From former MTV VJ Dave Holmes, the hilarious memoir of a perpetual outsider fumbling towards self-acceptance, with the music of the '80s, '90s, and today as his soundtrack. Dave Holmes has spent his life on the periphery, nose pressed hopefully against the glass, wanting just one thing: to get inside. Growing up, he was the artsy son in the sporty family. At his all-boys high school and Catholic college, he was the closeted gay kid surrounded by crush-worthy straight guys. And in his twenties, in the middle of a disastrous career in advertising, he accidentally became an MTV VJ overnight when he finished second, naturally, in the Wanna Be a VJ contest, opening the door to fame, fortune, and celebrity—you know, almost. In Party of One, Holmes tells the hilariously painful and painfully hilarious tales—in the vein of Rob Sheffield, Andy Cohen, and Paul Feig—of an outsider desperate to get in, of a misfit constantly changing shape, of a music geek who finally learns to accept himself. Structured around a mix of hits and deep cuts from the last four decades—from Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" and En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” and Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better”—and punctuated with interludes like "So You've Had Your Heart Broken in the 1990s: A Playlist" and “Notes on (Jesse) Camp,” this book is for anyone who's ever felt like a square peg, especially those who have found their place in the world around a band, an album, or a song. It's a laugh-out-loud funny, deeply nostalgic story about never fitting in, never giving up, and letting good music guide the way.
Dave Holmes, for the unfamiliar reader, is a writer / comedian / on-air talent who now works for Esquire.com (as well as hosting podcasts on Sirius) but is most recognized for his time as a MTV VJ in the early 2000s. Party of One is a brief, humorous memoir that looks at the life path that unexpectedly guided him to such a job. Holmes starts with a look back on his early childhood in Boston, MA, growing up the gay, artsy child of big-time sports enthusiast (not to mention heavy-duty Catholic) parents. While his siblings took up their parents' love of outdoor activities, Holmes embraced a love of music (in fact, the layout for this book was in part inspired by Holmes' love of mixtapes), fashion, and networking prior to the days of social media.
The bands coming out of Boston sounded the way a sweater feels. They were autumn in aural form. I had The Lemonheads, The Blake Babies, Juliana Hatfield and Buffalo Tom on a constant loop in my Volkswagon Jetta.
Holmes' college years take him to New York City -- telling the taxi driver his first day in town, "I'm new here, take me someplace gay and awesome!" -- where he works as a sub-par waiter in a few restaurants for a bit, but later landing positions at advertising / PR firms. He keeps at it a few years, acknowledging that the money's not bad for what he does (even if he actually hates his job). Not surprisingly, he eventually hits his enthusiasm wall and decides a career change is in order. In comes news about the position up for grabs at MTV, albeit a position he finds he will have to compete for via MTV's Wanna Be A VJ contest. Winner gets the job. At this point in the memoir, Holmes shares that to this day, at least once a day, someone asks him about that contest. STILL. If you're a fan of the old days of MTV, you may remember when Holmes came in second to Jesse Camp. Disappointing, Holmes admits, but he quickly points out that even being runner up ended up being enough to get his foot in the door with MTV, still ending up on air though maybe through a more circuitous route.
Enough of small places where everyone knows one another, enough of homogeneity. I was going to move to the biggest, greatest city in the world: I was starting over in New York City. I had enthusiasm, a poor understanding of how the world worked, a 2.4 GPA, and no job skills. I couldn't fail... I began looking for apartments right away. My perception of New York apartments and their size came mostly from Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principle" video and Big: I envisioned massive, untreated warehouse spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed pipes. The heavy-doored elevator would open right into my place. I'd wait a tasteful few months before getting a trampoline.
If you're like I was going into this, eager to get into some 90s music nostalgia, Holmes does provide but let me give you a heads up that that's not actually the focus of his story here. In fact, he doesn't even start to discuss his days at MTV -- starting at age 27 -- until Chapter 12, which is nearly 150 pages into this 274 page book. While he does use music and pop culture references to illustrate his emotions / mindset during the various points of his life, the main focus ends up being his coming out story. Not the specific moment necessarily, but more the journey that led him to being comfortable about being "out". And he's clear to show the reader that it was, in fact, quite the journey -- starting from early childhood (we're talking single digit years) where he freaked his mom out by freely saying he thought a boy in the neighborhood was cute to the realization that MTV was not as openly friendly to the LGBTQ community as they liked to present themselves as being. It seemed like they only wanted homosexuality to be mentioned up to a point, before Holmes would sometimes be told one way or another that he was being "too gay" and shots would be cut and reshot with him instructed to act "more straight". So, much of the book talks about the years long process that took him through all that and the songs that helped him get through the worst moments.
My feelings, quite frankly, were that I was tired of being scared. I wanted to be out. I wanted to be a beacon to other kids on campus, who I believed existed, who were searching for the same things. I wanted people to see that I was out and social and accepted and happy and that they could be too. I wanted them to find the inspiration to be brave and to live life as their truest self. Also, I wanted to have sex with dudes.
I got some big laughs from Holmes' dating stories. He talks about the experience of having his first major heartbreak and trying to musically soothe the pain (or throw salt in the wound, depending on how you look at it) through repetitive listenings of "I Said I Love You (But I Lied)" by Michael Bolton and Lisa Loeb's "Stay". He also gets into how he realized that the majority of his dates / boyfriends could be broken down into basically four types of guys (and he gives you a run-down on the characteristics of each of these types). Gay or straight, I think readers will easily find something here to laugh and nod at because seriously, we've all been there at some point, right? :-) Holmes also shares the music he turned to to get him through some bad trips (notably "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips) during his brief experimentation with ecstasy and cocaine.
I like that I grew up uncomfortable. It gave me fuel that powered me through a very weird life. It made me want to succeed, it made me want to work hard, and it got me to where I always wanted to be. But it's not for everyone.
While the book may have not entirely gone the direction I was thinking it would when I started reading, this was still one fun nostalgia trip, sometimes hilarious, sometimes bittersweet. Holmes gives shout-outs to many musical mile markers in my own life, along the way sharing riotous behind-the-scenes style stories about some of those musicians. I was also impressed and moved by how honest he was in sharing his struggles with surviving homophobic-based bullying. Holmes gives readers a tale full of inspiration, one that echoes the sentiment of so many in this day and age: You do you. And do it proudly. Be brave. Be fearless. Be unapologetically you. Admirably, Holmes manages to convey this message without it turning into a complete schmaltzy cringefest. He honors his own message and just presents himself upfront, unfiltered, with maybe just a dash of self-deprecation. I can respect that.
Also gotta give the man thanks for reminding me of so many great songs I haven't listened to in ages that I immediately closed the book to go hop on Youtube & reminisce in a wave of 90s goodness. Thanks, Dave!
So here they are, stories of the blessed and stupid life of a kid on the margins, and the music that moved it forward, in book form, which I figured I should hurry up and do before we start passing down our histories via emojis and GIFs of Rue McClanahan...That last chapter aside, I am determined not to write a showbiz tell-all, mostly because there's not much to tell; if there were crazy cocaine sex parties when I was at MTV, I was not invited. But something has to get excerpted on PopSugar if we're going to make this book work, so, you know, here.