Rock Criticism as Brain Surgery
Deborah Frost Looks Back

By Steven Ward

Musician/songwriter Deborah Frost took a little break in the early '70s from a gig with an all-girl band that lasted until the early '90s. The drummer of Flaming Youth started writing about rock music for just about every music publication in existence, including the Village Voice and Record, where she wrote some of her best and most memorable pieces. Today, Frost and her husband, former Blue Oyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard, lead the eclectic pop-rock band, the Brain Surgeons. During the following e-mail interview, Frost looks back and fills in the gap of her 20-year break from playing music, and remembers her career as a rock journalist.

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Steven:   Today, you are on the other side of rock journalism. Instead of interviewing people about the music they make, writers are interviewing you about the music you make with your band, The Brain Surgeons. Is that experience weird for you?

Deborah:    Well, you're talking to someone who's had a lot of weird experiences, starting with literally almost being born in a theater--the City Center in NYC during Cyrano de Bergerac with Jose Ferrer. I was probably already a critic! So being interviewed doesn't quite qualify as weird in my lexicon. The reality is that I came to writing about music from making it, not the other way around. But also, doing things like interviews--from any side of the microphone--always seemed like an ordinary everyday thing for people to do, because I grew up with someone I was pretty close to and called Grandpa Larry, interviewing most of the leading figures of the world every week on the television show he invented, Meet the Press. It never occurred to me that this wasn't what everybody or their relatives did. But more specifically, as I've always said when I've been asked this question--and I've been asked it a lot--when I began writing about music, it was just an outgrowth of my writing other things and my total passion for making music and thinking about it. There didn't seem to be this incredible division between those who do it and those who write about it. Or at least I was so young and so naive that I was not aware of it.

One of the funny things, for instance, for me, about Almost Famous, was the us vs. them vibe that the fake Lester basically exists to instruct the Cameron character about. That was not my sense at all when I started writing--and I was about as young as Cameron. It's funny, a lot of people who'd really grown away from the music and stuff I once tried to subject them to (and that's putting it very nicely) got in touch for the first time in years after that film--they said it reminded them so much of me. I never thought Cameron and I had much in common as writers then--although I have a lot of respect for him personally and professionally now--but that character was very familiar, clutching a little copy of Creem as if it were the Holy Grail. That really was me. As was the whole experience of being much younger, and being more mature intellectually than emotionally--the whole sense of wonder and total dislocation--that was really my experience, too, although as a girl, my take and some of what I was subjected to was a little different.

But people began attempting to write seriously about rock at a moment when I became totally obsessed by it, and felt that this music was the avenue for me, to express what I felt and what I thought in ways that previous literary traditions and art forms--particularly those that belonged more exclusively to white European patriarchies--did not. Little did I know that the whole enterprise would, if it hadn't already, become even more sexist, racist, corrupt and stupid than most, if not all, its predecessors. But what did I know? And in some ways I just had no choice. I was totally obsessed by music and the promise it held for me, that it was a new way to communicate and break down the roles of sex and class and race that people had previously been forced into. But at first, when people were writing about rock, it offered a new frontier, something that seemed to belong exclusively to them--and they seemed to be as excited about music as I was. So I just picked up the first issues of Rolling Stone, and discovered the Village Voice in my school library, actually, and it began to open up a whole new world. My whole feeling about it was just--wow. Pure and simple. I thought Robert Christgau was as important as Mick Jagger. Now I find them both equally ridiculous and rather pathetic creatures. But there are much worthier causes to which to devote my compassion. Or anyone else's, for that matter.

But I never thought that I would not be some kind of writer, from the moment I taught myself how to read at three. I would just read and read and read--Shakespeare, the Bible, I would read the dictionary just for fun--and not only in English--and by the time I entered school I was also always surrounded by great music as well as art. My mother plays the piano, and is pretty involved with classical music. Our first apartment was next door to a prestigious music school and the classes would kind of vibrate through the walls. This is just something that surrounded me. But as I grew older, I was also determined to distance myself from my parents' values. And I was very precocious and was skipped ahead so that I was two years younger than my classmates. This probably pushed me much further into my own little world. But I knew I didn't fit in and I hated feeling that I had to fake it, because fitting in seems so important at certain repugnant junctures in any adolescent life. Even when I went to Harvard I not only didn't know basic math, because I wasn't there when they originally did it, there were many simple life skills I just did not develop. No, this is not as great a tragedy as being interrupted by the Nazis or Khmer-Rouge, but it really had a lot to do with the kind of artist I became and the person I'm still evolving into.

As for contemporary writers, I always thought it was perfectly normal that people like John Updike both wrote and wrote about writing. Even restaurant critics are supposed to be able to cook. It was only after I really got serious about being a rock critic that I realized that as a group rock critics are probably second only to sports critics as utter buffoons. But as a group, sports writers are forced to be better, more entertaining writers as well as have some basic grasp of facts. There are no minimal standards for rock writers. Of course, minimal standards are no defense against mediocrity--just look at any bureaucracy or Board of Ed. But at one point, rock criticism was an avenue for original characters who weren't interested in fitting into any previous mold. Maybe the problem now is that it's become a legitimate career and attracts the same dreary careerists who otherwise would have been equally dull cogs in some other machine. You don't even have to write in English--although I think that was one of the most exciting things for me, the opportunity to invent language and form, too. That's what I find most valuable about rap, hip hop--that's really where I relate to it most, because in many other respects, it's lost the connection to the soul and blues that's at the bottom of everything I love and care about most. And no, I'm not toeing that lame, overplayed Frank Zappa line--you know, to the effect that writing about rock is as stupid as dancing about architecture. Zappa, as well as every idiot who's ever quoted that, betrays far more ignorance than cleverness here. There's plenty of good dancing about architecture--Balanchine, anyone? In fact, I can think of a lot of reasons why someone might want to dance about architecture, or other things that can't be expressed within more traditional terms or boundaries.

I think one of the things that was so exciting about rock was that it broke down so many barriers--from language, form, and technology--to the class and color lines of those who make and appreciate it. Although having recently weeded out my record collection, I know that the "old days" were not necessarily better. There was a lot of unnecessary dreck. But there was also Sgt. Pepper--or so it seemed, practically every week. Discovery and invention were celebrated and valued more than product and repetition. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you distill anything down to the so-called "science" of business and branding research demanded by the same giant corporations that view their record labels as not terribly different from their crappy blockbuster-churning movie studios, TV networks, or book publishing divisions. Unfortunately, rock writing has become even more boring right now than its formulaic and predictable subject. I don't know if that was always the case--there was a point where the irreverence of a Creem, say, was rather refreshing. Maybe the worst thing is that it's also become standard operating procedure to imitate someone like Lester Bangs without ever really understanding him. Then again, when Lenny Kravitz, who's maybe just a more dedicated craftsman than Billy Squier, is revered as the new Jimi Hendrix, what do you expect?

Maybe a bigger problem is that as rock became more mass market, there are even fewer people who understand how to read, much less write about rock. It's only funny to me because this is a time when writing about television seems to get legitimate respect in most mainstream publications. And you have Jann Wenner fretting that he's losing market share to Entertainment Weekly. But maybe that says it all--my reasons for writing about rock, my reasons for writing, period, had nothing to do with the reasons that something like Entertainment Weekly exists. Although I actually wrote a lot for Entertainment Weekly-- I was surprised when I was going through a major reorganization of my life, basically, and I found all of these pieces I'd simply forgotten about ever doing. And I was even more surprised that so many of them made me laugh instead of wince, and some of them were not only incredibly entertaining, but actually insightful. And I sort of missed reading someone like myself writing these kinds of things. But I didn't really miss doing it. The point is that I was churning this stuff out around the clock for every one of these rags--I was perhaps as successful as anyone could possibly be, I was making as much money as anyone will ever do, and I was even having some fun besides, flying here, there, being able to sit next to a Paul McCartney and having him whisper the answers to anything I'd really ever wanted to know right in my ear. It was pretty glamorous, and someone else would always pick up the tab. I had achieved everything I'd ever wanted to when I was just a little kid, really, setting out to do this--over the years, I had developed some very specific goals even though for the greater part of at least one decade I was crazed out of my mind on some combination of mood-altering substance, given that the rock business might be the rare profession where drinking and drugs were--and still are--perfectly legitimate preoccupations. It would be like playing golf in other circles--or going to strip clubs with your colleagues or clients. It's just part of the deal. But that's a whole other story.

But I began to hate it and I began to really hate myself for doing it. I couldn't stand the kind of people I had to work for or what they were trying to sell. That's not why I was so passionate about music or writing or anything in the first place. And rock writing has become largely celebrity puff pieces about commodities, basically tied to whatever is being advertised, although publications still do the hokey-pokey, pretending that advertising is distinct from editorial. And yet, you can't help notice that the size of an ad-which, even in such a hoity-toity institution as the Times, occasionally runs directly opposite from the "article"--has a pretty direct relationship to the corresponding feature. Do you buy any American publication at this point in time just to read the rock writing? I don't. And most of the people who appreciate these commodities--who fill the seats at a Michael Jackson or Britney Spears or Madonna concert are not interested in reading about it. Sports fans may want to know the score or what went on in the locker room even if they saw the game.

(But I think you ask me some of these things later on. I apologize if I'm getting ahead of myself. You'll probably be really sorry you said I could answer in as many words as I wanted. Didn't anyone tell you I don't know how to tell a story? I only finish a sentence on pain of deadline--or worse. Then again, I guess it's also the way I can tell what kind of person my listener is--if they are only interested in cutting to the chase, or whether they want to go along for the ride.)

Personally, I've always been, and still am, really more interested in the ride. But I spend a lot of time now travelling around the country-well, I always spent a lot of time travelling around--even if now I'm in a van more than a limo or Motel 6 instead of the Four Seasons. But y'know, the reality is I didn't get into music for the perks. A lot of the things that seem to be really important to a lot of other people have just become even less and less important to me. Part of that is being married to someone who is even less materialistic. Albert is and always has been totally devoted to trying to create something worthwhile and share the gifts he has been blessed with and after being together this long, I think we've really come to some understanding of what really matters to us both. I'd like to not go entirely bankrupt doing it, but you know, if a particular lifestyle were what mattered to him, he never would have left Blue Öyster Cult when they were doing arenas and, you know, to paraphrase the oft-quoted Joni Mitchell line just one more time, feeding the star-maker machinery. But as we travel around, doing our band, the Brain Surgeons, in our modest little way, we meet and talk to lots of people around the country. Which is of course the rewarding thing--'cause the travel part, as everybody knows, can be a drag even when you're in the private jet. But then you miss what we really get off on right now, which is doing what most people never get to do, which is to really experience and appreciate our country in a unique way and put on a show, too...

But there are actually a surprising number of people who do still care about music, who are just mystified about what's happened to not only music, but to writing about it, as well as radio. The people who have jobs in the industry are far more interested in holding on to them than expressing an individual vision. And so many of the writers I encounter, particularly those who once saw themselves as some kind of punk rockers or rebels, who now have staff jobs at their local daily, are really terrified to take a wrong step, that if they cover something other than Britney Spears or whoever is at the local stadium in their sections, their editors and publishers will make them pay. At least they have some sort of minimal union protection. But there's very little incentive to stick one's neck out, never mind pursue your own vision. Until the other shoe bomber dropped, dailies around the country were busily creating endless new sections devoted almost entirely to the latest coffee makers and plump sofas and hand held thingymadoos.

Still, I can't help but think about Robert Palmer rolling over in his grave or urn or wherever--it's very weird that even while there may be possibilities for greater and more interesting discussion in mainstream publications, the rock music writing in particular seems to be more minimal and formulaic than ever. I could say I just skim through any paper for any basketball scores I might care about, but actually I hear them on the radio before I even wake up. Meanwhile, the people--the children, really--who consume the bottom-line mass market stuff--whether it's Britney or the Stones or Puddle of today's whatever that plays the stadiums and is dutifully covered in turn, are not necessarily interested in thinking, never mind reading, about it. But it doesn't really matter, does it? When you travel around and read a lot of local papers, you see that only the rare exception doesn't look as if it's coming from the same sanitized wire service. Of course, much of the time it is. Maybe it's the same thing that's happened to radio in this country, to bookstores, independent film theaters, you name it. It's very difficult for any Mom & Pop operation to compete with the muscle of a chain. And people, even if they are loyal to a particular vendor, many people, given the transience of American life in general, are probably more dedicated to McDonalds than a local diner or shop at the mall Gaps rather than the haberdasher in the town square who outfitted their parents for the prom. And the mall is the same wherever you go--Atlanta, Chicago, White Plains--it's all just like "home." And home is some new condo or cookie cutter development with all the microwave fixins' instead of some funky place with its own history and creaky joints. But it's a matter of taste. You're not going to have a new relatively prosperous class of consumers without breeding them to some kind of uniformity. Otherwise, why bother "branding"? Uck, I hate that even more than using "impact" as a verb. But if we're lucky, that trend is probably already on the way out. Even the alternative papers have all been gobbled up by the same corporation. You can understand how it makes sense in terms of selling ads nationally. And I think as Americans, particularly at this time, it's important to have some kind of common reference points and experience, which has been a problem since the 13 colonies started organizing against George III. And for a lot of reasons, we may have come closer now than at almost any other point in our history, but in the name of progress, and in particular, economic growth, a lot has been destroyed.

Steven:   In the days before you became a rock critic, you were in a band as a drummer, I think. Flaming Youth? Or something like that. When did you decide you wanted to write about music, and where and when was your first piece of rock journalism published?

Deborah:    Yes, immediately before I became a rock critic, I was the drummer in what was really the first all-female hard rock band in New York, maybe the country. Because, believe me, I had searched them all out... And we lived with Allen Ginsberg and had played the same circuit as the Dolls and early Kiss, and were just a little much way too soon. But I'd already probably lived out more of my own fantasies than most people do or maybe even have in a lifetime. I was living in my own apartment by the time I was 16. I was working in the theater and my parents forced me to just go to the high school graduation, which I really resented. I would have dropped out of high school but I wasn't old enough. Eventually, this all caught up with me--I can't believe I was doing what I was doing when I was this young, because essentially I didn't know what I was doing, and it's basically a miracle that I survived any of it. At first, music was just another facet of my general show biz aspirations. It's funny, a lot of my neighbors are actors, and the other day one of them whose father I remember as a big deal on Broadway when I was growing up, was just humming the melody of one of the more obscure songs from an old show to her baby in the elevator and I just started singing along. It just took me back to a very different point in my life, when I would twirl around the living room, wishing I was one of the Von Trapps.

But when I heard the Beatles--and I've written a little about this before--all I thought was, I want to do that. It didn't occur to me that I couldn't. I was 10. And what was weird about it was how different my response was to the other girls in my grade. All they thought about was which Beatle they thought was the cutest, who would make the most ideal boyfriend. I thought that was bizarre. I immediately got a little guitar and I wanted to get a band together with some girls, and they just thought I was insane, so maybe I stopped mentioning it. I had only one friend who would even indulge me. Her mother took us to see A Hard Day's Night. Actually, she might have been the one to have the guitar first. She had older siblings, it could have belonged to one of them. I forced my younger brothers, who didn't really have any interest in music, to get guitars and I'd try to have little bands with their friends. We might have done one gig--on the playground, using a short-wave radio for one of the guitar amps. I think we used to plug the mike into a Wollensak. I was very into the Beatles, the Stones, most of the English Invasion stuff that came along, as well as Motown. This was something I shared with the people who worked for my family. I remember getting really upset when my mother fired a live-in housekeeper from Detroit who turned out to have a drinking problem. I had spent hours listening to music with her and getting the inside scoop on artists like the Vandellas, who came from the same projects. I remember tearfully pleading with my mother to let her stay. "Very nice, dear, but she nearly drowned your sister." "Who cares about my sister, Mom, she knows Martha !"

But there were a couple of people I went to school with who were pretty talented like Marc Shulman, who's played since with everybody from Suzanne Vega to Jewel. He was amazing by the time he was about 12. I would hang around with him and the guys in his band. His older brother, Jay, who was a serious cellist but was the lead singer of one of the hot high school bands, called the Offbeats, might have been an even bigger influence. I was their opening act at the 8th grade dance, singing some Malvina Reynolds number with my little acoustic guitar before they did their Stones' covers. He hired Steven Tyler's band for the senior prom. There were a couple of other boys who were not as gifted but were much bigger hustlers and have had more commercial success. My uncle was involved in a film company around that time, and I used to beg him to send me his Variety every week, even at summer camp. I couldn't understand why this was of absolutely no interest to the other girls in the bunk. I would memorize the grosses--this was a time when this was really the only source for this box office info--which is all hysterical to me now that I have no interest in who's the biggest or what most appeals to the masses. But then, I simply hungered for knowledge.

At the same time, I also loved other kinds of magazines--the old Life, for instance. The images were just so powerful. I used to come home for lunch in elementary school and on Wednesdays, when Life came, I would just rush home to pore over it. I remember, for instance, the photos of the In Cold Blood killers--the images as well as the words; these all had a tremendous effect on me.

In California, a family friend who had some music publishing connection put us up at the Landmark Motel, where Janis Joplin eventually OD'd (she probably got tired of waiting for a towel--the place had been going downhill ever since Eddie Fisher rode out his divorce from Debbie Reynolds there). I loved it. The Chambers Brothers left their cut-off jean bottoms in my closet (the maid service was kind of lacking) and other bands who made one major label album before dropping off the face of the earth were all throwing each other and everything else into the pool day and night. I guess this is why being on the road with rock bands has always seemed so normal to me--this is what I was observing when I was 11 or 12, before I even went to high school. He drove me in his T Bird to a recording session where these teenagers, who he kept saying were going to have to get cleaned up before they went to get their working papers to play in the local clubs, were making their first record. And we basically agreed that although the lookalike siblings who fronted the band were kind of talented--the older one grabbed some mallets on a whim and did a spontaneous vibe solo they decided to keep--the material just wouldn't make it. And we were right--it wasn't until Hourglass's drummer became the producer, and they dropped the unconvincing psychedelia and mined their blues roots that I saw the Allman Brothers again and so did the rest of the world.

During my senior year of high school, I was able to get out of being in a regular English class by sitting down one lunch hour, smoking a joint and writing something I thought was a play. Really, it was an imitation of most of the things I had ever read or seen. One day, when they were holding auditions for Hair, which turned out to be for dancers (and I have long had a serious choreography defect--something to do with an inability to distinguish between left and right) I scribbled a magic marker title, and left it with the eyebrow-raised receptionist for Joseph Papp. Several months later, he ushered me past the John Wilkes Booth descendant who was his secretary before replacing his second-to-last wife, and told me I was the voice of my generation. Voice of my generation? Then I thought, well, what the fuck do I do now? That really has a lot to do with how I eventually became a rock critic. But first I wimped out and went to Harvard. I was 17 years old and didn't have a clue how to write a play or do anything really, but I was too embarrassed to tell anybody. And what happened just as soon as I got there, was that the day after Halloween, my father came to town and wanted to borrow my car, which was really the car he bought for me, and I didn't bother answering the phone again, and he went in his salesman's car and some person who was driving in a stupid way on the other side of Route 128 by Waltham came over the highway divider and killed them all.

At the moment that it happened I was actually trying to write a review of The French Connection for The Harvard Independent, which the director William Friedkin had come and personally screened for us. Maybe that's why I didn't answer the phone, because I had this incredibly important deadline and I was having a hard time organizing my little thoughts. Or maybe that wasn't him calling, it was just someone trying to tell me he was dead. It doesn't matter, I replayed that scene over and over for years, trying to make it come out in some other way. Sitting at my desk trying to write was really how to torture myself with it. Maybe that's why I immediately zeroed in on people like Courtney Love or Eddie Vedder before other people really picked up on them. Instinctually, I knew they were working out something similarly traumatic. It's like radar. Courtney Love actually interests me more now in terms of her grandmother, Paula Fox, and her mother than any of her music or lawsuits. Paula Fox wrote Desperate Characters, didn't she, where someone is stricken by this foreboding cat before the child she gave up for adoption, Courtney's mother, finally found her. And the way that these three generations have repeated certain patterns, with alcoholic men and with their own daughters, really fascinates me. That's a book I'd like to write right there.

My life changed in that split second of someone being in the wrong place at the right time. And as a result, a lot of other terrible things happened to my family that were very difficult for us all, and me, especially, to deal with. The rug of my previous reality had just been ripped right out from under me. Kids often think they kill their parents, but I did feel pretty directly responsible. Now I understand more about trauma--as do a lot of people, but this was actually just before the real studies of it began. You read about people at the World Trade Center, tough cops, hardened professionals, who keep reliving that moment when if they had just done something different, could have saved their partner or best friend or whatever.

Harvard was a particularly terrible and impersonal place to be--it's only recently, when people have been killing their roommates that anyone there has even bothered to pay attention to what's going on with the undergraduates. It's a place you don't get to if you're going to sink instead of swim, only the strong survive, yadda yadda. If someone stumbles, who cares, it just helps reduce the competition. And for me, it was really complicated by the fact that it all happened there--my father was going to come and see me later. And I hadn't really wanted him to, because I was going through the typical adolescent thing. Who knows if it would have been resolved eventually--I didn't get the chance to find out. So I also felt that even if I hadn't caused the accident, I had wanted it to happen. And when I inconsiderately left my mother alone a month later sitting on a porch and someone tried to mug her and broke her neck, well, it was not pleasant. And really the only thing that offered any respite at all from the incessant pain was turning up my record player and pounding on a set of drums I immediately went out and got with the check my uncle gave me so I wouldn't have to worry about my immediate expenses--because when someone dies as my father did, their bank account is frozen. You can imagine how popular I became in the dorm. But my suitemates miraculously managed to survive--one to get a Pulitzer, another to become an ambassador. We all had a big laugh at the 25th. But I was pretty miserable.

Steven:   You wrote for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. What other music publications did you write for during your career, and were you a career freelancer or did you work as a full-time staffer anywhere?

Deborah:    As I always tell people, I wrote for any and every magazine at first. All I wanted to do was write--and that's what a lot of us did. I remember meeting Jon Pareles at Paul's Mall in Boston at some jazz show. He had just graduated from Yale and was living with his mother in the suburbs, and I said, basically, "Oh you have a pencil! Do you want to be a critic too?" Because what normal person scribbles away during a show? I mean, I always find it funny when fans try to post their "reviews" after a Brain Surgeons show--but it could be any show. And these are not stupid or uneducated people, but they rarely, if ever, get the songs or the order or the instrumentation right because it never occurred to them to take notes. Not that writing anything down at the scene has ever helped many so-called professionals get anything right, but maybe that is the one thing, maybe the only thing, that really distinguishes them from the amateur. The critic brings a pencil. A fan doesn't think of it. Although the hardcore usually have a sharpie, but that's another issue.

Anyway, I was just so thrilled to meet anyone who seemed to share my interests, weird as they were. Jon at the time was writing for a little folded piece or two of rag-paper that was given away at record stores, Poptop. So was Don Shewey. You didn't get paid. You didn't even get to keep the record--only if the publisher didn't want it. Jon told me he was really interested in trying to find and interview a musician named John Payne, who'd just put out a jazz album locally, after playing with Van Morrison and Bonnie Raitt. No problem, I said. His sister was my roommate. Actually, I'd only been persuaded to kick out the person I was living with and let her move in because he'd also played on Fanny Hill and that was the height of my obsession with Fanny. But that's another story. What was the original question? Oh, where I wrote. I think my first piece was in Circus, because the editor had come to see us in Flaming Youth and ended up coming back to Allen's and hanging out. And she, who had greater literary aspirations and was sort of embarrassed to be working for this ridiculous teen boy mag, was sort of amazed that I not only knew what it was, but I loved it. I was so into hard rock and bands like Zeppelin and Mott the Hoople. That was the music we emulated in Flaming Youth, even if it came out sounding more like female Dolls because we didn't really know what we were doing. I didn't know that this music and this magazine wasn't really supposed to appeal to me. I did think it was funny that the shots were always from the crotch up, the fly would be more in focus than the guy's face. It took me about 20 years to figure it out. But when I walked out of the band, I had nothing to do and they wouldn't give me a job at Sam Ash, something else I thought would be incredibly exciting, you know, being around guitars all day, because they didn't have female salespeople. And I called up the editor of Circus, who told me that being a rock critic was incredibly hard and she had so many people already doing it that I shouldn't hold my breath. And then she called me back practically the next day, because not one of those people was willing to go up to Capitol Records and eat an egg salad sandwich and talk on the phone to Brewer and Shipley, who were already one toke over their one hit, and I was.

And I just kept going, figuring that if I paid my dues with the Uriah Heeps, I'd get to do something worthwhile. They would really have me do everything no one else wanted, like Angel and Rush. They had a basic formula you had to fit everything into, so no matter how ridiculous, I saw it all as a learning experience. I had to try to be creative and essentially just amuse myself, while dealing with some fairly inane material. And I went on from there. I guess what really appealed to me, as I began writing for weeklies like the Real Paper and Boston Phoenix, was the even more immediate gratification. I'd write something, and there it would be on the newsstand. It would confirm that I was really there, because sometimes I wasn't so sure. I didn't have to send things off into a dark unknown or wait for a boss or committee to approve or negotiate a deal or wear a dress or work with grown-ups. I got very busy very quickly, and it didn't occur to me to do anything but freelance. I was writing because I didn't want a regular job. And the people I knew were actors or musicians or poets--they went from one gig or project to another. It wasn't until much, much later--like when the tuition at my son's elementary school got up to $20,000, which is more than most rock writers will ever make--that I began to realize what most people never question, that having a steady paycheck is not necessarily such a terrible thing.

But I really thrived on the freedom, as well as always perching on the precipice. That's really what drove me. And I turned down other opportunities, which in hindsight seems pretty stupid. But I liked being not stuck in any one place. But I think there was also a large period of my life, due to my earlier experiences, that I was no more capable of making any kind of commitment to any one job than I was to any one person. And I thought I loved rushing from People one minute crosstown to Rolling Stone the next. I was always juggling a huge number of assignments, but I thrived on the constant movement and, really, the total chaos. One day I looked at a newsstand and thought, I bet there's not a single person who's in as many publications here as me--there was probably one week when I was in everything from Elle to Spin to Rolling Stone, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, and Muscle & Fitness. And did anyone give a flying fig? Of course not. My bags were always packed. I didn't have a home. I was on the road for one magazine one minute and someone else the next.

I also really liked throwing myself entirely into someone else's world--whether it was John Cougar or PJ Harvey or Robert Plant--you suck it all in and spit it all out and go on to the next one. I realize now that it was just an attempt to compensate for a lot of other emptiness. But it's part of what made my pieces so great--I didn't simply write them, I lived them. Probably much, much too intensely. Especially for the poor people who had to edit me. It was rarely--if ever--a picnic. But everything was this real struggle--I really thought that if I didn't come up with some incredible breakthrough or revelation, I would have to jump off a bridge. Or something. I didn't know how to do it any other way.

Continue to Deborah Frost, part 2