Twenty-five years of just about anything is more than enough. So by the time the silver anniversary of my career in law enforcement arrived, I knew I was done. It was time for what’s next.
I told my bosses and close friends that the time had come for me to retire. This wasn’t to be confused with no longer working. I just didn’t want to do that job anymore. Cops are a cynical lot, so as word got around that I was walking away, I was asked more than once — often with a bit of snark — just what it was I was hoping to do beyond life with a badge. After all, that was all I knew, right?
I knew I had another skillset to play with. I had the ability to write and an avid passion for music. It only made sense that I look into a life in music journalism. So I moved from St. Louis to Chicago and started doing just that.
“Journalism” is an increasingly loose word these days. When I took classes in the mid-80’s and did journalism work for the U.S. Air Force in the late-80’s and early 90’s, journalists lived and died by The Five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. And under no circumstances were you to ever make your opinion part of the story.
Times have changed, haven’t they?*
So, I wrote my first book, I’m working on my second, I’m doing some freelance writing,^ writing record reviews for this site, and interviewing musicians. This is where things start to get loose.
The journalist’s first duty is to remain objective. A music journalist I know** often warned about the dangers of losing one’s objectivity when working on music and dealing with musicians. You’re not there to make friends, he says. You’re there to do a job. Now, here’s the thing: more often than not, I don’t care. Stay with me.
When it comes to reviews, I’m able to stay objective with ease. My biggest problem at times is running out of adjectives. I mean, how many times can I refer to something as “ethereal?” But I am capable of giving the music a cold, hard listen. I’ve also written a couple of articles/reviews for Record Collector and Prog magazines. Again, objectivity is easy because I’m getting paid to do a job.
But when it comes to my YouTube channel (where I now conduct my interviews), objectivity tends to go right out the window. And I’m fine with that. See, nobody is paying me to run my channel. That, I feel, gives me the license to do whatever I want. And I do.
I’m interviewing musicians I admire. I’ve managed to become friends with a couple of them, which I really enjoy. And I like to think I’ve earned it. After all, I spent a quarter of a century interviewing burglars, robbers, white collar criminals, and god-knows who else. I’m certainly not gonna make friends with any of them!
I keep my chats light and fun. I always remind my subjects that we’re not doing a segment for 60 Minutes. They should feel free to relax and enjoy the experience. I almost never write out full questions in advance. I scribble one-word “prompts” on my notepad to remind me of something I want to ask. Otherwise, we’re just having a conversation. Because of this, my subjects often answer one of my questions before I even have a chance to ask it! It’s all about conversational flow. The talk goes where it goes. There’s no sense in regimenting it.
I can’t help but smile when I think of the chats I’ve had with the likes of Trey Gunn, Mike Keneally, or Courtney Swain. I’m friendly with all of them, even as I admire them deeply for their talents. I think that comes through in our chats, particularly when we start talking about shared musical interests. Is there anything better than finding out someone you love musically gets excited about the same musicians you do? No! Not really. So why not just roll with it?
The day will come (and hopefully soon) that I’ll have to do more objective interviews and keep my fanboying to a minimum because I’m getting paid. Actually, my work on Bernie Worrell’s biography has already made that a necessity.^^ As much as I wanted to geek out during a conversation with David Byrne or Bootsy Collins, I knew that was a bad idea. So, I played it straight — but still relaxed — to get the info I needed.
But more often than not, I’m just having fun, and I want you to pick up on that. No one is getting hurt, and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback, particularly from the artists themselves. I’ve heard them say “that was fun” more than once! I can only wonder what that other journalist would say, though I’m reasonably sure I don’t care. As the kids like to say, Imma do me!
I’ve said all that to say this: I’m doing what I want to do in this field, and I’m doing it my way (cue Frank Sinatra). I hope that’s coming across, and I hope you’re enjoying it.
I sure am.
* — This is a general statement and I’m not pointing at any modern news entity in particular. Let’s not politicize this, because I have no intention of doing so.
^ — I’m available. Please hire me.
** — For reasons I don’t know about and cannot comprehend, that journalist and I no longer speak. In fact, I’ve been blocked from his world. I really wish we could’ve hashed whatever the issue is out man to man, because I’m certain the reason is silly. It’s a shame — I really admire his work.
^^ — I wrote my first book as a music fan and told my interview subjects as much. They really took to that approach and we always seemed to have a good time.
Please follow me on my socials, all of which you can find here: https://linktr.ee/cirdecsongs
I’m currently writing my second book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
Would you like to have your record reviewed? Please contact me at email@example.com
I really enjoyed this post – particularly the part about using the word ‘ethereal’ – it’s one of my favourites too! I tend to fall back on using the same adjectives – so much so that I recently created a long list of adjectives to describe music so that I don’t repeat myself in my music blog too much.
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Thanks for your feedback. It’s much appreciated! And good idea with the list. I might steal that!
That’s actually a really good idea.
** – Almost sure I was blocked by the same journalist…he went on some Facebook rant then apparently blocked most if not all of his followers…Please don’t so this to your followers, Ced!
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I certainly don’t feel the need.