And she pulls no punches in telling her story in her upcoming autobiography, Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side. The book is a brave, authentic and exciting read, introduced by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert.
Gilbert describes Elias as “a rough diamond – a black-clothed, raspy-voiced, tattooed dropout of a soul…trying to clean up her life after years of heroin addiction and decades of an absolutely Byronic free fall into rock and roll abandon.”
In a turbulent, multi-faceted metropolis teeming with an intoxicating alchemy of magic, malice, possibilities and desperation, Elias finds all these elements and many more, distilling them into her own potent cocktail.The warmth and affection Gilbert has for her unlikely friend is obvious from her introduction, and it only takes a few pages of Harley Loco for the reader to fall under the same spell.
Elias’ voice is distinctive, honest and upfront – at times uncomfortably so – and its this sincerity which makes her story of acute highs and lows all the more unique and compelling.
But Harley Loco isn’t always easy reading – the episodes Elias describes are often extreme, ranging from early sexual experiments to graphic accounts of crime, obsession, homelessness and addiction, and alongside this unsettling subject matter the pacing is sometimes inconsistent.
Overall, though, Harley Loco is a fascinating account of Elias’ journey as she evolves from bullied misfit immigrant into an array of alter egos, from innovative, ambitious musician all the way through a spectrum of identities to suicidal smack addict.
At times in the narrative, Elias comes across as anxious and confused, but by contrast her voice is always self-assured; having been through the wringer too many times to count seems to have given her the necessary strength and self-acceptance to tell her story.
Her journey mirrors that of New York City itself, which she describes in the book’s acknowledgements as her greatest lover, dearest friend, most respected enemy and muse.
In a turbulent, multi-faceted metropolis teeming with an intoxicating alchemy of magic, malice, possibilities and desperation, Elias finds all these elements and many more, distilling them into her own potent cocktail.
Over the course of the book, the city changes, and so does Elias. And though at times she loses sight of her own beliefs, identity and ambition, it is her eventual return to these truths that leads to her ultimate survival, redemption and self-acceptance.
Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side is candid, powerful proof that truth can be stranger than fiction, and that triumph in the face in the face of adversity can make a riveting, rewarding read.
Recommended for: Rebels and romantics. Anyone nostalgic for a New York that no longer exists. Those who love tough women and bold, brave voices. Readers who loved Just Kids, The Panopticon, Coal to Diamonds or Inferno.
Other recommended reading: For an alternative, fictional take on New York set in the 1980s in Manhattan’s Alphabet City, there’s Loisaida by Marion Stein. The novel features several real-life people, places and events (like the Tompkins Square Riot) that play a part in Harley Loco.
Like Rayya Elias’ autobiography, it gives an evocative and engrossing account of ‘artists, dreamers, hustlers, devil worshippers, anarchists, junkies and yuppies all competing for breathing space in a city without air.’
Another memoir worth investigating is Stephanie Schroeder‘s Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies and Suicide, set in NYC. Although it has a different flavour to Harley Loco, it focuses on several of the same themes, namely the author’s creativity, ambition, relationships, self-destruction, resilience and ultimate survival.