“So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” should be required reading for music fans. It’s not a musician memoir full of sordid tour stories, like the Motley Crue book, or a collection of groupie conquests, like Pamela Des Barres’ “I’m With The Band”.
It’s the God’s honest truth about what it was like to be in a rock ‘n roll band trying to make it big in the late 90s and early 00s.
As a music fan, I sit staunchly on the fandom side of the music world. Since age 18, I’ve been going to concerts on a regular basis (at least one per month). I’ve learned why supporting local music matters. I’ve experienced first-hand why frequenting smaller venues can be far superior to music festivals or summer amphitheater shows. I know it’s better to buy an album from a band as directly as possible, that early ticket sales can make or break a band’s next booking in my town and that merch = food and gas on tour (along with a few other ways to support the bands I love).
But at the end of the day, I’m just a music fan like you. I’ve never worked in the music industry (nor do I think I ever want to), so while I know some insider things from where I stand…I only truly know what bands choose to tell me, as a fan.
Enter “So you Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” by Jacob Slichter.
Avid reader that I am, somewhere along the way I snapped up a copy of Jacob’s memoir of his time in Semisonic at a local book store. And then on my shelf it sat.
I’m terrible at buying books in the moment, carefully filing them away on my shelf and not picking them up again for 2-3 years. Not for lack of interest, simply because I let myself believe lately that reading is a luxury my schedule usually cannot afford. “So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” fell victim to this vicious reading cycle.
But over the summer I was reminded of the title in my Internet wanderings. I found my copy on my music bookshelf (yes, I have a whole bookshelf devoted to my music books. The problem is real.), and I finally cracked it open.
I finished it last week (I’ve been reading in 20-30 page spurts before bed), and all I can said is…if you consider yourself a good groupie – someone who supports the bands they love, shows up at live shows, brings friends, buys merch – you NEED to read this book.
Why you need to drop everything and read this book – NOW!
While there’s some amusing anecdotes of run-ins with other musical stars scattered through the memoir (including one with my beloved Hanson boys that is so on point, it’s like I wrote it down, not Jacob), the heart and soul of this book is about what it’s like to be on the band/musician side of things.
Like me, you might think buying a concert ticket and a T-shirt is enough. You’d be totally wrong.
From Semisonic’s beginnings playing local shows in Minneapolis, Jacob Slichter walks you through what it was like trying to get signed not just by a label, but signed by a label that will be in the band’s corner through thick and thin. He details how difficult it can be to find the right producers to work with to capture the sound the band intends for the world to hear. He discusses the difficult process of selecting a music video director – I’m not being hyperbolic, it’s crazy how one person can make or break the success of your video.
But my favorite part was Jacob’s detailing of all the politics behind radio. As a fan, I always knew it was difficult to get a band played on the radio, but the depths to which some of the behind-the-scenes political moves go was astounding. I won’t say much more because I want you to go grab a copy and read all about it yourself, but suffice it to say…who gets played on the radio in this country is controlled by three people, maybe less. Insane.
Reading this book has given me a renewed perspective on how we, as music fans, can support the bands we love. And Jacob’s honesty in every single page is what sucked me in more than anything – he wasn’t there to share splashy stories. He was there to say, “This was my experience.” As a fan, I so appreciate his perspective because it taught me so much about the process of being a band I never fully understood.
It’s also made me realize how drastically the music industry has changed in just the 17 years since “Closing Time” hit the airwaves (which doesn’t feel like that long ago to me) and even how it’s changed in the last 10 years since this book was published.
It kind of leaves your wondering, in the age of streaming, whether a band like Semisonic – who had a tight knit group of fans separate from the top 40 masses from the beginning – would have sustained their mass appeal better if their music had shown up in your Spotify Discovery playlist or on your Pandora station.
Have you read “So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star”?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Haven’t read it yet?
(Or go borrow it from your local library!) Read it, and then come back to this post and let me know what you think.
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