BookLife Talks with John Farmer
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Way Too Fast'
For people who aren’t familiar with Danny DeGennaro, can you talk about who he was?
I wish your readers could have gotten to know Danny the way I did, by watching and listening to him play guitar and sing his transcendent music. His murder, days after Christmas in 2011, ended that possibility. But his tragic end doesn’t diminish the fact that Danny was a uniquely gifted singer, guitarist, and songwriter whose talent deserved a wider audience and whose life mirrored in so many ways the triumphs and struggles of a generation.
He grew up a music prodigy in Levittown, Pa., the iconic postwar American suburb, in an era when families and steelworker jobs were stable, America had never lost a war, and the American prospect looked as limitless as Danny’s talent. But Danny’s generation has faced a great reckoning over its proper place in the world, as manufacturing jobs disappeared, families were broken, wars were lost, drug dependence took hold, and racial tensions escalated.
Danny’s life and music drew upon and reflected that reckoning. Precisely because he never led the detached life of a mega rock star, his music remained faithful to the struggles of his many friends as they coped with the changes in American life. Like other great artists, Danny absorbed those struggles and transformed them into something beautiful and healing.
Did you always intend to write a book about him?No. I met Danny in 1993, at a low point in my life, as I was grieving the loss of my wife. His music gave shape and beauty to the sadness I was feeling and helped me greatly to heal. After Danny was murdered at home in 2011, I wrote a remembrance of him for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The response to that piece was overwhelming; I heard from friends, fellow musicians, and fans all over the country whose lives had been touched by Danny and his music. As I learned more about their lives, and his, it became clear that his story is the story of a generation. That experience inspired me to write the book.
Since you’re often dealing with events that are decades old, some of which you didn’t personally experience, how do you make sure you are telling “the truth”?
I know from my experience as a trial lawyer that recollections can be unreliable, particularly as time passes. This is especially true of musicians of a certain vintage! I drew upon my experience on the 9/11 Commission in investigating the attacks on 9/11 and in writing The Ground Truth, my first book, in evaluating the truth of conflicting recollections. You look for consistency across different accounts, for corroboration independent of subjective memories, and for whether a given account is consistent with what you have learned about a person’s character. When, after that process, uncertainty remains, you note the conflict and explain the judgments you have made.
Why do you think this book is particularly relevant now?
Danny’s life becomes more relevant as Americans continue to reckon with our identity and our place in the world. Danny’s songs embody that struggle and remind us that even our struggles can be a source of beauty and joy.
What is the one thing you most want to tell readers about you or your book?
My hope is that the book, which has been named a Notable Book for 2022 by the Indie Press Awards, will inspire people to find Danny’s music on Spotify, iTunes, or other platforms, such as orcd.co/waytoofast, and to support the Danny DeGennaro Foundation, which assists young, talented musicians, at dannydegennaro.org.