I sat in awe of a man I had never heard of before. Over the course of an hour, he won me over with his passionate love of music, keen insights into journalism and what passes for charm in New Jersey.
Like Cameron Crowe and Jim DeRogatis became transfixed by Lester Bangs, I was transfixed by Jim DeRogatis.
If it was any other year, and the keynote speaker of the Illinois College Press Association held the rapt attention of nearly 300 devoted students and advisers, I would not have dared ask a question. Luckily for me, raising your hand in a Zoom meeting with about 50 other people is way less intimidating.
I stuttered and tripped over my words like shoelaces tied too long. Though he had alluded to it in some of his other answers, I wanted to know what was so engaging about writing music criticism for DeRogatis, the teenager who interviewed legend Lester Bangs two weeks before his death, the man who had a day with a new band named Nirvana and, most famously, the man who has spent decades telling the stories of R. Kelly’s abuse victims.
In a gracious and in-depth answer, he told me it was all about love for the music. His line of thinking — because I, like the dumb amateur I am, didn’t copy down exact quotes — was that we obviously love the music and hate writing about it when it sucks. “Now if the food critic’s going out tonight, she’s not saying, ‘God, I hope I get food poisoning!’ And the movie critic’s not saying, ‘I hope it’s torturous and five hours long!’”
One sentence he said has stuck itself in my head and will presumably stay there for a long time: “We hope that every song we listen to is a transcendent experience.”
The closest thing I’ve had to a transcendent experience while listening to music was last year, listening to David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” album at 1 a.m. In that state between sleep and wakefulness, every song was in and out of my soul, so real to me at my desk in my drab dorm room yet preserving the flashy glam world of 1972.
I knew then that I had to explore music.
While I listened to it constantly, I had to dive deeply into the exact sounds coming into my headphones. Cut to September 2020, and the English department chair is looking for volunteers for the pop culture and entertainment section of The Scout.
Joining The Scout has been a dream. Combining my passion for movies, music and TV with writing for a weekly publication was something I hadn’t previously considered but immediately felt right.
My quest since then has been to seek out those “transcendent experiences,” as Mr. DeRogatis put it, write about it in 350-500 words and share it for the good readers of The Scout.
That Zoom meeting was one such experience. I hope I never forget the words of the self-described “fat, white rock critic,” who gave me solid advice such that I’d like to imagine he heard something similar in a dingy apartment in Manhattan all those years ago.
Thank you, Mr. DeRogatis. You have become what you so admired: an inspiration to an eager teenager, aspiring to write something meaningful about music.