While those familiar with Svenonius's musical endeavors will recognize the séance as a stylistic conceit necessary to hurdle the threat of didacticism that can block such lofty concepts (see also the cheekily Marxian diatribes in Ulysses' liner notes; his fey, soft-brewed James Brown impression fronting the Make-Up; or his squinty deadpan persona in the web series talk show Soft Focus), the shtick better allows him to reframe rock history as a politically fraught yet ultimately irresistible social development, a paradoxical sort of "hocus-pocus" that both liberates its followers from the tedium and technocracy of daily life while at the same time capitalizing on the worst traits of consumer culture.
For the average rock fan, these ideas may sound exhausting, but such are the labors of séance. And it's true; the lessons of Supernatural Strategies can sometimes feel born from more than the mind of one man. In its pages, Brian Jones decrees that "suffering is necessary to maintain the integrity of the group as an 'object.'" Mary Wells redresses that "the actual origin of 'the group' as we know it . . . is the urban street gang." Paul McCartney — go with it — dissects the British Invasion by telling us how "without the stain of slavery and oblivious to US race and class tension, (Britishers) felt free to mimic their favorite records . . . (and) gained success by imitating American — usually black — rock 'n' roll artists." And Richard Berry conjures that "(s)ince the USA is a nation founded on the ideas of individualism, rebellion, evangelism, white supremacy, black slavery, expulsion of native peoples, expansionism, commerce, and industry, these values all play a part in the formation of (its) primary and arguably greatest cultural export." Each of these claims could supply an historian with a sizable research project, yet Svenonius, faithful to his muses, unpacks them in a mere few paragraphs before pressing on.
After some glib and crisply written chapters of historical repositioning, the reader emerges with a rather grimly conspiratorial view of rock and roll as an American-manufactured cultural weapon of the Cold War. And while a sermon from the spirit world isn't a source you could confidently cite in an academic text, that claim might have some truth to it. But leaving academic matters aside, even the most ideal rock camp won't equip you with the lessons contained here, where the author refreshingly avoids the conventional ballyhoo and sanctimonious drivel that clouds most "rock insider" writing. In a chapter titled "Finding the Group," he apprises that "(s)ome of your collaborators might be refugees from awful jobs, insipid record collections, religious sects, bad marriages, and dormitories full of sports enthusiasts. Your group will be their last hope, and there might be desperation in their eyes. These are the ones you want." In "Determining Goals," we learn that "the group is familial, a radical restructuring of the family unit from the nuclear model to something more akin to a hunter-gatherer tribe or a Stalin-era collectivist farm." And in "Sex," we come to understand that "for the groupie, there were live boys; for the men there were dead heroes. After all, the boy who mourns and honors the dead is transcending carnality . . . and is expressing his depth and his authentic passion for the music."
: Music Features
, Ian Svenonius, Rock and Roll, SXSW, More