Allison Plean: Steep learning curve

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I already have learned a million things from working at the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

My first lesson was that listening to the song "Holding out for a Hero" (from the "Footloose" soundtrack) on repeat in my car while sitting in the newspaper parking lot before my interview helped me land the job.

Since becoming a reporter, I learn 100 new things every day, but only some of those things make it into my articles.

Many of the lessons come from interviewing musicians. It seems the more accomplished musicians are, the less they flaunt their egos. Maybe it's because they have less to prove.

"Being 61 and not 25 gives me the freedom to say what I want, because I am not beholding anybody to make me a star," musician Mike Garson said. "It allows me to be honest and not compromise my integrity."

Four days after my interview with Garson (who has been in the music industry for 47 years), I called him back to get some pointers on interviewing musicians. He told me they like to talk about the creative process.

"In the movie they did on Ray Charles, they showed two minutes on the piano lessons that changed his life and spent two hours on his drug use," Garson said. "That's not what makes him a good singer."

Garson also told me Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails hasn't had an alcoholic beverage in five years. (He hung out with him backstage two weeks ago.)

I've had the opportunity to talk with musicians who have babysat for Bob Dylan's children and grew up riding on the front of Bob Marley's bicycle. For them, name-dropping comes as easy as their prefabricated answers to common questions.

Their eclectic wealth of information is a school in itself. John Sant'Ambrogio taught me that a string quartet performance is more like a conversation between four voices than it is four people playing complimentary instruments. Arthur Lee Land showed me that one man can sing while playing five instruments (West African percussion, acoustic and electric guitar, guitar synth and the talk box) by using a looping technique.

Artists like The Ditty Bops continue to impress me by doing things like riding their bikes across the country to promote a new CD.

With rapidly advancing technology, seemingly anyone can become a rock star these days. The members of Hillstomp have proven you can start a band with objects borrowed/stolen from the kitchen and liquor closet of the seafood restaurant where you work. And Linda Davis surprised me by telling me she recorded the jingle for Dr. Pepper without receiving a lifetime supply of the soda. I thought that would be a given.

I've learned that even heavy metal musicians -- like Guy Delhierro -- cry. And they take as much as 30 minutes before a show to apply makeup.

Some musicians, like the ones in Sophie Milman's band, need oxygen when performing at high altitude.

I've also received little tidbits about famous people that you wouldn't necessarily find in a celebrity gossip magazine. Albert Mazibuko of Ladysmith Black Mambazo told me how Nelson Mandela dances. He described Mandela's dancing the way I picture Dr. Evil dancing.

Steve Berlin of Los Lobos said that Paul Simon is known throughout the music industry as being the biggest jerk and that parking at the Grammies is like going to Invesco Field at Mile High stadium in Denver but having to park in Pueblo.

My favorite thing about working my beat (other than the steep learning curve) is seeing people's faces light up when they talk about the things they are passionate about. It even translated over the phone through the thick Ukrainian accent of Vasyl Popadiuk.

I still have an immense amount of growing to do as a reporter, and I realize that I can't sit in my car listening to '80s cassette tapes before every scary interview. But I will continue to squeeze out all the information and juicy gossip I can get from my interview subjects before passing it on to you. And I'll try not to do so much name-dropping.

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