Tabloid journalism and the celebrity of fame hold a special place in my heart, and it’s a dark, nasty place. I believe that going commando, male or female, is not newsworthy, and that if you’ve been lucky enough to inherit ungodly amounts of money, you should still do something worthwhile, like giving money away wisely. My Old Hippie Wisdom #1: Fun is essential. Hippie Wisdom #2: At the end of the day we should have something more to show than super-sized biceps and boobs.
Having been on the dispensing end of journalism for a few years now, however, I understand why so much negative, stupid publicity gets space. It’s because good stories (about an artist’s work, history or plans) often aren’t very available, so empty pages (or TV time) fill with empty “news.” When gatekeepers develop such a protective approach that they deny journalists valid artist access, some media outlets will run anything they can snatch. The irony is that protection hurts the artist almost immediately. Hippie Wisdom #3: Karma’s a bitch.
Case in point: a country artist—who shall remain nameless in more ways than one—had some success about ten years ago, dropped off the radar, then came back. He toured supporting a fine album, and when I caught his act in a small venue, I asked if he’d do an interview. He said he’d love to. I contacted his PR agent, who dodged me like an NFL wide receiver for the next three weeks. Up against a deadline, I called Amber Williams at UMG, Vince Gill’s label, and had Vince on the phone that day. A major star and at the top of country music for decades, Vince Gill will undoubtedly stay that way because he and his people have the talent and the intelligence to share his positive qualities with the press, which otherwise might manufacture some crap to fill space.
The Zappas grace our cover this issue because months ago PR whiz Bob Merlis, with no interrogation about word count or quid-pro-quo, comped a staffer into Zappa Plays Zappa. When tossing around ideas for a “jazz and rock” cover, that staffer, Ali Green—now managing editor—recalled the striking images from that show, et voila.
One Grammy-winning artist’s manager allows no photography, makes it difficult to cover a show, and rarely returns phone calls or emails. Naturally, the artist gets little coverage about the music, so the newspaper reports the artist has trouble paying the mortgage. Coincidence? I think not. Here’s my arithmetic: positive publicity=more work=more sales=more income=more mortgage payments met.
Veteran music photographer Paul Natkin shoots fewer events than he used to. Did you know professional photographers are routinely allowed to shoot only the first two or three songs of a concert, then they are escorted away? Sometimes they get 30 seconds to shoot. “I’d rather stay home,” says Natkin. Yet when we contact artists for photos, they have few (or nothing recent), because gifted professionals like Natkin would prefer to sit on their couches and watch the Cubs lose than suffer abuse just to take hurried shots.
If Elmore were Time Magazine we might have better access, but not much. This year when John Mellencamp was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame and won a major ASCAP award, he gave three interviews: Time, Rolling Stone and Elmore (Janurary/February 2008). I like to think it’s because we do not sink to the snatch-and-grab tactics of others. Readers sometimes ask why our reviews are positive. Because if two people in succession don’t like a CD, we simply don’t run a review. Space runs too tight to print “Don’t buy this” and consequently let something good go unmentioned—and there’s way too much talent out there to report on a lack of ability…or panties.