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Running Away With the Circus (III)

Stan Soocher
"One time I went to see a show at the Bottom Line with David Fricke. A fellow in an ape suit was handing out promo material...without skipping a beat, David said, 'Wow, Max Mouse and the Gorillas.' It was hard to catch David off-guard..."

By Steven Ward

Entertainment attorney Stan Soocher, author of the book They Fought the Law: Rock Goes to Court, is the Editor-in-Chief of the industry trade journal, Entertainment Law and Finance. He is an associate professor and former Chair of Music and Entertainment Industry Studies at the University of Colorado at Denver where he teaches courses on the music business and the history of rock and roll. But in the late '70s, Soocher went to work for Circus as an associate editor. His memories are below.

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"I began working at Circus as an Associate Editor in January 1978. I'd been freelancing out of South Florida and moved to New York City in August 1977. Once I arrived, I called my cousin, film critic Jeffrey Lyons, who I didn't really know, but spent a couple of hours on the phone with helping me brainstorm ways to get a rock writing career going in Manhattan. Jeff suggested that I contact Ira Wolfman, a senior editor at Circus, for some assignments. Ira invited me up. It turned out he shared an office with another senior editor, Robert Smith, who coincidentally on his desk had an issue of Modern Recording magazine that featured a cover story I'd written on The Charlie Daniels Band. When Circus's Technical Editor quit not long after that, I was offered the position. I started by editing articles and columns on musical instruments and home electronics equipment. I think the first interview I did for Circus was a phoner with Ted Nugent on musicians and hearing loss. But I really wanted to do feature writing, which I was doing within a few months.

Gonzo Guitarist...Circus, 1977

"I've always viewed Circus as boot camp. It was my first full-time editorial position. I could certainly handle the editing and column-writing responsibilities, but adding feature writing opened a black hole of work.

"Plus, we were a bi-weekly when I arrived but soon went weekly. When that happened, the staff writers and editors were required to hand in a story each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We usually didn't find out from Managing Editor Shel Kagen what our assignments were until we arrived at the office on Monday morning.

"I often wrote about pop artists such as the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, and Crystal Gayle because I loved pop music.

"I generally liked Circus publisher Gerry Rothberg but never understood the direction in which he was taking the magazine. He often threw in articles that had no relation to music. For example, there was a near-palace revolt among the staff when he insisted on putting baseball player Bucky Dent on the cover. In a way, Gerry was ahead of his time, when you consider that Rolling Stone has for years now been a lifestyles magazine that covers more than music. Gerry could be stubborn.

"I left Circus in April 1979 over an editorial dispute I had with him. In addition to three articles per week, I was asked to write a column about disco music, which I really didn't care for. Just under my byline near the bottom of the page, Shel Kagen began including un-bylined record reviews he wrote. When Shel trashed The Kinks's disco-tinged 'Superman,' I insisted that Gerry require Shel's byline to appear on the disco-page reviews. 'Superman' wasn't one of The Kinks's best songs, but the band was one of my favorites and I felt that it looked like I was writing the reviews. Gerry refused my request and I left Circus and went to law school.

Circus, 1978

"My fondest memory of Circus is the camaraderie among the writers. A few months after I arrived, Kurt Loder and David Fricke joined our staff from Good Times, the Long Island-based entertainment weekly. Kurt, a Circus Senior Editor who also wrote our 'Front Pages' news column, kept on the cutting edge by bringing artists like The Residents and Skafish to the magazine. David, an associate editor like myself, even then had an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music. Five of us--including associate editor Mark Mehler and eventually Senior Editor Ira Wolfman--were crowded into a small office together. John Swenson, our record reviews Editor, was often there too. That meant being exposed to a lot of music the others were playing on the turntable. Sometimes to relive the stress of close quarters and a heavy workload I'd do things like jump around on the cabinets imitating Bruce Springsteen performing 'Badlands.'

"After Kurt and David arrived, the Circus editors, along with art director Al Rudolph, began spending a lot of time together outside the office, and partying and going to concerts. New York Times rock critic Jon Pareles, then at Crawdaddy!, used to come up to the offices to take his then girlfriend, Daisann McLane, another Circus staffer, to lunch. They partied with us too.

"There are many memorable stories from Circus. One time I went to see a show at the Bottom Line with David Fricke. A fellow in an ape suit was handing out promo material in front of the club. I had no idea who the fellow was but, without skipping a beat, the seemingly all-knowing David said, 'Wow, Max Mouse and the Gorillas.' It was hard to catch David off-guard when it came to knowing the obscure.

"But there were editorial battles too.

"I got an assignment to cover the Steve Miller Band when Miller's Greatest Hits album was high on the charts. I prided myself on getting interviews with artists, but when I called capitol Records publicist Maureen O'Connor to request an interview with Miller, she told me it was likely out of the question, especially considering that I only had one day to complete the assignment. I asked Shel Kagen--who kept a 'Just Do It' sign on his wall that he pointed to when you came in with story questions--to talk to Maureen. He told her that we could do the article without interviewing the artist. That angered me and made me determined to find a way to get a Steve Miller interview. I managed to obtain a phoner with Steve that night and walked around the Circus office all the next day with an 'I interviewed Steve Miller' sign taped to my shirt.

"I believe we understood at Circus that we were working for a fanzine that lacked the importance of a Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy!, though we many times took seriously how we covered the artists we wrote about. Certainly David Fricke took his work seriously. Mark Mehler, on the other hand, could knock out a story in what seemed like minutes by looking at a few articles from other sources and perhaps gathering a quote or two on his own.

"Editorial eyes at Circus were always on Rolling Stone, which was just down the street from us. In fact, Fred Schruers, whose desk was next to mine when I started at Circus, soon left to write the "Random Notes" column for Rolling Stone. When I left Circus, Kurt Loder was hired at Rolling Stone to write "Random Notes." Working at Stone was clearly a goal of Kurt's. He used to trundle over there with a shoulder bag full of albums and eventually got a call to write a feature on Poco, which led to a full-time job there.

"And of course David Fricke has been a staffer at Rolling Stone for years. I never made a push for Rolling Stone, mostly because I was intimidated by the war stories I'd heard, though I've occasionally written pieces for the magazine. But with so many colleagues having landed there, I still view it as a road not taken."


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