Whenever I meet a journalism student who still has some spark of enthusiasm left (something that quickly goes away once they realize what their job prospects are after graduation), I always think back to how I got my job at the Charleston City Paper. After having an incredibly bad experience working for another paper in town, the last thing I wanted to do was go right into another weekly's music section, but eventually I weighed my options (which weren't many) and made an appointment to meet with the staff. I can't remember if it was on purpose or strictly by coincidence, but I scheduled my meeting with Editor Stephanie Barna right after my graduation rehearsal from the College of Charleston.
Brand-new diploma under one arm and some writing samples under the other, I marched proudly in to meet my future employer. Needless to say I got the job, but when it came to compensation, I think either Stephanie or Assistant Editor Bill Davis laughed when I asked if the amount I got per article was all I was going to be making a week. Suddenly my dreams of going straight from college graduation to a newspaper office were augmented by an additional job renting cars in North Charleston.
"Welcome to the glamorous life of journalism, kid!"
My gig was covering music around Charleston with pieces like Earful, a column that recounted weekly events/adventures in local music, and Soundcheck, a feature in which I'd pick five or six shows that any person of average musical taste might just want to check out. There were also the profile pieces, which gave me the opportunity to phone up real live celebrities and ask them ridiculous questions about their fantastic jobs.
Within a few weeks of starting, the Spoleto season hit us, and I gave some "tips for visiting Spoletians" in Earful. I basically said "go out and explore some other parts of the city you might never have seen and for God's sake don't line up for dinner in front of Hyman's like all the other idiots." A week or two later I was in the CP offices talking to Bill Davis when an advertising executive for the paper walked by, asked me if I was the Earful writer and said, "I just want to thank you for losing the Hyman's account for me." He stormed off, and I was standing there crushed — unable to respond. Then, Davis turned to me and whispered, "Looks like you made it, kid" along with a little high five. Every week I gave my e-mail address out to encourage suggestions, praise, comments, or death threats and every week I laid my ass out on the line to make entertainment writing entertaining.
When I was a kid I read articles by Jeff Clark and Lester Bangs and I admired their tenacity and fluid style. It was like they were speaking to me from the street, right after a show, stinking of booze and shooting from the hip. I always wanted to make sure readers not only got the gist of what was happening, but the smell, feel, and sweat of what was going on.
Was I shaking in my socks when I asked Danzig about how his relationship with Satan was going? Of course. Was I intimidated by Ted Nugent's ultra-patriotic ramblings? Hell no. Did I turn Vanilla Ice from a creep into a puppy dog? You bet your ass. Every week you could read about some regular Joe turned rock star and what they were like as a kid or why their mother didn't love them enough — and I loved it.
I can distinctly remember getting gallons of free drinks sent my way along with praise and guest list spots for me and my friends, but I was also choked a few times and called a sellout. I even collected a nice folder of hate mail and some distinctive dirty looks during my tenure at the paper. If you can't take it from the local drunkard with a soapbox, then how are you gonna handle it when Rolling Stone or Spin cuts you a new one?
Writing for the City Paper was a hell of a lot cooler than scrubbing toilets, and I can honestly say it's been a fairly unrivaled experience so far. Nowadays, the Earful dog has been replaced by a much calmer and cooler pooch, and I'm still on the quest for great live music and barbecue. If you'd like to revisit a few articles from the past or see what I'm up to now, visit www.fistsofsaliba.com. Thanks for reading!