Chris Uggen's Blog: semi-participant observation

Saturday, July 02, 2005

semi-participant observation

I always thought drummer jokes were unfair and stereotypical. Funny, but unfair and stereotypical.

What do you call someone who hangs around musicians? A drummer.
I finally read Jacob Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. "Jake" was the drummer in Semisonic, who had a huge hit in the late-1990s with the ubiquitous "Closing Time."

Did you hear about the guitar player who locked his keys in the car? He had to break a window to get the drummer out!
Slichter graduated from Harvard, where he first met singer/guitarist (and Minneapolis music hero) Dan Wilson. He writes as an outsider, almost as a participant-observer. Even as he's explaining what's it like to be commodified, he's reveling in the rock star coolness of it all.

He knows that "the question of how to dress us" provided a "cultural fork in the road" (p. 76), regrets his failure to "lambaste MTV's horrid gender politics" (p. 173), and explains in detail how "recoupable debt" made him a "rock and roll sharecropper" (p. 36). I most enjoyed the backstage dirt on the economics of the music industry -- the not-quite payola that record companies pay independent promoters who, in turn, pay radio stations to play the company's music. The industry seems hopelessly old-fashioned and ill-equipped to deal with new media and modes of distribution.

"Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a drummer." His mother scoffs and replies... "Well, you can't do both."
Still, Slichter writes with no bitterness (despite the silly subtitle: "How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life") . He enjoys and appreciates many of the musicians he meets, and speaks well of those closest to the band. On good nights, Slichter feels like "lord of the pocket" building the "groove into a wave," gliding along the top, before sending it crashing down on the audience and stilling the waters (p. 197). Even the mix tape of cool drum parts he listens to before shows is revealing and instructive.

Q: What's the difference between a drum machine and a drummer? A: You only have to punch the information into the drum machine once!
I initially thought that Slichter must have been a sociologist, but he's too hilariously self-deprecating and star-struck for that. Until a soc Ph.D. writes a rock and roll travelogue, however, So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star may provide the best "nerd's-eye view" of the music industry.


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At 12:24 PM, Blogger Darren said...

Well the article is quite interesting, the jokes didnt like me that much, but what can we do as drummers....great post.

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