Andrew Sullivan and his crew at News/Beast were kind enough to invite me to record one of their “Ask [Journalist] Anything” segments. Basically, using Urtak, people propose questions and then vote on what they most want answered. With a little bit of searching, you can watch the five of them I filmed here. And you can see my friend Eli Lake of News/Beast refuting a rant of mine as well.
Eben Dennis tweeted that he had “the least popular Ask @attackerman Anything question,” which made me want to answer it. He wanted to know: “What punk rock bands have influenced your style of reporting?”
Oooh. Difficult question. I don’t know how exactly how to answer it — lyrics? ethos? What about them can even translate into reporting, anyway? — but I’ll try.
The answer that feels the most correct: Catharsis. The more that I think about it, I wouldn’t be a journalist if not for Catharsis, the furious anarchist crustcore band from North Carolina.
Catharsis’ whole thing was that you needed to choose your path in life, and then walk it. Seems like a banal insight. But it’s exceptionally difficult to implement. The lyric from the song above that resonated was Don’t settle for nothing/ choose your heaven. No one has ever said these words with the kind of refusal to compromise as Catharsis’ singer, B. B has an integrity that really resonates.
He was also the first person to make me think I could be a journalist. I first met him outside CBGB after they played some Sunday matinee in 1997. Catharsis gave me like 20 minutes to talk for my friends’ fanzine Paperweight. The interview is long since forgotten, but B and I had the kind of memorable conversation that held up.
Some kind of backstory: I was the kind of kid who had one interest that drowned out all others, and I would get super-obsessive about it, throwing myself into all kinds of effluvia. First I was into baseball, and I had to play numerous positions, memorize stats from the back of baseball cards and read ballplayers’ memoirs. Then it was comics, and I had to teach myself to ink on bristol board and have curiously strong opinions about whether Whilce Portacio or Jim Lee was the best contemporary X-Men artist. Then it was punk and hardcore. I had to drum; and write lyrics (very bad); and contribute to fanzines; and book shows; and put out my own records. Only I wasn’t that good at punk rock. My bands never really did anything — they were excuses for my various crews to hang out, and that was good enough for me.
After reading that interview, B said he wanted to read more stuff from me. My friends used to tell me that I could relay anecdotes in an entertaining way, so my idea for a fanzine was to create what Jesse Hamhock described as “40 pages of anecdotes,” broken up by some Gustave Dore clip art that Jesse Cannon beautifully laid out. B gave me a glowing review in his respected fanzine Inside Front, comparing my stuff to a beloved zine called Icarus Was Right. That made me think I had unlocked a part of my identity.
I never thought about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I used to think I would drive subway trains to make money while I did punk-rock things. That was far as I had thought. (Like I said: singular focus.) But suddenly those punk-rock things — the ones that felt right to me, and that people reacted positively to — revolved around writing. And I needed stories to tell. But if I told people the same old stories, from the same comfortably punk perspectives, I’d bore myself and, accordingly, everyone else.
Two years later, I had convinced New York Press to let me open the mail for its listings section — literally my first job in journalism. From there, the Press let me factcheck the issue and occasionally write stuff. I loved that paper. And I wanted to impress one of my best friends — the singer of my first punk band, who remains one of my role models — who was visiting from out of town. As we were walking around catching up, I was going on and on, probably tiresomely, about the paper. Suddenly he asked: “What’s your journalism for?”
After I embarrassingly changed the subject, I promised myself I would never not have an answer for that question every again. I needed to remember what Catharsis’ lesson was: you need a path in life, not something as minimal as a career.
Another lyric that burns in me more than ever: Rather be forgotten/ than be remembered for giving in. That’s from Refused, whose 1998 show in North Carolina I saw with B and some other friends. On Monday, my old friends and I saw the Refused’s reunion show in New York, and then the secret Refused show in Bushwick. As I walked out, clothes soaked through with sweat; ankles, shoulders and chest burning from everyone kicking and pushing and windmilling and stepping on and into them; voice lost from yelling — there was B, ready with a hug for an old friend. Choose your heaven.