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Persona non grata
Punk rock, mental breakdowns, bucketloads of beer, and how a man named Jimmy Reject lived to write about it

Rat Scabies. Cheetah Chrome. Spit Stix. Johnny Thunders. Billy Zoom. In the pantheon of punk-rock monikers, there are some doozies. But if the name Jimmy Reject lacks a certain trashy grandeur, it’s still simple, to the point, and its four syllables pack a nifty rhythmic punch. It’s also appropriate, in its way.

James Harrington, a/k/a Jimmy Reject, is 34. He lives in Marshfield with help from Section 8 housing subsidies. He used to live in Quincy, but moved because he decided there were too many people there. He works in an ice-cream shop by day and gets home by five or so. Once upon a time, he was drummer for almost-legendary Boston glam punks the Dimestore Haloes, the best band you never heard in your life. But they broke up two years ago.

These days, Jimmy Reject writes. He channels his omnivorous musical appetites and encyclopedic knowledge into scads of voluminous reviews for fanzines and Web mags. He pours his soul into unflinchingly honest journal entries on sites like LiveJournal and MySpace. And he writes books. In 2003 Harrington self-published The Enemy’s Within, a scarifying memoir of mental damage and musical debauch, penned under his nom de punk. Last month, he put out his first novel, Notes on Johnny Nihil — a book he describes as "a cross between an old John Hughes flick, a [William S.] Burroughs novel, and Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra."

While neither tome will be winning the National Book Award any time soon, all this writing does seem to be helping Harrington process a life that’s been marked by alcoholism, mental illness, chronic sexual frustration, and a general feeling of unease in the world of straight society. Jimmy Reject picked his nickname for a reason. But as he slowly slays his "lysergically complex cache of medicated mental demons," he’s getting himself sorted. He is, he writes, "just a guy like everyone else, trying to get his shit together and make his way in the world." If he can, he wouldn’t mind helping other rejects do the same.


The sub shop in Quincy is nearly empty, as is the table in front of us. No food has been ordered, and the guys behind the counter eye us suspiciously. If Harrington notices this, he doesn’t care. He wears a ripped shirt with a crumpled pack of Basics in the front pocket, a Teenage Head T-shirt underneath. His red hair is mussed. His red whiskers are patchy. His face is puffy, splotched with a couple of red spots. In a voice that sounds a little like Ralph Nader, a little like Ralph Malph, he discusses his life so far.

He talks first about his grandfathers. One was a gentle admirer of the paintings of Norman Rockwell. A podiatrist. "The Ned Flanders of his era." The other, James’s namesake, was a Boston businessman, a huckster and a hard-drinking hellion who once told a young John F. Kennedy to go fuck himself. It’s apparent that, conscious of it or not, Jimmy Reject takes after them both.

"I had a disturbed childhood," he says. "There were some pleasant memories, mostly centered around watching cartoons and drawing pictures. But I was bullied by other kids."

Then he found music.

"I bought a copy of Duran Duran’s Rio and said, ‘That’s the best fuckin’ music I’ve ever heard. Those guys are the coolest-lookin’ motherfuckers.’ I just wanted to be like them. It was hard to emulate them with my JC Penney wardrobe. And I got the shit kicked out of me. That got me angry and led me to punk."

Punk! Loud, fast, angry, drunk, pissed-off, fucked-up. Jamie Harrington found G.G. Allin — the lewd and crude misanthropic stooge who savaged himself and the audience — and he idolized him. He discovered the Dead Boys and the Dead Kennedys. Johnny Rotten. Darby Crash. He pored over ’zines like Maximum Rocknroll and Flipside. When he graduated from Marshfield High in 1989, his parents bought him a round-trip ticket to New York City, where he "drank like a fish" and smoked real dope, hung out with (and urinated on) semi-legendary scenester and scribe Donny the Punk, and got the shit beat out of him by straight-edge kids at CBGB. Jimmy Reject was born. "I came for the anger, but stayed for the music," he says.

During this time he was also "tormented by all sorts of mental demons." In adult life, he’d be diagnosed as schizoaffective and bipolar. But back then he suffered through frightening delusions — "that I was Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler, and somebody else at the same time ... all sorts of crazy shit" — without really understanding why.

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Issue Date: August 26 - September 1, 2005
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