Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: New Journalism

Andrew Roiter interviews Cheryl Conklin at Fiddlehead at Four Corners
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- There was a moment last night when anyone who pays attention to the world knew that the kid has it. You know, It.

You either have it or you don't, and Andrew Roiter has It. Andrew Roiter is the new arts editor of the Bennington Banner, fresh out of college at MCLA and smack onto the kettle of professional newspapering.

Andrew has been a professional journalist for five days. On Day 1, the outgoing arts editor told him about a story idea at the funky art gallery on the corner, and like a true go-getter he walked the 100 paces or so instead of being lazy and introducing himself in a phone call.

I was the first person Andrew met in the gallery Wednesday.

"It smells like wine in here" were Andrew's first words, which seemed a bit peculiar considering Fiddlehead does not sell wine. It smelled either of coffee or of soap rocks. I slid over a few steps behind the counter and said "Well, we have these winestoppers."

This young turk carrying a reporter's notebook and a pen made a strong first impression that day with his professional attire:

Andrew Roiter, first day on the job. (Joey Kulkin photo)

... oh, sure, he had all the earmarks of a 22-year-old straight outta liberal arts school: mutton chops for sideburns connected to chinstrap beard that made him look like a cross between Honest Abe and one of the guys from "Witness" ... and his hair is straggly. 

He kind of reminded me of Tony Scalzo, lead singer of the great '90s band Fastball ...

... one of the 5 best songs of the '90s, one of the Great American Driving Songs. How it didn't win the Grammy for Best Song in '98 is beyond me. #musicalmarrow. Idiot voters.

But I digress.

Andrew Roiter the new arts editor of the Bennington Banner returned to Fiddlehead at Four Corners at 6 o'clock last evening, like he said he would, to interview Bennington artists by the name of Cheryl Conklin and Stella Ehrich. Their works are on display in the gallery.

This was a unique interview session for a thousand and one reasons, and by unique I mean flat-out wacky. Amid the swirl of Columbus Weekend customers and the Grateful Dead playing in the background at higher decibals than usual and an ex-newspaper guy chronicling the moment with his camera and the gallery owner doing his best to keep everything from unraveling, the even-keeled kid shook off the jangled nerves and held onto his bearings quite well -- and he conducted strong interviews.

Oh, sure, Andrew didn't have his best fastball yesterday. 

But for a kid who was just called up to the big leagues, he left an impression. In baseball terms, he pitched into the eighth inning and gave up a few runs on just 4 hits and walked 2 and struck out 7. That's a great rookie debut.

I've written about Cheryl's Escheristica HERE and HERE ... and I plan to elaborate about Stella's world-class work soon. 

I love Stella's work.

Anyone who drives past Fiddlehead can see this Stella replica in a window ...

... Stella has the original still, and one day it will be mine.

What I enjoyed most about Andrew's performance was his composure.

I've been where he stood last night, thousands of times, in the middle of a storm of madness and insanity, voices hitting you from left and right and center and all directions in between, and you're standing there all alone trying to digest everything and madly chicken-scratching everything you think you hear into the notebook that feels like it's shrinking in your hands ... and all the while you're trying to stay calm -- never let 'em see you sweat -- and you're trying to maintain that laser focus long enough to drive the interview with all the right questions, all the right smiles, emitting the right amount of empathy and sympathy the moment requires, displaying all the right emotions ... and the hardest thing to do is not forget a blessed thing, which you're going to do because no one is that good.

You think hitting a baseball is hard? Try interviewing someone.

I remember being the newbie (sports) reporter at the Bennington Banner like Andrew Roiter, covering games and paying attention amid the cacophony of life, trying to think of the right questions to ask athletes and coaches after the battle -- without sounding like a cliche -- as human bombs and volcanos explode and erupt all around you. It's intoxicating.

For a few months last night volcanos and bombs were exploding around Andrew Roiter the rookie reporter. The kid held his footing, though. MCLA prepared him well.

If Andrew Roiter can handle last night the way he did, the rest of his career will follow suit. His fastball will become faster, and he'll learn the best way to use It ... 

... and then look out, journalism world.

But keep this in mind, Andrew: every day won't be an 8-inning, 4-hit, 7-K outing. Some days, kid, the newspapering will score 12 runs off you in the 1st inning.

Here are photos of Andrew Roiter is action at Fiddlehead, followed by another Fastball song that everyone agrees is the shortest greatest song in history. 

No one who loves that song wants it to end.

Andrew interviews Cheryl (right) as Stella watches

Andrew, Cheryl, Fiddlehead owner Joel Lentzner
and Cheryl's husband Rick
My big advice for Andrew:
Learn how to take great photos and videos
Stella's turn

Stella's work at Fiddlehead
also at
Stella Ehrich and Cheryl Conklin
stand in front of Stella's work at Fiddlehead
(Joey Kulkin photo)