Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide
By Darryl McDaniels, with Darrell Dawsey
240 pages, $26.99
By Christopher Schobert
Three decades after Run DMC’s first gold album, the first hip-hop group to truly cross over into the mainstream remains as iconic, influential and respected as ever. It’s no surprise that consumers browsing the men’s T-shirts at Target and Old Navy in recent years found Run DMC tees among Beatles, Nirvana and Zeppelin apparel. The trio’s logo and name are that recognizable.
But the story of Joseph “Reverend Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Jam Master Jay has been fraught with tragedy. Most dramatically, Jam Master Jay was murdered in his Queens studio in 2002, a still-unsolved killing.
And in Darryl McDaniels’ new memoir, “Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide,” we delve deeply into the depression, addiction and emotional challenges that nearly led DMC to take his own life. Co-written with Darrell Dawsey, “Ten Ways” is a deeply involving read that humanizes a hip-hop icon and movingly documents his path to salvation.
Part of what makes DMC’s book memorable is his status as perhaps the least-known member of Run DMC. Reverend Run, of course, was featured in the long-running MTV reality series “Run’s House,” while Jam Master Jay’s death led to numerous stories and remembrances.
McDaniels’ tale, though, has not been well-documented. As the author tells it, to some degree, that was by design:
“Most of my life, especially early on, was spent hiding in the spotlight. Even as one of the most visible and sought-after musicians of all time, I squandered years, decades even, ducking my feelings. I was lying to myself and living in a state of fear.”
The reasons for “hiding” become clear over the course of the memoir. One of McDaniels’ smartest moves is avoiding the standard childhood-early days-success-struggle-redemption narrative. Instead, the book begins in the grips of DMC’s addiction and then begins to lay out what led him to such a state.
As DMC puts it, being onstage made him “terrified,” and alcohol was a way to cope. “By the end of the night,” he recalls, “I was thoroughly intoxicated and completely unaware of my surroundings.”
Surprisingly, however, he felt the booze actually helped his performance; consider this the entertainers’ version of “I drive better when I’m drunk!” As he explains, “[M]y performance was good. It made me believe that I needed alcohol to give me the extra edge to get onstage and be a great MC.”
The complexities of life in the public eye made matters worse, and events like the murder of Jam Master Jay sent DMC into deeper depression, and heightened addiction: “The only answer I had – for anything at that point – was to turn up a bottle.”
One of the book’s most memorable moments involves, oddly, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. During one of DMC’s darkest periods, he came upon her hit song “Angel,” and felt it “moved me in ways I had never been moved before. … It felt like Sarah McLachlan had recorded that song specifically for me and I was meant to hear it at that very moment.”
Such an admission is downright startling, and shows how committed DMC is to confessional honesty. It’s pretty uncool to shout one’s love for “Angel,” and he’s fine with that.
The author also shows a smart understanding of how the media hype machine works, and the knowledge that the most personally satisfying projects are sometimes the least-respected. DMC explains that recording his 2006 solo album “Checks Thugs and Rock N Roll” “was therapy for me … It was cathartic to be able to lash out musically.” These memories end with a rather sad, if somewhat humorous, pronouncement: “When the album was released in the United States in 2006, the critics trashed it.”
Redemption did arrive, though, and this book is another essential step. While “Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide” fails to chart new territory in the music-memoir realm, it’s an emotionally gripping, undeniably moving book that counts as a must-read for those whose knowledge of Run DMC goes beyond “Walk This Way” and “Christmas in Hollis.”
If your fandom does end there, the book is still worth delving into. One need not know (or even care) about hip-hip to become invested in DMC’s victory.
“Ten Ways” is also a fitting reminder that addiction and psychological struggle can grip even the most successful artists. While that’s not a groundbreaking revelation, it remains an important one. As McDaniels puts it at book’s end:
“To all people going through anything emotional, physical, or spiritual, remember this: You are not alone!”
Christopher Schobert is a frequent News contributing critic of movies and books.