Discovered: The Paris Review’s ‘Art of Music Journalism’

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If you’re like us, your jaw may have dropped just a smidgeon at the sight of the venerable Paris Review website publishing an article entitled “Festival Guide: A List of Don’ts for the Lady Music Writer” earlier today. The article was the work of one Natalie Elliot, a film columnist based in Italy, and its advice ranged from the obvious to the head-scratching to the flat-out bewildering. What, we wondered, was it doing in the Paris Review? Well, it turns out the PR isn’t as staid as we thought — it seems they’ve been publishing an “Art of Music Journalism” series to go with their more well-known “Art of Fiction” interviews. Who knew?! Anyway, we’ve unearthed Ms. Elliot’s entry, and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense.

A gritty realism lies at the heart of the work of traveling music-journalist Natalie Elliot. Over the years, she has ventured deep into the heart of that most modern of creative pursuits — the world of “rock music,” in all its countercultural fury. When she is not fearlessly interviewing rock-stars or venturing to the concerts of rock-bands, she lives in Bergamo, Italy, with her husband.

INTERVIEWER

Ms. Elliot, how did you begin your career in “music-journalism”?

NATALIE ELLIOT

I have long enjoyed attending the concerts of my favorite groups, and while studying at Columbia I became enamored with the thought of pursuing contemporary music criticism as a de facto career opportunity. I have been fortunate enough to be published in such “cutting-edge” underground music publications as The Paris Review and The Oxford American, and I hope one day to write for a well-respected outlet like Rolling Stone.

INTERVIEWER

Yet this is a difficult and taxing job for a woman. Have you found it to be an arduous profession?

NATALIE ELLIOT

The lot of the lady music writer is a lonely one, but one must be both ruthless and fearless in the pursuit of one’s dreams.

INTERVIEWER

Have any music-journalistic experiences in particular left their mark, as it were?

NATALIE ELLIOT

As a woman, interacting with “rock-stars” can be something of a challenge. One is best advised to remain sober and not risk any form of enjoyment, at all, ever. Several male rock-stars have been unmistakeably drunk over the course of interviews I have conducted, and I fear that at least one has tried to “hit on me.” I have not been above commencing an interview with a flutter of the eyelids and a compliment. As a woman, one must make use of every advantage available.

INTERVIEWER

And the attendance of concerts? Does this present similar difficulties?

NATALIE ELLIOT

Indeed, the conditions one encounters at “gigs” can also be somewhat challenging. Patrons are often intoxicated and under the influence of narcotics, and even if one was inclined to indulge in similar vices, the standard of the beverages on offer is almost invariably below one’s own standards. Standing toward the front of a concert audience is inadvisable due to the presence of “big sweaty dudes” indulging in “moshing.” Music festivals present further challenges, due to their sheer length and the fact that they are often held in locations both remote and not well suited for the purpose. Some time ago, for instance, I attended a music festival where the majority of patrons were required to camp in tents and shelter beneath improvised lean-tos constructed from tarpaulins and yarn. Happily, several phone calls to the festival director were sufficient to resolve the situation, and I was spirited away to a hotel that was acceptable, if hardly luxurious.

INTERVIEWER

Does the writing of music-journalism demand a certain stylistic adjustment in comparison to, for instance, writing prose or essays?

NATALIE ELLIOT

It does. Music-journalism requires a certain lightness of touch, a casual turn of phrase that can be difficult for the neophyte to master. It requires a familiarity with the argot of one’s audience, an understanding of the lexicon that will convey your meaning to those who maintain an interest in popular music. Living as I do with my husband in Bergamo, Italy, it can be somewhat demanding to remain “in touch” with such linguistic intricacies, but I am a professional and I consider it part of my job to do so.

INTERVIEWER

Could you suggest some examples of such music-journalistic “lingo”?

NATALIE ELLIOT

In a recent article I filed for the Paris Review, I utilized the terms “mad famous,” “bring the coke” [Cocaine — Ed.], “share a blunt” [A marijuana cigarette – Ed.], “ate tacos” [A popular dish of Mexican origin, consisting of spiced meat or vegetables wrapped in corn flatbread, often served as a convenient snack at such events – Ed.], and several euphemisms for the act of vomiting. All of these were well received by my audience, and I received a flurry of compliments on “Twitter” for my credibility and mastery of the style. I will admit to being flattered by the attention, even if others were undignified enough to direct criticism at my piece.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel a certain camaraderie with your contemporaries?

NATALIE ELLIOT

I wish I could say that this was the case, but for reasons unknown they seem determined to ridicule me at every turn. I presume that it is a manifestation of jealousy, but I find it tiresome in extremis.

INTERVIEWER

Finally, do you have any advice for fellow “gals” who may be considering a similar career?

NATALIE ELLIOT

If I may presume to advise aspiring music-journalists, I would suggest that only the most “modern girls” essay this task. I recently had the dubious pleasure of attending a contemporary music festival under the auspices of your fine publication, which was kind enough to publish my guide to attending such events, wherein one may find several practical “tips” for the aspiring music-journalist. It is, may I suggest, perhaps a little “tongue-in-cheek”!