A veritable Jane-of-all-trades, Rayya Elias has been a musician, hair stylist, inmate, addict, and now, author. Harley Loco begins in 1967, when seven-year-old Elias and her family flee their home country, Syria, for Detroit. As she struggles with bullying by her peers, Elias gains the respect of her classmates by taking her first hit of mescaline at school. Drugs quickly become a source of power and help to soothe the internal rift created by the life she left behind.
With a talent for hairstyling and a passion for music, Elias drifts from Detroit to Manhattan after high school and falls into the drug-infested art scene of the 1980s. For a short while, she is a successful stylist, up-and-coming musician, and a young woman exploring her lesbian identity far from the watchful gaze of her family. But as quickly as her success comes, she throws it away for the next hit of heroin or cocaine.
Elias takes us through those years of hell and back with a straightforward, no-nonsense style. More than a memoir, Elias’ tale—from Syria in the 1960s to New York in the 1980s—offers a street-level snapshot of some of history’s most critical time periods. Through her intimate storytelling, we get a glimpse into the highly personal struggle of addiction and the powerlessness of those caught in its grip. More than anything, Harley Loco is the story of someone who’s lived life as hard as she could.
Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side, $15.98, amazon.com
By Erica Varlese
This review appears in the Apr/May 2013 issue of BUST Magazine with cover girl Grimes. Subscribe now.
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