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Thomas Crone's e-book is a second take on music and times of the '80s and '90s

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 13, 2013 - Thomas Crone, author of the e-book, “Second Set: Encore,” describes himself on the “About” page of his website as “a recovering journalist with a whole bunch of jobs and a few online hobbies. I’m a charter member of both South Grand High School and The Exploited Adjuncts of America and am affiliated with a variety of other civic, social and merrymaking associations in Saint Louis.”

Let’s start with his writing. For someone who describes himself as “a recovering journalist,” Crone has certainly had a major relapse.

In addition to his weekly contributions to the St. Louis Magazine website and occasional pieces in that magazine, Crone authored weekly articles for the St. Louis Beacon throughout 2012 in the series “Second Set” – articles that served as the framework for the new e-book written by Crone published by the Beacon. And he continues to write bi-weekly in the Beacon.

Crone’s “Second Set” articles largely focus on the St. Louis music scene of the 1980s and ‘90s – with a look at what’s happened to the personalities and bands involved on the other side of the year 2000.

The bands covered range from Uncle Tupelo and the Urge to Sinister Dane, Judge Nothing, Enormous Richard and Sleepy Kitty. Now defunct music venues such as Mississippi Nights, the original Cicero’s Basement Bar and Bernard’s Pub – plus ongoing establishments such as the Venice Café and the Cabin Inn at City Museum -- are also profiled. Articles covered now defunct music magazines such as “Spotlight” and “Jet Lag,” music stores Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records and West End Wax.

But there is more to the series than a focus on music. Crone also describes the evolution of Cherokee Street and chronicles personal adventures such as his short-lived tenure as an emcee/DJ at the East side strip club, Roxy’s.

For Crone’s “Second Set: Encore” e-book, 13 articles that originally appeared in the Beacon in 2012 were trimmed by features editor Donna Korando and adapted for a web book by Beacon presentation editor Brent Jones. And each of those refashioned Beacon articles is now supplemented with two or three additional articles by Crone.

Recently, I caught up with Crone to talk about e-book, its subject matter and other aspects of his life and work – which range from teaching at Webster University to exploring photography, video and St. Louis music and culture.

A second chance

“I tried to exactly recall how the project came together,” Crone said as we sit at a table deep in the lobby of the Coronado Hotel in Grand Center, trying to avoid the music playing over the sound system at nearby Nadoz. “I do know that I had a bit of a feeling that I’d blown some things in the ‘90s -- stories I’d missed on or didn’t quite work out right. So I wanted to go back – and I don’t know if it was really correcting history, but just adjusting some things I’d written about back then -- and also try to catch up with the people I’d written about then.”

Crone floated the idea of writing regular articles about the musical scene he had chronicled in the 1990s for publications ranging from The Riverfront Times and the Post-Dispatch to small indie music fanzines like Jet Lag.

“After I talked to the Beacon about it,” Crone recalled, “it began to take some shape. So every week in 2012, I wrote an article for the Beacon. I didn’t know how many of the pieces would make it to the final book form. It turned out to be 13. Then I wrote the other articles around those to form thematic chapters.”

Crone emphasized again that the real impetus behind the project was a strong desire to revisit the music and cultural scene that he was immersed in during the late 1980 and throughout the 1990s and try to chronicle it properly. And an e-book derived from a series of weekly articles was the path that looked most promising in attempting to achieve that goal.

“Over the last few years I was very much thinking about that,” he said. “Maybe it sounds like I’m too cathartic about this, but it felt like it was something I needed to do to set things right. I’ll be 45 (soon) and I wanted to catch up with people in that age range I had written about then, and see where everyone was now. And it seemed really nice to try to do it in this e-book form.”

In the spirit of his proposed rechronicle of what he had originally written about the decade of the ‘90s, Crone wanted to include in the e-book some of his earliest published articles – written for the Webster University Journal when he was just starting his writing career.

“It’s humbling, I suppose, to look at those,” Crone said of early Journal pieces included in the e-book on the band, the Urge, the Venice Café and Spotlight magazine. “You see enthusiasm, I suppose, but not knowledge. A lot of times for the Beacon and the e-book project, I’m writing about people and the projects they were working on 20 years ago – and sometimes they feel self-conscious about those. People who like the music from that time have great memories around it, but the musicians themselves might have reservations about how well it was formed or (feel) it wasn’t recorded right. So I thought it would be in the spirit of the times to include some of my older pieces. And I’m glad Donna (Korando) agreed with that.”

Crone didn’t start writing until he was attending Webster University, and he credits one of his professors, Don Corrigan (also editor of the Webster-Kirkwood Times), with his start as a journalist.”

“I found the bug relatively early,” recalls Crone. “I can say Don Corrigan at Webster University drafted me for the school paper. I was playing Division III soccer and not being very good at it. And I took to being on the newspaper staff very quickly and enjoyed that. I then did two internships with the RFT – and enjoyed both. I started with the St. Louis Journalism Review right out of grad school.

From rocks to rock ’n’ roll

“What really hooked me was doing a piece for the Webster-Kirkwood Times about a big pile of rock that had been sitting on Edgar Road for months and months from a park project that was delayed. And within a couple weeks the project was back under way. It was really one of those moments in life when a light bulb clicks. I found journalism from that piece. I thought, this is something useful that I could get my head around.”

For most of his writing career, music has been a common denominator for Crone’s articles. But these days – and even for the e-book which has a strong musical focus – he sees it as a common thread, not one that has primary importance.

“I’ve gone in and out of music writing a bit,” he said. “I was very into it early when I was on staff at the RFT. But I’ve had to adapt when that work in music journalism wasn’t available, and I’ve been able to switch off and write about other things. I think a lot of people I’ve written about for the Beacon may have given up music as THE key part of their life, but it’s still part of it.”

As an example, Crone mentions Steve Ewing, lead singer for the Urge. Although Ewing has revived the Urge in recent years, he’s also the owner of Steve’s Hot Dogs on the Hill, a lunch establishment he opened two years ago in the Hill neighborhood.

“It’s quite a segue for Steve Ewing from music to running a hot dog place,” Crone said. “But that’s just an example of the pretty dramatic career shifts I’ve written about in some of these articles. Hopefully, I’ve managed to convey a lot of humanity in the pieces. I want to provide the personal profile first -- then include the music aspect to color that.”

Crone’s e-book articles cover a lot of geography, but there’s clearly an emphasis on the South Grand and Cherokee areas of St. Louis. For Crone, that’s a matter of both his personal geography, as well as the culture and community of those areas.

“I’ve had three stints of living off of South Grand,” Crone said. “Currently, I’ve spent the last seven years living there. In fact, I grew up in the house next door to where I live now.

“Also, I see a lot of good stories there. So for good or ill, South City is essential to the project. And the Cherokee Street renaissance has been interesting lately. It’s funny. There are lots of young people living there now who have no sense of history -- even just going back 10 years. But I think back to my own 20s, and I can see I was the same. So, I guess it comes down to the fact that I’ve been around that community 30-plus years, so it feels natural to cover it.”

Branching out

Crone is also an adjunct professor at Webster University (hence the opening reference to himself as a member of the “Exploited Adjuncts of America”). And in addition to writing, he has explored adding videography and photography to his artistic repertoire.

“When I look at my paychecks from Webster University, it says 17th year on them,” Crone noted with a laugh. “I haven’t actually been teaching that long, but I do teach “introduction to media writing” and “introduction to mass communications.” I also work with graduate students at the writing center there. I’m an adjunct and will likely stay in that role, so I have to work outside gigs.

“With that in mind, and with the trend in the last few years in the media of this insatiable need to accompany text with images, I thought if you can do (photography), you’ve got a leg up. As far as video, I’m trying, but I’m not really good at it. I’ve taken photography more seriously the last couple of years – to the point I ca at least accompany my own pieces with images. I really want to focus on that over the next year or two and get better at it.”

Crone is interested to see how readers will respond to his e-book project.

“I have publishing ideas about my writing that flip in and out,” Crone said. “But I’m very gun shy about print books at this point. I know personally that I still enjoy picking up print books, but I don’t know if print niche books about St. Louis will work.

“So this is part of an attempt to figure out what might be the next thing any of us can do as writers, and maybe find out where we are today as far as our options to make at least a part of our living. It seemed like e-books would be a way to lengthen stories out. You don’t have physical copies that constrain you with costs, so I think there are certain projects that can exist in just this form. And this project seems to me completely digital from start to finish. So it will be fun on that level to see where that can go.

“Of course, the reality is that at $2.99 a copy, and splitting that with the Beacon, I’m not quitting my teaching job anytime soon! But the form interests me, so it will be intriguing to see if people respond.”

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.