by Ian F. Svenious
What a delightfully odd little book this is. Presented as an old manual mixed with a narrator that's rather Lemony-Snicket-meets-Ted-Wilson, Supernatural Strategies For Making a Rock 'n' Roll Group manages to be just as funny as it is strange. Throughout, Ian F. Svenious injects enough knowing truth that anyone who has ever involved themselves with musicians will recognize.
The idea is this: During a séance, the ghost of The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones offered advice on forming a group, “accompanied by a vague scent of Moroccan spice and the rustling sound of suede on corduroy.” I let out an audible Ha! when I read the following:
Can we somehow become renowned without dying?
Faking one's death is an obvious route, and is often accomplished — albeit in a metaphorical sense — in collusion with the PR Industry. First one must create a record which is sensationally acclaimed. Then one must explode at the apex of its career.
[…]The La's, the Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, the Sex Pistols, and The Specials all successfully used this virtual death technique to ensure renown, as did David Bowie when he fired his group Spiders From Mars onstage while their concert was being filmed at the Hammersmith Odeon for theatrical release.
Which is, of course, completely true until festival season 25 years from that “death,” when the living members of three-quarters of those bands reunite for a bit of Rock 'n' Roll Church at Glastonbury or Coachella. A tidy profit and a bit of personal nostalgia — They can be loved as before.
(Lest you think I'm making fun: With Noel Gallagher as my witness, I would succumb to my own metaphorical perishing if I could see the Stone Roses live.)
Eventually the spirit of Brian Jones signs off, and this séance group contacts Richard Berry (composer of “Louie, Louie”), who tells them all about how rock 'n' roll relates to the history of the US and its military industrial complex. Somehow, it makes a certain sort of sense. The spirit of Mary Wells continues these thoughts while also tying them to the music's origins within blues and doo-wop. “Her spirit (or what announced itself as such) communicated by spelling out letters in cooked spaghetti on the wall.”
Of course she does.
As Mary Wells was neatly explaining the origins of the group model, a ghost claiming to be Sir Paul McCartney interrupted and began to fill us in on the next stage of historical development. “So the rumors where true!” we joked, but he assured us it wasn't so. He explained that, though he is not dead, he does spend a lot of time in the spirit world while meditating or tending to his garden in Scotland.
What, was George Harrison not available? Or is he too busy to offer his thoughts on the British “colonizing” rock music? (That colonization has to do with “the founding fathers' teenage tantrum called 'The American Revolution," by the way.)
The spirits and the advice and the historical context continue, and I suppose it's meant to be funny that every spirit speaks in a dry, lecturing way and not in their own voices. That trick gets a bit old as the book goes on, so blessedly, the book is not very long.
Still, I did really enjoy all the talk of bands to which I listen. Besides the Stone Roses, The Small Faces get a mention, and then there's a whole rundown of musicians and their astrological signs. Identities within the band, their outward image, sex and drugs are all discussed, and perhaps what I found most amusing was that I'd already written about a fictional band that quite mirrored these traits.
Bass players are usually picked for their style and are often quiet and/or affable. Guitar players are often controlling, temperamental, and fastidious. Singers, insecure because of the highly personal nature of their contribution, behave like politicians. Drummers are gregarious, but have style and anger issues.
Did I write about a band this way because I have studied real life counterparts, decades' worth of bands, and therefore had absorbed this “supernatural” knowledge? It's very funny to me, though I understand that it probably isn't as much to you reading this.
However, if you've been in a band, managed or dated a musicians, or have just spent a lot of time thinking about music, this book is worth a look. The pairing of ridiculousness with facts makes the theories all the more plausible. While I didn't love this book, I liked it, and it reminded me of all the great rock 'n' roll stories I love to hear about, and all the analysis I love to provide.
Full Disclosure: Akashic Books sent me this review copy. I thank them for the gesture and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.
This review is part of Cannonball Read V, in which participants attempt to read and review 52, 26, or 13 books in a year. A charitable donation is made for those who complete 52 reviews by December 31, 2013.