MUSIC JOURNALISM 101 / JOHNNY MNEMONIC

Running amuck (adrift, actually…) in the magical Land of Oz with a big-boobed, coke-sniffin’ bimbo and assorted loonies.

By Johnny Mnemonic

I am a man adrift.

Prior to my current existential state of affairs, however, I was a staff writer for what I presume most people considered to be highly-regarded national music magazine. I hasten to emphasize my phrasing being in the past tense, as the publication recently folded, the victim of all those things you’ve been reading lately, with alarming frequency, about music magazines (and the print world in general). I won’t bore you with all the mundane details of my dismissal and its demise — yet — other than to say the basic law of the jungle was in effect: if a business ceases to continue making money, and this goes on for month after month despite (or owing to) the regular influx of meddling new investors, hapless new editors and inane new marketing strategies, etc., soon enough, something’s gotta give.

Ergo, I am a man adrift, with no immediate, regular source of income. I will certainly be offering up my freelance skills to other highly-regarded national music magazines, perhaps even the one whose website you are reading this very moment, but the terms “freelance writer” and “regular income” remain mutually exclusive. So while I drift, in between resume-mailing, LinkedIn networking and Velvet Rope-lurking, in order to keep my mind from atrophying from a steady diet of satellite TV and internet porn I’ve accepted an invitation from the editors of Blurt to author this blog.

“Music Journalism 101” is to be part-memoir, part-exposé and part cautionary tale. On that first count, I’ll draw upon my experiences as a music writer and introduce you to assorted denizens of the musician community ranging from the sweet to the sour, from the supremely gifted to the astonishingly clueless, and from the types who help make the world a better place with their artistry to the walking/talking chunks of human feces who in a sane, just world would be lined up next to a mass burial site in some godforsaken corner of what used to be Yugoslavia and summarily shot and tossed into the pit. As far as the exposé part is concerned, don’t necessarily take that term literally (don’t want to get your hopes up), although I will be tugging the curtain back to give you glimpses of what goes on in the lives of music writers, their editors and publishers, their peers and significant others, their hookups and drug dealers, etc. Just to give you a teaser: for a week in 1989 I joined the touring entourage of a former college rock band-turned-MTV-darling — for the purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to them as “Dream Response” — in order to do an on-the-road profile. This gave me access to the after-show activities, although there was an unspoken understanding that I’d use discretion in reporting any behavior that might prove upsetting to the quartet’s fairly vanilla fanbase, or for that matter, to the members’ wives. From the band’s point of view, that unspoken understanding probably served them well when it came time for me to file my report. I quite diligently did not recount the scene in which I wandered into one of their hotel suites’ bathrooms only to find the lead singer — let’s call him “Frothy Bryson,” after his unnerving habit for literally foaming at the mouth in the middle of one of his onstage “poetic” rants — ankle-deep in the chunky, dark-haired, big-boobed local radio personality who’d turned up at the show to record station I.D.s and was invited to stick around for the party. After a few healthy toots of Peruvian weasel dust and three or four stiff vodka-and-7-Ups, she’d apparently been ready to take more than just airchecks from the group. I can still hear her horsey-like, pack-a-day wheeze of a laugh (how do these obnoxious gals get their radio gigs? oh, right…) as she was grabbing for the straw… and if I squint my mind’s eye just right, I can still see — no, please God, not again — Frothy’s hairy, boil-studded ass.

But don’t think that life in the music journalism business is a merry old yellow brick road stroll into the Emerald City, where vials of coke dangle from trees like sugarplums and nubile munchkin lasses beckon seductively from shop windows like Amsterdam hookers. This is where the cautionary tale aspect comes in. “The biz” has a boundless supply of headaches, frustrations, diva- and asshole-like personalities, and just out-and-out lunacy, not to mention a deadeningly mundane side to it (you know, hours upon hours trapped in a cubicle pounding away at a keyboard while your head pounds from all that free booze you swilled the night before at the Metallica album listening party at Arlene’s Grocery). It’s not all that different from used car sales, actually. So my hope is that after reading this blog, at least one aspiring music journalist out there, having gotten a sense of how the sausages are made, so to speak, will plot a beeline straight to his or her college counselor and switch majors to, say, Astronomy, or perhaps Botany — any discipline where one’s native talents can be nurtured and turned into a bankable commodity in the employment marketplace. Because if you believe being a rock critic is a viable career path, I have some stock shares in Madoff, Inc. I want to sell you. At this juncture in life, it’s probably too late for me, but it’s not too late to prevent one of you from making a huge mistake. Don’t wake up one morning to learn that the business you’ve chosen to work for is sinking faster than a GM truck with cinderblocks chained to each axle, and that you have no tenure, no seniority, no job security, no marketable skills, no nothing, really, plus the additional stress of a pending loss of health insurance benefits when your COBRA coverage expires. Now’s the time to consider that offer from your father about taking up the family business, in other words.

Above I mentioned that the editors of Blurt invited me to become one of their bloggers. Technically, I approached them with the idea. (I could swear I detected a shrug on the other end of the telephone, but as the answer was “sure,” that’s good enough for me.) Still, my ego can only take so much battering in a compressed period of time — losing that highly-regarded national music magazine gig and all — so it does me good to create this fantasy in my mind that my arch prose remains in demand by my peers and, hopefully, will be admired by Blurt readers. I may be a man adrift, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still spout off with the best of ‘em.

My friends tell me I’m actually quite good at spouting off, especially after a couple of whiskey sours. (I know, I know, a girlie-girl drink, but — and here’s the first of what will be many fascinating insider tips from the world of music journalism — you can casually sip whiskey sours all night without getting too plastered, which greatly enhances your chances of getting some juicy backstage or behind the scenes stories, since the bands themselves tend to really bring it on, post-gig; I think we already covered that part three paragraphs earlier.) I promise to write most of these entries in a relatively sober state of mind, of course. Well, that is unless I feel, in the interests of accurately recounting some of those juicy stories culled from my fabulous career in music journalism, I simply must recreate the semi-sober state of mind I was experiencing at the time of the original incident.

Did I mention that my friends also tell me I have a pretty fucking spot-on memory? I may be a man adrift. But I know where the bodies are buried.

Guarantee: many of the names, places and entities outlined in this blog will be changed to protect the innocent along with the not-so-innocent. And also to ensure I don’t burn so many bridges I can’t get hired again by some highly-regarded national music magazine. Not that there are any left.

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Johnny Mnemonic is the pseudonym of a “highly-regarded” national writer with, he advises us, over two decades’ experience working as a music critic, reporter and editor. We’ve never met him face-to-face, and he further advises he will be delivering his blogs to us via the “double blind drop-box method,” whatever that is, to ensure his anonymity.

 

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