Saturday, December 22


Did I ever tell you that I worked at Rolling Stone Magazine in the 90's? Really, the best thing about working at Rolling Stone is how much it helps in each interview I've had since leaving. I have a decent resume but when people see Rolling Stone listed they immediately want to know all about it. It's a great ice breaker that has helped me immensely. I don't remember the day-to-day stuff about the job but I have many flashes of memories.

I worked in the LA office of the magazine and one Editor would always be the first to hear news... especially deaths. I vividly remember seeing him pop his head out of his office and shout "Kurt Cobain is dead!" then rushing back in to get the whole story. If somebody died on a weekday, in the early 90's, I heard about it before anyone else I knew because it was shouted down that hallway.

I was in my early twenties during that job and I remember polling my office mates for their favorite movies, books and albums. I discovered The Women, The Fountainhead and Blue because of my polling. All perfect discoveries for a curious twenty-something.

I recall talking to friends in the NY office then hearing the voice on the other end of the line say in a hushed voice "Oh my God! John John just walked by!! Yes, he's as cute as you'd expect." or "Oh my God! Mick Jaggar just walked in! I gotta go!!". I answered the phone one day to transfer Bob Dylan to an Editor. He used his real name, Bob Zimmerman, and I didn't recognize his voice. Later, when friends asked how it's possible to not recognize Bob Dylan's voice on the line, I explained he doesn't sound anything like the Bob Dylan you'd expect to hear. Later, I spoke with Tom Petty and realized HE sounds exactly like the Bob Dylan you'd expect to hear on the phone.

It's strange but so many of my RS memories are related to things I read at the time. I remember laughing out loud at Hunter Thompson's obituary for Nixon. It's my all time favorite obituary. It is entirely unprofessional but mostly hilarious... it's great. It was Mr. Thompson's last kick to Nixon's nuts and I'm pretty sure the sentiment was shared by many Americans. I remember watching Nixon's funeral on tv in the office and doing an honest to God double take when I saw Eisnenhower's son sitting with the Presidents. I remember saying "Christ! They dug up Eisenhower?!" It looked so much like him. The image is still burned in my brain.

Because I was a big reader I spent many evenings reading first bound issues Rolling Stone and Men's Journal. We also published US magazine but that was less interesting to me. I read some great pieces in RS and MJ that later turned into good books. I remember reading Mikal Gilmore's extended article on the life and death of his brother Gary Gilmore. I'd never heard of the case until that article came out. (How my parents managed to keep that story out of my childhood I'll never know.) I didn't know Mikal Gilmore at all but he called our office from time to time. After that article appeared he called and I so wanted to congratulate him on the piece but how to you say "Great job!" about what must have been a terribly traumatic article to write? I did sputter out something like "I read your article and... wow... it's such great work." He thanked me but clearly just wanted the conversation to end as quickly as possible. Those articles later developed into an excellent book called Shot In the Heart that I highly recommend. I was particularly struck by how damn good his writing was. I still think he's a wonderful writer and marvel at how he managed to tell that story so well.

I also read some amazing pieces like the ones that turned into Fast Food Nation. I was obsessed with the Jon Krakauer pieces in Men's Journal that lead to Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. I was a journalism major and always appreciated the journalism I was exposed to in those days. You don't see much straight up journalism these days, I miss it. I imagine Rolling Stone still features some great writers but I haven't read it for years. I gave a lot of my life to those magazines and, to this day, I don't think I should have to pay for them. I think I've earned a lifetime "comp sub" (aka complimentary subscription) but nobody else seems to feel that way.

One of my favorite parts of that job was reading the random fan mail. I had an overflowing file labeled "Freaky Fan Mail" and I had some whoppers in there. Some of the freakiest came after Axl Rose appeared on the cover. We'd get all kinds of stuff from correctional and mental institutions for Axl. I especially loved the "illustrated" fan mail, now those were crazy. I always thought it would be a lot of fun to publish some of those letters but I'm sure that would have somehow been illegal. Trust me, if blogs existed back then I'd have featured them regularly. When I left Rolling Stone I threw that file away. What a mistake! I'd love to get a look at those now.

After the Northridge quake I found the storage room in a state. We had floor to ceiling metal shelves that held our back issues. The quake had bent the shelves in half dumping thousands of magazines all over the storage room. There were magazines about thigh high piled on the floor when we came in the next day. That sucked. I don't remember re-organizing the magazines but I'm sure I had a hand in it.

Another day, April 19, 1992, I remember thanking God for the presence of a visiting Senior Editor. All of our executives were at the marina for a lunch meeting when the LA riots broke out. There I was in an office full of young Assistants, trapped on Wilshire Blvd, wanting to go home, but not feeling I had the authority to do so. We could hear stores down the street being broken into and gunfire but we just sat there not knowing what to do. I can't be sure, but I believe that Senior (or was it Managing?) Editor was David Fricke. He had the presence of mind to call the NY office to say "I'm shutting down the LA office. It's crazy out there." I wish I could thank him for that phone call. God knows how long we would have sat in that building if he hadn't been there.

I've been thinking about that job lately because I've been watching a lot of Classic Albums and The Seven Ages of Rock on VH1 Classics. David Fricke is featured in some of those shows and I always think "Thanks Dave!" whenever I see him. Again, I'm not even certain he was the one who made that call in '92 but he's become a sort of hero to me because I still think of him being the grown up who let us get the hell out of dodge. I've always wanted to thank him for being a man of reason that day so "Thanks Dave!". I guess I should also say "Thanks Rolling Stone" for being a cool place to workplace in my twenties.

1 comment:

L. said...

This was an awesome read, and I am beyond jealous. How fun, how fantastic and how memorable.