Anyone who's ever worked in the music industry is probably aware of the massive difference between the executives who release records and the consumers who buy them. But no one has ever captured this disconnect as irreverently as Dan Kennedy does with Rock On: An Office Power Ballad (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). A regular contributor to McSweeney's, Kennedy has his latest book pick up where his hilarious coming-of-age memoir Loser Goes First left off. Rock On is an account of what happens when a slacker copywriter gets a job in the major-label system at a time when the very foundation of that infrastructure is at stake.
Okay, we'll admit that sounds kind of serious. Thankfully Kennedy's sense of humor and inner dialogue are both as sharp as ever. Whether he's fantasizing about being his bubbly young assistant, trying to create an advertisement to commemorate the Phil Collins catalogue, or obsessing about the inherent irony of the Donnas, Kennedy perfectly captures how out-of-touch these studio execs are at a time they should be innovating. Plus, regardless of whether the subject is refinancing mortgages or Kid Rock's marketing campaign, who hasn't unsuccessfully tried not to embarrass themselves at a board meeting?
Despite the fact that Rock On is in some ways a eulogy for the major-label system, it's also painfully evident how much Kennedy truly loves music. This character detail makes the reader root for Kennedy the same way viewers relate to Jim Halpert's character from The Office. "With hearts and brains like hard drives, we all move through this life constantly shuffling through thousands of songs triggered by memories and names," Kennedy muses in Rock On's introduction, before making a casual aside about how his ex-girlfriend Kristen cheated on him with patrons of a local restaurant in exchange for cocaine.
Rock On: An Office Power Ballad
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It's this dichotomy of realism and humor that makes Rock On a success. Sorry, Chuck Klosterman, you've got some serious competition.