Writing for Rolling StoneAnthony DeCurtis discusses his life and tips for success
Wen Hao Wang
Contributing editor of Rolling Stone and Hunter alumni, Anthony DeCurtis, came to the Brookdale campus of Hunter College on Mar. 6 for an informal discussion. Hunter students of different majors, including those studying journalism, music and writing, all came interested in meeting the writer of a national publication as widely read as Rolling Stone.
Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Manhattan, DeCurtis’ parents did not graduate from high school, but his sister, who is eight years older than him, went to Hunter College. She would go to the library to do her college homework while he sat beside her and did his high school work. She even took him to classes, serving as his role model.
“Hunter was the place of my personal liberation,” DeCurtis acknowledged.
Unlike his teachers in high school, he found his Hunter professors supportive. As a student in the honors program, he was free from academic requirements. With that advantage, he delved into literature and philosophy classes.
“The same skills I learned in my literary criticism and English classes, I use everyday.” He continued, “How you put together your thoughts, formulate a perspective, all of the intellectual rigors of my classes here have held me in good stead.”
While at graduate school for American Literature at Indiana University, DeCurtis developed an interest in journalism after a friend suggested he write a review for the local newspaper. After graduating, he moved to Georgia with a plan to become an English professor, but he did not receive any decent offers. He wrote about music whenever he could to get his work out there. Feeling desperate, DeCurtis even wrote for free.
When the B-52’s returned to their hometown in Georgia for their first show, he wrote a letter to a Rolling Stone editor asking to cover the event. In two short paragraphs, he said the band was coming, mentioned he was a music critic for a newspaper, and had a Ph.D. He did not send writing samples. As counter-intuitive as DeCurtis’ pitch was, he got the review.
“I would encourage you to be as flexible as you can be. Take opportunities when it comes,” he said. “You want to make moves that will pay off and there’s nothing more rewarding than doing something you love.”
The risk for DeCurtis paid off. After reviewing the B-52’s show, he kept in contact with the editor and wrote a few more pieces. About five years later, after moving to New York, he was hired. Since then, he’s interviewed the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Pete Townshend.
“The idea that I would sit in a room with any of those people I knew when I was 13 years—I can hardly find the words for it,” he said.
Despite a lack in musical training, he makes music writing an emotional process. DeCurtis interprets songs and finds language that conveys what something sounds like. As difficult as it may be, writing about it came very naturally to him since he’s been a music fan since a young age. The only thing he has spent more time on is reading.
As an avid reader, DeCurtis knows that his writing always can improve.
“It’s a process that never stops,” he said. “I still think about my writing in a critical way all the time.”
He suggested being conscious of what you are reading. When something is funny, ask why it is funny. Analyze how the sentence is constructed and focus on the word choice to build a larger vocabulary.
“You’re a better writer if you’ve got six words you can potentially use in an instance than if you know one and you’re guessing the other,” he suggested.
All his critical engagement would not be possible without the aid of his professors. What helped him the most during his college years was finding professors, editors, and people to work with.
“If you’re in the arts or culture, Shakespeare isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “But what’s not going to be available to you are your professors and people who are being paid to make you smarter. Go after those people. Stay with those people if you feel they still have stuff to teach you.”
DeCurtis repeated an oft-said cliché: “If you don’t want to work a day in your life, do something you love.”
He achieved this, but it did not come easy. For some time his writing was unpaid and went unnoticed, but he assured that hard work pays off.
“Everyday, try to do something to advance your goal. Be persistent,” he said. “The world will bring things to you and take things away, but you have control over what you do. Tell yourself ‘I’m going to be constant--my stuff is going to be good. And when the opportunity comes my way, I’m waiting for them, because I’ve been training.’”