On my second day in the office, I received an e-mail from a publicist about a book that was coming out from Jon Niccum, who used to sit in my seat here as music editor at The Pitch
. It felt a little surreal to be interviewing the dude who used to have my job when I was so new to it, but I felt that whatever the circumstances, we were both journalists and would get on fine.
For years, Niccum has been collecting stories from artists about their "worst gigs," and he's amassed quite the arsenal of anecdotes. In his new book, The Worst Gig
, Niccum recounts entertaining (and sometimes terrifying) tales from Def Leppard, Tool, Alice Cooper, the Flaming Lips, Wilco and oh, so many more.
The Worst Gig
is out today. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Niccum over the phone about the evolution of this project and his favorite "worsts."
The Pitch: Tell me how the idea for this book came to you. You've been amassing these stories for years - was this just a favorite question you liked to ask artists?
: Yeah, you know, it's funny. It started when I was at The Pitch
, when I was the music editor there. I remember one time we were at this staff meeting, and it was the early '90s, and I got this call, and it was the guitarist for the Cranberries, and he had called something like six hours early for the interview. I was totally not ready for him, so after that, I was like, "I'm gonna have a list of good backup questions in case this ever happens again." One of the questions was "What was the best show you ever played," and I got really boring answers, so I decided to reverse it: "What was the worst show you ever played." I found that as soon as I started asking that question, I started amassing these great stories, and I was like, "Well, this would make a great book."
I'm thinking about what it must have taken for you to get these stories - the part where the artist trusts you enough to tell you what their worst gig was. Do you have any fun stories of, shall we say, extraction?
Well, you know, it takes a while to build trust - a lot of the time these are people you've never talked to before, people you'll never have access to again. A big part of it is getting to do a really good interview with them in the first place - hit them with questions they aren't expecting. You can tell when they go off autopilot. I didn't do it with everybody, but once I got the relationship going, and once it was worth pursuing, I'd ask them.
I probably got a usable story every third or fourth time, but as far as having difficulty extracting ... I've run into people who are like, "Ugh, I don't even want to think about it. It was scarring," and I've had people who are like, "I'll tell you my second worst, because I can't tell you my first." There have been some artists I've known really well who have been like, "My worst gig story would reflect poorly on other people," and they can't really talk about about it. And then there are the people who are like, "Oh my God, do I have a story for you," and then they launch into it.