Tag: oc weekly

What I learned from being a music journalist

In 2012, I left my job at a rehab center teaching creative writing to pursue freelancing full time. It was a hard decision, because I loved the kids and the people I worked with, but it was the only move that made sense for my career. I wanted to be a writer, and I was just going to give it a shot instead of waiting for the magic publication or the letter from an agent that declared me one. During the beginning parts of freelancing, I would write on any subject for any any publication. I ended up writing about everything from video games to profiles on lame congressmen to strikes to music.

Friends With You
Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Music felt like a natural fit for me. I went to college for music as a percussionist, and I played drums in the jazz band at Stetson University. I had a foundation of music theory, and I taught many of my friends how to play the guitar. When I was in the jazz band, I was always so frustrated because the leader of the band was a 70-year old trombone player who thought drummers should be more like metronomes and not be heard or seen. For the style of music we were playing, he was right, but I wanted to play with more gusto, more energy. I loved to use the bass drum, and I would hit that thing so loud eventually the band leader told me I couldn’t play it anymore. While I’m not a professional musician now, there was a time when I thought I could be, but I was more interested in rock ‘n’ roll: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc. Even though now I’m just as interested in elaborate compositions or piano sonatas by Philip Glass.

I started to pitch publications for music journalism. I had a background in music, and I thought writing about music would be a natural fit. I started landing some assignments, and I attended concerts and wrote about my experience. I was writing about music mainly for the OC Weekly. One day, I received an email from Nate Jackson, the music editor at the OC Weekly who is also a great poet, and he asked me to attend a K-Pop event at the Honda Center. At the moment, K-Pop was gigantic. You couldn’t leave your house without hearing Gangnam Style or seeing some spoof of the music video on Youtube. It was a similar movement to the Latin music explosion with Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Enrique Iglesias in 1999. So I agreed to cover the concert, and I brought my wife as a photographer.

The band was called Big Bang. I was researching them before the concert, and what I learned was that they were a boy band, and there were five members: G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri. From what I was reading, they were as big as NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys in America, but they had much more of a hip hop feel, and they were heavily influenced by American rappers. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, but I went to the event with an open mind and my notebook and my wife set to take some photos.

When we arrive at the Honda Center, I realized that I was one of the few males at the show, and most of the people there are young girls in groups squealing with excitement even before they walked into the venue. We took our seats in the 20,000 person Honda Center, and it was packed to the brim. People were singing Big Bang’s songs even before they were on the stage. And then suddenly it happened.

The lights were turned off, and the crowd turned on these yellow lights that looked like electrified lotus flowers, and then a flash of fire exploded on the stage, and these pods started emerging out of the ground, where Big Bang eventually emerged from like aliens. The scream that emanated from the young girls in the audience must have been similar to what Edvard Munch heard when he was inspired to paint “The Scream.” Once Big Bang came on the stage, the crowd went bananas. They were screaming and crying, and it was such an intense reaction I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Beatles at Shea Stadium.


The show was filled with pyrotechnics, and I danced in the aisles with my wife. It was a great show. I was entertained. It reminded me of Bad Boy records and the mix of hip hop with a smooth R&B sound that echoed the 90s. So I went home that night and wrote about the show, and I gave it a great review…at least that’s how I thought about it. You can read the review here: OC Weekly Big Bang.

But the next morning I woke up and took a look at my twitter feed, and it was filled with angry Big Bang fans demanding an apology. I couldn’t understand. I thought I gave them a great review. It turned out that one of the heads of the fan club read my review and was outraged that I had called the group manufactured and superficial. Big Bang is a major production with pyrotechnics and backup dancers and a gigantic band that should have been playing behind P Funk. Of course they’re manufactured to some exctent and put together by a production company. Of course they’re somewhat superficial, because they are all about the glitz. That didn’t take away from the show. It was just me editorializing a bit.

Well, the fans did NOT like this at all. They were demanding that I recant my statements and issue an apology on behalf of all the Big Bang fans, a.k.a. VIPs, and they would not stop hassling me until I made a statement. So here’s the truth about freelancing for the first time: You really have no idea what the fuck you’re doing, and you have no one to ask what do. There really isn’t much contact with the editor, and if you hassle them too much, then you’re worried they might not ever give you another article. At the moment, I had no idea what I should do. In fact, there was a part of me that even thought about apologizing to these fans. Maybe that would get me off their shit list.

But that’s when I sat down and watched the tweets keep on coming in, and I realized I was learning a great lesson as a writer and a journalist. No matter how people react to your work, no matter how people interpret what you say, you can only control your own reaction, and if you believe your words are true and honest, then you MUST stand by them. I never apologized, and in the end, I realized that the controversy was good for my writing: it meant more people were reading my work.

KPOP Book

I’m not sure how people are going to react to Big Bang in the future, but when I was Googling to find my original article, I came across a book by Stuart A. Kallen called K-Pop: Korea’s Musical Explosion, and my article is used as a source. I would love to see the book one day. So I did learn a lot from being a music journalist, and if you’re interested in reading about some of my other experiences in this genre, check out “The Unforeseen Journey of a Blog Post.

Two New Pieces and Hiking With Coyotes

Before I tell you about the coyote, I want to share some good news on the publishing end. This week, I have the cover story at the OC Weekly. The piece is called “Notes From the Underground Economy,” and it’s a story I’ve been working on for months. Really, since about September. I’m proud to share this piece, and it was an amazing learning experience. Working with Gustavo Arellano — editor of the OC Weekly and voice of Ask a Mexican — was a great honor. Also, last week, I had a piece come out at the LA Weekly that seemed to be received well. It’s about losing and rediscovering the California Dream while driving on Route 1 and features Joe Clifford. It was awesome to write, and I was so pumped the LA Weekly ran it.  It’s one of my favorite pieces I have written in the last few months, because it felt true — to me at least. Check it out: Route 1.

So now to the coyote story…

20130110-192842.jpg

One of my favorite spots to go hiking in Southern California is El Moro Canyon in Laguna Beach. First, the drive to get there is extraordinary. When I want to head to El Moro from Long Beach, I take the PCH, passing through Seal, Sunset, Huntington, and Newport Beach. I love driving along the ocean and listening to music. Well, this time I decided to use the ride to listen to an audiobook. And for some reason, I felt like listening to “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.

20130110-192929.jpg

Well, I found this “read” fascinating, as I’m sure most people do, because of the ideas of “stratagem” — winning a battle and conquering a kingdom while appearing as if you did nothing.  Never appearing weak — and if you appear weak, let it be a simulation to disguise your prowess. It was fascinating. I loved the idea that if you’re a general that receives praise or criticism, then you’re doing something wrong. You should accomplish your goals perfectly, and you should win the battle in a way that allows you to win from afar — to allow the enemy to defeat itself (though it was really you).

So I got out of my car at El Moro, and the wind was just whipping cold air. Sun Tzu was running through my mind, and I figured I would meditate a bit on the lessons of Sun Tzu and how I could apply them to my life. I started walking up the trails, and I could see the white-capped ocean off to the West. I was running the ideas through my mind, and I started to think about how to give  the impression of quiet confidence. I remember hearing a line about appearing like a hawk: calm until the moment of attack. Once the attack comes, then you must act decisively.

20130110-192904.jpg

Clearly, I’m trying to think about these ideas in abstract ways. How would I react to a threat? That’s when I realized how alone I was in the middle of a canyon. There was no one around me, and I remembered seeing a video of a mountain lion attacking a man. Of course, mountains lions don’t really want to bother with humans, but the fear gave rise to the image in my mind. And I recognized this fear as weakness.

I kept walking in the trails, and I watched the birds fly in and out of the trails. A couple passed me, and they said hello. It was peaceful. I was watching jack rabbits hop out of the brush. Then I came up to the difficult part of the hike. A steep and long incline to the top of the mountain. It was too cold to sweat.

20130110-192857.jpg

Finally, I got to the top — a long even stretch that overlooks Laguna Beach and the Pacific Ocean. I yelled out to the quiet expanse of the hills. In a few steps, I noticed a guy walking from the other side of the mountain. He stopped and told me: “I just saw coyote about 50 yards away. He was just looking over the hill. Thought you would like to know. He’s a big one.”

Well, he left, and I have to admit this: I debated whether to keep walking. I was a little bit intimidated by this giant coyote. In my mind, the coyote took on gigantic proportions, foaming at the mouth, waiting behind a cactus to tear me a part. I started to think about how I was going to defend myself. What about all that shit from “The Art of War.” Fuck that, I thought, what can I do against a giant coyote?

20130110-192829.jpg

I was scanning the brush and the trail, and then something jumped out at me…a jack rabbit. Man, I was losing my composure. Then I saw an old woman, maybe about 75, approaching from the opposite direction with two walking sticks. I stopped and tried to extend to her the same courtesy as the man I passed earlier.

“There’s a man back there who just told me about a giant coyote coming this way,” I said

The old woman looked at me and smiled. “Coyotes in the daytime?”

“That’s just what some guy said.”

“I’ve seen them at night,” the old woman said, “but I’m not scared of them.”

Then she just kept on walking, maybe even at a faster pace than me.

20130110-192910.jpg

I walked back to my car the rest of the way amazed that some old woman was less scared of a coyote than me. It’s amazing how fear can manifest in our minds, control our reactions, and if there is anything I still have to learn is to not let fear control my emotional state. I feel like this is an important lesson for a writer…somehow. Maybe just for a man.

New Piece at Salon — Was Jack Kerouac Really a Hack?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So earlier tonight, I had a piece appear at Salon.com, and it was on Jack Kerouac.  If you’ve been reading my blog or you know me, then you probably understand my relation to Kerouac’s work.  And the ideas in the piece have been rumbling around in my head since I took Dan Wakefield’s class, New York in the Fifties, while I was at the MFA program at Florida International University.  Here’s the piece: Was Jack Kerouac Really a Hack?  Give it a read if you have time.

Also, I had a review of Dennis Miller and Adam Carolla’s comedy show at the Grove in Anaheim come out at the OC Weekly earlier this morning.

Today was truly a wild day.  With freelancing, there are ups and downs.  I wish it could be more even, but right now, I’m going to just enjoy this.  Thanks for checking out my blog.

The Unforeseen Story of a Blog: 10 Jazz Albums Before You Die

Over a month or so ago, I wrote a piece for the OC Weekly on jazz.  It was called Ten Jazz Albums to Listen to Before You Die.  I wrote the post after I read Sean J. O’Connell’s piece, Ten Jazz Albums for People Who Don’t Know Shit About Jazz, at the LA Weekly.   O’Connell’s piece was great, but I had a different take.  I knew the albums that ignited my curiosity, and I wanted to share my viewpoint.

So I wrote the piece targeted at the OC Weekly audience — a readership who is young and with a jazz scene that isn’t traditionally something to write home about, though it’s there.  My intention was to write a post introducing people to jazz albums that would be a good entry point.  I imagined a young audience searching the web, looking for ways to learn more about jazz, and I wanted to give them a place to go, a place to start.  I rigged up a post, thinking about the intended audience — not the grumpy old guard that I knew had a strangle hold over the conversation — and found the full albums on YouTube.

And it was successful.  Honestly, it was startling successful — 15,000 likes on Facebook in  24 hours.  That’s incredible.  People are still coming to the blog to check out the piece.  Of course, it was met with criticism, too.  You can’t please everybody with these lists.  And as I wrote in the first post, “The debate is so polemic that I might as well write about the top ten abortion clinics.”  However, there were many people on the site who were listening to the albums and enjoying.  I welcomed the comments disagreeing with my choices.  That’s part of the game.  It starts up conversations about music and jazz and a genre other than pop. And that’s cool.

To my surprise, this wasn’t the end of the piece.  I was surfing Twitter and noticed that West Coast Sound (LA Weekly) had picked up the piece.  I write for the LA Weekly, too, so I was pleased to see the piece gaining some legs.  After that, I received an email from the  Dallas Observer, and they told me they were going to use my piece in print and online.  I thought, great, a new audience.  An opportunity to reach more people.  And again, it picked up some criticism and some appreciation.  I knew that I was going to take some heat for not having Bird or Dizzy on the list (though I felt their influence was obvious), but the albums were just my opinion.  I went with what my gut told me would be a great introduction.

So a week or two later, I’m on my blog, and I see a spike in my stats.  I really hadn’t posted anything, and I saw that the hits were being referred from a site.  So I clicked on the link, and it was a thread on music writing.  Man, the people in that blog were just tearing the list to shreds.  Calling me every word in the book to describe a naive and young writer who shouldn’t be engaging in a historic conversation.  I imagine these “hip cats” laughing at their wit and swirling around a brandy from their apartments in Brooklyn.  Obvious stereotype.  They kept talking about some piece I just wrote on jazz.  All I kept thinking about was that the jazz piece was published a week or two ago.  Why all of sudden?

That’s when I discovered The Village Voice had published my piece.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised it was posted there, since it was written for an audience not familiar with the locales in New York. In the part about Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge, I’m actually describing the Williamsburg Bridge to the reader.  You think an audience in New York might know about the Williamsburg Bridge, right?  Then I noticed on twitter people calling me a 19-year old, etc.  The Village Voice took some heat for it, too.  Well, The Village Voice is a storied weekly — the mother of them all — and I was excited to have my piece published there, but it was obviously not the audience I had in mind.

But what I found interesting was that the Editor of Spin Magazine said this on twitter: “Any smart 19 year old with access to a public library has heard enough jazz and can die now.”  Then Anthony Dean-Harris posted a beautifully written piece called On Wheat and Chaff.  While he’s criticizing me pretty handedly, he’s doing it with style.  Seriously though.  I can admire good writing when I see it.  He’s basically saying that in the age of blog writing, good writing will eventually separate itself from the bad — the wheat from the chaff.  Great metaphor.  Though it’s an extended metaphor as old as the bible.

You know, I don’t pretend to be an expert on jazz.  I haven’t been writing about jazz for 40 years.  No shit, I don’t belong in the same sentence with Gary Giddins.  But I have a voice and an opinion, and I stand by my piece and the original purpose and audience.  Even at The Village Voice, it received 1,000 likes on Facebook.  Of course, I’m not trying to defend the piece as a great example of music criticism, but the popularity and negative criticism mean people are at least listening.  Most importantly, I’m probably still getting to the young audience I intended the piece for.  I guess in the end, the chaff is separated from the wheat — the piece is still finding the audience it was meant to reach.

But what I have a problem with is the idea of a blog aggregator talked about in the wheat and the chaff piece  — an expert editorial board surveying blogs and making sure they meet expert standards.  Well, Anthony Dean-Harris objects to this idea in his piece, because he says bad writing will eventually expose itself for being bad writing.  His example, my piece.  He also talks about the freedom of the internet.  However, for those realistically thinking about this plan, the idea of blog aggregator is one of the most fascist ideas I have ever heard in terms of writing since I was actually in high school.  Okay, so I’ve got a great idea.  We could call this new aggregator the Ministry of Intelligence and have it installed in every computer in the world.  Before any blog gets posted, it will have to go through a series of editorial boards.  Let’s bring bureaucracy to the internet.  No, I have a better idea, let’s call them the Vogons.

In a way, while this is hyperbolic, the conversation around jazz is kind of like this already. All I’m trying to do is share my opinion, and the criticism is expected.  I welcome it, but when talking about limiting what someone says, keeping the conversation to the experts, well, I disagree.  I will keep writing about jazz.  And maybe if the dialogue surrounding jazz was more welcoming, then people wouldn’t be talking about the death of jazz.  A younger generation wants to be a part of the conversation; they want to express their opinions and say what they don’t understand.  They want to learn and speak.  And if anything, the response my piece received proves that.

Thanks to everyone who read the piece.  But I want to say thanks, specifically, to those who criticized Ten Jazz Albums Before You Die, because without them, who knows how many people would have actually read the piece.  In the end, this was my first trashing by a New York elite.  It’s kind of like popping a cherry for a writer.  And I hope it’s not the last.  Because like one of my friends said, the criticism means that my voice has relevance.  And I’ll take that any day while a few jabber away.

Coheed and Cambria Slideshow

So this Friday, I went to the Coheed and Cambria concert with Heron, and she took some amazing photos.  Check them out in the slide show.  Plus, my review will go live tomorrow at the OC Weekly.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


After the event, Heron and I went to The Stache Bar on 4th Street.  I had an old-fashioned, and she had some sort of ginger beer, rum, mint concoction.  We have a friend that swears by the bartender there, and it’s probably one of the best places I’ve been to in the LBC to have a drink.  I really don’t mind spending my money there.

Well, it’s Sunday night, and I had some buddies in town from college this afternoon.  Going to go to bed early.  Denise Lanier, the author of Wonky Woman on a Bent Bike, will be stopping by.  We might do some cross blogging.