What's it like to be a big-time music writer at a major metropolitan newspaper?

45 Months in the Life of a Register Rock Critic

By late Saturday afternoon, at what should have been the peak attendance point, I could actually count everyone in the "crowd": 70 people, not including me, spread out on a grassy hillside that could've held thousands. There were ropes assembled in a T-shape on the grass in front of the stage, clearly designed to form pathways when the crowds got too large. The entire day, nobody sat within 20 feet of them.

I had to speak the biting truth, no matter how badly it hurt the corporate hand that fed me. So I wrote the first sentence of my review: "What if they gave a music fest and nobody came? Well, that's basically what happened at Saturday's Orange County Register Jazz & Blues Festival."

Big mistake. When I opened up Show the following Monday, I saw that an editor had changed my lead to the far less embarrassing "Dark skies and threatening clouds may be just the thing for getting in the mood for jazz and blues music. But when it comes to an outdoor festival, it brings problems. That was the case for Saturday's half of the two-day Orange County Register-sponsored Orange Jam. . . ."

Obviously, whoever did the edit was looking over his shoulder. After that experience, I promised myself I'd never review their damn festival again. But there was no need to: the event was such a washout, it was discontinued.

BLOTTO FOR BOINGO

Being a rock critic ain't as glamorous as it seems. Sure, we get free tickets and decent seats and are paid to express our honest, savage opinions. Sometimes, though, you gotta wonder if it's worth it. You frequently endure concerts you really wouldn't want your friends to know you witnessed ("You had to go to the Bon Jovi show last night? I'm so sorry"), concerts that if you were a ticket-buying civilian, you wouldn't be caught dead at if all it cost you to get in was a shoebox full of dog turd.

Even when you're reviewing your favorite bands, you can't enjoy the show as you ordinarily would-you gotta work, gotta think, gotta scribble down notes in the dark that you hope you'll be able to decipher later. Daily deadlines are fairly tight, so you can't just go home and sleep afterward; while the rest of the world is in bed, you have to sit in a terrifyingly empty newsroom and write about the cultural significance of the Backstreet Boys and then file the thing by morning.

Probably the worst time I had reviewing for the Register was in October 1993, just days after the Register Jazz & Blues Festival debacle. They sent me to Oingo Boingo's annual Halloween show at Irvine Meadows. I've always hated Oingo Boingo-basically the KROQ crowd's version of the Grateful Dead, but with beer instead of acid.

I was just coming down with a bad case of the flu, which didn't bother me so much. What did was the extremely drunk girl in the next seat. She had apparently filled her tank in the parking lot and was out of it before the first song.

As Boingo's set droned on-and on-this slovenly wench started getting really nosy with me, which is what happens when you're the most sober person in a crowd of 15,000 and you're taking notes. She peppered me with questions: Could she read my notes? What was it like writing for the Reg? What did I think of Boingo? Where did I go to school? What beer did I drink? I ignored her, which, of course, made her more belligerent. She tried to grab my notebook. She tried to grab my pen. She tried to grab the pink pen I keep securely inside my pants.

I began to wonder if this was worth the 50 bucks.

And then, the inevitable: "BLaaaAAARRRFFF!!!!"-and she passed out.

I actually gave Boingo a fairly nice review, probably because Ms. Party Animal kept me distracted from the really awful parts.

Two days later, I opened the Register and stopped cold at the headline some editor had typed in: "Oingo Bongo Returns to Its Old Haunts for Halloween."

No, it wasn't worth 50 lousy bucks.

TALKING LOUD AND SAYING NOTHING

One of so many, many irritating things about writing for the Reg was the fact that I was scrawling alongside crusading-moralist staff editorials and boneheaded opinion columnists. The situation was strangely ironic-Show writers would be trumpeting the hot pop-culture icon of the month on their cover one day, while a few days later, the paper's troglodytic columnists would be farting out a diatribe about how that same pop-culture icon is Satan's wicked instrument. No wonder the budget for Show has always been so sickly.

One morning in the fall of 1993, I flipped to the editorials to find this headline: "The Pearl Jam Schools." A few days earlier, a Huntington Beach boy had made news by bringing two loaded guns to his middle school, allegedly because he had planned to take a teacher and a class full of students hostage. In the Reg news story, the boy's relatives, rather than blame themselves, instead pointed fingers at Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video, apparently one of the kid's favorites.

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