Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

At the Waterfront Blues Festival
At the Waterfront Blues Festival
In 1972.
In 1972.
10/19/2019

Q&A with OMN Editor-In-Chief Tom D'Antoni on the 10th Anniversary of OMN

By ALAYA WYNDHAM // OMN made its debut on October 26, 2009. Tom D'Antoni has been here the whole time.

Oregon Music News is celebrating its tenth year in publication, and in honor of that momentous anniversary, I wanted to sit down with our founder and Editor in Chief, Tom D’Antoni. I met Tom in the early days of OMN as a writer, and he quickly became a mentor and friend. Today we talk magazine and personal history as well as what’s in store for the future, with a whole lot of fantastic stories in between. Here as you read, you will get to know Tom’s tender heart, some of the most pivotal times in his life, the breadth of his work and what ultimately led him to start Oregon Music News.

An industry veteran, starting in counter-culture writing and moving into TV production in Baltimore,Tom expanded into various roles as writer, editor, DJ and producer over the years. His experience is varied and interesting. He knows everyone in town, and he knows a hell of a lot about music. For the past ten years, Tom has been the driving creative force of Oregon’s only all-genre, online music magazine. It has been a massive labor of love and an incredible accomplishment, taking the magazine to new heights over the years, and breathing new life into it when he observed that's what was needed. We are all so grateful for his dedication and one of a kind presence, in the local music industry, and in our lives. Thank you, Tom.

So let’s go back in time. Tell me about the start of Oregon Music News. The why, the how…

All of the sudden, in 2009, there was a big economic crash, and it affected everybody. And I said, we gotta do something about this, this is not good. One day I was writing in four sections of The Oregonian and the next day I couldn't get an album review. It seemed like the next day.  They were on the way to downsizing.

What were your sections?

A & E, Living, Sunday Living which is where I could really wail, man. Remember how big the paper was? I wrote a three-page piece on an all-night bingo parlor. It was fabulous! I wrote a three-page piece on pipe organs; theater organs and regular organs. I was thrilled to write for the Living section, it was fabulous! There was a great editor and great writers. At the same time when I started writing there, I also got a talk show on 620 AM, and that’s how I jumped in the pool as far as music goes.

Anyway, so the first thing I did was call up Alex Steininger. Okay Alex, what are we gonna do? Cause this shit's gonna hurt me, it’s gonna hurt you, and it's also going to hurt the public because there's gonna be a lack of information about music.

He said, let’s go met with Terry Currier (Music Millennium) and so we all had lunch and talked about it. Terry said, I know woman wants to start a music magazine, Nancy Glass. That was a stormy relationship, but I'm not sure that the magazine would've gotten off the ground without her, you know? So anyway, she was the Publisher. In the beginning it was just basically me and Nancy. Hers was the business end, and mine was the creative and I just thought, okay, we need an all-genre, online music magazine. The plans were grandiose.

The original plan was to divide things up into genres, each genre was to have a separate editor, who would be responsible for at least three stories a week.

We had a guy who was going to who was going to bankroll it, and he dropped out the last minute. We had brought John Nastos on to design the site and build it. He was already working on it when the guy who was gonna bankroll us dropped out, so we all just said, well, let's just go ahead with it! Trusting we would figure out the money, which we never did…and so, we just did it!

Funny thing, you know how Facebook brings back old posts of yours? The one today for me from 2009, which is when it happened, was an update saying: I've never worked so hard in my whole life.”

The actual anniversary is the 26th. And you know, we did it! We put it up and it was beautiful!

And you got a bunch of writers pretty early on…

Yeah, got a bunch of writers, and a bunch of editors. And when things didn’t work out with Nancy, we got a new fantastic Publisher, Ana Ammann. In those days everyone was really good! But I tell you, the moment I knew that I had what I wanted, remember Jack Barry? Old Jack? Now I'm old. I was 60, he was older than me right now, at least 10 years older. He sent a piece in on the band Oregon. I just looked at it and said: Fuck, this is why I started this magazine. It was just so good.

But you know, most everybody was good back then.

For the most part, it was really fun and it was a tremendous amount of work. Although I had been involved in a web magazine in the very, very early days of the Internet when there was just Netscape…before there was even AOL, there was a guy in Baltimore who put together a web magazine, and I wrote music stories for him.

When did you come to Portland?

1997.

And were you writing right away?

Pretty much. I knew that Portland would be good for me, I had recently gotten back into writing because I went through a terrible period. I had a huge crash, and I ended up driving a cab in Baltimore, which should have been pretty much the end of the world.

What led to that?

Well I might blame myself, but at one time, I was living with a poet, helping her raise her son; I was the producer of a TV show starring the Mayor of Baltimore; and I brought back the underground paper HARRY, to compete with the “Willamette Week” of Baltimore, and within like six months it all went away.

Damn.

I had no income, I had no nothing. And the cab was a default and a way to punish myself. I went through that for several years. It was a nightmare. It was just a nightmare. It was horrible. And it was at my peak, I was at my peak, of creativity.

How did you pull yourself out of that?

Well, first thing was some therapy. Well not some therapy, a lot of therapy. Some antidepressants, and one night in the cab I just couldn’t take it anymore. The horror, it was a horror.

Did you have some really creepy things happen to you?

Every night was creepy! But I got beaten with golf club and a lotta shit like that, you know?  Because I played a game. I played the Kill Me game. I figured if I picked up everybody, no matter what they looked like, eventually somebody would kill me, and put me out of my misery. Which they never did.

I’m glad!

The thing that really saved me was AOL. That's all anybody had, pretty much back then, in the early to mid 90s, you know? I got AOL and I started furiously instant messaging people and going in chat rooms. That's what everybody did! And, I started to get my chops back, and then I met somebody online who turned out to be a muse. I started writing again.

I quit the cab and I took a job as a wedding and party DJ. Polyester tuxedo, red cumberbund, red bowtie. Chicken dance. Macarena. Hokie Pokie. Electric Slide. And everything you’ve ever heard at a wedding. That was my job, okay?

Step up from driving the cab.

It was! Because first of all, nobody was gonna kill me. Second of all, although in some ways it was humiliating, it wasn’t nearly as humiliating as driving a cab. Because in Baltimore, it’s much different. In New York, actors and musicians drive cabs, it’s just a temporary thing. In Portland it’s the same thing, driving a cab in Portland is nothing! But in Baltimore, it was more dangerous than being a cop. And guys my age didn’t get out of it, they didn’t recover from it.

So when I started DJing, it was better. And then I was online using a lot of words again. And I got a little Sunday night radio show at a college station. But because I had a muse, I started writing again. I wrote a couple of pieces. I wrote a story about being a Supermarket tabloid writer, which grew into the book I wrote. I got that story published in the Chicago Reader. I wasn’t exactly back in the game, but I was kinda back in the game!

I started writing more stories like that. Like about when I had a job writing screaming car commercials, because I had a couple of years of my career doing that. So, there I was, I was writing again, and selling. Then I made the leap, put everything in a big truck, and joined her (the muse) out here (in Portland.). I actually sold the tabloid story to The Oregonian when I moved here, too, so I sold that one a couple times. Anyway, it didn’t work out with her, but then here I was. Here I am.

I had visited Portland once, because I had a very brief glimmer of relief, of happiness, a few months after I started driving cab, I landed a gig as the Chief Features Reporter for the American Transportation Television Network. Trucker TV. And it was a fabulous gig!

Really?

Yeah, because I’d spent most of my career as a TV field producer, for Evening Magazine in Baltimore. I produced, I dunno, 150 stories for them over the years.

And I went all over the country doing these trucker stories. I had the whole field to myself, because no-one was out there was making TV stories about truck drivers! And there were a million great stories! Heroic rescues, grandma truck drivers, all kinds of shit, it was really great!

I went on a road trip to Portland. I’d been doing an occasional series on truck factories, called, Make Me a Truck. And I would bring a truck driver who drove that kind of truck to the factory, because they could ask much better questions. Because even though my father had been a truck driver, the guy who drove that kind of truck, would have much better questions. So I brought someone to the Freightliner factory here, did the tour, shot the story, and I walked around thinking, man I could live here!

Yeah, Portland in the 90s…

I thought, this is really nice!

When I got back, my boss said, hey you know those investors we had…

Because they had spent millions. They were in the studios where CNN had been, near Union Station in Washington, DC…not exactly a low-rent neighborhood. So, they went out of business.

Just like that.

Just like that. Owing me money, a few thousand. And I had no choice but to go back in the cab.

I ran a story several years back in Oregon Music News, I just wanted it to put it out there again, about the little girl, in the back of the cab. Do you remember that? It was right after I lost that job and went back in the cab.

I do remember that.

I took the cab out of the garage, I was feeling the lowest I could ever feel. I picked up a Black woman and her little girl, and you know there was a plastic shield in between the front and the back seats, but if it was a mother and her little kid I’d leave it open. So, we start the trip, and all of the sudden the little girl sticks her head through the window and goes, “I love you.” And I busted out crying right there in the middle of the cab.

 So, things went on, and I got my red cumberbund and my red bowtie. Did the chicken dance. Had to teach the Macarena.

 Anyway, here I am in Portland! I had a nice run at The Oregonian. I was always freelance because they weren’t really expanding their staff at that point. But I wrote a million things for them. And then I landed the job at OPB. I was one of the people who invented Oregon Art Beat. And then I got fired.

 What happened?

Part of that had to do with my assisted suicide documentary, Robert’s Story. Greg Bond and I did it together. We worked at Oregon Art Beat together, and we both had an interest in the assisted suicide issue.

I found a guy through one of the organizations, and we shot for two years.

 Wow. Two years?

 Two years, before he finally made the decision to go through with it.

 That’s a really prolonged decision.

 It was very unusual. And it was the most intense thing I’ve ever been involved in. Because he had entrusted us, to shoot everything.

 Even his death?

 Including the death. And about a month and a half in to the shooting — he was gay, and he was too young, he was only fifty.

 Did he have a disease?

 He had AIDS. Anyway, a month and a half in, he fell in love with a really awful human being, who did horrible things to him, he betrayed him. So anyway, we kept shooting. We just kept shooting. There’s a hundred or so tapes downstairs that I still have.

 Anyway, the problem was OPB and I had an ownership dispute. We eventually worked it out, but they fired me. We had promised him, we had promised Robert, that we would be the ones to tell his story, and nobody else. And there was no way I was going to give that up. I mean you make a promise to a dying man, you gotta keep your promise!

 We ended up putting it up on YouTube and it’s had over 400,000 views. Not bad for such a serious subject.

 Absolutely.

 Anyway, before that point I made an enormous amount of Oregon Art Beat stories. Mostly music. Did the first piece on Liv Warfield. Did the first piece on Storm Large. First piece on Dahlia.

 But I got fired 2005, and it was around that time that my book came out (Rabid Nun Infects Entire Convent and Other Sensational Stories from a Tabloid Writer), which was fun. It was the expanded version of that story I wrote about my time as a supermarket tabloid writer.

 Right…

 I outed myself on Oprah, I was a guest on Oprah. I outed myself as having made up all the tabloid stories.

 So things were going along okay what with the book and all…then the crash hit.

 I’ve always thought, incorrectly, but I’ve always thought I could do anything. Well, you know I’m a classic East Coast Italian Leo.

 Say no more! What’s next for OMN?

 We are working on project to do a video show out of Artichoke. They want to do a monthly show, which would replace PDX Spotlight which went on hiatus. And we’ve been talking with Marti about making Marti’s Musical Kitchen a video episode, at least once a month.

 It seems like OMN has a life of its own no matter what I do or don’t do and most of that is because of the people who put their time and effort into it.

 There are lots of questions about the future of music journalism. I don’t know what the future of music journalism is. I used to know. But as Dylan said, things have changed.

 Tom sings, “I used to care, but things have changed.”

 How do you think the music industry has changed in Oregon since you’ve been here?

 Oh, it’s changed completely. People can’t make a living as a musician anymore.

 Could they before?

 Yeah, cause there were labels, and fans didn’t expect to get their music for nothing. People expect to get their music free now.

 What about Portland specifically?

 Well it’s no different here than any other place in the country. I mean, clubs come and go. Bands come and go. There is no centralizing force. There’s no centralizing place because people find their own stuff on their own, and that does not help musicians. People get stuff on Spotify, and what does the musician make? A fraction of a penny per play? People don’t buy CDs anymore. I mean, some people do, but younger people don’t.

Nobody’s figured it out yet. Nobody’s really figured it out. Least of all, me. I just kind of stay in my lane. Do my radio show. Do my podcast. I just stay in my lane. My radio show and my podcast and the unusual longevity of OMN really are what keep me going.

Alaya Wyndham is the founder of the nonprofit Vital Vessel Project, and enjoys seeing live music, dancing and writing in her spare time.

Post a comment:

Your Name:

Your Email Address:

Comment:

2000 characters remaining

Captcha:

Comments

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable