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Ghosts Against Dad Rock: Ian Svenonius’ Supernatural Strategies

The cold snap appeared to be on its way out. The good old Call Joe sign on the Time & Temperature Building was flashing 22 degrees. Cold, yes, but there’s all the difference in the world between 4 degrees and 22 degrees when you’re considering leaving the house for a rock and roll adventure on a Sunday night.

Said rock and roll adventure was hosted by Ian Svenonius, a celebrated punk rock icon/flamboyant goofball/snappy dresser, the venue was Portland’s own Space Gallery--a manageable fifteen minute walk from my house and (as any Portlander knows) always a worthy spot to visit. Svenonius’ new book, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group: A How-To Guide, was recently published by Brooklyn’s Akashic Books, and Space was one his stops on a twelve-city book tour.

It was a decent crowd for a literary event on a Sunday night in January: A bunch of art school kids, a duo of rock and roll-ish dudes who smelled a little worse than they should, and plenty of friendly faces, and then there was Svenonius, rail thin, shaggy-mopped, in a slim-fitting suit, walking with purpose towards the DJ booth (good things happen when that man plays records, as attendees were to witness later in the evening). He swung back my way, sat down next to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind very much holding a robe for him. It was more of a cloak, really, and I was asked to offer it up to him at a designated point in his performance--audience participation turned out to be integral to the evening’s success.
 

 

And a success it was. All of us were here to learn about rock and rocking out from a noted rocker, and Svenonius did not disappoint. He noted the recent proliferation of rock camps--which to him, miss the point of the rock and roll lifestyle with their emphasis on wish-fulfillment, empowerment, and chord structures. He offers up his book as the antidote to the smiley face aesthetic of the rock camp. It is, in the words of his publisher, “a philosophical text, an exercise in terror, an aerobics manual, and a coloring book” that proposes to impart to the reader everything necessary to form a rock group, become wildly successful, and promptly break up or tragically drown in a swimming pool.

Death was an integral part of Svenonius’ presentation, which turned out to be less of a lecture and more of an elaborately-scripted séance. With the help of intrepid audience members, various dead (and not-yet-dead) rock musicians like Paul McCartney, Bryan Jones, and Little Richard were channeled by our host to drop some rock and roll science on us.

I won’t reveal the particular lessons we learned from communing with these personages, but I walked away pondering the words of the poet who reminded us, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

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