Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes, McKenzie Thomas Scott, It Books, 2012.
Thomas Scott McKenzie has no dreams of rock stardom, doesn’t live the fantasy, he doesn’t even care about being proficient at the instrument—he just wants to meet his heroes. His guitar heroes.
In the wrong hands Power Chords: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes would constitute nothing short of alien. It would be misunderstood. Put it in the right fan’s hands and they will find it to be a delight. Power Chord is one man’s quest to meet his idols. Along the way we get some cool backstage stories, interviews and moments with some of rock’s true greats. It’s fun to read how McKenzie faked his way through guitar lessons and fantasy camps just to meet his idols and it’s oddly pleasant when he reminisces about his teenage years talking about bands like Ratt and KISS.
I find it interesting how McKenzie begins his journey a little later than logic would dictate. By the time he sets sights on his quest is already married with a stable career. The author’s prose is not spellbinding nor is it particularly memorable, but he is very relatable and likeable which helps conceal that fact (and makes it somehow insignificant). There’s something about him as a person makes you want to read his journey. Maybe it’s because he’s such a fan of the guitar heroes and artists. But I suspect it’s for a far more practical reason—he’s one of us.
He’s fan first and foremost and it shows. The lengths he goes to in order to meet his heroes show a lot of dedication. From travelling to attending rock n roll fantasy camps to getting private lessons from his heroes —all on his dime and personal time—McKenzie is a man on a mission. While I’m not impressed by his efforts to learn the guitar, I am impressed by the author’s determination to meet his heroes.
The stories he tells about meeting his idols are fascinating. Driving a considerable distance just to take lessons from Stryper axeman Oz Fox. The Steve Vai chapter was one of the shinning moments of the book. Reading about Vai’s treatment of fans and the words and insights he shared with them made the virtuoso seem like more than just a guitar god.
Sometimes McKenzie even succeeds at painting a strong portrait of the interviewee. His overview and insight into Brad Gillis of Night Ranger for instance. You may not be a fan of Night Ranger, but after reading this particular chapter you may gain a new respect for Gillis and his love ’em to death treatment of his beat-up and well-worn instruments. Bruce Kulick seems an incredibly down to earth and fun guy to hang out at guitar shops and Best Buy with. Warren DeMartini comes across as both mysterious and smart. Rudy Sarzo looks like a sweetheart. Ace Frehley is well, Ace Frehley.
This book is written by a fan for fans. I enjoyed McKenzie’s backstory and reading about his experiences as a fan meeting his heavy metal gods. Even the guitar players whom I wasn’t necessarily a fan of. He makes the journey enjoyable with his boyish enthusiasm. MacKenzie also shows it’s not just fans who are fans. On one instance, Glen Tipton of Judas Priest recalled how he waited at a hotel just to meet Jimi Hendrix (and he did). The author unknowingly demonstrates just how devoted heavy metal fans can be when he recounts in great details his musical escapades.
His one mistake is to reference other works. He refers to Chuck Klosterman’s superior Fargo Rock City on a few occasions to hammer in some points. It makes his work and prose look pale in comparison—especially when accounting that both books belong in the same category.
Is Power Chord five star essential reading material? No. It’s not an incredible read but Thomas Scott McKenzie is relatable and engaging. That alone worth it’s fair share of points more than what an authoritative book about music. For those looking for nothin’ but a good time, some rock stories and a healthy dose of nostalgia, it’s worth the trip. 3 and 1/2 stars.