The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club: Darryl 'DMC' McDaniels

Sean McPherson reads DMC's memoir
Sean McPherson reads DMC's memoir (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide by Darryl "DMC" McDaniels functions as a self-help book with a dose of music biography lumped in to make it an enjoyable read. Without much decoration, DMC writes from the heart about the pain of watching your group founder commercially, feeling creativity muzzled by controlling alpha members of the crew, and mixing it all with a daily drinking routine that includes a minimum of three 40-ounce beers.

The Run-DMC cofounder writes like a guy who's been through too much therapy to waste anybody's time with indulgent asides or self-congratulatory bull. This book is all about what comes after the honeymoons in life: the 29th day of rehab, the fourth album after the third one tanked, the second meeting with your birth parents. It's a story of the resolve it takes to exist in the face of pain.

There are millions of people on Earth who were raised on Run-DMC's music. This book might work for them: there's some gems, there's some good liner notes fodder. But the real audience of this book is for anyone who has been hurting in life, got to a better place and slipped again. It's a tribute to DMC's courage and resolve that he can tell his story confidently and proudly, and look at where he came up short with no existential baggage.

I was drawn in by DMC's refusal to let his identity as "that rapper guy" hinder him from exploring new opportunities. Any layer of b-boy Teflon that we might imagine DMC sporting is chipped away in this memoir. He outlines his nervousness with grabbing the mic in public, his struggle in asserting himself with his group, and finding salvation in the Sarah MacLachlan song "Angel."

DMC comfortably breaks down the myth of the hardcore MC who faces all signs of adversity with otherworldly bravery. DMC reminds us that the fronts we all put up ultimately protect us from gaining a real connection with the people in our lives. At every turn DMC writes much the way he raps: straightforward, honest, and with the clarity (though not the monotony) of a grocery list. I was excited to crack a joke about a rapper falling in love with Sarah MacLachlan's music — but the reality is, whatever song got him through a trying time isn't for me to judge. If DMC is past the stigma of talking about mental health, about self-care, about identity struggles...who the hell am I to poke fun?

This book confirms that being a famous rapper doesn't solve much in regards to internal demons. Life is painful and once you get rid of your most damaging coping mechanisms, you still have to engage with whatever you were trying to cope with in the first place. But DMC does a service to a group of folks who rarely hear one of their own talking about self-care: men.

I know attention in recent years has been given to how taboo the topic of mental health is among black men, but as a white man I see it in my white world too. We're often afraid to work on ourselves — maybe because we're afraid of failing, but also because we're afraid of succeeding. A good coping mechanism is a scary thing to mess with. The most inspiring part of DMC's book, to me, was his honesty about his failures. He lived his life for the benefit of others, and he's not going out like that.

Run-DMC rocked the biggest stages on Earth by treating them like it was a neighborhood jam in Hollis, Queens. On stage and on record, they came off larger than life by being true to life. As a young kid in Massachusetts I felt closer to Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay than I did to the stylized members of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and even Digital Underground. I felt like it was just the size of the speakers and the sneakers that differentiated me from the guys in Run-DMC.

This book continues that flattening of the hierarchy between star and listener. DMC's mundane struggles to stop drinking, to start voicing his opinion, and to be a proud member of his adopted and birth families are the farthest thing from star-studded. DMC has faced struggles I haven't and reached heights I haven't — but ultimately, he's a man who wants to be a good husband, an artist who touches fans, and for God's sake, a man who lives in a world where no one cuts off "Angel."

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