Here’s a real-life rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale:
A girl releases an indie-rock album. The local press declares it a classic. Men in suits say, Babe, we need you. Lawyers, managers, record execs... Morning DJs, bassists, drummers... Directors, producers, snarky critics...
The big advance. The video debut. The Billboard cover. The national tour. Conan O’Brien. Spin. Rolling Stone. Your local alt-weekly. Beavis And Butt-Head. Comparisons to Belly and Alanis Morissette. (Note: This story is totally ‘90s.)
The Warner Bros. recording artist, the Next Big Thing of 1995, singer/songwriter Jennifer Trynin!
If you’re like me, you’re saying, Who?
You’ve never heard of Jennifer Trynin.
A decade after her music made the cover (or rather, the size of her record advance), an excerpt of her writing appeared in Billboard. This was my first exposure to the artist. I cringed at her description of a clueless music industry; I laughed at her depiction of her clueless younger self. Everything I’d thought about the industry was true, at least in the chapter I read online. (The biz, like, sucks, man. Commerce wins.) Her voice was witty, vivid, and real, the voice of someone whose jokes reveal truths. As someone who devours music blogs and liner notes, I knew I had to read this book.
Plus, I wondered who the writer really was, considering her claims of major-label servitude. Her name, Jen Trynin, rang no bells. Her supposed hit single, “Better Than Nothing,” meant absolutely nothing to me. Her debut album, Cockamamie, might as well have been left unreleased. (Which is sad, ‘cause it rocks, but I’ll get to that later.) I knew her as a writer, instead of a musician, which is probably more than most people knew her. (And now it’s like I’m dissing Trynin, twelve years after everyone else, which is silly and wrong and totally unintentional, ‘cause how many people know who I am? I’m trying to tell you you ought to know Trynin.)
It’s clear why I’d want to read such a story, and even more clear why she’d want to write it down: Not to avenge her bargain-bin status, but rather to reclaim her voice. In Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale, Trynin speaks with candor and humor, spiting both Warhol and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her fifteen minutes begin anew. Her writing debut gives her life a second act.
The book is available at fine booksellers everywhere. The album’s on Amazon for less than a dollar.
You totally know how the book’s gonna end: Jennifer Trynin will not become famous. Everyone’s promises will fade away and die. Perhaps her band will fight and break up. Perhaps she’ll sleep with people she shouldn’t. (Perhaps the latter will lead to the former.)
And then she’ll write a tell-all book and thus live happily ever after, once again becoming better than nothing – or better than a washed-up, coulda-been obscurity – and thereby promoting that same debut album.
Except for that hopeful, uplifting twist, the story is something you’ve seen on VH1. (Behind The Music or I Love The 90s?) But something in the telling is fresher than Snow. The first-person, present-tense point of view helps, imbuing the tale with a you-are-there immediacy and letting us feel the buzz as it happens.
It also helps that the structure is classical. For the first two hundred pages or so, the book reads like a rock geek tragedy. Her voice is a chorus that gives away the ending. Like a Hitchcock film, the book leaves clues, providing us readers with important information and leaving poor Jennifer searching for the truth.
For example, she meets with a Maverick exec who tells her, Sorry, we’ve found our token chick. There’s no way Trynin could know the implications, but attentive readers will find it ironic. (A little too ironic? Yeah, I really do think.) We know this chick is Alanis Morissette, the angsty-female alt-rock juggernaut, the multiplatinum fly in Trynin’s Chardonnay.
And just like that, you know Trynin’s done. You wonder when she’ll figure it out. The gap between reader and character is huge – and even more thrilling than the mid-‘90s music scene, with cameo appearances by Morphine’s Mark Sandman, Aimee Mann, and (allegedly) Paula Cole! (Her name has been changed to protect her unshaven armpits.)
From rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale to cautionary tale, Trynin’s debut memoir rocks.
Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be fascinates and educates, from industry schmoozing to the artist’s sellout guilt, from valuable music-business advice to even, you know, the actual music, which Trynin, strangely, often skips, probably because she knows it’s not important, at least to the people who make their living selling it.
And yet, you need to read this book, not quite speed-reading but racing nonetheless, at least if you’re a fan of music and literature, and even more so if you’re Trynin’s target audience: someone who missed her album the first time, and now you miss songs that sound like your youth.
You see, I came of age in the ‘90s, my middle school, high school, and college years. As such, I’m a walking ‘90s cliche, loving stuff that sounds like Trynin: Juliana Hatfield, Letters To Cleo, Belly (and even Tanya Donelly solo), Veruca Salt, The Breeders, Hole... And yes, Ms. Morissette herself, a bigger, shinier version of Trynin. This is the stuff I like to put on mixtapes. These are the women who've influenced my tastes.
So I, of all people, should’ve heard of Trynin. The fact that I hadn’t proves Trynin’s point: the music industry is kind of fucked up. Trynin never flat-out says so, but yeah, it’s there, and it’s kind of, um, obvious. Read this book if you need further proof.
In 1995, I would’ve liked Trynin. I know, because I like her now. Thanks to her book, her website, and her MySpace page, I finally was able to hear her debut album. Twelve years after her huge advance, I finally bought a copy of Cockamamie. “Better Than Nothing” is lodged in my head.
Her music deserved a much bigger audience. I hope her book finds greater success.