I always kinda liked Jen Trynin's music. She had a smoky, world-weary voice, an interesting guitar style, and cool, intelligent songs. Back in the mid-90s, when I was half-heartedly trying to sell myself as a singer-songwriter without actually selling myself, which I now know is a pretty idealistic and stupid goal, gals like Jen Trynin were being courted by the majors as the next big thing. At that time, I suppose I would have loved being courted as the next big thing. Little did I know what she went through, what she almost became, and what she did and didn't know about the music business when she got that major label deal. But after reading Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be, I can safely say now that I'm glad it didn't happen to me. I'm thankful to have wallowed in the comfort and obscurity of the sub-indie universe and kept my life and my music intact.
When Jen Trynin was turning 30, she made a promise to herself to finally take one last shot at "making it." She had been playing her acoustic folk music in what she calls the "Sunday through Wednesday chick with an acoustic guitar ghetto," and was tired of it. Tired of being thrown into that same dull groove, and tired of feeling intimidated by the real rockers in Boston, where she lived. But most of all, she was tired of never getting anywhere with her music. So she got an electric guitar, some thrift store clothes, and started her own indie label for the sole purpose of creating a buzz and getting signed.
Jen tells her story with such rollicking good humor, it's like a teen girl novel crossed with a tell-all rock n' roll expose. She has obviously grown up enough to look back on that time with a perspective that is laughably honest and unflinching. She's certainly not the best writer in the world, but she knows her limitations, and what she lacks in artistry she makes up for with great humor and 20/20 hindsight.
In those heady post-Nirvana days, when every major label was looking to sign the next indie crossover superstar, Jen Trynin released her CD Cockamamie on her own little fabricated Squint Records label. Her calculated move paid off. Before she knew it, her New York shows were packed with industry heavyweights, offers were pouring in and she was looking at $300,000 publishing advances. She eventually signed with Warner Brothers, and went out on a promotional tour with her scrappy rock trio to support Cockamamie.
Jen endows some of the music biz sharks with silly nicknames, some have their own names, and all are just portrayed as pathetic weasels. Her anecdotes somehow endear these otherwise shady characters to the reader, turning them into fodder for a comedy of errors with her budding career as the catalyst. And her descriptions of life on the road, with all its alienation and temptation, are truly grueling. Suffice it to say that as the tour drags on, things don't look so rosy for Jen. Her hit song that had been climbing the alternative charts just drives everyone up the wall, and everywhere she goes she starts hearing the two words that will ultimately seal her fate -- Alanis Morissette. I enjoy the fact that Alanis Morissette is a harbinger of doom in this book, because she sure seemed that way to anyone who had the misfortune of hearing her annoying voice.
It's a story that has probably been lived more times than we could possibly know, by artists we will never hear of. But thanks to Jen for finally telling the story that any aspiring artist needs to hear, whether they like it or not. The sorry truth is: no matter how good you are, how driven you are, and how many people love your music, it's all a matter of luck and timing. Art and commerce make strange bedfellows, because commerce keeps kicking the sheets off the bed. The lack of luck and timing didn't keep Jen from writing a great follow-up album, Gun Shy Trigger Happy, which I highly recommend as a fine slice of moody guitar pop that should have made it but, lucky for us, didn't. If she had become a real rock star, she wouldn't have written such a rockin' book!
Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be by Jen Trynin
Hardcover. 368 pages.