Monday, March 17, 2008

Dan Kennedy's "Rock On"

Now that my generation is firmly established in the literary world, I find myself often getting kind of squeamish about the habitual recitation of shared cultural symbols--particularly rock bands. As I've observed before on this blog, there is considerable overlap between the universes of rock and roll and lit, and while I ought to applaud or at least tolerate people my age writing about things that are important to me, more often than not I feel the way you might feel if somebody told you they thought your wife was smokin' hot.'re certainly right about, thanks?

So when a writer, especially a male writer, especially a McSweeney's-affiliated writer, shows up with a memoir about the music industry, my instinct is to start hunting around in the medicine cabinet for my anti-cringe serum. It turns out there's no need, though. Dan Kennedy's Rock On is really funny, and surprisingly genuine.

Kennedy worked for Warner Brothers Records during the era (an era that's ongoing, I believe) when the record industry was beginning to wake up from its long period of denial about downloads. Kennedy managed to get a job making TV and magazine ads for Warner bands--his first gig was to help Warner celebrate 25 hit-filled years of smug weasel Phil Collins--and rode this wave of good fortune for the year and a half until he got fired. He gamely tries to sell the idea of a download subscription service to a bunch of jaded CEOs, misunderstands The Darkness, fawns over Duran Duran's road manager, alienates his boss's dog, and fails to recognize Jewel:

The first time I saw Jewel at the office it took me ten minutes to recognize her even with four huge posters of her album cover on the wall of the hallway we were both walking down..."Who's this attractive blond woman walking toward me? Think. She...looks...very...familiar, but I can't quite...Connie, maybe? From accounts payable? Yes! That's her. That's who does the expense checks! it? And I kind of nodded hello as we passed in the hall and as soon as I was ten yards past my brain made a positive ID and I was thinking, "Wait a minute. That was Jewel. But with pores. And a normal, human-sized waist."

Kennedy doesn't place himself above it all--he's just as susceptible to the vanities of the industry as the people around him. But he doesn't overdo his sad-sackitude (perhaps the chief pitfall of the fin-de-siècle hipster humorist), and the book ends up having this wry, self-deprecating integrity that I would never have expected from it. He's just a guy who loves music and ends up spending eighteen months buddying around with music's abusive ex-husband. You gotta feel for him.

The memoir bits are interspersed with amusing song lyrics, inappropriate band names (death metal bands: The Ginger Snaps, The Trolleymen), and little fantastias of things he should have said and didn't. Ultimately the actual material is a tad thin, but what do you want, the guy only worked there a year and a half. Buy the book--it'll take you a day to read, it's a paperback original, and it's from an indie press.

1 comment:

A. Peterson said...

That was more or less my reaction to his first book, Loser Goes First, which sounds like this one only it covered the first 30 years of his life as opposed to the most recent 1.5. I was surprised when it read more like a fragmented Sedaris than Klosterman or McSweeney's (or at least the humor I associate with them). I kept expecting him to lapse into nudge-nudge references, but the humor was mostly personal and at his expense.

It was a hard book not to like. Unless you were one of my students reading an excerpt as an example of humorous non-fiction. Then, apparently, it was an easy book not to like.