New in Books
Rock On: An Office Power Ballad
by Dan Kennedy
(Algonquin Books) $14.95.
If you're thinking that it's at least 35 years too late for a book about the death of rock by corporate hands, you're right. It should come as a surprise to no one that the office jobs behind the commodification of popular music stand in stark contradiction to the ethos that very music is ostensibly pushing. Yet dramatizing this surprise is exactly the tack that Dan Kennedy takes in Rock On: An Office Power Ballad. Kennedy accepts a job in the promotions department of Atlantic Records and expects he is entering the black-and-white pictures in the album sleeves of his youth. He thinks he will be walking among the Stones and Zeppelin. What he gets is the Donnas and the Darkness. And even then it is the former doing public-service announcements, the latter at a board meeting.
All of which is to say I feel like I should not like this book as much as I do; it is unnecessary, not to mention easy to the point of cruelty, to mock a corporate giant's signed talent. It is Kennedy's voice that pulls it off. He has convincing innocence and expectation, the genuine elation of someone who has struggled through shit jobs for an entire early adulthood and believes he has finally found something real. Whether Kennedy's innocence is a pose ceases to matter. What we get is a year-and-a-half behind-the-scenes assignment: a humor writer going undercover to show us that this really is as bad as we think it probably is, a bunch of oblivious and overpaid suits surrounded by the recurring question of how has this come to be.
The question quickly becomes irrelevant. One of the two triumphant points of the book is that corporate rock is dying from the terminal wound inflicted by downloadable music, and that it clearly had it coming. Live by the rock, etc. The dinosaur that stomped all over your youth is dying a slow and painful death and Kennedy is there to laugh at it. The other triumphant moment this book captures comes from an extracurricular Iggy Pop show, where the wiry old punk focuses his bile at the VIP seats: "Betcha wish you weren't fat! Jump down here you fat fucks! I dare you to jump!" CHRISTOPHER SABATINI
Seattle Architecture: A Walking Guide to Downtown
by Maureen Elenga
(University of Washington Press) $20.
The "Battle of Seattle" that everyone remembers happened on November 30, 1999; the "Battle of Seattle" that we have forgotten happened on January 26, 1856. The 1999 battle erupted near the Washington State Convention & Trade Center; the 1856 one erupted where the King County Courthouse currently stands. The 1999 battle was between the global justice movement and the governments that maintain the global capitalist order; the 1856 battle was between Native Americans and the U.S. government.
The 1999 battle of Seattle is mentioned (and not examined) in Maureen Elenga's new book, Seattle Architecture: A Walking Guide to Downtown. Published by the Seattle Architecture Foundation, the book offers historical backgrounds, maps, and 200-word descriptions of prominent buildings in Belltown, Pioneer Square, the International District, and the city's civic and financial centers. Elenga's writing heats up a little when describing the dead decorative features of older buildings. She loves elaborate cornices, modillions, bracketry, cartouches, and the like. As for downtown's modern and postmodern buildings, they are located and mentioned in a language that is as plain as possible. Here and there, we learn a thing or two about the style/use of a place. Now and then, we are dished a technical tidbit. In the end, we come close to learning nothing about what architecture is: a real class struggle, an open battle for ideological dominance. The book treats current and historical conflicts as mere information and not as the essence, the very substance of every building we see and enter. A walk through our city is a walk through the battle for Seattle. CHARLES MUDEDE
by Ellen Forney
How many Seattle-area orgasms have been indirectly attributable to Ellen Forney? Every week, Forney translates one of The Stranger's kink classified ads into a drawing. Where the written ads can be gross, ridiculous, or bordering on desperate, the drawings are funny, playful, and sinuous. This world would be a whole lot hotter (and lighter) if it were full of Forney's characters.
Now for the first time they're gathered together in Forney's first hardback book, Lust. Even when you can't quite figure out what the hell these people plan to do to each other—one drawing of a flower with an erect pistil nestling against a demure leaf reads: "Latina pre-op transgender ver-top well-hung & bi male ver-bottom couple seeks bi male &/or petite female &/or M/F or M/M couple for erotic play & friendship"—you still get the gist. It's all about pleasure. JEN GRAVES