Ronen Kauffman - New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements and the Search [book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Ronen Kauffman

New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements and the Search 📕 (2007)


Ronen Kauffman is best known to many as the voice of two things: the band Zombie Apocalypse and the podcast Issue Oriented. In his latest effort to flood the media market, Kauffman has written what can be thought of as the first of his memoirs. This chapter takes place in the mid-`90s and has the setting of New Brunswick, New Jersey (as given away by the title of the book), a town known for producing a wealth of great music such as Lifetime, Thursday, the Bouncing Souls, Sticks and Stones and many, many more. Kauffman tries to pin down his own experiences in a scene that birthed these bands and more during the formative years of his youth -- never let it be said that those happen before you leave home; until then you are merely gestating.

The book starts out describing the author's introduction to punk rock, sounding hauntingly familiar to nearly any kid between the ages of 24 and 33: a few dubbed mixtapes and albums, probably containing Energy by Operation Ivy. Ronen traces his development from budding musician to fanzine producer and media enthusiast. You move with the young Kauffman from dorm to dorm, apartment to apartment, band to band and phase to phase. It's almost like you're reading the punk rock version of "The Wonder Years," college style.

Throughout the book there are great insights into NJ punk and hardcore from the era it covers -- van rides with Lifetime, encounters with skinheads and aborted tours that turn into roadtrips down the Eastern Seaboard. The whole time I couldn't help but feel a connection to the events. There's an immediacy to the events, be it moving into an apartment that has a hole in the floor of the living room, photocopying flyers for a friend's show or just getting crazy with some friends at their house, at a show or on a trip. It reminds me at times of Al Burian's less melancholic storytelling from Burn Collector. Kauffman succeeds at turning the personal into the universal without losing the intimacy of what is, essentially, a diary written after the fact.

One of the more refreshing parts is the objectivity contained within. There's not a lot of scene politics or discussion of the less important parts of being part of a group of friends who enjoy music. And while Kauffman tells the stories of his youth, he manages to hold back the judgement of his own actions that so often happens. Rather than chastising himself for mistakes and missteps, it feels more like he treats them like the learning experiences they are. It's refreshing, it's inspiring at times and it's, perhaps more importantly, enjoyable.

The book sees Kauffman progress in his self-described "media obession" to the point where he's fronting his own bands, debating new professions and yearning for new experiences. Here the familiarity springs up again, reminding anyone who's crossed the post-college threshold of life that seems oh-so-important and (for once) actually is.

New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye is one of the more enjoyable reads of this past summer for me. It was a solid two sittings, keeping me stuck to my seat at all times. I was actually late for work due to missing my stop on the train I was so engrossed in the stories. A good read that represents "the scene" only comes around once in a while, in my opinion. Too often they are grandiose attempts at encapsulating an entire epoch or are so intensely intimate that it makes the reader uncomfortable and alienated from whatever faux-elitist enclave they represent. Ronen has crafted a story that proudly sits on my bookshelf alongside Cometbus, Burn Collector, Doris and other classic representations of the "underground scene" as it is. I eagerly await the post-college chapter of his life, including his jump to teaching and move to New York City.