I was wrong again (it happens…let’s just say ‘occasionally’). I saw the title and cover of this book and thought ‘Please, not another ironic hipster penning a love letter to his childhood wrapped tightly in a faux enthusiasm blanket while burnishing his indie rock cred.’ (Okay, maybe my initial thought wasn’t quite that coherent and profanity-free, but we’re all great wits in retrospect. Also, ‘Faux Enthusiasm Blanket’ – possible post-emo/screamo band name.)
Turns out, Rock On is sans hipster irony, and less of a love letter than a debriefing from one of the smoking craters caused by the music wars. Dan Kennedy is (or should be) well-known for his frequent and varied contributions to numerous McSweeney’s publications. For those of you who don’t know McSweeney’s, rectify that posthaste.
As for Rock On; it’s a smart and funny look at the author’s disillusionment with an industry that poses as creative while seemingly ready to wring the necks of baby bunnies if it will get them another airplay for their ‘product’. It’s not a newsflash that when you have an industry controlling artistic expression the results seem less than genuine. It is, however, revelatory just how many decisions made in those ivory towers are driven by a combination of fear, laziness, and stupidity; and here I thought greed was the only boogeyman to aim for.
For eighteen soul-crushing months Kennedy fought the good fight in the marketing department of one of the biggest music companies in the world. His experiences would prove harrowing if they weren’t hilarious, and by all rights his observations should be dripping venom. As a former employee of the world’s largest purveyor of books (They Who Shall Not Be Named), I identified with Kennedy’s day-to-day dread and deer-in-the-headlights inability/unwillingness to play the game with his superiors.
Tales of conference room status wars waged by embittered ladder climbers, near-fisticuffs over baked goods, the mad dash of prospective personal assistants, the inanity of making a point about selling out by selling out, and a parade of yes men who never got music in the first place make Rock On the perfect encapsulation of the wrongheadedness of ‘big music’. Maybe Dan Kennedy’s book is the first fragment of an asteroid coming to usher the corporate dinosaurs into their ice age. It comes not a moment too soon.