How to Survive Being a Rock Writer

Apply now and start collecting your pellets!
Apply now and start collecting your pellets!

By Peter Gerstenzang

Deciding to become a rock writer makes about as much sense as sleeping with a hooker. You usually wake up broke. And feeling so ill and feverish, you’re sure you’re having your first outbreak of Herpes Simplex 2. However, hypochondria aside, it’s a good gig. If you love music. And don’t mind a lifestyle similar to a character in The Grapes Of Wrath.

Obviously, the job has numerous difficulties starting with editors. These folks control your life. Meaning, things can go either way. In Godfather terms, you’re always praying for someone as loyal as lawyer Tom Hagen. But you usually end up with the mentally-challenged Fredo Corleone.

It’s important to cultivate a good relationship with the editor. After all, they’re responsible for the way your sentences look when they finally appear. So, this person can make you look brilliant. Or, like a stroke victim re-learning basic motor skills. Pray for the former. Although the latter may just prove to the government that you really are handicapped. And that first disability check is on its way.

The next obstacle? The rocker. I sometimes get to talk to smart ones. But diplomacy is required if your subject has the IQ of a softball. For instance, a guitarist recently told me he was reading a book on agriculture. I had to keep myself from asking, ‘When you open it, do little farm animals pop up in the middle?’ I didn’t. And the piece came out smoothly.

There also are dangerous guys. I actually hung out once with a musician who carried a handgun. This affected the profile. Because even though this guy knew only two chords, twice in the piece I compared him to Shostakovich.

Trying to make a living as a music scribe, you’ll sometimes have to write about musicians whose work you despise. However, if you’re lucky, they’ll also possess the brain of a newborn chicken. So you can say their new album is “unintentionally funny” or “lacking any thematic coherence” and they write and say thanks for the great review.

Finally, there’s the most important person in the rock writer’s life. Right, the head of accounts payable. Befriend her. Even if all she’s mailing you is just enough money to buy your hamster food pellets and an exercise wheel. With enough left over to get yourself a dinner of Wrigley’s gum and Yoo Hoo. Still, whatever else you do, make friends with the accounts person. Forget literature, music and becoming famous. As you age, you come to understand that the most important thing to a writer is getting paid.

Besides, things improve over time. Eventually, your profile gets higher and you start making more money. After no more than 10 years. And you know what that means. More pellets for your hamster and a better dinner for you. See, I’m an optimist. I’m the kind of guy who sees the Yoo Hoo bottle as half-full. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Am I right?