Oh no. Not another snarky, ironic rock book, written by a hip, literate 30-something striving to define cool with the same sarcastic voice we’ve heard for the last fifteen years?!
Fear not. Rock On: An Power Ballad [Algonquin Paperback] is maybe some of that – but author Dan Kennedy does as good a job mocking himself as he does the record industry. This playful memoir of-sorts recounts his 18-month stint in the marketing department of Atlantic Records, just as the bottom began falling out of the industry.
Much of this book is so freaking hysterical—largely due to Kennedy’s narrative voice (he’s a regular McSweeney’s contributor, after all), presenting himself, his stories, and the other personalities in sparse (but exactly right) detail that give us just enough to totally get it. For instance, there’s “Rush Hair,” the executive who signed Rush in the 70s and hasn’t changed his hair since. There’s “Co-Co,” an exec with a $50,000 conference table whose title changes every ten minutes but always begins with a “Co” prefix. And who can forget “Chocolate Chip,” the mean-spirited colleague, heady with sudden power, who runs business meetings in sunglasses?
As in corporate life within any industry, Kennedy is always tuned into the falseness, the smug insincerity, and the blow-it-up-your-ass praise that doesn’t even earn eye contact in the elevator twenty minutes later. But the beautiful thing about Rock On is that Kennedy really loves music. Obsessed with records from about the age of nine, he, along with the reader, gasps in disbelief at these nowhere marketing meetings over Jewel’s video being used to sell razors, or the bullshit in-store promotions for the Darkness (who demand to be taken seriously!). How could this shit have anything to do with having spawned the greatness of, say, Led Zeppelin?
Perhaps the climax of the book is not Dan Kennedy’s story at all, but rather his review of an Iggy Pop performance at Roseland. It is a solid chapter of mad worship for this at least semi-deserving icon that is so simultaneously funny and seriously heart-filled. [ed.-- I couldn’t read this through without chasing my husband around the house, broadcasting excerpts that he ‘just had to hear’. Then, I immediately changed my MySpace song to “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”]
Honesty. That’s what good writing all comes down to. And along with honesty comes vulnerability. These two qualities are what save Rock On from becoming just another hip David Foster Wallace-meets-Music-whatever. Kennedy is perhaps less emotionally restrained and character-rich as a writer like Nick Hornby, but there’s enough of him on these pages that the reader can follow it—and feel it—right along with him: the disgust, the empathy, and the embarrassments of things like being moved by music when it’s not cool to be, being made fun of by the Donnas, or mistaking a manager for a member of Duran Duran. Empathy aside, readers might, in fact, fall in love with Kennedy just a little bit for these human foibles. It’s too bad that after reading his mock “Book Discussion Notes,” we’ll feel like suckers for doing so.