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

In January 1997, I rang the Reg and told them I was interested in covering the Marilyn Manson ghoul-o-rama that Saturday at the Santa Monica Civic. On Wednesday, I was told I could, but there was only one ticket available. No prob, I thought; I've done the lonely-guy thing many times before on Reg assignments. On Thursday, an editor called me and left a message that there were two tickets after all. I buzzed him back and left a message to confirm this, but he never rang me back. Assuming I had two tickets waiting for me at will call, I took my friend Viv along.

It was peeing down rain, and we parked on a dark side street to avoid paying the lot fee, since the Reg wouldn't reimburse me the lousy $5. I stepped up to the window, flashed my ugly-ass photo ID, and the guy working the counter handed me an envelope with . . . one ticket.

The show was a solid sellout, so I couldn't have just bought another ticket. And I wasn't about to make Viv go wait in the car alone for three hours in a sketchy Santa Monica neighborhood. I tried talking our way in but got nowhere.

As I mulled around in front of the ticket windows trying to figure out what to do next, four years of bad Reg flashbacks started hitting me. The stupid letters to the editor. The girl with the broken leg in the mosh pit. The lousy pay. The idiotic edits. The slob at the Boingo show. The lousy pay. The insane editorials. The R.E.M. and Pearl Jam hoop-jumping. The dreary "associates." The downsizing of my assignments. The lousy pay.

I couldn't deal with it anymore, certainly not for another paltry $50, which I nearly spent just getting to the Civic (I had to stop off and buy the Manson CD to brief myself). I gave the ticket to someone who looked like a real fan, found a phone, called an editor at home, and left a message on his machine explaining what happened, figuring they'd cut me some slack. Viv and I went for coffee.

The next morning, another editor called to know what was up, obviously irked that he suddenly had white space to fill, which I knew would be no problem, since the Reg regularly runs material off the newswires. I told him the whole sordid story. He wanted to know why I didn't just buy a ticket from a scalper. I told him that scalpers are scummy vermin, that they were looking to buy tickets, anyway, not sell, and even if they were, I don't usually carry around the big bucks that the scalpers would have been demanding-after all, I pointed out, I wrote for the Register.

I apologized. He growled, "Fine," and hung up on me.

And that was the end of my Register slavehood.


Really, I'm not bitter. I had a mostly good time writing for the Reg. I got to cover two South by Southwest fests. I discussed the finer points of Tibetan gamelan music with Mickey Hart. I rapped with George Clinton about Lollapalooza hairstyles. I chatted with a very gracious Eric Burdon, a humble Joshua Redman, and a gentlemanly John Hammond, who answered questions I know he'd been asked zillions of times before as if he were hearing them for the first time. I overheard the fake name that Reg food critic Elizabeth Evans uses to reserve tables incognito. Earlier this year, when a short-lived anti-Register employee Web site, run by the mysterious Slave4OCR, claimed that the Reg offices were infested with rats, I was honestly surprised: I'd never seen any rats, but I did once share an elevator with grumpy editorial cartoonist Mike Shelton.

The Register name even provided me with brief, fleeting moments of celebrity. I had stories blurbed on the Orange County Newschannel's "Tomorrow's Register Today" spots! KROQ's Kevin & Bean dissed my Weenie Roast '95 review on their show! Someone claiming to be me used my name to get in free at the old Randell's jazz club in Santa Ana!

And I had fans. A woman I met at a wretched country show at Irvine Meadows had unbelievably remembered a review I penned four months earlier. "Oh, I know you," she said. "You're the one who wrote about Lou Reed acting so bored onstage that he looked like he'd rather have been pouring salt in his eyelids."

Sadly, I found that not everybody loves the Register. Once when I was getting a blood test, the nurse tried to calm me down by asking me what work I do. After telling her I sometimes wrote for the Reg, she got this crinkly look on her face, as if I'd just admitted to being in the Klan or something. "Oh, God, I hate that paper!" she blurted, and then she jammed the needle in my arm so deeply that I swore I could feel it come out through my elbow.


Since our split, both Show and the Reg are still doing disturbing stuff. The letters the paper runs are just as psychotic as always; in October 1997, they ran one defending Hitler's Waffen SS.

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