So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star
by Jacob Slichter
Jacob Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star is a look inside the music industry, examining the everyday ups and downs of a band on the verge of breaking through to the upper echelon of major rock stars, and then on the verge of losing their popularity entirely.
The band is Semisonic, and you probably know their smash hit "Closing Time," which catapulted them into superstardom for a little over fifteen minutes. What Slichter, the band's drummer, mainly exposes in this book is the cut-throat mentality of the record companies, and their trigger-finger tendency to jump on and off of a band's wagon, so to speak.
Semisonic followed a fairly typical path to one-hit wonderdom, starting out in small clubs, then slowly growing a regional following before being signed to a record deal. At this point, they had to adjust greatly, working with A&R (artist & repertoire) people, managers, executives, roadies, and radio stations who may or may not have any interest in their music, at least not until it's making them money.
Even after Semisonic achieved supermegastardom with their only major hit "Closing Time," they were still in debt to the record label that funded the album and essentially had its finger on the red button anxiously waiting to call it a failure and drop them... unless of course it continued to sell well.
The strength of this book lies in its ability to explain the inner workings of the mostly-cruel-but-sometimes-cool industry and describe the difference between the quality of music and the marketability of music - which Semisonic was never quite able to merge, always opting for artistry over crossover appeal. The reader empathizes with the band as it gets excited for its music, then gets its heart ripped out because it doesn't fit perfectly into a pre-existing genre.
In offering a near-sublime definition of everything that is right with music and wrong with corporate politics, Slichter's book succeeds in telling a cautionary tale to aspiring rockers, and a sympathetic tale to anyone who writes off a band as a one-hit wonder.
September 21, 2004