Ten years ago this month, I climbed two flights of stairs in a building on the corner of John and King streets that led into an office so electrified with a sense of possibility that I knew I had finally found a place that would not only accept me for my raw potential, but enable me to discover the talent and confidence within to become what I am today — a writer.
I'm a writer who lives and works in Manhattan. I live on the Upper West Side, but my office is down in Chelsea on the Lower West Side. From that space I write music and travel features for a fashion magazine based in Los Angeles. I also work on the behind-the-scenes aspects of a website I've had for quite a while (queensizemusic.com), which we are converting into an online music broadcasting network. Additionally, we are about to start filming a television show I've been developing for a few years, and it's finally coming to fruition. It's a little convoluted, I know. But that's my life now.
My roots in Charleston run deep. I lived there for nearly half of my life. And I feel like I owe much of what has happened for me here in New York City to the experiences I had in Charleston writing for the Charleston City Paper where I eventually became the music editor for, roughly, the first three years of the paper's existence.
I was a published writer before I came to the City Paper. In fact, I was a contributing editor for the Upwith, which was the name of the newsweekly that Noel Mermer purchased along with Stephanie and Blair Barna and rechristened the Charleston City Paper. But I had long since left that publication before the three of them came along to swoop it up. I had also done some writing for Charleston Magazine — and have since — but it was at the CP where I started — to paraphrase Mark Twain — to give up what I was in order to become who I could be. I genuinely came to love the paper because I genuinely believed in what we could do with it. I had also found an editor in Stephanie Barna whom I grew to completely trust.
I met her when I reached the top of those stairs that day 10 years ago. She and her partners had yet to publish an issue, but I poked my head through the first door I saw. Inside, a young woman with dark hair sat behind a desk poring over some papers in a number of different folders at the far end of the room. She looked up at me standing in the doorway, and before I had time to say anything she said, "Hi."
I introduced myself and she said she had been looking for me. I was startled at first, but then she explained. Apparently, someone had proffered my name when she put the word out that she needed someone to write music reviews and features. She probably rues that day. God, she must, if she has any sense at all. But after that meeting, it was agreed that I would start writing for the paper.
The very next day I went to work on my first assignment. It was a cover story on 96 WAVE's Wavefest — then-station owner Woody Bartlett's annual all-day music festival, which functioned as an open love letter to the station's listeners. I interviewed as many of the artists that were to perform at the festival as I could in advance of the show and wrote an overview of the event.
That first cover story turned into another one, and then another. The third one was especially fun to do. I had to interview an old friend — an artist from Charleston, who was then living in San Diego. He had started a sticker campaign about eight years earlier that was just gaining momentum: OBEY GIANT, and his name was Shepard Fairey.
We worked hard back then. I was writing music features as well as selling advertising the first year, which often meant that I would just sleep on the floor of the office, get up, go to our morning sales meeting, go home, shower, sell ads all day, return home, walk the dog again and come back to write late into the night. Rinse. Repeat.
- David Byrne
Then there were Noel and Blair. Not only were they the publisher and the advertising director, respectively, they were also selling ads, helping lay out the paper, driving it to the printer down in Walterboro, and distributing it every week from the back of their cars (with some help, of course).
Stephanie was right beside them laying out the paper, proofreading and making sure that everything was to the letter before heading out the door. She was doing this after having edited the entire paper. Andrea Haseley, our art director at the time, had an assistant, but I still don't know how she was able to get that entire paper laid out in time every week. We didn't always make our deadlines, but somehow it all worked out.
Arguments and loud voices were the norm during production days. Sometimes mine was the loudest. But, sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes I waited for Friday to freak out. Maybe Monday. Anyone who's ever worked with me can attest that I'm "difficult" and more than a little temperamental about my work.
But we were a close-knit family. We also had a good working dynamic that lead to an extraordinary level of creativity. And you can't ask to work in a better environment than that.
There are far too many moments that occurred over the three years I was at the paper to go into here, like getting Andy Richter on the Conan O'Brien Show to wear one of our CP T-shirts on television one night. (He did it weeks after I had left New York to return to Charleston though).
The interviews were a colossal part of what caused me to grow into myself, and I did a lot of them. I interviewed everyone from Henry Rollins to Sonny Rollins. We also had writers who were producing great work, and doing it just for the sheer love of it — Michael Saliba, Derrick Smith, Katharine O'Neill, Jeff Napier, Aaron Allen, and others. We certainly couldn't have achieved the depth and breadth of our music coverage without people like Todd Dominey either, who brought coverage of hip-hop, rap, jazz, and world music to our section every other week with visceral precision.
I learned a great deal about human nature by managing that stable of music writers. I also figured out how to navigate fragile egos (much like my own).
What we all learned together was what went into creating a publication that never pandered and was truly independent. Ultimately, what that turned out to be was an intelligent, thoughtfully executed, and entertaining newspaper that delivered one thing that the entire editorial staff could stand behind — the truth. Above all, I think we were honest. And for that, I am proud. I am honored to have been a part of it. Here's to the next 10 years.
Good luck guys, and congratulations.