I’ve taken a stab at this wrap-up at least six times. It’s funny, in school, kids always worry about filling up the word count. As a journalist, you always worry about being concise. At the moment, I’m torn between the two—being overly simplistic or overzealous. It’s like a great song: You can communicate incredible emotion with a beautifully layered and complex piece of music, or with three chords, a stark set of lyrics and an emotive voice. I’ll try to land somewhere in between.
I’ve felt lucky every day as music editor of the Syracuse New Times. It’s not all cake, but it was all fun, especially this past year—even with the long, hot festivals (Blues Fest in July), the late nights (writing the Kelly James story in January) and despite the death threats (thank you, Joe Bonamassa, in May. See a stand-out letter to the editor in response to the show review and reaction on page 5).
I’ve been laughed at when I tell people this was my dream job. Everyone assumes every music writer’s aspirations lie with Rolling Stone, but I beg to differ. I see no satisfaction in writing about Justin Bieber or giving Rhianna a four-star review (I just threw up in my mouth). I’d rather stay local and make a difference among the people who make music every day and for pure reasons: They love it and they believe in it. To see someone succeed from here is a dream, and I see plenty of rising stars among us, but to cover the popular artists of crap Top-40 radio with an occasional exception seems trivial to me.
I discovered that in 2011, but internalized it in 2012.
Only three days into the year, Kelly James passed away. I only met the man for a few brief moments early in 2011. I was so fresh to the scene then. I had just written my first story about a Roosevelt Dean memorial show and James stood out there. I remember talking with him and young guitarist Nick Humez, who visibly admired James in the way he introduced and looked up to him (literally and figuratively).
James, a local blues legend with a huge voice and heart, had a presence about him that I sensed then, but didn’t fully grasp until he was gone. I couldn’t understand it until I met his family, his adoring wife, his children and until I saw so much of the Syracuse blues scene come together to remember him in the saddest, yet most beautiful, powerful and even uplifting memorial get-together I’ve ever attended. I’ll never forget Colin Aberdeen, of Los Blancos, bellowing the Elmore James tune, “Talk to Me Baby (I Can’t Hold Out),” with a fierce backing band, all visibly moved with the emotion of losing someone they respected and adored, someone who changed their lives.
I remember how surprised people were to see me there. Stacey Waterman of the DMR Booking Agency later mentioned that it was the first time she noticed or cared about me or who I was because I showed that I cared. That struck a chord with me because it seemed obvious that the job of a journalist, especially one covering a beat or a scene, is to understand fully what and who they’re reporting on. That takes more than showing up to a big show here or there or interviewing musicians because they’re required to for a story. It takes being out, among and a part of the community.
This isn’t a scene like New York City or Austin, Texas, where transplants come to soak up the benefits of a big scene and being in the hip “place to be.” And I don’t want the job of following them around. Syracuse is a scene of depth and history. It’s a place where musicians bring each other up and where roots are firmly planted, where pride in loyalty is of utmost importance. Where character is as abundant as talent, and perhaps even more highly regarded.
That was fully proved later in the year at the Salt City’s Last Waltz in November. Waterman somehow (miraculously) organized more than two dozen of Syracuse’s best musicians to put on an incredible re-creation of director Martin Scorsese 1978 film documentary on The Band’s 1976 farewell concert, The Last Waltz (see the blog, “View From the Stage” at syracusenewtimes.com). Not only did she pull it off, but it came together with all the spirit it required.
Egos were left at the door, while the musicians seemed thrilled to have the opportunity to play together. The audience and musicians fed off the energy; the vibe was palpable. I heard comments murmured among experienced players in the production and longtime fans in the audience that it was one of the greatest nights of local music to ever happen in Syracuse. Words can’t grasp what it meant for me to be there and a part of it, but said simply, it justified every bit of love I have for this place and these people.
Deep down, I don’t want to leave my post here and I feel it’s premature. It’s external factors that have wedged themselves between who I am and what I do. But rather than abandon what I’ve built and accomplished here, the goal is to expand my mind, my experience (while I can) and bring it back—more informed and cultured than before.
I’ll set off on a three-month trek across
the United States in early January. I’ll go with a friend and his dog,
Bob Barker (seriously). I’ll be writing the trip down one mile at a time
and documenting through Facebook (facebook.com/
jessrocknovak), Twitter (JessRock87), instagram (JessRock87, #rocknroad), other publications and regular articles in The New Times. Please feel free to follow along, interact and remind me how good it feels to shower and have simple things. . . like a home.
I was beyond fortunate to work my way into not one, but two, of my dream jobs within two years of living in Syracuse: music editor of an alternative weekly and a classic rock deejay (on WXTL-FM 105.9 (The Rebel)). And I feel more fortunate, still, that I was able to make a difference, small as it may be, in a community that I have come to love tremendously, by doing what I love more than anything. I don’t expect that to end.I’ll be back in three months (really, all my stuff will still be here so I have to come back) and I expect to be just as involved with a scene and a community that’s come to take up an exceedingly large part of my heart. This isn’t meant to be dramatic and it’s no time to get mushy, so let’s keep it to “catch you on the flip-side,” not “see you never.” And while I’m gone, promise me three things: Keep rocking so I have lots to read, write, listen to and catch up on when I’m back; don’t forget about me (because I won’t forget about you); and whatever you do—don’t piss off Joe Bonamassa.