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Rock On: An Office
Power Ballad

by Dan Kennedy

Field-Tested by Anne Holub

on the CTA Red Line in Chicago, Illinois

There’s something to be said about your situation in life that, when you’re reading a tale of office politics, turmoil, and mass layoffs you say to yourself, wistfully, “Oh, I wish I could get fired from a job like that.” Sad, but true, that, as I sat down each day to read Dan Kennedy’s memoir of his year or so at Atlantic Records in New York in 2002 and 2003, I was jealous of the severance package he received, and the expense account he eventually had to give up. Oh, for an expense account to give up!

I picked up Kennedy’s book Rock On: An Office Power Ballad and decided to make a switch from my normal free tabloid-style newspaper reading and carry a book with me on the El for my commute. Now that I’ve finished the book, I wish I had it with me every morning and evening — for inspiration, study, and reflection (all the while trying to control my laughter without disturbing my fellow train passengers).

Kennedy, see, worked in the music industry in a pretty sweet job when it was still possible to have (aforementioned) expense accounts, assistants, and non-contract status. He was pretty cognizant of his good fortune, remarking as he entered the label’s doors for his first day at work, “I’ve been sitting at life’s banquet table listening to losing raffle numbers and staring at my handful of tickets for a while now, so throw me the door prize, God.”

Every day on the way to work, we sit, slowly rocking side to side, nodding our heads ‘yes, yes, yes’ or ‘no, no, no’ as the train lurches from stop to stop in some cardinal direction. We’re patient. Sometimes we’re asleep. Often we get stuck trying to look like we’re not looking at anything on the train — like we’re not looking at someone across the aisle, even if it means staring at a discarded chicken bone for 45 minutes. I have the option of staring into the windows and backyards of the track’s neighbors. But this just leads me to experience my commute as the background for a Hanna Barbara cartoon (alley, porch, tree, alley, porch, tree...). Then I get to work and realize that the scenery isn’t much better (doorway, wall, potted fern, doorway, wall, potted fern...). Kennedy remarks about how we’re creatures of routine and how that routine can be comforting, or even a requirement for normalcy:

I want to fit in here, and to be regarded as important and intelligent. I want everyone to think I’m a normal and successful man like the others, accustomed to going to his office, then home to his loved ones, and then back to his office again, loved ones, office, loved ones, and so on, and so on.

And isn’t that really what we’re all striving for? We want to be that person at work that our résumé claims to be.

Anne Holub is a poet and writer living in Chicago. She is the local music editor for the city blog Gapers Block.

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