My rejected pitch for the 33 1/3 series.

My name is Matt Cibula. I would like to write a book for the 33 1/3 series about the album Dream Police, by Cheap Trick.

I know this is not the kind of record covered by the series so far. It is hardly canonical among critics, and it never ends up on any of those “Best Albums of All Time” lists. I’ve heard a lot of those records, and I realize that many of them might be “better” on some level, more perfect or something. But Dream Police is still my favorite record, for a lot of reasons. This dichotomy will end up being the underlying theme of my book.

I think the lack of respect for Cheap Trick is criminal, and I will use part of the book to argue that the band was hugely influential on movements like new wave, power-pop, grunge (famously, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, but also Pearl Jam), hair-metal, and modern punk-pop. Cheap Trick is funny and serious and smart and blue-collar, and they put on great shows. Critics — including Robert Christgau — even loved them…right up until this record came out. Then all the tastemakers suddenly jumped off the wagon.

But Dream Police deserves a good critical re-think. I can make a very compelling case for the importance and excellence of this album. It draws a straight line between all the British groups the band loved (the Beatles, the Who, the Move and ELO, etc.) and good old Midwestern U.S.A. bar-band action, but it is still thoroughly original. And it sounds great too, sharp and complicated but still accessible. (The making of the album turns out to be a fascinating story as well. Short version: they went into the studio to make their fourth record, but their live At Budokan record came out in the meantime and turned them into Top Ten pop stars, so it sat on the shelf for months. It would have been thought of as a lot more “groundbreaking” if it had come out six months earlier!)

The band also took a huge risk here by dispensing with some of their cutesier tendencies and doing songs of real substance. The opening song is a psychedelic freakout about paranoia; there are songs about religious/political fanaticism and domestic abuse and revenge, as well as love ballads and the obligatory tune about being famous. Each side’s closing song is an epic pop-prog-metal track that continues past the seven-minute mark. Songwriter Rick Nielsen basically put everything on the table here, and tried to make a statement about the world, but the rest of the band stretched themselves as well; Bun E. Carlos’ drum patterns are pretty close to disco-metal, and Robin Zander’s screaming on “Gonna Raise Hell” is legendary. It rocked hard, in an era that loved hard rock, but it also had pop hooks galore.

So why did Dream Police do so poorly with critics? And why, despite its success (#6 on the Album Charts, two top 40 singles), is it seen as the beginning of the end for a band that never went away? I think I have some very interesting answers to these questions.

I propose a different kind of structure for my book. About half of it will be an actual review of the album itself. Instead of going track by track, I will divide the analysis up into nine thematically focused chapters: “The Cover” (intriguing signs and symbols!), “The Band” (including autobiographical info about each member and the band’s history), “Lyrical Themes,” “Musical Motifs,” etc. I will interview as many band members and other involved people as I can, and I think this will be relatively easy to accomplish. (See below for details.)

The other half of the book will consist of nine very short stories interspersed throughout the review text. These will be very brief fictional sketches of two friends who meet in 1979 by bonding over Dream Police. Each story will move them forward a bit, through junior high, high school, college (for the main protagonist, who is basically me), adulthood, and now. These stories will try to capture the spirit of growing up in the U.S., and each story will reflect a different song, albeit usually in a very understated way.

This will make for a very fun and unusual entry in the 33 1/3 series. But I am not proposing this structure just to be different. I think this is the best way to make people understand what a great record Dream Police is, as well as to illustrate the idea that one’s own personal canon is influenced by a lot of different factors. It is also a way for me to talk about this album without being all “me me me.” Because who the hell am I, other than someone who sometimes gets to give my opinion about popular music?


Well, here’s who I am. I am 40 years old, married with two kids and another on the way later this year from an adoption agency far away. I live in the Midwestern United States of America, about an hour from Cheap Trick’s hometown of Rockford, Illinois. (This is one of the reasons I think I will be able to score some great interviews with Rick Nielsen and the rest of the band.)

I have been writing about music for 10 years; most of this writing has been for online publications such as PopMatters.com, StylusMagazine.com, Ink19.com, and Music-Critic.com, but I have also been published in the Village Voice, Vibe Magazine, Seattle Weekly, Portland Mercury, Baltimore City Paper, and the Isthmus here in Madison. (I also write a blog.)

I am also the author of four children’s titles for Zino Press: Slumgullion the Executive Pig, The Contrary Kid, How to Be the Greatest Writer in the World, and What’s Up With You, Taquandra Fu? I travel to several elementary and junior high schools every year to work with young people on their writing skills, and have also written two teacher’s guides on this subject.

In addition, I’ve written an online serial novel for teenagers, and have participated in three different National Poetry Slam competitions. I am confident about speaking in public, and I’m very happy to do tons of bookstore appearances. I will drive all over the Midwest, and I have friends everywhere who will let me snore on their couches.

I applied to the 33 1/3 series last time, pitching Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. I did not get the gig, but have since become friendly with Zeth Lundy, who works with me at PopMatters. I am very glad he was chosen over me for that project, because his book’s structure sounds more exciting than mine was. So thank you for choosing him for that project. This project, though, is something even closer to my heart than Stevie, which is saying a lot.

A book about Cheap Trick would be a bold populist rock’n’roll type of move for the series. And no one else understands Dream Police, or its true place in music history, the way I do. I know I can do this album justice on both a critical/analytic level and on a soulful/personal level. (For a brief glimpse of what this book might be like, check out this piece I wrote for InkBlotMagazine.com a few years ago.)


John C. said...

Aw man, I would totally read the shit out of that book.

Anonymous said...

as someone who considers himself a big cheap trick fan, but whose cheap trick love actually ends after 'heaven tonight' (for no particular reason other than that i just dropped off the boat with them around that time), i would've bought this one for sure. damn.