In his new book, Rock On: An Office Power Ballad, humorist Dan Kennedy documents his time spent in an unlikely marketing position at Atlantic Records. For Kennedy this is his last shot at living out his rock 'n' roll fantasies, the closest he'll ever get to "the action," as it were. His dreams are almost instantly vaporized as he finds himself struggling to fit in with the absurdities of office politics rather than hobnobbing at party central with legends of rock.
Relentlessly self-conscious, much of Rock On's humor lies in Kennedy's constant fear he'll be outed and ostracized for his being grossly unqualified for his position. A regular contributor to humor web site McSweeneys.net, Kennedy employs a number of interludes in the site's format such as mock song lyrics and lists — though these occasionally fall flat, as does his consistent use of lengthy nicknames.
This isn't to say that Rock On isn't an entertaining read, and at times it's downright hilarious, especially in the concluding "Bonus Tracks" section. Still, the main draw is not the book's humor but its behind-the-scenes tour of the profit-driven, out-of-touch mismanagement of a major record label. There seems to be an endless web of co-presidents, vice presidents, chairmen, etc., all without a clue about the music they're releasing beyond how much revenue it can generate. Slowly losing his faith in the spirit of rock, and the ability of the industry to uphold it, Kennedy boldly attempts to present a counter to the rapidly growing crisis of online piracy — and is promptly shot down by an Internet division that relies on bamboozling the higher-ups to minimize their workload.
It becomes apparent how little anyone actually does here, and the higher up the corporate ladder the less necessary one is to the company's functioning and more grossly overpaid one tends to be. Kennedy notes throughout that the plethora of assistants, the worst-paid, hardest-working employees, are the only people there remotely in touch with the demographic the company tries so desperately to reach. These are the people in the trenches, who deserve the accolades and ought to be signing acts and running the biz.
Rock On takes us into the bowels of the recording industry and dredges up its ugly incompetence. It's an indictment of the tools who care more about selling razors than promoting worthwhile new acts, and a truly depressing update on the state of music today. You can rest easy, though, as the immortality of rock is reaffirmed by the antics of the irrepressible Iggy Pop before the book's close. All in all it makes for interesting read, if not as outright a laugh as it aims to be. (Algonquin Books, 224 pages, $14.95)