A musician-turned-author read from his work on Tuesday as the final guest of this year’s Literary Festival. Jacob Slichter, former drummer for the band Semisonic, recorded his experience in the music business in his memoir, “So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star.”
Slichter, a native of Illinois and a Harvard graduate, spent eight years working temp jobs by day and making music in his apartment by night. In 1992, he formed Semisonic with two friends, Dan Wilson and John Munson.
He said of the early years of obscurity, “The hardest part was working copy machines while telling people that you’re a musician.”
After struggling for six years in the music business, Semisonic scored a hit with 1998’s “Closing Time.” Slichter’s memoir is rooted in road diaries he kept during the band’s heyday, though it also depicts the downside of fame.
Slichter shared anecdotes with the audience to expose the strange side of celebrity. He explained how an opportunity for an interview with Howard Stern brought out his insecurity instead of inflating his ego.
“I was just convinced I was going to be exposed as a fraud,” he said.
He also said he was once mistaken for a member of Third Eye Blind by an interviewer. Stories like these show how Slichter grappled with fame rather than thrived on it, which is partially due to what he described as his reserved nature.
Though Semisonic could be deemed a one-hit wonder, Slichter is grateful for the success they had. He’s forgiven bad choices made by their record label. And he’s practical, rather than bitter, about the fact that two of the band’s three albums were, as he said, “critically acclaimed flops.”
Slichter has come to terms with his brief celebrity through his memoir. “I don’t have to pretend to any of my friends that I’m a big shot anymore,” he said about publishing the book. “It was an unburdening of sorts.”
Now Slichter can look at the music business from a distant, but experienced, perspective. He answered students’ questions about the benefit of independent record labels, the value of rap music and the effects of MP3 file sharing.
“People say ‘music belongs to the people,'” he said of downloading MP3s. “Well, then, what about food, clothes, shelter and health care?” Though Slichter agreed that CDs have become too expensive, he advocated sampling the music online and then buying the album if listeners like it.
Now that Semisonic has broken up, Slichter is looking forward to a solo music project and more nonfiction writing.
Though he misses playing live shows, his interests lie in listening to music rather than making a career out of it.
As he admitted to the Villanova community, “Let’s just say it – I’m not a rock star.”