Friday, February 27, 2009

Steve Knopper

Steve Knopper covers the music business for Rolling Stone magazine. He is a Denver-based journalist who has written for Spin, Details, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, National Geographic Traveler, Wired, New York, Chicago, Backpacker, as well as the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Washington Post, the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Miami Herald, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and many books and websites.

His new book is Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
-- To answer your question literally, I'm on about page 30 of Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis. As a music critic for years and a longtime feature writer, I never thought I'd be a business reporter, but my recent professional obsession with the music business has led me to figure out why bad stuff happens to other industries. I've read Moneyball, and Lewis' piece on subprime mortgages and the economic crash in Condé Nast Portfolio magazine last fall made me seek out this one. So far I'm just into the ambition and chutzpah phases of his broker's narrative about '80s Wall Street and haven't quite gotten to the greed and corruption.

-- I have a weird OCD-type quirk of reading one book at a time, and finally finished Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina over the weekend after beginning it last July. I've always loved that famous opening sentence: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The narcissistic love-triangle bits between Anna and Vronsky and the sour Alexey Aleksandrovich are just riveting, as is Anna's opium-addled unraveling towards the end. And I related to much about the heroic, thoughtful Levin character, particularly the birth of his child, although I admit it took a long time to slog through his musings about spirituality and (especially) late-1800s Russian peasantry and farming politics.

-- I should probably mention a music-business-related book here, as I spent 2007 reading some two dozen of them, from Fredric Dannen's investigative classic Hit Men to Joseph Menn's unheralded Napster bio All the Rave. But my favorite discovery during this process was Stan Cornyn's Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group. Stan was a longtime VP at the most quirky of all major record labels, beginning in the '60s, and he came up with perfect-for-the-time promo ads like "JONI MITCHELL IS 90% VIRGIN." The book promises dirt on sexy superstars, and there is some, I suppose, but to me it's just a wry, colorful look behind the scenes of how the music business ran in the decades before MP3s and Napster. It begins with some absolutely hilarious office politics involving the actual Warner brothers.

-- I see your contributors often end with children's books. My 6-year-old daughter Rose and I whipped through Roald Dahl's Matilda over the weekend, and it is such a welcome relief from Laura Ingalls Wilder. Miss Trunchbull is the most comically disturbing principal I've ever encountered in children's fiction, and Dahl managed to make Rose laugh rather than cower even during the brutal passages when "The Trunchbull" lifts children by the ears and hair and tosses them across the room. I've read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, of course, but this book, published in 1988, was a revelation, newfound (for me) evidence of a master storyteller.
Visit Steve Knopper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue