We connected with Essington to learn more about what went into the creation of the book, and to talk a bit about his writing process, who he is, and what he learned from punk rock.
RC: Here's the thing with Last One To Die - it's a standard story. A white kid grows up with punk rock, is in a couple bands that don't go anywhere, and then he gets on with life. The beauty of the book is in how the stories are told. It's like hanging out with a friend over some beers and just hearing all about his life. What made you decide to write the book?
ME: I have been writing for a site called Strange Reaction (and Flipside 2010 and Spark Plug magazines) for a little over five years. And during that time I've had people, one to two a week, telling me to buckle down and write a book about my life.
I put it off for years. Until one day I had hundreds of stories. I put them in chronological order, and rewrote the bulk of the text.
RC: And how did you write it? Is it a collection of things you've compiled over the years, or did you just sit down and look back at your life so far and have a go?
ME: Some of the text was previous stories, and some were things that I had planned to write or had notes on and decided to include in the book.
RC: If Last One To Die has one prevailing message, what would you say it is?
ME: I would have to say it’s teenage rebellion. Let your kids go through it. Keep and eye on them, but the harder you are on them, the more they are going to rebel. Whether it’s punk, goth or emo, let your kid go through it, and if you’ve done your job as a parent they will come out OK.
RC: And the choice of the title, despite it being smart marketing that puts that song in my head every time I so much as think it, what was the reasoning for the title?
ME: When I decided to start writing for Strange Reaction, it was shortly after my dad had died. I was feeling very nostalgic for the stuff I enjoyed as a kid, old comic books, my old punk albums. So, as I decided to buckle down and start writing I realized all the people I wanted to talk to had passed away. My uncle Rick, too many punk musicians to name. For a couple of years it really felt like I was the last one standing.
RC: When you were getting it all down, what was favorite part to retell?
ME: I think the story about the former junkie evangelists trying to jump me on Hollywood Blvd. Mainly because, once I caught my breath, it was funny that night.
RC: Was there anything that you really hated to get down, but felt you needed to?
ME: The stories of my friend Ray and his mother, and the story relating to my daughter. Both stories were sad, but I hated to have to carry them around. I felt they needed to be told. Not sure if I should have, but my life is and was as you see it in my book. There can be a healing with visiting emotions and times in our lives that hold us back without us even realizing it.
RC: And were there things that you simply couldn't revisit? Stuff that just didn't make the cut because you told yourself "I don't want to relive that at all?"
ME: Over the years I’ve been, because of my temper, involved in a few altercations that I felt didn’t need to be in there, such as fighting the entire wait staff at my wedding reception. There are other instances, however writing is about honesty, for me. And one day you may just see that story in a book!
RC: A theme that you revisit more than a few times in the book is what a struggle it was to be into punk rock, from finding or making clothes, to getting records, to just dealing with general abuse for it. Now it's so much easier for kids to be into punk without having to fight for it. When do you think the switch happened?
ME: I think the switch may have started back in the eighties. People like Billy Idol and The Go-Go’s, sort of, had the look, but their music was mainstream. Kids could wear the leather, earrings and spikes, and not be “punk.”
Then over the years bands like Good Charlotte, Sum 41 performed a very cleaned up version of what they saw as punk. Then a new generation of kids could jump in and be punk without really dealing with the drama we endured.
RC: Do you think it's a good or a bad switch?
ME: A little of both. A lot of good bands are popping up all the time. So, starting to get into punk right now can be very fun. Explore, hit clubs but, look back at the old stuff.
RC: Another great thing about the scope of it all is that you didn't take the autobiographer's right to just elevate yourself to a level of punker than thou. For example, you spoke about your brief rap career. Someone else may have skipped that part, thinking it's not punk enough. Is it part of the importance of painting the full picture?
ME: There’s a quote I heard years ago, “I am who I am, because of who I used to be.” So, good, bad or ugly, stupid stories like that molded me into me.
RC: Now a bit on today's Michael Essington. What are you working on now?
ME: Well, I’m getting ready to have the Kindle version of the book come out. And juggling two other books, a continuation of Last One To Die, and a collection of poetry and fiction. I bounce back and forth, if I’m bored of writing about myself I jump to the fiction.
RC: And when it comes to being a parent, what lessons would you say that you learned from punk rock that you apply to being a parent?
ME: Everything is going to be OK. If my son wants his ear pierced, fine. He’ll remove it in ten years. Roll with it.
RC: And when it comes to music, what do you expose your kids to? Do you find a lot of the "kids' music" that's out today to be pretty bad?
ME: My son has a vast and eclectic taste in music. My wife has introduced him to Arabic music, Enrique Iglesias, pop, R&B, Hip Hop, Metal, and I got him into Rancid and Everybody Out. He still likes his kid CDs, but no Barney.
My daughter also has varied tastes. She listens to a lot of alternative, but she also likes some punk. I took her to see The Briggs a few summers back.
RC: What advice do you have for the kids who are just coming into the punk scene now?
ME: Start from square one. Buy the American Hardcore DVD (Compare Prices) or book (Compare Prices) or soundtrack (Compare Prices), check out the origins. Buy the Sex Pistols album (Compare Prices). Heck, buy Patti Smith’s book Just Kids, it gives great insight to the beginning of the New York scene (Compare Prices).
RC: In closing, I'd like to offer help with a personal quest of yours. Have you had any luck finding the Cold War demo tape yet?
ME: I found an empty cassette case, the actual tape is probably at the bottom of a garbage heap. It’s probably better off there.
Last One To Die is out now (Compare Prices).