Readings — From the October 2012 issue

Group Think

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From Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group, by Ian F. Svenonius, to be published in January by Akashic Books. Svenonius was the front man for several bands, including Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up. His current group is Chain & the Gang.

To determine your rock ’n’ roll group’s identity, you must first determine what the group is trying to achieve. Is it to be a) “famous,” or perhaps b) sexually popular? Is it c) to write some good songs in the style of another particular group, or possibly d) to advance a particular ideology?

If the intention is a), then we urge you to find another avenue. Fame in a group is fleeting, and even when it is attained—which is fairly uncommon—it is subject to the vagaries and whims of an ignoramus public. The group member or singing star is a clown: occasional comic relief for his or her listener. The fame begotten is so momentary as to be almost a hallucination, and there is typically little money associated with it. There are much more solid ways to find notoriety, the most reliable being a political career.

Politics doesn’t require talent, intelligence, or good looks. Truly, someone like Donald Rumsfeld, a mediocre government functionary with no discernible talent, intelligence, or charm, is a greater international celebrity than Mick Jagger. Rumsfeld, despite being a has-been, is known in every corner of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa for his insanity and arrogance, while Jagger is admired by a mere couple hundred million music enthusiasts, huddled mostly in the First World.

If b), to be an amorist, is your goal, give up the group as a means to carnal buccaneering. The best thing for you is to pursue a job in advertising, medicine, or the field of “law.” These professions are celebrated by televised propaganda (in programs such as Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy, and Mad Men) and will provide you with the financial incentives—in the form of real estate, luxury cotton sheets, and perceived stability—required to seduce your prey in capitalist society.

If your goal is c), to write songs in the manner of another group, this might not be necessary. The group that seems to beg homage or emulation may have disintegrated, but its legacy is probably with us, either on cassette or record—or in video form.

If your ambition is d), some kind of social, aesthetic, or vaguely political goal, however, the group is the ideal medium for your message. It is a covert organizational front through which you can effect real transformation of culture. After all, the group nowadays is not unlike a religious cult or political faction. It is forever evangelizing, looking for acolytes.

Yet the rock ’n’ roll group, being a creation of capitalism, has been forbidden any explicit ideology beyond an institutionalized nihilism or a vague contrariness, and thus it lives in a fog, semiconscious of what it is attempting, oblivious to the great struggle of which it is a part. Groups shuffle about like would-be Incroyables and Merveilleuses, partly ashamed of their endeavor, partly smug with an inherited and wholly misplaced air of elitism. They despise the squares they endure each day. But why? What is it about rock ’n’ roll—which seems to have failed utterly in its promise to deliver humanity from bourgeois hypocrisy and tedium—that affords them this conceit?

No one knows anymore, and yet even the most illogical and incurious understand that rock ’n’ roll is altogether different from other music. They know that rock ’n’ roll is tribal, the group being a commercial version of the neighborhood street clique, with the same self-aggrandizing, illusory worldview and paranoiac obsessions. They recognize that the group is familial, a radical restructuring of the nuclear model. And they know that it’s religious, with naked parallels to the utopian freak scenes that typified New World colonization.

Whether your group is a social club with thousands of auxiliary members, a religion vying to win over the millions disaffected with other faiths, or a radical political faction, you still must decide: a) what sort of people do you want to attract, and b) where are you leading them?

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