Running Away With the Circus (IV)

Christian Wissmuller
"When I was 12 or 13, I just appreciated that Circus covered G'nR and Metallica, as opposed to all the Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen features in Rolling Stone."

By Steven Ward

Christian Wissmuller is the editor of School Band and Orchestra and Choral Director magazine. He is also a music freelancer who serves as a contributing writer at Guitar One and Circus. Wissmuller talks about writing for Circus magazine in the last few years.

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"After graduating 'round two' of college--I attended Boston University from '91-'95 (B.A. English) and then Berklee College of Music from '96-'99 (B.M. Music Production & Engineering)--I was kinda just floating around between interesting, yet non-paying internships and dead boring, yet marginally-paying 'real' jobs. Eventually I just decided, pretty out of the blue, to call up some local and underground punk 'zines and see about maybe writing up CD reviews or whatever else they might need.

"That ended up being surprisingly easy and I wrote a bunch of stuff for Suburban Voice, Askew Reviews, and many others. All good fun. From there I built up a clip file and started contacting bigger magazines, papers, and Web sites about getting work as a freelancer.

"Though Rolling Stone and Spin didn't really enter into the bidding war for my services that I'd been hoping for, I did hear back from Gerry Rothberg at Circus magazine. He was pretty open to any pitches I wanted to throw at him, though his readership skews more 'metal' than the kinds of bands I'd typically suggest. There was some crossover, though, and when I suggested a story on Green Day, Gerry was all for it.

"My 'metal phase' wasn't that long-lived--once I caught on to the Replacements and the Clash that was basically it--but, for a while there ('85ish through, say, '87 or '88?), Circus, Hit Parader, and RIP were way more interesting to me than the more mainstream books like Rolling Stone. I learned afterwards that a whole slew of 'respectable' journalists has written for Circus back in the day, but when I was 12 or 13, I just appreciated that Circus covered G'nR and Metallica, as opposed to all the Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen features in RS.

"Gerry Rothberg was always super laid-back and open to suggestions, which was unbelievably great for me when I was starting out trying to do the whole 'rock journalist' thing. He was real clear on what his readers liked and wouldn't green-light any pitches to do stories on the Swinging Utters or Joan Jett or whatever, which was frustrating because that's what I really wanted to be writing about, but I certainly understood his point. I mean, this was in the heyday of all the Korn/Limp Bizkit absurdity and that was Circus's target audience at that point.

"They'd been more of a rock/hard rock 'zine in the '70s, but became (and as far as I know, still are) a full-on 'metal magazine' well before I was on board. It was cool, though, because for a while there I was 'the guy' for any punk/metal crossover bands--Blink, Green Day, all that. 'Course, I had to do my fair share of stories on face-painted, costumed, tortured-soul rap/metal goofballs, as well, and that sucked at times, but it's also a skill. Interviewing Fugazi--that's easy, that's fun; interviewing some group you think sucks donkeys, without letting on that you feel that way--that takes some doing.

"I think Circus is obviously not taken as seriously as a Rolling Stone or Spin and there are so many reasons it's hard to know where to begin. First off, as a metal 'zine, it's instantly not going to be 'respected' in the way an RS or Spin might be, simply because heavy metal doesn't get--and has never really received--much critical acclaim. RS will put Outkast or Radiohead on the cover and these are the bands that young adults and adults listen to and these are the sorts or artists who win awards and all that. Mudvayne isn't going to resonate with the college/young adult set in the same manner as Norah Jones, y'know?

"On top of that, though, I think Gerry's a wicked nice guy and I am very grateful for the opportunities Circus has provided me, I do feel like the 'quality control' or whatever has gone down in the last decade or so. If you actually read the current stories through, sometimes it's as if someone cut and pasted the copy and somehow lost a paragraph or the back-end of a sentence and it's just like, "what the hell happened here?" I don't know if they need a new proofreader or what--I was never more than a contributor and never even saw the NYC offices, so I don't know the ins and outs of the production process--but it can look a little sloppy, to say the least.

"You also have the fact that it's a lower-grade stock of paper, the printing process is a little 'cheap' looking, it's a thin book, and all that. So, sure, it gets less respect than Spin--but the thing is, it's a magazine for suburban metalheads. They're not going to really appreciate Pulitzer-level writing and production, anyways. I don't mean that as a dig at teen metal fans, it's just reality.

"Finally, I really think they should never have abandoned the classic Circus logo. Not only is the new one really non-distinctive and sorta ugly, but the old one had been around so long it really was almost on a par with the RS logo. Probably the only area in which Circus really could've claimed to compete with 'the big boys.'

"When it came to interviews for Circus, they were all great in their own way, I have no bad memories of any of it. My very first interview, ever, had me sitting across a table from Billy Joe (Green Day) at the Ritz Carlton in Boston. We ended up talking for two hours about Elvis Costello, Fugazi, underage drinking, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Pretty great.

"I met Sully (Godsmack) at their rehearsal studio where these giant rottweilers named 'Rock' and 'Roll' almost attacked me at the door. Proceeded to have the funniest, most Spinal Tap (but in an endearing/cool way) interview yet.

"Interviewed Blink-182 with the preconceived notion that they were a bunch of stupid pop retards--walked away thinking they were smart, good guys and that Travis was really fucking cool.

"When I look at writing for Circus, I think about the freedom that Gerry gives you. Basically, once he says 'OK' to a story idea, you're on your own and he rarely makes major changes to your original copy."

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