Gaines, Donna 1951-

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GAINES, Donna 1951-

PERSONAL: Born March 21, 1951, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Herbert Denmark and Betty Bradley (a band vocalist); adopted daughter of Arthur Gaines (in business). Education: State University of New York at Binghamton, B.A., 1974; Adelphi University, Garden City, NY, M.S.W., 1977; State University of New York at Stony Brook, M.A. in social work, 1984, Ph.D. in sociology, 1990.

ADDRESSES: Home—Carle Place, NY. Office—662 Franklin Ave., Suite 388, Garden City, NY 11530. Agent—Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 41 King St., New York, NY 10014. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Writer, journalist, social worker, and sociologist. State University of New York at Binghamton, assistant director of High Hopes Counseling Center, 1973-74; Social worker in private practice, 1976—; Verstehen, editorial board, 1983-84; State University of New York at Stony Brook, research associate of Institute for Social Analysis, 1991; Graduate Center of the City University of New York, member of MassCult Research Group. Taught at Barnard College of Columbia University and the graduate faculty of New School University; served as workshop presenter; provided consulting services to youth defense attorneys, clergy, school administrators, community leaders, and international reporters; participated in several published interviews, documentaries, radio programs, as a guest on television programs, including USA Today.

MEMBER: American Sociological Association (founder and chair of Culture Section, 1985-86), National Writers Union, Authors Guild, National Rifle Association, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union, Eastern Sociological Society.

AWARDS, HONORS: Levenstein fellowship.


Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1991, reprinted, with a new afterword, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.

A Misfit's Manifesto: The Spiritual Journey of a Rock& Roll Heart (memoir), Villard (New York, NY), 2003.

Author of columns "She's Gotta Hack It," Village Voice, 1988—, and "Long Island Woman," Long Island Monthly, 1989-90. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Newsday, Spin, and Rolling Stone. Also contributor to underground fanzines, trade and scholarly collections, professional journals, and textbooks. Has published poetry, song lyrics, and liner notes for music albums, and has shown photographs.

SIDELIGHTS: Donna Gaines once told CA: "It never occurred to me to become a writer. I am a sociologist and advocate. My desire to write is motivated by having something to say that might uplift the human race." With two published books examining the steadfast relationship between teenage rebellion and depression and heavy metal music, as well as many published articles on similar topics, Gaines is considered an expert on the melancholia of troubled youth and their search for outlets, both empowering and destructive.

Gaines's first book, Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids, considers the strength and validity of the link between disenfranchised, middle-class, suburban youth and the dark, soulless aspects of heavy metal culture. Gaines began composing the book after two related teen suicide incidents rocked suburban residents of northern New Jersey, who were astonished and guilt-ridden. On March 11, 1987, four burnt-out teenagers committed suicide by locking themselves in an abandoned garage, sitting in a running car, and inhaling carbon monoxide. The following week, two teens entered the same garage and reenacted the scene. Perhaps to answer the question "Why?," Gaines began a study of teenagers in economic and social situations similar to those of the departed. In her book, Gaines approaches her subjects as if she, herself, were still an unfulfilled teenager, chronicling their confessions and observations with the air of an insider. While the colored hair, ripped clothing, and dark personae of some of these teens may be an obvious display of the connection between heavy metal music and teenage depression, Gaines patiently draws out of her subjects the influence of this type of music on their lives.

"Music is their religion. Metal and its subgenres are used by these kids to articulate their experiences and to stake out their rebellion. It gives them a look, a solidarity with other burnouts from other communities, and a voice," deduced Allen Shelton in a review of Teenage Wasteland for the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Though Shelton felt that "the relationship between popular culture and dominant culture is underdeveloped," he observed that "Gaines is at her best in explicating how metal infuses the burnouts' biographies," and that "the text is powered by her street persona." In a review for Publishers Weekly, Genevieve Stuttaford wrote of the social value of Gaines's work, remarking that "her reflections on the primacy of death in the culture of these nomads in a middle-class society are expressed in an earthy, colloquial style that marks the author's empathy with alienated youth." Stuttaford concluded that the work is "a hard-hitting, disturbing report urging adults to 'renew our social contract with young people.'"

While her first book presents an amalgam of disturbed youths, Gaines's second book, A Misfit's Manifesto: The Spiritual Journey of a Rock & Roll Heart, is a reflection of her own teenage struggles during a time when heavy metal dominated popular culture. Gaines recounts her upbringing in suburban Rockaway, Queens, and Long Island as an overweight, substanceabusing, Jewish teenager. She reveals her innermost thoughts on this person she had once been, as well as the self-destructive outlets she sought to kill the pain of being a teenager: diet pills, cocaine, alcohol, and sex. She then traces her steps toward becoming the respected sociologist, feminist, and renowned writer she is today, with the music remaining as the only contradictory path of her life.

While many reviewers praised the author for her candid and harsh revelations, others considered them of little value. A Kirkus Reviews contributor observed that Gaines "convincingly conveys the complications of the 'underworld' culture and its lifeline to troubled nonconformists," but remarked that "Gaines's prime fascination is herself and her presence in locating so many lowlife/bohemian cultural touchstones." Expressing a similar sentiment, one Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that "while a compelling memoir delivers a yarn with a deeper level of understanding, Gaines does a whole lot of boasting, but fails to make much sense of it, as if confessing were equal to self-analysis." However, Carol J. Binkowski in Library Journal maintained that A Misfit's Manifesto is "witty, poignant, and painfully honest," and praised Gaines as "a magnetic writer who provides an absorbing study in contrasts" and "a keen observer of the sociology of time, place, and pop musical trends."

Commenting on the musically driven aspects of Gaines's upbringing, a New City Chicago contributor wrote that Gaines "gravitates toward the dark and ugly truths of alienation, which are both expressed and somewhat relieved by the music she loves." This reviewer concluded with a statement of the book's societal value: "Having spent a lifetime understanding her own disenchantment from all angles, Gaines is in an ideal position to clarify the problems of adolescence for others." In a Spin review, the author joked about how she might cope with the plethora of criticism her book received: "I worry about how I'll react if reviewers say something mean about me personally," she stated. "But I have all sorts of ways to protect myself. One is, I collect guns."



Booklist, February 1, 2003, Mike Tribby, review of A Misfit's Manifesto: The Spiritual Journey of a Rock & Roll Heart, p. 963.

Bookwatch, August, 1992, review of Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids, p. 3.

Book World, May 31, 1992, review of Teenage Wasteland, p. 12.

Contemporary Sociology, March, 1992, Richard Lachmann, review of Teenage Wasteland, pp. 261-262.

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, October, 1992, Allen Shelton, review of Teenage Wasteland, pp. 399-402.

Journal of Reading, April, 1994, review of Teenage Wasteland, p. 596.

Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, spring, 1994, review of Teenage Wasteland, p. 310.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of A Misfit's Manifesto, p. 1820.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, September, 1992, review of Teenage Wasteland, p. 40.

Library Journal, February 1, 2003, Carol J. Binkowski, review of A Misfit's Manifesto, pp. 90-91.

New York Times Book Review, June 16, 1991, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, November 18, 2002, review of A Misfit's Manfiesto, p. 48.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 12, 1992, review of Teenage Wasteland, p. 8.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1992, review of Teenage Wasteland, p. 404.

Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1992, Cathi Dunn Mac Rae, review of Teenage Wasteland, pp. 86-87.


Donna Gaines Web site, (January 22, 2004).

KEXP Radio,http://www.kexp.prg/ (January 22, 2004), "Donna Gaines."

Ramones: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, (January 22, 2004), "Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2002 Induction Essay for the Ramones by Dr. Donna Gaines."

Random House Web site, (January 22, 2004), "About A Misfit's Manifesto."

Village Voice Web site, (December 10, 2003), column "Not 53rd & 3rd: Joey Ramone Gets His Place (in the 9-to-5 world and beyond)."*