“Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group” a legitimate manifesto
In reading Ian F. Svenonius‘ Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group (out now from Akashic Books), you’re privy to to what is perhaps the most clever take-down of the rock ‘n’ roll genre thus written. If you can make it through the rather high-minded, yet overly arch and pretentious opening chapters of the book, you’re treated to what is simultaneously a mockery of all that is rock ‘n’ roll, yet still managing to be remarkably sound advice.
Part I, “True Secrets Revealed,” is entertaining, but while the concept of having séances with dead rock stars so as to glean their knowledge is a conceit that wears thin rather quickly. Had Svenonius chosen to relate the concept of the seances, minus the actual transcriptions thereof, it would have worked better. I get the idea that what the author’s going for is something akin to a melding of Chairman Mao’s little red book and occultist pamphlets from the run of the last century, but the first third of the book just seems clunky.
When that overly-long, rather belabored exercise of a “joke” is over, the book greatly improves. That’s not to say that there aren’t clever ideas to be found within “True Secrets Revealed.” In fact, the concept that rock ‘n’ roll groups evolved from street gangs is brilliant:
“The group’s value system, elitist nature, sense of itself as ‘outside the law,’ disdain for society at large, and hatred for authority figures stems from its juvenile delinquent ancestry.”
I just don’t know why Mary Wells had to spell it out in spaghetti.
However, once Supernatural Strategies actually becomes a manifesto-cum-primer, it shines brightly. The first six chapters of the titular Part II, deal minimally with actual music, and propose the concept that name and image come before the actual recording process — which is the creation and production of music for people to hear. In other words, create what you might be, and what you wish to be, before actually attempting to achieve that goal.
The whole thrust of the book is to acclimate potential rock ‘n rollers to the idea that should they be after fame, fortune, or fucking, they’d do better to look elsewhere. Rock ‘n’ roll is for the dissemination of ideas, and to be a revolutionary force — the “ability to move mountains, to shift the passage of streams and rivers, and to transform consciousness is palpable.”
Perhaps the finest portion of the book comes via the chapter “Communication,” where Svenonius ably uses excerpts of dialogue from Let It Be, One Plus One, and Some Kind of Monster to demonstrate “that not communicating is what keeps a band together.” That’s why the Ramones were a group for 22 years, Slayer for over 30, and the Rolling Stones for 50.
The tone of Supernatural Strategies is its strongest asset. While the ideas offered can at times be outré, Svenonius never descends into tongue-in-cheek. This is presented completely dry, and there’s never a wink or nod to distract from the matter at hand. It’s that dry-as-dust presentation that makes the book not only funny, but what might be the most necessary collection of text for any musician. With the blue text on white cover, pocket size, and adoption of the Vietcong Code of Discipline, it is a legitimate manifesto for future rock ‘n’ rollers.