Initially, Name Dropping was described to me as a loose tour diary chronicling the (mis)adventures of one man as he zipped around North America handling/babysitting a band of friends as he quickly found himself graduating/being demoted to their employ. Another heads-up later pointed out the book was more about that fateful nomad’s experience in various music industry capacities, including as journalist and editor. With both of the above being themes I can relate to and get down with, I jumped at the opportunity to read Jameson Ketchum’s perspective and experience. Behind-the-scenes tour and industry stories are always a good time while you’re squeezing one out on the ol’ Thomas Crapper.
When I caught notice of the author’s name I was further moved to tuck into his quarter-life crisis memoir because I’m convinced we both freelanced for Alternative Press around the same time. However at no time in Name Dropping does he mention ever writing for AP, so maybe I’m hallucinating. At the same time, there can’t be that many Jameson Ketchums on the planet, let alone Jameson Ketchums running in similar circles to me, can there? (Turns out we wrote for Outburn at the same time.) Anyhoo, as I dug into the first few pages, I quickly realized a couple of glaring issues put into play.
Allow me to preface this by saying I put in some work to minimize the emerging biases; that those biases are all mine, which I own up to, and attempted to not have them cloud my enjoyment of the book and my judgement of it. But, it quickly became obvious during the foreword that Ketchum (and by extension, his book about himself) hails from the faith-based side of the music spectrum, specifically Christian rock and God-bothering emo punk. On the opposite end of the spectrum, sits me: someone who in no way believes there’s a bearded man in the sky giving one absolute flying fuck about what any of the 7+ billion people on this planet are doing or thinking. Actually, I’m of the belief that the man-made construct of religion is responsible for more destruction, war, famine, inequality, prejudice, misery, strife, social havoc and political discord than anything else in the history of forever.
A younger, less tolerant me might have chucked Name Dropping clear across the room and into the fireplace at the first mention of suburban melodic punk and emo bands tearing across the country, playing their painfully mediocre music in the name of self-aggrandizing moral superiority and the twisting of the rock concert into ministry (Hank Hill had a point when he said, “You’re not making Christianity better, you’re making rock and roll worse”), but there were behind the scenes stories to be had. Also, his and my idea of what constitutes punk rock and heavy music are miles apart. But, Ketchum’s writing style is bright and quick on the draw. His use of snappy, peppy sentences and often humorous off-the-cuff non-sequiturs and interjections kept me engaged enough to push the organized faith undercurrent and divergent musical tastes/opinions aside.
What followed was a look back at Ketchum’s discovery of music, its meaning, power, place and impact as he moved through the stages of life, discovery and the business. Throughout his time as a budding reviewer/interviewer, intern, freelancer and staffer/writer at various music publications, non-profit employee, podcaster, photographer and whatever else, he’s had multiple experiences with artists and musicians. He’s also dealt with the publicists and handlers who organize, wrangle and glad-hand the egos of the people you listen to (and eventually) see on stage every night. He writes with excited aplomb, but not in excruciating detail, about the process of pitching features and reviews, interview assignments, tracking down PR people, prep work, the actual interviews themselves and the pride he experiences in churning out pieces and seeing his name in print.
Here’s where the title really becomes applicable as Ketchum writes about who he knows and has met, dropping name after name after name and the details surrounding which bands/performers he’s been in the presence of. There’s a lot of fawning hero worship here. On the one hand, it’s a sign of how much deep impact those comprising the soundtrack to his life have made. On the other, it often screams of a “look at me” braggadocio where he appears to be writing to impress while simultaneously exhibiting an air of desperation at proving his belonging as part of the scene. Then again, it could be precisely this rink-rat mentality that has allowed him to make a contributing mark. He does come across as a very “won’t take no for an answer” type of individual, if not a bit of a nag, but that’s the sort of go-getting, self-promoting, eat-shit-until-it-doesn’t-taste-like-shit drive someone needs to make it in a scene where devaluation and saturation have come to clog up every pore.
In many ways, this particular hack can relate to the journalism process as I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, but there are times when Ketchum’s recounting is more him showing off his Rolodex or contacts list than providing stories with any real substance. But it says so right on the cover, so I don’t know what I was expecting? Honestly, I would have preferred more tour story adventures from his time on the road as writing a book about the process of writing isn’t the most exciting of subject matter, unless you can intimately relate.
But the biggest failing of Name Dropping is that the book doesn’t have a clearly defined purpose. Ketchum himself says in not-so-many words in the introduction that even he doesn’t know what this book is and where its appeal lies. It’s part biographical recollection with wispy self-help tendrils that becomes more and more about industry anecdotes with little to no narrative, a shaky chronology and a quizzical conclusion.
After the umpteenth declaration about the power of music and the role it’s played in getting him to where he is today, Name Dropping falls into the same category as most biographies by people the general public hasn’t heard of: it’s not clear how and why it applies to the average Joe on the street unless you’re really invested in the author and their accomplishments. In many ways, this book runs parallel to a band releasing a live album or reissuing their entire catalogue. Chances are if you’re not already familiar or a fan of the source material, there’s not a lot to relate to or care about. I had flashbacks to how, when my kid was school-aged and it was time for Take Your Kid to Work Day, he disqualified me from his prospective list because “All you do is sit in your office in front of your computer and listen to music all day.” Being the dedicated music lifer he is, I imagine this is something the ankle-biters in Ketchum’s future will be saying of him as well. And at least he’ll have this book to thrust at them and say, “Yeah, so? Check it out.”
Author: Jameson Ketchum
Publisher: RhetAskew Publishing
Release Date: July 22, 2021
Format/Length: Paperback, 268 pages