My music journalism has, for the most part, focused on musicians rather than rock stars.
The difference is relatively simple: you can reach a musician and engage in a conversation without a ton of effort. The talks you wind up having can be really special. With rock stars, you must navigate the machine, which is designed primarily to frustrate potential interviewers. The end result is rarely as satisfactory as one might hope.
My first book focused on the musicians I have loved over the years. Arranging interviews was often surprisingly easy. When I wanted to talk to Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, I reached him via Twitter. Next thing I knew, we were talking after a gig in my hometown. When I wanted to interview singer/songwriter Rob Fetters, I emailed his management, hoping they would connect me. Instead, I got an email directly from Rob. “Instead of going through all (the usual steps), why don’t you just call me?” he wrote. “Here’s my number.” We’ve actually gotten to be friends since then. In fact, I only got truly rebuffed once. Even then, I was much closer to getting the chat than I thought I was. Alas, my subject just … vanished shortly after.
Musicians … go figure.
I didn’t bother with trying to reach David Bowie, Prince (both he and Bowie were still alive when I started writing the book), Peter Gabriel, or anyone else on that Rock Star level. I knew I would have to go through management, agents, handlers, and God-knows who else just to get a 30-minute bare-bones chat with a rock star who could probably give a damn what I was all about, let alone be interested in really emoting. It didn’t seem worth it.
I thought I might get to talk to Fetters for 45 minutes or so. We talked for more than two hours. Mike Keneally gave me more than 90 minutes, twice what I was hoping for. Same for Markus Reuter and Andre Cholmendeley. We started talking, and nature took its course. I didn’t see anything like that being possible with someone like Thom Yorke. No doubt his manager or agent would be just out of view, pointing to his watch after 20 minutes or so. And I would barely get anything worth writing.
No rock stars, I determined. I will stay in my lane.
Bernie Worrell has played on 500 or more albums with a veritable “Who’s Who” of musicians and rock stars. Some of those rock stars are out-and-out legends. And Judie wants me to talk to them. All of them.
The list she has put before me is quite staggering. I won’t reveal any names now. What I will say is three or four conversations on this level puts me in a completely different stratosphere as an author and a journalist. If I can get through these doors, I should be pretty much set to talk to whomever I want for the remainder of my writing days.
To be clear, I’m not intimidated. Thirty years in uniform as a military journalist and police officer has put me next to more than a few celebrities. You might shake a little at first, but once the ice is broken, you’re just talking to someone who happens to go on television or play a sport for a living. It’s no big deal. When I was conducting interviews for my book, a musician friend said of meeting rock stars, “They’re just people, man.” That’s how I treat them, and it works out just fine. Vernon Reid is a prime example. Before getting into the questions for my book, I stood between him and Corey Glover talking Star Trek and Marvel movies. It was glorious. And completely humanizing. After that, the interview was easy.
Still, I had no plans to try and work at the Rock Star level any time soon. But that has officially gone out the window.
I must now prepare myself to enter a world of blockers, re-directors, and go-betweens. I have to be prepared to get what I need in 30 minutes or less, because the subjects will be busy and probably have little to no time for this nobody from Nowhere and his little book. My only hope is that Bernie’s name still carries some weight. I suspect it does. So does Judie. In fact, she’s working to open some of those doors for me. All I have to do is step inside and not say anything stupid.
I think I can handle that.
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