So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
By Jacob Slichter
In 1998, Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter was riding high and with good reason.
Audiences couldn't get enough of his band's mega-hit, "Closing Time." The song was all over the radio, propelling the band's album, Feeling Strangely Fine, to gold and then platinum status. Major League Baseball closers were adopting "Closing Time" as their entrance music. Bars played the song at last call.
To the outsider, life looked charmed for Semisonic.
But Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, compiled from the author's touring diary and recollections, reveals that the rock-star existence isn't near as glamorous as most would believe it to be.
Slichter has few great tales of celebrity encounters, and even fewer stories of groupie excesses and other assumed perks of stardom. Instead, he takes readers behind the scenes of the sometimes murky workings of the music industry and lets them tag along for his rise from Minneapolis-based nobody to internationally known somebody.
The Harvard-educated Slichter serves as the perfect guide on both fronts, most of the time. His outsider status, reinforced by the fact that seasoned bandmates Dan Wilson and John Munson recruited the unheralded Slichter into the band, gives readers a sense that he's a regular guy along for a rock-star ride.
Slichter's unique perspective and breezy writing style make his observations about the state of the music industry even more successful. It's easy to feel his genuine frustration in trying to break through highly segmented radio programming a bane of Semisonic's existence and his perception that the band's label has no idea how to market it properly.
He also takes time to explain the industries quirks, like a form of legal payola where record labels would pay radio DJs and stations to play their singles that exists between labels, independent promoters and radio stations.
However, the most entertaining moments of "Rock & Roll Star," and the ones that make a true page-turner, are the autobiographical asides that Slichter peppers throughout it. Whether he's anticipating journalistic assault at the hands of Howard Stern ("He might hate us. He might like us, and then if one of us the drummer perhaps seems a little too quiet…he might press that person for an embarrassing revelation, pull on that loose thread and watch it unravel") or fearing that using the wrong promo shot will doom his image ("I LOOK LIKE A F—ING FROG!"), Slichter's tone is generally lighthearted.
He's also not short on self-deprecation, as he candidly tells embarrassing stories ranging from getting the cold shoulder from the likes of E-Street Band drummer Max Weinberg to the band's sound being cut while closing the televised Billboard Music Awards.
Unfortunately, Slichter does little to enlighten his readers with the thoughts of band mates Wilson and Munson, despite their relevance to the story. These insights couldn't have been pulled directly from his personal tour journals, but Slichter could have easily interviewed them and included their view of particular incidents to give readers a more compelling version of events.
He's also short on details when it comes to his post-Semisonic existence, which leaves the story feeling incomplete at its end.
Despite those lapses, "Rock & Roll Star" is an equally engrossing and entertaining read for Semisonic fans and music fans that don't care at all about the band. Bands always rise and fall, but Slichter's approach to telling the story won't be easily matched.