SHAKE HANDS WITH DEATH: Live’s Ed Kowalczyk Meets His Maker
BY JONATHAN VALANIA I still remember the stern lecture I received from the Inquirer’s A&E editor about journalistic ethics, standards of conduct and the necessity of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, real or imagined. This was back in 2000 when I first started reviewing concerts for the paper and the circumstances that occasioned this lecture stemmed from a thumbs down review I had written of Y-100‘s annual Feastival, wherein all the big Modern Rock stars of the day fly in and play for free in exchange for the station’s commitment to give said artist heavy airplay.
As I recall, this being 2000, the Modern Rock format was at a particularly low ebb, having cloned all the bankable Seattle grunge templates again and again, for nearly a decade after the fact, with diminishing returns — like some genetic experiment gone horribly wrong, leaving behind autism and mongoloids. That year’s Feastival line-up was Good Charlotte, Fuel and the WallFlowers. Live headlined. Live was the best they could do. Creed must have been washing their hair that night.
Bored shitless by Fuel — and thoroughly depressed that nine years after The Year Punk Broke it has come to this, feeling like I’d lost my religion, like Kurt Cobain might have died for somebody’s sins but not for these clowns — I ditched my press seats at the Wachovia Center and bluffed my way into the luxury sky box where Y-100 was throwing a VIP holiday party, complete with food and drink. I was starving and kinda broke so I grabbed a plate and hit the buffet. When I looked across the room I saw then-Inquirer music critic Tom Moon having a drink with Good Charlotte’s manager. The bar was so mobbed I didn’t even bother trying to get a beer and I left soon after. After enduring the rest of the show, I filed my review and…then the shit hit the fans.
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote (and, as per Knight-Ridder’s orders, the Inquirer purged everything I ever wrote for them from the archives when I refused to sign away all my digital and reprint rights for, um, exactly nothing, as I recall) but I basically called suck on suck. Except probably the Wallflowers, I still like that One Headlight song. Anyway, Y-100 station manager Jim McGuinn [PICTURED, LEFT OF BECK] was not amused and I remember him walking up to me a few days later at the Khyber and telling me as much in no uncertain terms. I told him I was sorry he could not appreciate my honesty, and that while nobody was a bigger booster of alt-rock than me back when it was blowing up in the early ’90s, I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s over — it’s been over since Kurt Cobain put a gun in his mouth and everything after has been echoes, and even they are coming to an end. And I fully realize that your livelihood depends on denying everything I just said, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Well, the conversation kinda went downhill from there.
A day or so later I get phone call from a friend who, at the time, worked at Electric Factory/Clear Channel, now known as LiveNation. This person told me that there had just been a conference call between Jim McGuinn and E-Factory marketing dude Jim Sutcliffe and senior booker Jeff Gordon.* The subtext of the conversation was: What are we gonna do about Valania?
While I was flattered to rate a conference call, my editor at the Inquirer was not so pleased by whatever phone calls or emails she had received by any of the above, and the news of me stuffing my face at the Y-100 party. Which is why I was read the riot act on journalistic ethics and conflict of interest and how you can’t accept free food or drinks from people that are putting on shows you are reviewing because people might get the impression that we are in bed with them or you will feel obligated to write a good review in exchange for freebies, etc. Bottom line: there must be a clear line of demarcation between the people that are selling tickets to shows and the newspaper that writes about them.
In my defense, I said, let me just say the show truly sucked, alternative rock is dead, it has been since Kurt Cobain blew his head off and everything after has just been echoes. I’m sorry I ate the food, it won’t happen again, but I was hungry and it was dark out and there were wolves after me.
Well, the conversation kinda went downhill from there, but let the record show I never gave up Moon. I have kept his terrible secret until now. The reason I bring all this up is that I just noticed that if you scroll all the way down to the right-hand bottom corner of Philly.com you’ll find this:
So much for the line of demarcation between the people that are selling tickets to shows and the newspaper that writes about them.
*Let the record show that this was a long time ago, and I have since become from friendly with all those guys and sincerely respect the work they do and the professionalism they bring to it. Live still sucks, though.