Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A VJ looks back, publishes forward

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Republic of Rock ’n’ Roll by Kim Clarke Champniss

After a colourful career in the music and entertainment industry, former Much Music VJ Kim Clarke Champniss (KCC) decided to write a book and went about doing it in the way that people always have: He got an agent. He got a publishing deal with a Canadian-owned house. He started to write. He allowed himself to feel starry eyed at the thought that he was soon to be a published author.

Then his publisher went bust.

But the story doesn’t end there.

On March 12, KCC’s book, The Republic of Rock ’n’ Roll: The Roaring ’80s from Curtis to Cobain, was finally published, in Canada and elsewhere, in both regular and enhanced ebook formats. Oh, and the publisher is a record label.

Published by Warner Music Canada, The Republic of Rock ’n’ Roll is a journey through the music, fashion and politics of the 1980s using KCC’s life as the thread (for, Forest Gump-like, he was party to many defining pop-culture moments). The book covers the birth of New Wave, hip-hop and music television, the commodification of pop stars and the decline of vinyl. Technology is omnipresent. And though this book taps in to a market for nostalgia, it does so without any regard to book publishing’s usual tendency towards the same. Released only in digital format, the book’s bells-and-whistles version from the iBookstore is a brilliant and innovative multi-media entertainment experience.

At this point I need to point out that my name appears on the acknowledgements page of KCC’s book, and that I first heard about the project in 2011 when an earlier draft of it took up temporary residence on my desk alongside an editorial contract from Warner Music Canada. I didn’t know at that point how the text was to be published, or that as I edited there was someone at Warner hard at work clearing music permissions. Each page of The Republic of Rock ’n’ Roll is littered with music and music-video references, and I paused often to grab my phone to YouTube or download the book’s natural soundtrack. If you buy the book from the iBookstore, you won’t even need to switch hands because the iTunes links pop up right on the page (if you ask them to), and if you buy it from Amazon but still read it on a web-enabled tablet you’ll have to flick back and forth between apps but can still seek out your video and audio accompaniment on the same screen on which you read the text.

Earlier this week I sat down with KCC to talk about The Republic of Rock ’n’ Roll now that it’s out in the world. It seems ridiculous now to think that this book might have existed only as a bound set of pages, I reflected. “A book about pop culture should occupy the medium of pop culture,” KCC replied. “I knew that it had to be the tablet.”

When his initial publisher (he had signed with Key Porter) went under, being the entrepreneur he is, KCC decided to shop the book to Warner himself, where it found a home under the banner of “Special Projects.”

Though he’s a first-time author, KCC isn’t new to the book business. As a past producer and host of Book Television’s The Word This Week, he took on the difficult task of making books work on TV. “Books are almost the antithesis of television,” he says, noting how difficult it is to translate one person’s reading experience into visual content for the masses. At the time, he says, he advised publishers to “take a leaf out of the rock ’n’ roll book” by utilizing EPKs (Electronic Press Kits) to pre-package B-roll of an author’s readings and events.

So what does he think of the fact that amid the panicked cries that the book industry is going the same way as the music industry, a major record label is taking a leaf out of the book-business book? “My heart and soul really is with the Warner partnership,” he says, and feels that, “in terms of cutting edge projects, this is one that might be at the top of their list.” And on the point that, with its embedded links, his book functions as an advertising vehicle for Warner’s (and other labels’) back catalogue, and also for Apple, he is sanguine: “Let’s face it, the whole music industry needs Apple.”

“Nostalgia plays a very deceiving role when it comes to the state of media,” said CBC technology columnist Jessie Hirsh at a recent PEN Canada/Freedom to Read Week event. To see a book about nostalgia, marketed to the nostalgic, presented as a forward-looking multi-media experience is welcome indeed, and provides an excellent example of the “both/and” rather than “either/or” model available to authors and publishers alike. The evolution of eReading technology is antithetical in many ways, striving, through E Ink and simulated page turns to recreate the reading experience digitally rather than to create an additional reading experience that can only exist on a web-enabled reading device. I don’t ever need enhancements popping up in the middle of the new JM Coetzee novel — that’s not what fiction is for — but many times I have cried out for want of a map or two in a travel or political book, or for some soundtrack to a music memoir such as this.

“Cutting edge,” he said It’s not too often you get to hear an author say that about a book.

The Republic of Rock ’n’ Roll: The Roaring ’80s from Curtis to Cobain is available now from Warner Music Canada. Find out more at

Becky Toyne is a publishing consultant specializing in manuscript development and book promotion. She is a regular books columnist for CBC Radio One and Open Book: Toronto, and a freelance publicist for many of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s literary award and fundraising programs. One or two days a week Becky works as a bookseller at Toronto indie Type. You can follow her on Twitter: @MsRebeccs

You can find past columns by Becky Toyne in the Open Book Archives.

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