Ian Svenonius, Supernatural Strategies For Making A Rock ‘n’ Roll Group
Oh, now this was a fun book to finish 2012. Like I said of Svenonius’s first book, The Psychic Soviet, “Outrageous, brilliant, kooky, and totally hilarious.”
It’s really two books: the first book, “True Secrets Revealed,” is a silly premise—various dead rock and roll stars are contacted through a seance and muse about the form—framing Svenonius’s theories about the development of rock and roll. The second book, “Supernatural Strategies,“ is a rock and roll “how-to” cobbled together by these spirit mediums: everything from picking a name to taking a photo to recording an album to touring in the band. I could’ve done without the framing device of the seances. Part of the fun of reading Svenonius is the “He can’t be serious? But yet, I can’t really disagree” type feeling you get from reading him, and the seances take away from that a bit. But I love the writing.
On sex: “The relative ease of sexual conquest in modernity is the culprit for contemporary music being so revoltingly mediocre.”
On conversation: “If you confuse people, they can’t pull their shit on you.”
On drugs: “Drugs are time-consuming and once one is not taking them, it becomes apparent to the former user how many years were used up with what is essentially an expensive version of sleeping late.”
On success: “The flush of success, after all, breeds conservatism born of fear.”
On criticism: “Ultimately, no one really cares about your group to the degree that you do, so chitchat about your group must be regarded for what it is: chitchat. You will never actually know if what you do is “good,” “bad,” or just confusing. You are, in any case, too close to it to understand what it is.”
At one point, Svenonius holds up the Viet Cong’s Code of Discipline as a model for group discipline:
- I will obey the orders from my superiors under all circumstances.
- I will never take anything from the people, not even a needle or thread.
- I will not put group property to my own use.
- I will return that which is borrowed, make restitution for things damaged.
- I will be polite to people, respect and love them.
- I will be fair and just in buying and selling.
- When staying in people’s houses I will treat them as I their would my own house.
- I will follow the slogan: All things of the people and for the people.
- I will keep unit secrets absolutely and will never disclose information even to closest
friends or relatives.
- I will encourage the people to struggle and support the Revolution.
- I will be alert to spies and will report all suspicious persons to my superiors.
- I will remain close to the people and maintain their affection and love.
This seems like an odd rule since stealing is what rock ‘n’ roll is based on. The groups one plays with will steal your song ideas, your lyrics, your stage presentation, and even your style and demeanor. You will have stolen these things from records you have heard, books you have read, and films you have watched. The sound engineers will steal your microphones and your guitar cords (or vice versa), while people “hanging out” backstage will steal your beer, your computer, your money, and your address book. Meanwhile, junkies outside the club will steal your luggage, your gear, and your van. People at the show will steal your records and T-shirts from your souvenir stand.
And finally, at the end, comes a word of warning to those who would attempt rock ‘n’ roll (the warning could apply to all art):
If one becomes a lawyer, scholar, mechanist, typist, scientist, production assistant, or what-have-you, the world will commend your decision. Each day at lunch, on vacation, or at whatever party you attend, your choice will be applauded, upheld, and affirmed. And you will know what is expected of you. Even if your job is difficult—if you are a brain chemist, international death merchant, or rocket designer—your responsibilities will be obvious and your goals concrete. If you achieve them, you may be rewarded by promotion. If you fail, you might be fired or demoted, but nonetheless—unless your boss is insane—the job will have tangible parameters.
The group, however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the infinitesimal cadre who even noticed will ask, “What next?”