I just read the book Rock On by Dan Kennedy, which is a humorous and scathing look at the music industry from inside (Kennedy worked for a major music company as a mid-level manager). It is a fun read and full of interesting bits and pieces of humor writing (such as top lists, such as Ineffective Names for a Hardcore Death Metal Bank — ie, Light Tropical Storm). He includes his email address at the end, so I wrote and sent him this letter:
Feb. 8, 2008
Thanks for writing the book, Rock On. It made me laugh until I realized that what I was laughing about was the complete commercialization and destruction of the music industry that was my lifeline as a kid. Like you, I remember sitting on the floor with my old vinyl albums on the Radio Shack stereo, looking over every last bit of the cover and even reading the names in fine print at the lower right hand corner. Photographer, engineer, snack-man, whatever. I read them all as the tunes were blasting. Imagine seeing your name like that on a Led Zep album? Even if you were a water carrier, it would still be a thrill. Today, there wouldn’t be room for those names and if the names were there, they would be so friggin’ small in print that you would need to steal your grannie’s eyeglasses just to read it. And let’s face it – no one bothers to read the fine print on anything anymore anyway. I don’t consider myself a craggy old dude but I do miss that feeling of discovering rock and roll. I know there is still great music out there but it is not in the halls of the office building where you found yourself working for those 18 months, that’s for sure.
You know, it amazed me that you put your email address in your book. How many people have written to you? And do you write back? I ask this because I read through John Hodgeman’s book, The Areas of My Expertise, and he gave out an email. When I wrote him a letter (I was arguing that his name and my name are close and that maybe we were related somehow — not really, but, you know, all in fun) and I never heard a peep out of him. Maybe he thought I was just another nut job (I proclaim: I am not a nut job).
Back to your book: I was really struck by two images. The first is the entire Iggy Pop show. Man. That must have been something and I got great joy out of visualizing that madman stomping into the corporate seats and just going crazy on them and then leaving such chaos and wreckage in his midst. There was a ferocious energy about him that you captured in your writing. (Don’t you wish you were on the stage, with your camera, for that one, Dan? Instead, you were stuck with the spandex boys). And then there was the ending, with Jimmy Page, walking in a suit and his helpful assistant carrying his guitars. I agree that we expect our heroes to stay the same and never change. Reality is different. Still, it was a symbol for the industry. Like you, I remember watching every note in The Song Remains the Same movie (in a smoky movie theater, at the midnight showing) and thinking, these guitar soloes are like a symphony in itself. And you are right, Dan. Page would never be allowed to let rip such solos these days. Crap, his solos are longer than most songs (not that I am against short songs — Elvis Costello did it magnificently).
I really loved your final email that you never sent and I kind of wished you did send it (don’t you? Why not send it? Were you still hoping to make your way back into the business?). You bluntly put the difficulty of the entire industry on the place where it belongs — in the upper management of the big companies. You know they are desperate when they start paying people to be “cool barometers” in the world. Cripes. Maybe they should just kick back with a six pack (I would have Sam Adams, but they would prob have wine coolers) and put on some of the crap they are putting out in the world and get numbed over like the rest of us. The radio sucks, doesn’t it? It’s like strip malls — every suburb you go to looks exactly the same. And every radio station in big markets seem to sound exactly the same. (Thank god for smaller stations in smaller markets). I am thinking of this as I hear yet another commercial for the Grammy Awards, which have to be one of the biggest crocks of crap to ever infect our ears. Sure, a few artists who are really musicians slip through now and then, but the Grammy is not even on my musical radar. I see it for what it is — another shilling of product by the corporate entities (notice, I didn’t use the word “people” there).
Anyway, I will keep an eye out for your byline in the various McSweeney family publications (sounds like a mob, doesn’t it) and I wish you best with whatever venture comes your way.
My top five list for why the current music scene completely sucks:
- DRM (digital rights management)
- Are you telling me it costs a company $18 to produce a little metallic circle of data? Please.
- Producers who put together bands based on marketability and not musicability
- No patience to allow a band to build a following — it’s “get a hit” or “hit the road” and not much in-between
- Artists who don’t write their own songs
My top five reasons why good music will still survive:
- Low cost of recording software and music publishing
- Pirate radio stations
- The need of kids everywhere to hate the expected and rage against the machine
- Friends talking to each other (yep, it still is the most effective marketing)
- Ability of musicians to collaborate on the Web
Thanks for reading my letter, Dan.
PS — the book group questions at the end were a nice touch.
So I send the email last night and Dan Kennedy (give him credit for replying at all) sent me back this reply via email:
Kevin — what a great note to get, I’m damn glad I put my email address in the back of my book. I
I also have to tip my hat to you for using the word “cripes” in your note; it made me feel like maybe we grew up in the same damn family.
At any rate, glad as all hell that you got something out of Rock On. Thanks for your time spent reading it and glad it was worth it.
Goodbye from a damn internet cafe thatch hut thing off the coast of Honduras, where I’m writing something new amidst a thick school of sunburned and leathery desperados next to bon fires and the whole thing feels like every Steely Dan song I’ve ever heard.
My response back to Dan:
Thanks for the reply.
Instead of hearing Steely Dan in my head, for some reasons, I had the Eagles. That happens every time I hear or read the word Deperadoes. (not really my favorite song, either, but it gets stuck like velcro).
It’s nice to know that your writing is taking you to some different places other than NYC (on vacation? or on a book tour? either way, have fun) and I will be sure to pass along the praise for your book to friends.
Peace (in music and in writers who make themselves accessible to their readers),