A Review by James H Duncan
One of the greatest compliments I feel you can bestow upon other writers is to tell them that their work made you want to write. For example, I never get too far into one of Kerouac’s books without having to set the book down and type some of my own pomes or throw down some ink into a notebook about a recent road trip adventure. Reading great work that makes you feel electric and emboldened is the most powerful kind of inspiration, and Kami’s recent chapbook, Subterranean Redneck Blues, is just that—powerful inspiration.
Kami weaves rock & roll guitar licks with intense, formative memories from his teenage years—running with half-hearted street gangs, dealing with painful deaths of those close to him, suffering early rejections from the local flock of girls, learning how to sneak a beer, and later, losing sight of sobriety. And whether there is a car stereo blaring, a record player spinning, or if the Sex Pistols are instigating rebellion on the TV, rock & roll has a dominant presence in his works, not only providing a backdrop to his struggle to grow into and deal with manhood, but adding extra layers of poetic meaning.
In “Ýou Really Got Me,” Kami recalls crashing his sister’s birthday party with a friend and playing the new Van Halen record over and over, only to realize that the girls are mightily unimpressed. While his friend tries to placate the girls to get in their good graces (fat chance), Kami grabs his record and leaves, feeling equally undaunted and embarrassed. The Van Halen version of The Kinks' classic, “You Really Got Me,” is a wild animal howl of love and lustful desires—a victory cry of testosterone and sex. However, Kami’s poem juxtaposes the song with his own harsh reality. They really got him, alright, but it’s not where he wants to be.
Kami finds himself in this unsatisfied situation far too often throughout his poems, and while rock & roll is the driving motivator through many of his early memories, it is his savior in the later poems. Unsure about his lover, aware he is an alcoholic, unable to cope with a life spinning out of control, the poems toward the end of Subterranean Redneck Blues reveal a man who made it through the frying pan of teenage angst only to find himself in the fire of adulthood. He listens to old songs over and over, just like his father used to do in an attempt to relive glory days. But in the end, he’s still writing, he’s still on his feet, and he still has a little rock & roll hope coursing through his veins.
Reading Kami’s work was difficult, not because the poems were sub par—they were excellent—but after every three or four poems, I couldn’t help but set down the book and jot down memories from my own teenage years. His work reminded me that there is a huge bank of memories that I have never written about from my own life, misadventures and rock & roll daydreams that helped shape me as a person, just as the poems in Subterranean Redneck Blues shaped Kami. Now, every time I sit down and write a poem about the first record I bought or the first time I snuck out a window to go see a girl, I have to thank Kami.
Kami teaches us that if you can’t shake the past, you may as well crank the memories up to 11 and piss off the neighbors. I can’t recommend his work enough, and like the classic rock albums that I know I’ll never put away, this chapbook will stay in heavy rotation on my bookshelves for a long, long time.