In Elvis Costello’s giddy, anticorporate ballad "Radio, Radio," the famously angry young man sings, "I want to bite the hand that feeds me, I want to bite that hand so badly." In his memoir about writing ads for what turned out to be the last 18 months of the life of Atlantic Records (think a campaign to sell Phil Collins’s love songs), Dan Kennedy goes ahead and sinks his teeth in. What he spits out is a story of a corporate office environment that has become a parody of itself but that, like many other workplace spoofs, seems frighteningly familiar. Alternating between geeked tributes to his favorite rock icons (including Led Zeppelin, whom he worshipped in his youth) and caricatures of his corporate colleagues, Kennedy discovers that when you stare into the abyss of cool, it sometimes just sucks.
Algonquin Books. 224 pages. $14.95. ISBN: 1565125096
Los Angeles Times
"Rock On is packed with stories about the fakery and sellouts in the music biz, but although it all makes for star-spangled fun, it could have taken place in any office building in America. It’s less about rock ‘n’ roll than about being a fish in a swivel chair." Erika Schickel
"Kennedy tars and feathers these yes-men (and women) with his sharp reportage. But there’s still a degree of respect, a benefit of the doubt, for the creatively dead bottom-liners who push such ideas into the consumer world." Kevin Sampsell
"Imagine a love child born of The Office and High Fidelity. … You don’t have to care about music to enjoy Rock On. You only need to have sat through a corporate meeting." Deirdre Donahue
Rocky Mountain News
"Kennedy’s running commentary is hysterical, and his thoughtful inner monologue makes this a page- turner, more than a few times inducing laugh-out-loud moments followed by a whisper of ‘That’s sooo my office.’ … Kennedy has written a hilarious and enjoyable read that belongs on the bookshelf of every fan of the self-deprecating hipster memoir." Vince Darcangelo
Given his association with the McSweeney’s set (authors like Dave Eggers and Sarah Vowell), it’s no surprise that critics found Dan Kennedy’s book to exhibit the self-conscious-yet-genuine wit to which that journal aspires. Many reviewers go gaga for this sort of thing; others think it’s a tone whose time has passed. But even the latter group enjoyed Kennedy’s memoir, whether because of the subject matter or the author’s true respect for honest creativity and the people who, for better or worse, have to market it. The most common criticism was that the story ends too soon, but given Atlantic’s rapid demise, these critics will have to direct their complaints to the manager—or, more likely, the manager’s manager.
Another Office Satire
Then We Came to the End | Joshua Ferris (2007): Toward the end of the 1990s Internet boom, the days of an urban advertising agency are numbered. What’s there to do but steal office chairs, decode e-mails from management, and gossip? ( Selection May/June 2007)