The geeks were out in full force last Friday at Portland Community College when the Recording Academy took over PCC's Cascade campus for a high-school career day.
I'm not trying to be mean. See, a music geek—a term that applies to the 200 students who attended the event, as well as speakers such as Oregonian pop critic Marty Hughley, Doug Fir's Alicia Rose, Jackpot! Studios' Larry Crane and me—understands the "geek" label as a source of pride. We also know there are still some geeks out there in hiding. So for anyone who missed the fun last Friday, I'll take this opportunity to share my advice on how to transcend from closeted music geek to geek who gets paid to write about music (that would be the "career" part of career day). Follow these steps, and you might be all right:
1 READ Music rags (digital and paper) are important to find out about bands. As examples of good writing, however, they are, more times than not, useless. Scan Pitchforkmedia.com and leaf through Rolling Stone, but spend most of your reading time on big, thick, beautiful books. A must for any wannabe writer is Knut Hamsun's Hunger. Yes, Hamsun, a Norwegian who died in 1952, was a racist and a Nazi sympathizer, but as a young man he wrote this semi-fictional account of a man trying to make a living as a writer while fantasizing about eating his fingers. If you still want to be a writer after reading this, then you're fit for it.
2 LISTEN First, find a radio station you can stand. Listen as often as possible, and don't give up just because 75 percent of the music is crap. For every Pussycat Dolls, Black Eyed Peas and Maroon 5 out there, there is a Gorillaz. The contrast will help you understand the state of popular music. Second, find a band you love but your friends don't know or, if you can manage it, one they hate. Do not let peer pressure stop you from listening to this band.
3 GO TO SHOWS You can listen to all the music in the world, but you will never understand music until you go see it live. Lyrics and beats take on a new life when pulsing from two mains on a stage, and shows are great place to meet the elusive "kindred spirit," which can introduce you to a world you never knew. Exhibit caution, however, especially if your kindred spirit is of the opposite sex.
4 DON'T FORGET If your childhood was filled with distrust and abuse, go to therapy. If you were raised with religion, continue practicing. Or, if you reject your parents' religion, reject it, but don't stop attending service until you feel like you understand it. Rejection without understanding is called cynicism, and cynicism is the calling card of the shitty writer.
5 APPLY You really should go to college. Ignore all those rankings and choose a college in a city with a great music scene. Major in whatever you like (with a minor in journalism for reporting "how to"s), read and write like mad, work a part-time job, write for the college newspaper and only experiment with drugs on the weekends.