Book Review - Rock On: A life in music (business)

Dan Kennedy writes of his struggles in the industry

Author Dan Kennedy always wanted to be a rock star. The majority of his childhood was spent trying to make it big. It started at 4 years old, with his dad teaching him Johnny Cash songs. At age 9, he got his first drum set, and much to his parents' dismay, he would practice at 7 every morning on the weekends.

Every year, he would dress up like a different member of Kiss for Halloween, and according to Kennedy, he would become "a smaller, oddly well-mannered, polite version of Gene Simmons."

In the fourth and fifth grade, he started several lip-singing bands and played guitar on broomsticks with his friends in the garage. Finally, in seventh grade he was the DJ for a Valentine's Day dance at school, which ended up with him playing "Stairway to Heaven" three-and-a-half times in a row because of a glitch. After that incident, Kennedy wasn't sure if he would ever want to work with music again.

How did this wannabe rock star end up becoming a writer?

"Roughly at age 20 after five years of trying music without much result, I fell into the writing thing," Kennedy says by phone. "Generally speaking, from the time I was 9 I had a 40-year plan. I gave myself 34 years, and if playing guitar didn't lead to anything after 34 years, I figured I would become a writer. I was a very well-thought-out 9-year-old that way."

Luckily for readers, the guitar playing did not work out – thus Rock On was written. Though he did not make it into the performing aspect of the music business, Kennedy ended up working for the industry, and with Rock On the reader gets a fly-on-the-wall experience of his humorous life in the corporate world. While that world may seem dull, there is never a dull moment with Kennedy, and he makes everything seem hilarious through his honesty and awkwardness in situations.

The hilarity comes from the book being so relatable because he is not afraid to open up to his readers and show who he really is.

Because of Kennedy's life-long love of music, in Rock On he finds himself meeting these celebrities every day, but because of the nature of the music industry, he comes to realize (most of the time at his expense) these artists are people just like everyone else. They're just trying to get through life as we are, and can be assholes just like everyone else.

Though to some it may seem as if everyone in the corporate world in general and the music industry in particular is a bunch of phonies, Kennedy sees authentic people at work.

"I hope it was written with some heart," he says. "I didn't intend to really say in a cheap shot or reductive way that everyone in corporate America is a phony and easy to make a joke about. I tried to write humorously and with a fair heart about this thing we all need to do as we move into adulthood, which is to navigate through those little deals with yourself about never changing and keeping it real, which isn't an easy transition for any of us."

In his first book, Loser Goes First, he told his story of growing up and the awkward transition from adolescence into adulthood. Kennedy reveals through both of his books how he isn't afraid to say how things really are (if only to the reader) and to admit to all the things that occur throughout life that people would be embarrassed to admit to just anyone.

In Rock On, even when he is freaking out about his first big assignment at the "new intense high-profile rock-and-roll-job" and it being for him to write an inspirational ad campaign celebrating 25 years of "heartwarming love songs from Phil Collins." An inner dialogue buzzed in his head:

"I start trying to write some headlines that I think forty- to fiftysomething-year-old women can relate to. For some reason they all sound like those Hallmark greeting cards that aren't really for any occasion in particular. Like they are usually filed under a section called 'Just because' or 'Friend.'"

Kennedy then describes himself as "... a little man in the window pacing back and forth and looking up at the ceiling saying, 'Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,' and asking nobody in particular, 'What am I doing here? What am I going to do now? What was I thinking?" He goes on to give a brief summary of each day and his downward spiral into madness because he can't think of a way to write this campaign. He gets more and more desperate until day four, when his boss walks in and tells him he can stop wherever he is with the project because Phil and his manager decided to just have it say "25" with a picture of Phil's face and not make a big deal out of it, because it is pop music, anyway.

We all have been in some sort of situation like this. Perhaps not where we had to write about Phil Collins, but the situation of wondering how the hell you are going to get yourself out of a situation, or the sudden lack of confidence in yourself because you feel incapable. Thankfully, Kennedy humorously puts it all out there in his books for not only our own amusement, but to show we really aren't alone in this world, and everyone is just trying to blend in and make it through life any way they can.

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