This is an excerpt from The Cage – Book One Of Groupie Series:
I love music. I love life on the road. I love everything about this industry. There are so many great bands. Well, there’s only really one great band, one band that have changed my life, one band that truly, truly makes me happy.
Let me start at the beginning. My name is Katy. I used to be journalist for Metal Road. You’ve probably heard of it, and if you haven’t, your teenage son or daughter has. It started in the 90s as a fanzine, but its online these days, and it does pretty well. It’s still in the top twenty of most read US metal sites, at least, I think it is. I haven’t checked recently.
Metal Road was my first writing job after college. I was pretty raw, keen, thought I was going to be the next big thing in journalism, was going to change the world. I didn’t manage that, instead I changed my world, which is much, much better.
My first six months at the Road were pretty frustrating. I was mainly employed checking sources, booking tickets, covering for reception and fetching coffee for the editor, Stu, and the other senior writers. But I did what young, hungry writers are supposed to do: I kept pestering Stu and making myself a nuisance, and eventually, they gave me an album review.
This wasn’t really a big deal. They do hundreds of these things every month. But to me it was huge. It was my big chance. I was finally going to get to make my mark. It didn’t matter who the band were, this review was going to be the best ever.
As it happens, the band were a three-piece from LA called Sugar Bean. I didn’t realize that the band name had a particular meaning, I just thought it was pretty lousy. I listened to some of their music. It was kind of punky, kind of glam, and I kind of liked it. But I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to like it. So I casually mentioned them to a couple of the writers and got their feedback. Turns out Sugar Bean were generic sub-grunge re-treads, shallow emo wanabes, and lesbian music porn. So I went back to my desk and listened to them again.
You might think this was pretty shallow, and it was, but I’d been there long enough to know that it was easier to go with the majority opinion than against it. Only one or two of the writers, like Ed or Steph were allowed to set trends and break moulds. The rest of us didn’t have much leeway. Anyway, the evidence was clear. Metal Road did not like Sugar Bean.
I put the promotional picture of the band on my keyboard and started to write. The photo, which apparently was also going to be the album cover, was pretty ropey. It showed the three band-members: Misha, AJ and Chloe dolled out in black leather, boots heels and way way too much make-up. The other promotional picture was even more dodgy. It featured AJ kneeling on a bed, Misha lying back with her head covering AJ’s crotch, while a naked Chloe knelt between Misha’s legs, and appeared to be licking her out. It was pretty gross, I thought.
In fact, it looked like a low budget lesbian porn shoot. So I put that into the review. Then I went on for a couple of paragraphs about how silly the name was, and by this time, I had hit a seam of snark and was really going for it. I went on about how they were selling their sexuality, how their music was wannabe metal, the worst of pop and the worst of metal, and rounded it all off with a few lines about how they were degrading to women.
Almost as soon as I pressed send, I felt doubt loom up over me like a dark cloud. But I pushed the feeling aside. I had done it. I had submitted my first piece. I was an actual music journalist now, or so I thought.
Still, I couldn’t quite shake my doubts. On the subway home, I saw a poster for their new single. They looked so cool; exactly the kind of band I had wanted to be in at high school. I tried to snap myself out of it by remembering what Stu had said when I started: you’re a music journalist, everyone will hate you. If people take your writing personally, that’s their fault, and if you get squeamish about criticizing music, you aren’t doing your job, and you’re letting the readers down.
I managed to keep that thought in my head until I got back to my apartment, then I made the mistake of looking at one of their videos on line. It was pretty good. The music was fresh, and they had exactly the kind of punky attitude that I thought I was in tune with. Then I found an interview from a few weeks before. It confirmed what I had already discovered: I liked them.
Chloe, the white, blonde, lead singer swore a lot and made me smile. Misha, the black bass player was a totally kick-ass, incredible woman and delicate Latina AJ turned into a demon when she began to thrash her drums. They were good. Better than good. They were great.
But it was too late. My social media was already lighting up as readers, writers and fans began to spew their bad takes on top of my bad take. The comments seemed split between likes and dislikes, but by this time I agreed with the dislikes. Worst still, it seemed that the band had read the review too. Misha posted an angry face and AJ wrote something about haters and losers on her feed. I closed my eyes and lay back on my bed. What a mess!
Just then, my phone rang. It was Stu. I braced myself for a tirade of abuse. Stu had approved the piece, but that didn’t matter. I’d seen him turn on people before.
Turns out I read him wrong. He said he loved it. It was just the kind of big opinion, going against the grain kind of conversation starter he wanted. I was relieved, and I thanked him. Maybe I was wrong, I thought, maybe I was being too sensitive, maybe it was all just part of the industry, and I should be grateful for the exposure.
Well, turned out that was wrong too. Stu loved it, but Jack Wildermann, the CEO of Metal Road and the sister magazine Shred Work, hated it. He thought it was exactly the wrong kind of message about a band that was taking off with key demographics. So he chewed Stu’s ear off and when I came in the next day, Stu banished me from reviews.
I was back on coffee duty. Still, I kind of felt it was poetic justice, and for a few days, I was glad to sink into the obscurity of office flunky once again. As the online abuse began to dry up, I thought maybe I could put this behind me and have a re-do.
So a week later, when Stu called me into his office to discuss a news piece, it felt like redemption. I was going to get a chance to relaunch my writing career.
“Katy, my favorite reviled hack, how are you?”
“I don’t really care, I was just being polite. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve got you an assignment. Actually Jack suggested it.”
“Great,” I said, “What is it?”
“It’s a band interview.”
“Cool. Who is it?”
“Guess,” he said, grinning.
* * * *
Sugar Bean were leaving on tour that afternoon and Stu said I had to meet them on their tour bus. My heart sank as he handed me the details. He also told me not to screw it up.
How could I interview them after what I’d written? All the way there in the taxi, I tried to come up with ways of apologizing but everything I rehearsed either sounded like I didn’t mean it or like I was trying too hard. As the taxi pulled into the street where their pink, black and silver tour bus was parked up, I tried to reassure myself. After all, this was a business, it was just part of the game. They were professionals, they would understand, right?
Wrong. All three of them were frosty with me from the start. Chloe, who smoked the whole time despite the fact that I coughed more than once, barely bothered looking at me. Misha glared directly at me, answering questions in a hostile monotone, and AJ was slumped in a chair to one side, making an incessant drumming noise with her sticks on the armrest.
It was hard going. I’d decided to go with pen and paper not to record the conversation, as I was sure they were going to shout at me, and I didn’t want to have to replay my humiliation at some point in the future. After a few painful, awkward minutes, my notepad had begun fill up, and while the quotes I was getting were boring and generic, there was at least something to work with. I began to think that maybe I would get out of there unscathed. So I thought I’d risk something relatively controversial. Big mistake.
“So, what would you say to those who suggest that maybe your whole kind of image is like degrading to women or whatever?”
“What do you mean our image?”
“Well, I mean the whole kind of slutty clothes and the…”
I didn’t get to finish my sentence. Before I could react, AJ had leapt from her chair and grabbed me by the throat.