The drummer for a well-known Minneapolis rock band looks back on the group’s oft-bumpy ride from semi-obscurity to success and back again.
Anyone who thinks the rock-’n’-roll comedy This Is Spinal Tap is wholly fiction is directed to this wised-up, dryly funny, and sobering account of one rock group’s rise and fall. Harvard-educated percussionist Slichter offers a wry and sharply realized account of the brainy pop trio Semisonic’s eight-year slog through the music business. With sometimes wide and always wide-open eyes, Slichter recalls his sudden move into music’s big leagues in a group that also featured singer-songwriter-guitarist Dan Wilson and bassist John Munson, veterans of the onetime A&M Records act Trip Shakespeare. The relatively inexperienced skinman takes in the group’s early, sharp shocks—its signing to Elektra Records; its abrupt departure from the label after an executive regime change; and the acquisition of its album by MCA Records, the notoriously maladroit (and now defunct) major known as the “Music Cemetery of America.” He recounts the threesome’s dizzying and costly luge ride through a flop debut album and a massive smash (the ubiquitous 1998 single “Closing Time”), and their enervating failure to connect with a follow-up hit. Along the way, he observes the soul-killing rituals of the record business: fatiguing flesh-pressing with radio station staffers; uneasy appearances on TV and radio shows; expensive, nerve-racking video and photo shoots; countless unsettling encounters with clueless, arrogant label executives; and, of course, the numbing grind of touring in a succession of mammoth, faceless arenas. Books that purportedly expose the music industry’s mechanics from the inside are plentiful, but Slichter’s is one of the few that captures with precision the vertiginous highs and abysmal lows experienced during the climb up the pop ladder and the plummet from the top. He’s a self-effacing, good-humored, and intelligent guide through the musical maze.
Few first-person memoirs of the rock biz are as smart, honest, and entertaining as this tart, incisive work.