Elise Krentzel (Author, Under My Skin)
Drama, Trauma, and Rock ’n’ Roll!
Elise Krentzel is a vision.
Wearing a peach colored shirt and matching thick-rimmed glasses, she dials into the Zoom call from her car, looking and sounding like the intelligent, street savvy, suffers-no-fools aunt I wish I had another of.
The conversation is meant to discuss her new, self-published memoir: Under My Skin: Drama, Trauma, and Rock ’n’ Roll, detailing her journey — the first part of it, at least — from abused youngster growing up in 1950s and 60’s New York City, to having an eventual taste of rock and roll stardom — not by singing songs, but by writing about them.
Elise Krentzel is a journalist. From writing music reviews for her own enjoyment to eventually working at Billboard Magazine, she’s done everything from tour with KISS to bring punk music to Japan.
And after enough tragedy and triumph to fill several lifetimes, she’s not only found time to write her life’s story down into a quick, yet captivating read, but to have a moment of true kinship with another woman inside the journalism industry as we discuss our love of the written word and rock and roll.
Let’s start out by talking about this book. I read it and loved it. How did the book itself come to be?
“This is book one of three books. I have wanted to write this story for thirty five years, and in one form or another, I did write it. I’ve written over a hundred short stories, and one-quarter of the book is about my rock journalism and going to Japan with KISS. Probably twenty years ago, I wrote one whole book, not published, just about the KISS tour. So I’ve been writing it over the years, and during COVID, I finally found the time to just sit down and do it.”
Any plans to publish those short stories in an anthology?
“I would like to do that. On the other hand, many of the stories in this book were based on the short stories.”
I’ve always been fascinated by memoirs, and the author’s recounting of experiences that happened many years ago. How much reference material did you have to draw off of, as you are recounting very specific conversations and events?
“I document everything, and I have kept diaries since I was eleven. I scoured through diaries, letters, notes, short stories, anything that I had. I’ve always been an early adopter — I was using word processors in the eighties, I was using email. By the nineties, I had a Mac. All this to say, I love documenting things.”
“I also have a memory, and certain things did stick. Now, were those the exact words? No one will ever know.”
“To that end, the notion that a reader never really knows if what the writer writes is the whole truth… It would have been so easy to just fictionalize this whole thing, to tell it in the third-person, to remove yourself not only as the author, but as the person who experienced these things, one level away from the trauma.”
How important was it for you to claim all of those experiences as your own, both the triumphs and the tragedies?
“Exactly. You are such a great interviewer, I just have to tell you that. That’s the key to the whole book. I had to not only relive those experiences, I had to be ready emotionally so that I could be objective. And that’s why I was able to write it in the first person. I’ve overcome all of that trauma, I’ve processed it throughout my life — years of therapy and this, that, and the other. And now there’s no animosity, no sting, nothing toward anyone in the book!”
That’s extraordinary. I tried to put myself in that space as I was reading, and I don’t think I’d be able to do that. I’d be so bitter and angry.
“I was! I was for a good part of my life, but that’s no way to live. Our suffering comes out in all sorts of ways. The people who are suffering so bad — like the narcissists of this world — all they ever do is make others suffer. And I’m sure there were people who suffered because of me because I was insufferable.”
The courage it takes to relive and recount those experiences is palpable. I can’t wait to get a hard copy and hold it in my hands to see if the words bleed through the page. I don’t think a PDF manuscript really does it justice.
“I was sure most people were going to download the PDF, but nuh-uh, she laughs. People want the copy!”
I can see why! Any plans to do a book tour?
“I would love to. This is a self-published venture, so I’ve been doing book tours all over Austin, Texas, because that’s where I live, but if anybody wants to invite me, I’m available and I would love to!”
“I feel like there are a lot of people who would really go for this story. When you think about music journalists, the first names to come to mind, Jan Wenner and others — they’re all men. And the stories you’ve told, told from the perspective of a woman — what a novel concept, even still today, and how sad!”
“Even today, still. Look, I wasn’t a groupie, I was a journalist…not that there’s anything wrong with groupies. Cassie Valentine from the Go-Gos, Blondie, Patty Smith, they all wrote their memoirs, but they’re musicians. But how many female rock journalists were there in that time? Very, very few. Very few.”
To that end, what was the secret to breaking into the journalism industry in the time that you did, and is there a way for kids to do it now? Does technology make it easier?
“I guess, because of this toxic blend of my family, there was a good side to it. Because there were no boundaries, I could do whatever I wanted. And what I wanted more than anything else was to grow up and get out of my house. I loved music, I was raised on music…and in that period, it was life changing. I think it may have been the greatest period for music in history. We took those lyrics to heart, they really represented us. Y’know, The Who — “we won’t get fooled again…” It was formative. It gave me my political, social, and moral viewpoints.”
“And I was always writing, and one day, it was just an ah-ha moment. I might have been fourteen. And I said, “I’m gonna be a rock and roll journalist” because I love music, and I love writing. So what I did was, every album that I bought, I would write a record review. Every concert I went to, I would write a concert review. Every article I read about a band, I would try to find a different angle.”
“And then I started sending in those reviews, and eventually, one was published. It took some years, but it was published. And then I was off and running. Dissolving into giggles, she continues, I would get back letters of rejection. I’ll never forget this one from Stereo Review — they said, “don’t you dare ever try writing another article, because your writing is terrible.” But I didn’t care. All those rejections only fueled my willpower to succeed.”
Do you think that “toxic blend” you were exposed to helped to develop the thick skin necessary to get rejected and keep at it?
“Yes, but I was used to rejection. I was rejected by my mother on an emotional level, I was rejected by my schoolmates in primary school, save one or two best friends… I had a steely will, and a very soft heart. In Israel, the Israelis are called in Hebrew, “sabra.” And what is that? A sabra is a fruit of the cactus. It’s prickly on the outside, and soft on the inside. And that was me.”
“And for millennials who want to become journalists, the whole field is different now. But what’s different? It may not be print, it may be online. And if you’re going into music journalism, specifically, it may be difficult to make money from that. Musicians can hardly make a living at all, these days. If you really want to be successful at it, I would go for feature stories — The Atlantic, Rollings Stone, Time, People, whatever it is — that get published both in print and online. And that takes gumption. It’s not gonna happen overnight.”
“You can also find groups that put out their own magazines, and start with one of those to build up a following. Start your own YouTube channel, do TikTok, do Snap(chat), just get your voice out there consistently.”
It’s so wonderful to talk about these things with you in this capacity. My heart is so full right now, I can’t really explain it other than that!
“That’s so beautiful, I so appreciate it! I really want to be a lighthouse for millennials — girls, boys, I don’t care. Things just seem to be so insurmountable today, because we are bombarded by information, and just a piece of advice on that — tune it out, man!”
You mention in the book that you spent time with KISS, obviously, and you mention interviewing Paul Simon. What’s the most memorable interview you got, and what’s The One That Got Away?
“The most memorable interview was with John Lennon. I was the only foreigner allowed in the room when he toured Japan — and only Japan — to announce Imagine. And the one that got away was David Bowie. I never got to interview Bowie. She laughs again, It’s tragic, my Ziggy!”
In the author blurb at the back of the book, it says that you brought punk to Japan. Tell me how that went.
“That’s in book two, she laughs, but I’ll give you a little synopsis of that. I lived in Japan for almost six years, and I worked for a publishing company, then I went off on my own, and I had a booking agency, and I brought to Japan, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Clash, Billy Idol, and a boatload of other people.”
So what’s the timeline on those other two books?
“Book two will probably be released in the first quarter of 2023, and book three, I would imagine 2024.”
Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I look forward to talking with you again when those other books come out!
“It was a pleasure, I really enjoyed it!”
Interviewed by: Ashley J. Cicotte
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