Book Review – David Gunn, Summertime in Murdertown

I am probably obsessed with King 810, I’ve been to see them 4 times and have a fair range of merch. I can recite their spoken word piece ‘a conversation with God’ off by heart (because you never know when you might be called upon to deliver an emergency bit of performance poetry).  There is something about their music for me that feels quite raw and real, I can connect with it despite the experiences they describe being vastly different from my own. King seem to be like the marmite of metal, and receive plenty of flak from the media and critics, needless to say I’m absolutely in the ‘love’ camp, they are one of my favourite bands.  So when David Gunn brought out his memoir ‘Summertime in Murdertown’ I was obviously going to have to get a copy – it took ages to arrive here in the UK but once I’d got it I read it in a day, and here are my thoughts on it.

Basically Summertime is David Gunn’s story of growing up in Flint in Michigan, facing deprivation and violence from the earliest of ages. What’s striking about his description is how disrupted and chaotic it feels, not to over psychologise it but there is no sense of ‘safe base’ when he describes his early life.  The poverty is relentless; the violence starts to feel ‘normal’.  He describes it in a matter of fact way, which made me think about people who have experienced ‘complex trauma’ (when bad things repeatedly happen) and how they may sometimes talk about the events in their lives.  However, the thing that’s most interesting to me is how he describes the role of his music, at the start of the book he denies that there is any therapeutic effect, no ‘purge’ or catharsis, indeed it seems to be quite painful for him.  But he is driven to write and share what it is like in Flint, and I wonder if through his music he connects to emotions that are otherwise pushed away (with good reason, detaching from feelings could be a survival strategy in situations such as those Gunn describes, despite this having potentially unintended consequences in other ways).  He gives a nod to having faced some mental health struggles – self harm and suicidal feelings, though the emphasis on day to day survival takes understandable priority (Maslow’s hierarchy and all that).  There are some things that are surprising and kind of amazing about Gunn, mainly emphasised in the contradictions in his account.  For example, he talks about fierce loyalty, yet he doesn’t describe strong attachments, people seem to come and go; He says that writing and performing is painful, yet he pursues it with an almost relentless focus, indeed his ability to focus on his goals despite the chaos around him is remarkable;  He was a straight edge drug dealer; He dropped out of school early but became an avid reader where the library was a sanctuary.  Pretty much everything he does is self- taught and all of it is hard won.  He talks about some of the reading he has done, particularly psychology and sociology, through which he gives some very astute (if partly detached) insights about his circumstances growing up.  There are also some interesting cultural reflections about the band’s background being markedly different from most others in the metal genre.  I’m struck by a conflict of pride about where he has come from but with none of the ‘I’m better off for my experiences’ stuff that so often comes with these accounts (indeed I have found that Gunn offers a refreshing alternative to the ‘positive re-frame’ of trauma into ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, I have read accounts of his where he describes the effect of his experiences and how it would be better if they hadn’t happened – which I imagine may resonate for lots of people who have experienced trauma).  It’s also written in a way that I think will probably make sense to most people, which I’m all for, definitely worth a read.

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