dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Throwback: Everything Went From Wrong To Right (My 'Instinct' Anniversary)

Ten years ago today I began working at Instinct Magazine. I kind of took the long way around with a writing career, and even when I began at the mag, I took the non-editorial position of business manager, working directly with the publisher. That classy pic above is me (with my eyes closed) in my old office there, circa 2003, when the publication was based in Sherman Oaks in the Valley.

Of course, I wanted to be in editorial, and when you put your mind to something, it eventually all works out. Here's basically how I went about getting the job: I had been working at the E! channel for over a year (so I was broke as shit), was dating a guy who had a subscription to Instinct (a publication I'd never heard of), picked a copy of the latest issue up off his bedroom floor one morning in January 2002 and thought, well, I could surely write for this.

I emailed the general office address listed on the masthead and, surprisingly, heard from the publisher pretty quickly. We spoke on the phone, and he asked if I was interested in a career in editorial or the publishing side. Well, this was the publisher, so figured I should say publishing, right? An in-person interview and a few weeks later,  my career at Instinct began. That swimsuit issue to the right there (April 2002) was the one that had just hit newsstands when I started. 

Anyway, I'm glad I started out in publishing, because one of my best friends, Alex, began the same day I did. He got the editorial position that was open — that of managing editor. We're still pals today, 10 years, later, and I even crashed with him in Austin this past week (where he's getting his PhD) while I was attending South By Southwest.

It was a fun era for me when I started at the mag, and it really felt like a new beginning. I had been in Los Angeles for just under three years at that point, and had bounced around aimlessly from job (delivery assistant at Summit Entertainment) to job (production assistant at E!). I was finally working at a place where I basically went in, did my duties — which included paying all the company's bills, managing payroll, invoicing advertisers and acting as one-man collections agency — walked out the door at 5 p.m. and didn't take any work home with me.

Of course, as I mentioned, I was completely broke. So here's the story with that: I'd done that fucking stupid thing you do in your 20s where you move to the big city, charge the shit out of your credit cards and then go into debt. The year before, I struggled with two choices — either file for bankruptcy or consolidate my cards and go into a debt management program. I did the latter at the suggestion of my better half, cut up my cards and, by rule, wasn't permitted to open another one until the program ended and I paid off the $15,000 I'd racked up. And so, for five years, I had to live off only what I had in my checking account.

Kylie Minogue's Fever, an album I recently wrote a 10-year-anniversary piece on for Idolator, had just been released in the States a few weeks before I started at Instinct. I couldn't believe she was having a major American resurgence. The LP had debuted at #3 and it produced the Top 10 hit "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" and Top 25 hit "Love At First Sight". Needless to say, Fever was totally my jam that whole year.

Other stuff I was listening to then: Michelle Branch's Spirit Room, Daniel Bedingfield's Gotta Get Thru This, Natalie Imbruglia's White Lilies Island and Darren Hayes' Spin.  

Parker, the editor in chief of Instinct at the time, had just been mailed a promo of Pet Shop Boys' Release, and I remember being massively disappointed in it. Still, that first week at the magazine, I bought the import CD single for "Home And Dry" at the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Blvd. and played both it and the burned copy of Release I'd made religiously. Maybe the latter would grow on me? Yeah — it didn't.

When Release was finally, uh, released, I bought the two-disc version with the blue cardboard sleeve. Cheap-ass packaging. The BF and I caught the Boys live on that tour, at the Universal Ampitheatre, later that year.

One total downer that spring was when I got pulled into jury duty. And it wasn't like it was jury duty down the street — it was jury duty in Compton. The requirement in Los Angeles is that if you live within 20 miles of the courthouse you're assigned to, you gotta go. It just so happened that the Compton courthouse was 19 goddamn miles from my apartment.

What made matters worse was the fact that the Instinct office at that time was 11 miles from my place...in the opposite direction. But surely I'd show up that first day and would get dismissed and be done with it, no? Riiiiiight. I got put on a two-week trial.

The case, some traffic violation drama where a Mack truck had run over some dude's car at a stop light, was being played out in court in the afternoons, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. And it went the entire two weeks. So I had to work at Instinct during the morning, split at noon to drive the 30 miles and make it to Compton in time.

Two things I remember from that time period: Kylie's "Love At First Sight" had a different mix on US radio (the Ruff And Jam Vocal Mix) from the album version and I was pissed that you couldn't find it anywhere (these were pre-iTunes days), and drinking a lot.

In fact, I was so stressed from the long commute each day and missing so much work at a job I had just started that I drank heavily from the time I got home till late at night. Kahlua and cream. Watermelon martinis. Straight vodka. One night I went over to my friend Mike's house, got completely hammered and puked in his bathroom. I began to cry and hugged the poor guy and wouldn't let go. He probably thought about losing my number that night.

A crazy project I took on in 2002 was making a series of CD mixes, for both myself and my good buddy Moogaboo, that basically covered the prior 10 years in Eurodance music chronologically. Like I mentioned earlier, it was the days before iTunes, and a lot of this stuff wasn't easily found through online file-sharing services. So, what I didn't already have in my own music collection, I would seek out by scouring the used record stores of Los Angeles. And I mean sifting through CD bins for effing hours.

I, of course, had the essentials — Snap!'s "Rhythm Is A Dancer," Real McCoy's "Another Night," Livin' Joy's "Dreamer,"Alex Party's "Don't Give Me Your Life," Corona's "The Rhythm Of The Night," Amber's "This Is Your Night," etc.

But all summer long, between buying used CDs in stores and on eBay, I began to track down lesser known shit like First Base's "Love Is Paradise," Alex Party's "Wrap Me Up," Dreamworld's "Movin' Up," Urban Cookie Collective's "Feels Like Heaven" and Praga Khan's "Injected With A Poison."

When all was said and done, Moog came to visit me in L.A. over Halloween weekend in 2002, and I gave him The Collection, as we called it — all 12 CDs!

It was somewhat fitting that another one of my great friends, Steve Espinosa, had emailed me this past January to see if I'd be interested in writing his cover story for the current (March) issue of Instinct. The funny thing was that, like Alex, I met Steve 10 years ago today, since he was the magazine's art director then.

Steve had kept in touch with Instinct's publisher, JR, and, being a handsome guy, the day had come where he was offered to appear on the cover.

Steve is actually the one who pulled me into the editorial department of the magazine once there was an opening, back in January 2004. I took on the role of full-time photo editor once the guy who had been doing it part time left. Steve and I worked on every photo shoot together for the next 15 months, including Rufus Wainwright (May 2004 issue, which we shot at the House Of Blues at Disneyland) and future Kylie Minogue backup dancer Jason Beitel (June 2004 issue). I've written before about our Malibu shoot with the latter.

It really was a golden time for me that I'll never forget. We won two Western Publishing Association "Maggie"Awards for Best Alternative Lifestyle Magazine, in 2003 and 2004. (Here's a pic of Steve picking up the second one in April 2004.) And I made lifelong friends with several of my co-workers in those days. Sure, Instinct was constantly in competition with the other national gay mags at that time (Out, Advocate, Genre), but I never paid much mind to that. I was always just focused on what we were doing, and how we could do it best.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Alex left the magazine in April 2004 and was replaced very briefly by a guy named Mario — who would go on to become this person. Once Mario left that fall, I became the magazine's managing editor. Steve left in March 2005. I stayed on until June 2008, and by that time, it was a whole new crew, for the most part. It just felt like my time to make a graceful exit.

Anyway, I wrote above that it was fitting that Steve asked me to write his cover story. It's funny how things work out — and he could hardly have remembered — but the issue that he appears on just happens to mark my 10-year-anniversary of being involved in some way or other with Instinct, since I still do their music reviews.

I started Chart Rigger while I worked there. I became a published writer thanks to the magazine. I became a way better writer there.

And tonight I'm thanking the universe that I picked that issue up off the floor in January 2002 and thought, well, I could surely write for this.

* Mix Tapes, CD Singles And Being Boring—Tales Of A Lonely Teenage Nobody
* This Used To Be My Playground
* Coffee, Drugs, Death And Ace Of Base 
* I'll Remember
Return To Innocence
* Threesomes, Term Papers, Erasure And The Book-End of Gen X
* All I Really Want Is You
* Someone Who Won't Leave Me Feeling...
* You Can Depend On Me

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  • At 11:18 PM, Blogger Todd said…

    Fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

    I just bought the special extended edition of Release because I don't have it on iTunes and loved it so much! :)

  • At 6:56 AM, Blogger John said…

    I know we joke that you're a hot mess, but I didn't realize you actually WERE one. Welcome to the club!

    Chart Rigger is the gateway blog that introduced me to all of the other blogs that I started following five years ago. For that, I owe you a debt of gratitude. Keep on keepin' on.

  • At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Matthew Finn said…

    Fond memories of packing CD's......UGH! And driving to the post-office to send them. And picking up Parker at the airport. GLAMOR.

  • At 8:31 PM, Blogger realsugar said…

    Love my best lady friend! <3

  • At 9:09 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    I still cherish my copy of "the collection." I remember what an intensive labor of love it was for you. God, pre-iTunes, you kind of had to be a pop archeologist to track down the good shit. (And by "good shit," I of course mean the eurodance cover of the Coca Cola jingle.)

  • At 12:58 AM, Blogger Joshua said…

    Why does that photo look like it was taken in 1994? What is your excuse?!??!?!

    Congratulations on a fulfilled life! You are a gayspiration for reals!


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