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A Memoir (of Sorts)

by Serj Tankian

Pub Date: May 14th, 2024
ISBN: 9780306831928
Publisher: Hachette

The frontman of the hard-rock band System of a Down looks back on his career through the lens of his Armenian heritage.

“To understand anything about me, my life…you need to understand the Armenian Genocide,” Tankian writes early in his candid memoir. Born in Beirut to an Armenian family with long memories of the Turkish slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, he moved with his family to Los Angeles at a young age. Anxious to make money as a young man, Tankian sold bespoke software to the jewelry industry. But music—and its opportunities to speak out about injustice—had a stronger pull, and he became the lead singer for System, a prog-metal act that rode the late-1990s nu metal wave to the top of the charts. Aside from the music, a major theme is Tankian’s distrust of financial success and its seductions. Immediately after 9/11, he posted a critique of U.S. foreign policy that triggered an avalanche of criticism; he squabbled with System guitarist and songwriter Daron Malakian over creative issues; and he bristled at record-company notes—e.g., changing the title of the band’s first single, “Suicide,” to “Chop Suey!” Because the author discusses these moments from a position of earnest passion and frustration, he never comes off as a prima donna. More often, he discusses marshalling the strength and poise to speak up, whether to Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun, who promoted Turkey’s denial of the genocide; to U.S. leaders who punted on the issue for political expediency; or to the Armenian oligarchs plundering an already beleaguered country. Though System has released little new music in the past two decades, the text includes many interesting tales of side projects and activism, suffused with a disdain for conventional wisdom and an optimism around change.

A passionate rock artist paying more than just lip service to politics.