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Running Away With the Circus (I)

Gary Cee
"I answered an ad [in the New York Times] to be a 'Guy Friday' at a rock magazine. I wasn't sure what a Guy Friday was. I thought I would just come in on Friday. Turns out it was the receptionist position at Circus magazine."

By Steven Ward

Today, Gary Cee is the program director at the Poughkeepsie, NY, rock station, WPDH. But there was a time when Cee worked for Circus, starting as a receptionist and eventually moving up to become the rock mag's Managing Editor. Below, Cee answers some questions about his time at Circus and the mark that experience left on him.

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Steven:    You became Managing Editor of Circus in 1990. How did you get the job, what did it entail on a day-to-day basis, and how many full time staffers did you have at the time?

Gary:   I got my job through the New York Times, believe it or not. In 1983, I answered an ad to be a "Guy Friday" at a rock magazine. I wasn't sure what a Guy Friday was. I thought I would just come in on Friday. Turns out it was the receptionist position at Circus magazine, which I took. Within two years I was an Associate Editor. I did a music video column. Then I started writing stories. At the end of 1989, managing editor Ben Liemer left the building. I marched into (Circus Publisher and Editor-in-Chief) Gerry Rothberg's office and announced that I wanted the job. The next day he offered it to me and I accepted.

Gerry was the Editor-in-Chief, I was Managing Editor, Corey Levitan was Senior Editor, and Mordechai Kleidermacher was the Associate Editor. We'd have a monthly editorial meeting and discuss what we were going to cover for the month. I'd do a story, Corey and Mordy would do one or two each, and the rest I would farm out to my stable of freelancers. Corey was a real outstanding writer. He still is. But he wouldn't wear shoes in the office, just socks, and that pissed everybody off. Mordy knew everything about classic rock and heavy metal, I mean everything. I wrote a book that was published in 1995, Classic Rock, and Mordy helped me out so much during the writing that he was the first guy I thanked on my acknowledgement page. Lou O'Neill Jr. was a quite a character. For years he did the "Back Pages" column. This guy lived and breathed rock and roll.

Steven:   What was it like to work for Gerry Rothberg?

Gary:   I enjoyed it. I learned a lot from Gerry. He had a policy that he would not accept advertising for liquor and fireworks, Circus being a teen magazine, and I admired him for that. He made us rewrite a lot of stuff, and that was smart of him as well. Remember, Gerry would put Joe Elliot of Def Leppard on the cover when Rolling Stone, Musician, and the legitimate music magazines were not about to cover hair metal. In the early '80s, Gerry found his niche and it really worked for him for a while there. In 1987, when Guns 'N Roses broke, the magazine's circulation surged once again. The New Kids on the Block era caused problems, though. We lost focus as a metal magazine, and the book suffered because of it.

Steven:   You were at Circus during the metal years and the grunge years. Did you like those directions or did you wish at that time the mag was more hard rock/pop like it was in the '70s?

Gary:   Every band has a story, and our job was to cover it. It really didn't matter to me if I was writing about Warrant or Van Halen or Bon Jovi. I stomached most of the music, but would go home and listen to Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen records. We had to cover the metal stuff, and then the grunge. That's what the audience demanded and we gave it to them.

Steven:   What mags did you see as the competition for Circus in those days?

Gary:   Hit Parader, Metal Edge, and toward the end, Rip. They were a west coast-based Larry Flynt publication and they had better access to Guns 'N Roses and the Sunset Strip acts.

Steven:   Why did you leave Circus in 1994, and did the major redesign of the magazine and its logo have anything to do with it?

Gary:   At the end of 1994, hard times had befallen the magazine and I sensed the good times were coming to an end and hair metal had finally seen its day. We had put Arrested Development on the cover, Jimi Hendrix another month, and the focus was lost. I jumped ship at the end of 1994 after I got the book deal.

Steven:   What was your favorite part of working at Circus?

Gary:   The best part of the job was farming stories out to freelancers and turning on readers to new music. The free records didn't hurt, and the trip I took to Sheffield, England, to cover Def Leppard on the opening night of one of their tours was a vacation I will never forget.


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