Jacob Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: Reading that's way more fun than actually being a rock star.
For whatever reason, lately I've been rekindling my love affair with the late-90s band Semisonic.* Certain bands just hit you right at the right time in your life, and Semisonic was one of those bands for me.
So somewhere in the foggy mists of my brain I remembered that Semisonic's drummer, Jacob Slichter, actually wrote a memoir about his time with the band, titled So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. And I thought, why not? Time to read it.
And I enjoyed it so, so much.** Slichter dishes on the entire music business, from signing with a music company, to negotiating contracts, to photo sessions, to video production, to touring--really every aspect of the business you could possibly think of. This book was published in 2004 and the band did most of its recording between 1996 and 2001, so I don't know if any of the information given here is still accurate. But it was a fascinating behind-the-scenes work memoir of what turns out to be a surprisingly horrific and un-lucrative job.
Of course, this book is also a heartbreaker, because Semisonic only recorded three CDs as a band and never quite achieved the megastardom they (and all rock stars, I would guess) really dreamed about. The biggest hit they ever had, Closing Time, was really only lucrative enough to help Slichter upgrade from his old used car to a slightly newer used car. And although Slichter doesn't really focus on personal details, he does discuss how the band (and particularly its lead vocalist, Dan Wilson) dealt with adversity when Wilson's daughter was born extremely prematurely.***
There were so many enjoyable bits here. In this excerpt, Slichter betrays the frustrations of being adored by few but ignored by many:
"When nightfall brought the headline acts onto the stage, I stood in the crowd and watched. Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst pointed across the throng. 'Link your arms together. Everyone. Link your arms. We're a big family. A big fucking family. No one can take us apart from each other, all right?' Seconds later, tens of thousands of fans unlinked their arms and pumped their fists in the air as they shouted along with Durst, 'I did it all for the nookie!'...
After the show [a different show where they played], a Japanese woman introduced herself and told us she had flown all the way from Tokyo to see us. I was starting to regard such extraordinary expressions of adoration with impatience. Why were our fans a select group of considerate and sweet people who went out of their way to see us and bring us gifts from afar? Why couldn't they be the dull-witted masses who pumped their fists and shouted, 'I did it all for the nookie'?" (pp. 271-272.)
Now, actually, that quote makes Slichter sound like something of a jerk. But he's not. I think anyone who's ever made good art that they're proud of, but would still like to make some money on it (and fails), will get what he's talking about.
I've loved a lot of bands, and I hope to love a lot more. But I don't think I will ever again love a band the way I loved Semisonic. I mean, watch this video.
Could they be any cuter? I'm so grateful to Slichter for showing me another side of their experience.
*CRjr's favorite CD is Dan Wilson's solo release, Free Life; Wilson is one of the founding members of Semisonic. In other hilarious news, if you follow that link, you'll see I talked about Wilson's music the same day I announced we were expecting CRjr. And now it's one of his favorite CDs. WEIRD.
**I also took it along on a trip to my in-laws', and it was lovely to have something good to read while there, because I couldn't sleep. That happened over last Christmas too, when I was lucky enough to have James Cain's fabulous novel Mildred Pierce to keep me company. It sucks to get two hours of sleep while dealing with small children and other family, but having a good book to get you through the lonely hours makes all the difference.
***She weighed 11 ounces at birth. Can you believe that?