Mike Henneberger Offers an Exclusive Taste of His New Memoir ‘Rock Bottom at the Renaissance’



The Emmy Award-winning producer, Mike Henneberger is preparing to release his first book titled Rock Bottom at the Renaissance: An Emo Kid’s Journey Through Falling In And Out Of Love In And With New York City on June 9th. With one week to go before its final unveiling, we are excited to be debuting the entirety of chapter eight for your reading pleasure. This chapter features lyrics from The Dangerous Summer’s “Never Feel Alone.” The book is the debut memoir from Henneberger, who has become both well-known and regarded for his work with Comedy Central, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, and Vice. Along with the excerpt, we are also revealing an interview that Henneberger recently conducted with AJ Perdomo of the Maryland alternative rock band The Dangerous Summer. In the chat, Henneberger and Perdomo reflect on the new book and life as a musician.

A long time in the making, Rock Bottom at The Renaissance is like a mixtape in a memoir that examines music and mental health to the soundtrack of emo, pop-punk and indie rock groups such as Jimmy Eat World, Two Door Cinema, and Bayside. The bands and the songs featured in the book are meaningful to Henneberger as they became important to him while he was caught in the midst of major depression and anxiety. Henneberger named each chapter after a song that he felt aligned with his life as told through these pages. These songs were either ones he was listening to at the time or ones that contained lyrics that were especially meaningful to him. Many of the lyrics are highlighted throughout the chapters to demonstrate their significance and place in Henneberger’s life.

“Rock Bottom at the Renaissance, shot outside of the Renaissance”

Commenting on this excerpt from the book, Henneberger said, “This chapter is tough. A bunch of good bands, a couple good memories, all wrapped around one sad reality. Which pretty much describes the book, too, I guess. There’s another part in the book when I say that I just have a musical mind, meaning that I just relate everything to music. And this excerpt is such a clear example of that. You’ve got Marvin Gaye in there, The Front Bottoms, The Cold War Kids, and Peelander Z. Even this excerpt is soundtracked in a chapter that’s soundtracked by The Dangerous Summer. I can’t escape music even if I tried.

The funny, and by that, I mean sad, thing about this chapter is that it has kind of a will-they-won’t-they feel to it. Until now, I never realized or even thought this book had any of that, because when I wrote it, everything seemed so life or death. Like I couldn’t even consider that ‘they’ won’t, because that would be too detrimental to my psyche. (‘A feeling’s just a feeling ‘til you let it get the best of who you are.’)

I don’t want to spoil anything, and I don’t think I will by saying this, but this excerpt is from chapter 12 of 16, so the answer to THAT question comes soon after. But, another thing I didn’t realize at the time when I was writing it, and actually only recently came to realize thanks to something AJ from The Dangerous Summer mentions in the video of our chat about this chapter, is that, while this book’s foundation is the story of The Girl, that’s so far from what it is actually about. So, you can know how it ends, and still not have the book spoiled.”

As a piece of literature, much of Rock Bottom at the Renaissance deals with Henneberger’s past. He writes about his childhood growing up in Texas, which was defined by divorce, sibling rivalry and an instability that affected him in his most vulnerable years. You also learn about some of his most significant experiences such as touring with bands, launching a magazine, and trying his hand at stand up comedy all while he ponders whether the sense of confidence he derives from these events is actually delusion. You also find out more about Henneberger’s time in the U.S. Army, which only made him more reliant on drugs and had a negative influence on his mental health. Ultimately, the book looks at Henneberger’s quest to discover love and his relationship with music and how it’s helped him get through some of life’s most difficult times.

Truly an insightful and enriching work, Henneberger has agreed to donate half of the profits of book sales for the entire summer to MusiCares and For The Nomads to help support those in the music industry.

“Rock Bottom at the Renaissance – Bathroom”

From “Rock Bottom at the Renaissance: An Emo Kid’s Journey Through Falling In and Out of Love In and With New York City” by Mike Henneberger

Excerpt from… Ch. 12 “Never Feel Alone” by The Dangerous Summer

I feel like I’m going to die today—right now, any minute. And that is the only thing that makes me do what I believe is my purpose. And what have I written about? Drinking, doing drugs, being depressed, stupid girls. I want to die a hero. Don’t we all? I mean, we at least want someone to miss us when we die. Don’t we all want our lives and deaths to affect somebody? I’ve known this girl for four years, and she let me walk through Harlem at 2 a.m. drunk? I could die today. I’m not anyone’s hero. I need some fucking Xanax.

“So here’s the thing with my head, I’m unstable. I’m feeling honesty come out, when really I’m just gone.”

I’m not crazy. Okay, maybe I am crazy. But feeling the way I do about The Girl, thinking the things I think about her, is not crazy. I’m not delusional. Some might call me crazy to think there was an immediate connection the night we met, but that’s how I believe these things happen. Even today, after all the shit, I still want to believe that that’s how these things happen. She and I have since talked about that night, and I’ve found out that I was not wrong.

I met The Girl in Chicago. The night I’m remembering may not be the first time I met her, but it was the first time I actually spent time with her. I had visited Chicago three or four times that year because the girl who I was on and off with for four years had been going to grad school there. On this particular visit, the last of them, I was no longer “with” that girl, but we had decided to stay friends. It must’ve been around December because, on this particular visit, she and her classmates were celebrating their graduation from one of the most prestigious journalism graduate programs in the country. I was there to help celebrate, and that meant that I would be going out around Chicago with her and her program’s small graduating class, which was comprised mostly of females. The Girl was one of those females. I remember we started off at someone’s apartment on—is it Lakeshore Drive? Anyway, it was a nice apartment right by the lake with six-to-ten girls and, I think, one guy who was married, and I was the fairly attractive guy who just flew in from L.A. I had met most of them in passing in my previous visits, so they all knew me as their classmate’s boyfriend. On this particular visit, if it hadn’t been made known beforehand that I was no longer her boyfriend, it was probably made obvious pretty quickly that night. We hit some bars and then we ended up at karaoke—and we’ve established what that means to me. I don’t remember how many songs I sang, but I never only sing one. The only song I remember singing is Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” I was in Chicago, High Fidelity is my favorite movie (yes, I’ve read the book, too, but I’ve seen the movie probably over 100 times, so it’s easier for me to reference that, you judgmental snob), so I took a risk. And, yes, I tried to sing it as close to Jack Black’s version from the movie. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sing “Let’s Get It On” at karaoke or anywhere for that matter, but it’s not an easy song. I did already know that. My ex-girlfriend wasn’t going to help me out with it, so I enlisted The Girl. She didn’t take much convincing. She took the stage next to me—wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt and a maroon denim skirt that was a littler longer than I liked (it’s been four years and I can still picture her like it was yesterday)—and we gave it our best shot. I think we were all drunk enough by this point to just have fun with it and not care how good it sounded. It probably sucked, otherwise I would remember killing that song in front of a bunch of girls. But that, unfortunately, is not a memory I have.

“So here’s the part where I get closer to you.”

Singing that song is one of the two things I remember from that night. The other thing happened at some bar where everyone ended up dancing. I was dancing with my ex for a while—as a good guy should—and then I think she went to the bathroom or something, and then I was dancing with The Girl—like an asshole. My ex is a smart girl. I’m sure she saw it at the karaoke bar, maybe even earlier. Now we were all drunk, and I recall some grinding between The Girl and me. Yes, that’s what I wanted. She was what I wanted. It wasn’t just because she was cute. Throughout the night, I got to know her a little. She was fun. She was funny. She didn’t seem to care what anyone thought about her.

(“A feeling’s just a feeling ’til you let it get the best of who you are.”)

And I was apparently too drunk to care what my ex thought or how she felt that night. Sober me wouldn’t have been such an asshole to a girl I did still genuinely care about very much.

“Am I wrong, or is this really what you want to happen? When all I want to do is have this, I’m not strong enough to breathe.”

Jesus, this story is bumming me out. It’s like my brain and my heart are parts of two different bodies—and I don’t at all mean that in a romantic sense. I mean it in a physical, I-still-feel-like-I’m-going-to-die sense. My heart is still racing, but my brain is being a fucking downer. Oh, that’s right, all weekend I’ve been loading uppers and downers into my system like coal into a fucking old-timey steam engine. Who needs a refill of scotch?

“‘Cause I’m caught in every single word and I know that you are something else. Yeah, I’ve reached that point.”

I know, a drunken night of bar hopping does not a Chicago fairy tale make. That was just the first night. Isn’t that how Harry Met Sally? I know. It’s not. Let me present exhibit B. There used to be this great music festival in New York City called the College Music Journal Music Marathon. For a whole week in the fall, over a thousand bands from all over the world come to the city and play in something like 70 different venues. As a music nerd, how could I miss such an event? As a music journalist, I definitely couldn’t. One year, some friends of mine from Texas flew in to partake in the festivities. One of those friends was my best friend in college. He was completely up-to-date about The Girl. I invited her out on one of the nights for a couple of reasons: 1. I knew I would be able to show her the time of her life, 2. I wanted her to meet my friends because, in my head, they were going to be her friends, too, when we ended up living happily ever after, and 3. One of my favorite bands, The Front Bottoms, was playing and I wanted her to love them as much as I did, thus realizing that she and I were meant to be together. Believe it or not, the night kind of did go just as planned. Kind of.

First of all, she missed the band I wanted her to see. But that was okay. By this point, I was already drunk from going to shows all day with my friends and drinking free booze from whatever corporate sponsor provided it. Before The Girl arrived, my two friends and I met two girls—cousins, one from Pennsylvania, the other from Jersey. Hey, two girls and three guys, I didn’t care. Why would I, when The Girl was on her way? The two girls had been doing exactly what we had been doing, so they were good and buzzed too. When they found out that we had Adderall on us, well, they weren’t going anywhere. They thought we were cool, we thought they were cool. Then, the cuter of the two, snatched a tablet of Adderall, crushed it up and snorted it. Can’t remember if she was the one from PA or Jersey, but I can guess. This was going to be a good night.

The Girl caught up with us, and we ended up at some event sponsored by a car company, where the Cold War Kids were playing. Big corporate sponsor usually means free booze, and this time was no different. We spent some time there and The Girl caught up to us real quick. Can you say, “meant to be”? At this point, it’s probably the early hours of the morning, and we made our way to the lower east side to catch Peelander Z—a band I’ve always described as “if the Ramones were also secretly The Power Rangers and Japanese.” I’ve seen them at least three times and they’re always amazing. I don’t know if she just said it for me, but The Girl said she liked them too. I felt like this was the night we needed. It was finally happening. It’s funny how your brain picks and chooses what to remember. I don’t remember where the next bar was. I don’t remember how we got there or why we went there. I do remember that the bar was dead and my Texas friends gave all the girls two-step lessons. Oh yeah, and my best friend from college fucked the cuter girl in the dirty-ass bathroom downstairs. Mission accomplished! I wanted my friends to come visit and have a real New York adventure, and they did. They flew out the next morning. It’s only now that I realize that, for my college buddy, maybe that night was his “Megan.” We never really talked about it and we’ve since lost touch. I know both of those guys stayed in touch with both of those girls. I talked to the less-cute one a few times after that night because we had the same birthday and talked about celebrating together, but it was just talk. Maybe my buddy romanticizes that night like I did with Meghan, maybe not. He really wasn’t ever the hopeless romantic that I was/am.

(“So here’s the thing with my head, I’m unstable.”)

There was almost a decade age difference between me and that friend, so maybe we just grew up on different movies. Maybe when I listened to music, I listened to it differently. I’m not saying I’m better or he’s worse. Hey, who’s about to die alone in a hotel room from upping and downing through a lonely weekend of trying to play “artist”? It’s funny how your brain picks and chooses what to remember.

“So I’ll try to do my very best to let you know that you’re in my head.”

This memory hurts so much that I wish I could forget it. I wish I remembered how and why we got to that last bar instead of remembering this stupid memory. But it’s this memory that is the exhibit B that proves that I’m not delusional—at least not in this situation. After the two-step lessons, after my buddy banged the cuter cousin in the bathroom, The Girl and I went outside. I feel like there was some cigarette smoking, but I could be wrong. This part, however, is unfortunately clear as fucking day. The Girl told me what a good time she had. She told me that she always has a good time with me. She told me that she wanted to be with me, and she didn’t stop there. She said that she knew WE were going to have a good life together, and she didn’t stop there. She said that she wanted to be by my side to cheer me on as I write. She talked about this life we would have, filled with listening to music together and going to shows together. And you know how I know she meant it? She also said, “and sometimes I won’t go to a show with you, but that doesn’t matter.” In about five minutes, she planned our life out, and she made it sound realistic. It was all I ever wanted to hear her say and she was saying it. In real life. My New York romance was happening. At that moment, all the other girls didn’t matter. At that moment, it was like The Girl was saying, “Congratulations, you made it.” All that hard work and heartbreak was finally paying off. At that moment, I thought, this is why I never gave up on love.

“Am I wrong, or is this really what you want to happen? ‘Cause all I wanna do is have this, I’m not strong enough to stand. ‘Cause I’ve been pushed around before. I felt the burn from every inch of my heart. But it’s worth it to never feel alone.”

The Girl and I went back to her place that night. For the first time, my Texas friends had to find their way to my apartment on their own, but they didn’t mind. They knew exactly what The Girl meant to me. They knew what that moment meant to me. That night, they saw a New York movie happen in real life too. And, to them, it was exactly like watching a movie. They got to see it end on that happy moment before the couple embarks on whatever happens next. For me and The Girl, what happened next is also a memory I wish I didn’t have. We had what was probably the worst sex of both of our lives. And I don’t just mean me. I haven’t held back yet, why would I start now? I don’t know if it was the booze, the Adderall, or the pressure of everything that led to that point, but neither of our parts were working the way they were supposed to be. That’s the prettiest way to paint that picture. We tried. We both wanted it. And we worked it out a little, but we were the opposite of R. Kelly’s “Bump ‘N Grind.” Our minds were telling us yes, but our bodies, our bodies were telling us fuck no. Fortunately, we were both drunk enough to just pass out without having to deal with the awkwardness then, and we were friends enough to laugh about it later (since it was mutual). Unfortunately, she decided that we weren’t going to get involved before we ever got a chance to redeem ourselves.

“Am I wrong, or is this really what you want to happen? ‘Cause all I wanna do is have this, I’m not strong enough to stand.”


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