Last Sunday afternoon, as I sat watching my little boy happily running amuck at a local playground, I spotted a familiar face on the other side of the monkey bars. It was a gent named Brendan who I knew from my days as an editorial intern at SPIN Magazine. I went over and introduced myself and he was truly amazed that I'd recognized him after so many years. I told him that he hadn't aged a bit. We chatted, updated each other on our respective career trajectories, commiserated about the economy and showed off our respective kids. Afterwards, we smiled and exchanged contact info and said goodbye.
As Oliver and I made our way home, I started recalling my brief period at SPIN and it hit me why Brendan had been so shocked that I'd recognized him. I interned at SPIN as a twenty-one year old in the balmy summer and fall of 1989 …. effectively half my life ago, give or take a year. I'd just graduated college the previous May. George H.W. Bush was president. Paul's Boutique by the Beastie Boys had just come out. Skid Row and Paula Abdul were all over the radio. People were still buying vinyl LPs and cassettes. Compact discs came in long cardboard boxes. Michael Keaton was 'Batman' and Spike Lee was doing the right thing. New York City was still rife with big clubs like The Palladium and The Limelight, the streets were still gritty and Ed Koch was the mayor. The Berlin Wall was still up. Iraq hadn't invaded Kuwait yet. In other words, this was all a long damn time ago.
But SPIN was a good time. While, true, I didn't get paid, I got piles of free albums -- ones that were discarded by then-editors like Legs McNeil (original Punk and author of "Please Kill Me"), Joe Levy (who later went onto Rolling Stone and Blender), Karen Schoemer (fellow Nick Cave fan and future New York Times music writer) and John Leland. Leland was the guy that really led to me the magazine initially. I'd started reading it during my freshman year of college after a friend erroneously told me they'd published an article about one of my then-fave bands 7 Seconds. In any case, John Leland's writing was smart, funny, informative and didn't pull any punches. Hell, Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" was purportedly written about him. This guy had it all, I surmised.
As a lowly intern, I was probably pretty starry-eyed when I first got to the magazine. I'd yet to glean that the odious realm of "music journalism" was one of the least respected and summarily least lucrative fields one could possibly pursue, but it was something I knew and loved. After I'd graduated from college, I'd fired off my paltry resume to every magazine I actively read, and it just so happened that SPIN -- my favorite at the time -- had some openings. I'd moved back home after college, so the fact that the position in question was an unpaid internship wasn't a deal-breaker. I figured I'd get my foot in the door and then it'd be up to me to make the in-roads.
The reality of SPIN at the time wasn't exactly all that glamourous. Sure, the place was crawling with incredibly cool folks with impeccable taste, hip haircuts and awesome social lives, but no one was especially well paid. John Leland didn't seem especially happy to be there (nor was he especially chatty with the interns, but no one ever is, I suppose). The magazine seemed to be in a constant state of flux. Staffers came and went.
I ended up staying there for about six months. In the fall, the rest of my fellow interns all ended up going back to their respective colleges. As such, I was the lone intern for a while. While this was good for my exposure and experience, it also meant running a host of unsavory errands like manning the switch-board, transcribing interminable interviews and getting certain notoriously thorny editors-in-chief their sushi for lunch from a very specific restaurant about thirty blocks away. I was lucky, though. When I handled this task, I was able to execute it in a timely fashion. A fellow intern was sent on the same mission a day or so later and got snarled in traffic. When she returned to the office forty minutes later, she was fired on the spot.
The bloom was soon off the rose. Sure, I'd made several new friends, accrued a bunch of new albums, swiped more than a few black SPIN t-shirts, met a couple of dubious rock stars and got invited to the annual party at Nell's on 14th Street (the musical guest was a fledgling Tribe Called Quest) but I was getting impatient. I'd managed to convince one editor to let me write a tiny item for the news page (which ended up being my first published piece of writing outside of my college newspaper -- it was a tiny blurb about Public Enemy). But it got my name in print for the first time. After that, though, it felt like I was just spinning my wheels, pardon the pun.
Through the auspices of my associate editor boss, I was hooked up with a freelance writer who was looking to start his own magazine. With plenty of free time on my hands, I volunteered to help out and soon became ensconced in a grassroots project called The New York Review of Records (but that's a long saga for another day). But I kept chugging along at SPIN all the same.
December came and the managing editor called me into his office. He asked me what my future plans were. I told him I'd been very happy working at SPIN and that I felt I was ready for the next phase and wanted to contribute more. "Great," he said, "I have a meeting with the editor-in-chief later today, but let's sit down next week and work something full-time out for you." I was elated. It seemed like my six months of labor were finally about to pay off. I wasn't sure if it was going to be an editorial assistant position or maybe something more, but it seemed like I was about to become a SPIN staffer.
As it turned out, that managing editor was fired that afternoon. The following week arrived, and a new guy was brought in to fill his position. In turn, he hand-picked someone from outside the magazine to fill the editorial assistant position that had fleetingly been dangled in front of me. My boss spoke up in my defense. "Well, I'll talk to him," the new guy said, "but my mind's already made up."
When I did end up talking to the new guy, he blithely asked me if I could show the new editorial assistant the ropes. I stayed for a couple of more days, took the new editorial assistant out for a very awkward lunch down the street from the office at the Old Town Bar & Grill. A day or so later, I packed up my things and left SPIN for good.
In time, the new managing editor was fired for one thing or another and the notorious editor-in-chief was forcibly removed from the operation. The mag moved offices and has shuffled a nation of aspiring music journalists through its doors since. I don't believe a single name from my brief tenure still works there. The magazine itself has gone through myriad changes and now flounders to keep up with the same amorphous curve it once effortlessly stayed ahead of. I can't remember the last issue of it I bought.
I went onto several other things and have long since gotten over the initial disappointment of not getting a staff position at SPIN (one could argue that I should be grateful for same). In looking back, I can't complain too much. It was indeed a lot of fun. I've met so many people as a result of those months that I can't imagine what my life would be like today had they not happened.