Thursday, July 13, 2006

In Awe of 'Rivethead'

I have a new hero and his name is Ben Hamper. Okay, so I’d never heard of the guy before a few days ago, when I picked up his memoir ’Rivethead’ in a Myrtle Beach bookstore. But 234 pages later, I’m thinking of building a statue to the diminutive author. Why the unseemly adoration? Simple, Hamper has accomplished exactly what I yearn to do: turn his years at (what often feels like) a dead-end job into an enlightening tome for the masses. Admittedly, he had it far rougher than your own whiny lenslinger. The son of a son of a son of a Flint, Michigan autoworker, Hamper reluctantly followed his own lack of ambition into the GM truck factory he grew up hating from afar. Once inside the belly of the beast, he picked up the rivet gun and tried to turn his brain off. But it didn’t work. Everywhere he looked, he saw the casualties of the assembly line: the burn-outs, the moronic management, the soul-sucking repetition of mass production. So he did what any born writer would do, he scribbled intensely between shifts and, when not too heavily intoxicated, punished his typewriter with his prose and pain.

From there Hamper’s path differs from mine, for he gained the attention of hometown heretic Michael Moore - who published his raucous columns in the 'Flint Voice'. This exposure brought him national attention, but he kept driving rivets home for an inflated wage until the constant lay-offs, the alcohol abuse and the suffocating stifle of assembly line existence drove him to the very edge of madness. That part I’d like to skip, but I can certainly identify with Hamper’s unhinged take on a profession that doesn’t make as much sense as perhaps it should. As a reader (and a wannabe author), I cannot help but admire his savage eloquence, his gonzo style and his blistering insistence on telling the truth. Every industry should have a ‘Rivethead’ - and perhaps, just perhaps, a ‘Lenslinger’ as well.

Is that too much to ask?


Lex said...

What a great book. I reviewed it for the N&R when it came out, what -- 15 years ago, now? Like unto poetry: When he talks about getting high before going to work, he captures the rhythm of the line itself -- "Turn on. Tune in. Build trucks."

photogguy said...

Ah, home sweet home.

That's one of the reasons I became a photog, to escape the dreariness of working in the factory.

I worked in a tool and die shop making parts for the factories. That's what led me to continue my education, which led me to the wonderful world of tv news!

Nice to know I escaped one kind of inane-ness for another kind.

Billy Jones said...

"Is that too much to ask?"

Not at all.

prof said...

So...start writing the book...your reader's are waiting.

kylie said...

Yes, I loved this book and am having my econ students read excerpts from it....I never get tired of reading it!