“What you hold now is a serious volume of sensible advice.” I imagine Ian Svenonius nodding contentedly to himself after typing that line, knowing he’s about to plunge deep into satirical nonsense by “summoning” the spirits of dead stars (Brian Jones, Buddy Holly, and Jimi Hendrix, among others) to instruct the reader on how to build a better rock ‘n’ roll group.
As front man for influential postpunk and lo-fi garage bands like the Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up (and current leader of Chain & the Gang), the always snazzy Svenonius has rocked soulful, falsetto-topped sass and five-dollar wordage for more than two decades, communicating an anticapitalist message that keeps him on the fringe—which is where he’s most comfortable. Supernatural Strategies is a biting, endearingly neurotic “guide” that pokes fun at band drudge work—recording an album, choosing a van. It’s also a conduit for Svenonius’s own beliefs, which, again, he channels from dead rock stars: Musings on the importance of instrument practice morph into a discussion about why Vietcong tactics prevailed over those of the U.S. Army. Drug use in bands is linked to geopolitical trends, including the effects covert military action and assassinations have on the drug trade. A publicity photo of the Bush cabinet is ridiculed for representing the same kind of pageantry as the ever-important band photo (“Donald Rumsfeld is the classic drummer—an idiotic megalomaniac showman, simmering with resentment at not being top dog”).
Current and former band members interested in an underground scene stalwart breaking down the inner workings of a group’s success (and inevitable failure)—and then taking those inner workings even further, into satire—will enjoy this book. Those who just have a thing for the political rhetoric and undeniable panache of Ian Svenonius—well, even better.