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Ian Svenonius 'The Psychic Soviet'

From Russia with Love

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Ian Svenonius 'The Psychic Soviet'
Drag City

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Ian Svenonius comes to his debut book with a lengthy, impressive rock'n'roll history trailing behind him. He began his performative life as the frontman for infamous DC punks the Nation of Ulysses, who became Cupid Car Club, who became the Make-Up, who became Weird War, who became the Scene Creamers, who then went back to being Weird War, and somewhere in there he made a solo album as David Candy. The bands have all shared members, functioning as independent arms of the same 'umbrella group,' each outfit shifting its mode and message to suit the political and pop-cultural times.

But what's really tied all those bands together has been two things: Svenonius’s hysterical-showman persona, and a doctrinal leftist radicalism. The flamboyant frontman has proven that disseminating dialectical materialism can be impossibly entertaining; Svenonius earning a place as one of underground music's greatest ever stage-monkeys.

The Greatest Rock'n'roll Book Ever Written

Svenonius has long published sprawling screes and articulate essays in various counter-cultural zines and publications, showing himself to be an incisive and amusing critical thinker. Yet, nothing he has done —on stage or off— could possibly prepare you for the unstoppable, unflappable genius of The Psychic Soviet. Svenonius's first officially-published collation of essays is something most unexpected: the greatest rock-n-roll book ever written.

Acclaimed rock writing normally comes in two shades: rambling evocations of the 'classic' canon by old-time rock-critics happily propagating the myths of noxious baby-boomer nostalgia, and/or past-their-prime performers finally 'fessing up to years of substance abuse in hope of restarting the cashflow.

Svenonius has authored something not beholden, in the slightest, to regular conceptions of rock'n'roll mythology. His collection of pop-cultural essays are so wonderfully imagined, so critically weighty, and so skillfully argued that they elevate the cultural theory of music to an enlightened plane. And, even better than that, the author's writings are so piercingly, bitingly funny, that they beg re-reading.

Like, Really: The Greatest Rock'n'roll Book Ever Written

In The Psychic Soviet, Svenonius takes his sharpened pen —a veritable critical scalpel— to a world of literary, musical, and pop-cultural clichés. He compares music to human history, religion, politics, and imperialism. He calls Christ "the tired leader of a quaint and cranky cult," dubs Dracula an allegory for "racial suprematism," labels The Lord of the Rings "the woman-hater's bible," nails punk rock as "gaysploitation," and damns the superstar DJ as symbol of the World Bank/IMF's "exportation of industry."

In a modern world in which critical thought is in alarming decline —personified by a generation of cultural critics bred to serve only the vocational function of 'shopping guides'— reading someone whose mind is so alive to ideologies, ideals, and ideas feels like a minor revolution; a tonic for every gushing review anointing Peter Jackson's homoerotic swordfightin' opus(es) as anything more than a race-war allegory perfect for vengeance-minded times.

The Psychic Soviet is coiled tight with volatile thought, spring-loaded with a playful analysis whose impishness recalls a Jack in its box. Laced with lacerating wit, it reads like one extended, impassioned comic rant. Svenonius certainly doesn't think he's authoring a gospel —"feel free to scribble rebuttals and notations in the generous margins of the book," he writes in its introduction— and, thus, he never comes across preachy.

Though founded on weighty notions, The Psychic Soviet is not a weighty tome. Instead, its physical manifestation matches its lurid sense of humour: it's bright pink and fits in your pocket.

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