Rock n roll is not a joke, a pastime or a hobby. Nor is it a mystical calling that only a chosen few can pull off. Rather, as Ian F. Svenonius argues in his treatise on the makings of a great musical band, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock n Roll Group, it is a set of skills and rules that can be mastered with practice and the proper instruction.
Svenonius hasnt written a basic How to Make It in the Music Business book. Rather, the writer, online talk show host and, most important, singer in a series of breathtaking rock n roll bands (Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, Chain & the Gang), is drawing a line in the sand and doing so with what he hopes will finally define the undefinable. (The books independent publisher, Akashic Books, is best known for its breakout fake childrens book, Go the to Sleep.) The writer knows of what he speaks and argues in Supernatural Strategies that creating a rock n roll group, like making a fancy meal, hasnt anything to do with superstitions. Its just a matter of applying scientific know-how in a systematic and controlled manner.
He then goes on to prove this, first by holding imaginary seances with dead rock stars, then by addressing, chapter by chapter, the building blocks of making a band, from naming it (or rather, discovering what your name will be) to photographing it (Where will the photo be set? Who will stand where? What kind of film stock?) to touring with it. He addresses drug use, sex, rehearsals and producers.
The seance conceit falls flat; Svenonius employs it as a clever way to infuse his theories into the ghost voices of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Richard Berry (the composer of the classic rock song Louie Louie) and Motown singer Mary Wells, among others. He uses the conversations with Wells and Buddy Holly, for example, to deliver theories on the connections between street gangs and rock bands in post-civil rights America.
When Svenonius tackles the makings of a rock band, hes spot-on. His academic, furrow-browed tone is brash, presumptuous and filled with a self-seriousness thats tough to gauge. Is this a joke, a conceit or a treatise? Mostly the latter, delivered with the confidence of a lead singer.