June 4, 2023
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Book gives outsiders uneasy peek into music business

With the possible exceptions of Tipper Gore, cops and Scott Stapp, there’s no greater enemy to rock ’n’ roll than corporate suits: faceless, fun-hating squares who refer to bands as products and albums as units. Yet, according to Dan Kennedy in his new book, “Rock On: An Office Power Ballad,” these are the people who run the recording industry. Or, as Kennedy puts it, these are the people who have successfully run the recording industry into the ground.
“Rock On” is Kennedy’s memoir, or power ballad, about working during those halcyon last few months at Atlantic Records in Rockefeller Center before a bunch of executives split multi-million dollar bonuses and axed almost everyone beneath them to cut costs. Like scoring an awesome seat on the Hindenburg, at least it was fun while it lasted. Well, fun for the reader, that is.

Kennedy describes a similar rock ’n’ roll upbringing to Chuck Klosterman, another fine writer whom Kennedy echoes in style and taste. Both seem to have been raised entirely on Kiss and Led Zeppelin. While the writers continue to love these bands unequivocally, it’s evolved into more of an ironic love for Kiss.

This makes it all the more amusing when Kennedy is given his first big assignment at Atlantic Records: to compose a congratulatory advertisement for Phil Collins. On his first day at the office, all it takes is having to write something nice about the guy who wrote “In the Air Tonight” to launch Kennedy into a near existential crisis.

Kennedy does a lot of panicked thinking during “Rock On.” He is blessed/cursed with the awkward habit of staring at a person when he or she enters the room without even realizing it. During this time, his brain spouts out paragraphs that seem to completely describe the entire life story of the person he’s staring at, even if he’s never met him or her.

Kennedy also has a natural talent for ascribing snarky nicknames to nearly everyone he meets. For an industry tell-all like this, it’s expected that the names be changed to protect the quasi-innocent. Kennedy takes things a step further, naming one boss he didn’t care for too much “Dick.” The executive with the magnificent corner office who hasn’t changed his hairdo since he signed the band Rush back in the early ’70s gets the apt moniker “Rush Hair.” The funnier the nickname, the higher up the chain of command that person probably is.

Rock ’n’ roll is about disrespecting authority whenever possible. This is not the case with the business of rock ‘n’ roll, where corporate hierarchy is everything. Kennedy was working at Atlantic Records for well over a year, yet he never stopped feeling like an outsider in the system. He struggles to take orders from suburban classic rock dads, but also feels weird about having his own authority — even if that authority only governs his assistant and a few unpaid interns.

It would be hard not to get weirded out by Kennedy’s job, which includes boardroom deliberations about whether or not to buy Fat Joe a $30,000 fur coat and learning that matchbox twenty must (MUST) be written in lowercase at all times or the band’s manager will scream at you.

Kennedy shows the day-to-day ridiculousness of working at a major record label as a way of portraying how easy it is to be distracted by the little things while an entire industry is collasping into itself.

“Rock On: An Office Power Ballad” by Dan Kennedy recieved three and a half out of four stars.