what she's made of in the world of rock and roll and skateboarding. At the end of the book I put in a few intro guitar lessons which we also filmed and put up on youtube. I hope it gets girls playing and enjoying the guitar. I also started a page on Facebook called Joyce Raskin's page of Girls Who Rock to encourage the conversation to continue after girls finish reading the book. I am hoping girls will write there about their own experiences and celebrate themselves.

C.Com: Have you got any other projects you're working on?

JR: Yes, I like to work on a couple projects at once, and bounce back and forth between them. I just finished up a book I self published titled The Fall and Rise of Circus Boy Blue which is a graphic novel of sorts with pen and ink sketches of mine. I used the song lyrics from my band Scarce to weave a story with the lyrics embedded within. There are songs that go along with the lyrics in the book that are downloadable for free on Scarce's Facebook page. Kind of like a soundtrack to the book. I am also working on the next book for the Misadventures series, which will follow the summer of Alex's fourteenth year. With all the rock and roll travels I've had so far, you witness and experience a lot of funny, sad, interesting, and crazy things. It leaves me a lot to inspire me to write about.


Feature Photo by Chris Pepper.

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