Dan Kennedy's Office Power Ballad

Ghost in the Machine

Anyone who's ever worked in the music industry is probably aware of the massive difference between the people who release records and the consumers who buy them. However, no one has ever captured this disconnect as irreverently as onetime major-label drone Dan Kennedy does in his memoir Rock On: An Office Power Ballad (Algonquin Books, $14.95).

A regular contributor to McSweeney's, Kennedy begins Rock On right where his hilarious coming-of-age memoir Loser Goes First leaves off, showing the results of a slacker copywriter landing a job in the major-label system at a time when their very infrastructure is being wracked with seismic changes.

Okay, that sounds kind of serious. Thankfully, both Kennedy's sense of humor and inner dialogue are as sharp as ever. Whether he's fantasizing about being his bubbly young assistant, trying to create an advertisement to commemorate the Phil Collins catalog or obsessing about the Donnas' inherent irony, Kennedy perfectly captures how out-of-touch his studio-executive bosses were. And regardless of whether the subject is refinancing mortgages or Kid Rock's marketing campaign, who hasn't unsuccessfully tried not to embarrass himself at a board meeting?

Despite the fact that Rock On is in some ways a eulogy for the major-label system, it's also painfully evident how much Kennedy truly loves music, and this character detail makes the reader root for Kennedy the same way we all relate to Jim Halpert on NBC's The Office.

"With hearts and brains like hard drives, we all move through this life constantly shuffling through thousands of songs triggered by memories and names," Kennedy muses in Rock On's introduction, just before a casual aside about how his ex-­girlfriend Kristen cheated on him with patrons of a local restaurant in exchange for cocaine.

It's this dichotomy of realism and humor that makes Rock On a success. Chuck Klosterman has some serious competition.

 
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