Conversations with Dead Rock Stars


The Ian Svenonius school of rock may seem a little strange. As lead singer of legendary DC punk band Nation Of Ulysses, he gave us the 13-Point Program to Destroy America. As frontman for the Make-Up he spread the gospel yeh-yeh sound–a combo of gospel and French pop, usually spelled “yé-yé”–with songs like “Free Arthur Lee” and “Here Comes The Judge.” And now, he brings us a how-to guide, Supernatural Strategies For Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Grouppublished by Gowanus-based Akashic Books.

Supernatural Strategies was inspired in part by all the rock camps for children which have sprung up around the landscape,” Svenonius explained over email. “The implications these institutions have for the art form are enormous. I thought there should be an ideological guide to counter all this practical knowledge which is polluting the brains of the children.”

Supernatural Strategies,
a follow-up to his cult hit, The Psychic Soviet, takes a spiritual approach to guiding rock star wannabes to success. In the first half, Svenonius describes a séance with dead rock stars, during which they explain the importance of rock ‘n’ roll in American history, and agree to write an instructional manual for aspiring rockers, which then makes up the second half of the book. Jimi Hendrix, Mary Wells, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison chime in from the ether on the importance of band photos, names and even a band’s “Zodiacal configuration.” They tell us that The Beatles had two air signs and two water signs, which gave them a “strong dualistic personality, simultaneously playful and pop (air signs) as well as deep, cranky, and mystical (water).” Paul McCartney, Svenonius’ favorite Beatle, also lends his advice–supposedly he happens to enjoy hanging out in the spirit world, despite being very much alive.

The book’s imagined conversations are very funny (it’s clear that Svenonius didn’t actually talk with Paul McCartney and probably never sought out a medium). But beyond being humorous, Supernatural Strategies is also very informative and well researched. While Svenonius shares his endless wealth of musical knowledge, this book also serves as a critique of capitalism, consumerism and American imperialism. And even while the spirits of dead rockers are imparting their knowledge, the tone never changes–Mary Wells compares rock ‘n’ roll groups to gangs and cults, and Paul McCartney’s living spirit refers to the American Revolution as “the founding fathers’ teenage tantrum.”

“The book also attempts to balance the modern rock documentaries, and the new breed of rock books which discuss the underground of the 1990s,” Svenonius wrote.  “It is not only a how-to book but also a general revisionist history of rock ‘n’ roll.”

For a more in-depth understanding of Svenonius’ communications with the rock ‘n’ roll spirit world, come to Greenpoint bookstore Word on Jan. 28 at 7pm where he will be celebrating the release of Supernatural Strategies For Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group. Vol. 1 Brooklyn’s Jason Diamond will be introducing him.

Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.