Lumpy Gravy

In nearly 30 years of spending my time on the most useless endeavour known to mankind - writing about music - I've been lucky enough to meet and interview many of my heroes. My general interview archives are elsewhere. 'Lumpy Gravy' is reserved for the lumpiest, and most exquisite, artists.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I think I exist, therefore I am. Vanity, vanity...

The intention of this particular blog project is two-fold:
1) It's a way to archive the results of some of my journalistic activities over the past 26 years or so. I'm always meeting people who want to see some decaying old feature I wrote back in the days before the internet (and mostly written on crappy old typewriters); while it's going to be a 'long project with no prospect', I like the idea of some of these pieces having a life outside their intended consumption date.
2) It's also a way to REVIEW these pieces, add thoughts and ideas that the separation of time (and hopefully a little wisdom) has provided.
For those in a position to employ me and pay me vast sums of cash for my sterling abilities, I append a (loose) WORK HISTORY:

Grew up on the rough side of suburban Hamilton, a painfully boring riverside town smudged somewhere on the central geography of New Zealand's north island, and famous for its super green super phosphate grass and the fluffy white things that eat it, then get slaughtered for the privilege. Baa-aah.
Attended the Wellington Polytechnic year-long journalism course in 1978.
Began training as a sub-editor at Wellington's Evening Post in December of that year. Started free-lancing for NZs only rock music magazine, Rip It Up, and in 1979 somehow conned the Evening Post into hiring me as their music/entertainment writer/reviewer.
Started my own freebie music paper late 1979. Its unfortunate title was In Touch, but in its two-and-a-half years of sporadic publication, the mag ably catalogued the unique, arty post-punk music scene in Wellington, and provided a bit of spiked substance to a soft-cock publishing scene.
Left the Evening Post's full-time employment in 1981, but continued to besiege them with my putrid prose and pompous predications until 1988.
My magazine osmosed from In Touch to IT to TOM, a controversial 'arts and entertainment' listing that leeched into the city's fabric for a further two-and-a-half years.
These magazines - together with my writing experience for the 'dailies' - were my baptism by fire in publishing. At various times I was editor, publisher, sales rep, past-up flunkie, typesetter, proof-reader, photographer. Finally, the magazine's tart tongue finally proved its undoing, and I escaped for the first and only time to the land of publicity.
For the next 18 months, I served time at TVNZ as a Publicity Journalist, where I worked with a team who supplied 'ready-made' pieces to hundreds of newspapers around the country. Alarmingly, the newspapers dutifully printed these sly puff pieces as legitimate copy. One of my main jobs was generating publicity for music programmes like the oft-lamented RWP (Radio With Pictures).
Saved from a life of tv-land purgatory by Listener (NZ tv listing magazine) editor David Beatson in 1987, I was drafted in to launch NZs first power-packed teen read, RTR Countdown. Though it was a chart-based publication, I tried to combat the shallowness of 'teen' magazines by addressing controversial issues, bringing in loads of humour and some of the best, sharpest writers I could find. I remember the marketing department's distillation of audited figures: 'RTR Countdown penetrates 40 percent of the teen market.' Iffy.
RTR was a magazine phenomenon in NZ, and raised the stakes for this type of publication. But New Zealand, being hung up on the hip cachet of an imagined 'alternative' market, found it impossible to acknowledge this.
After seven years of fragmenting markets and genres, the magazine's owners decided to discontinue the title, rather than invest in a burgeoning youth market.
Having continued to freelance for various publications over the years (including a tenure as the Listener's music reviewer, the short-lived New Zealand Rolling Stone, and the Sunday Times) I headed off into the journalistic wilderness, sharpening my pen for the Sunday Star Times, the Shortland St magazine, the Sky channel publication, and many others.
I'd had a wee project in mind for some years: a record shop with a cafe-type ambience with a multi-media dimension, a library-type depth of information. Thus, the ironically-titled Beautiful Music, finally unleashed in 1996, which blessed me with a completely new dimension to my musical education.
Finally disentangling myself in 2004, I'm continuing my freelance music writing for NZ publications like Metro, Real Groove, and The Listener.
The word drives me, art inspires me. I'm still stuck twixt the two.
Gary Steel


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