When author Tony DuShane was a nervous young man struggling with being a Jehovah’s Witness, his extremely religious father lost his mind and punched five holes in the wall above their living room couch. To hide these examples of his dad’s breaking point, the already-disfellowshipped teenager plastered an Einsterzende Neubauten poster over the damage.
This is one of the minor scenes in a very funny, but also very mood-rattling novel by DuShane, whose “Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk” came out from Soft Skull Press on February 2nd. It’s marketed as fiction, but due to the author’s own past and the curiosity those of us outside the cult have about the goings-on of all those extremely well-dressed young men and women who thrust crappy end-of-the-world literature at us downtown, it probably wouldn’t hurt to consider it memoir.
Beat-inspired landmark rock critic Lester Bangs wrote a nightmarish song about growing up as a JW and seeing a family member burned up in a fire (“There’s A Man In There” from his short-lived band Birdland), mixing up the apocalyptic images in his head. When you consider that Patti Smith went door to door with Watchtowers before she embraced Baudelaire and Jagger and Burroughs as her scripture, and how much Pere Ubu’s David Thomas uses his background in the very American religion to write blackly comedic mini-operas to paradise lost and everything falling apart, critical thinking punks should dig into “Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk” at least for the dirt.
And it’s here: Due to never claiming citizenship with anywhere but heaven itself, many JWs were slaughtered in Malawai because church elders forbid them to buy citizenship cards. The manipulations and bribes with the Mexican government at that time (the 1970s) were a turning point for realizing just how much this organized religion prizes property and power above the lives of its members (just like pretty much all the others).
But it’s the condemnation of popular culture and its rebel baby rock and roll, the ever-enforced weird sexual repressions, and constant domineering by elders in the church locally that fuels the ferocious confessions of DuShane’s narrator. As helping a drunken bridesmaid get through her wedding becomes more transgressive than physical abuse elsewhere in the congregation. As the protagonist describes the psychic murder of his mother by his father’s justification of the sociopathic actions of the church elders.
Somehow, DuShane adroitly lets us into this veiled world but also makes the awkward longings and petty punishments relatable for anyone who’s craved both familial and community acceptance but wanted personal freedom, too.
The new issue of Rolling Stone has an excellent article on the Dahn Yoga cult which originated in Korea but has mad money connections and political power here, reprising the 80s invasion of the Moonies into right wing Christian fundamentalist organizations. In other words, this is a great book to laugh and cry to, but also to get some background so you know why Pat Robertson sounds like a berserk reptile from the planet Fuckhead.