‘On My Own Terms’: Music Critic Greg Kot On Leaving The Chicago Tribune After 40 Years
After 30 years as the paper’s pop and rock music critic, Greg Kot is leaving the Chicago Tribune. He's taking a voluntary buyout offered by the company after Alden Global Capital, known for slashing budgets and staff, became its largest shareholder.
Kot stopped by Reset to talk about his long career at the Tribune, music journalism and what's next.
On taking the buyout
Greg Kot: It was a difficult decision. You don't leave a place... in a spur of the moment decision. The only person I really talked to about it was my wife, Deb. And she said, ‘It's time.’ And, you know, we defined it as like I can go out on my own terms, which you never know, as in any business that you're working in. But I always dreamed about that, being able to leave on my own terms and having fulfilled a lot of what I wanted to do at the Tribune. And I think, perhaps naively on my part, … that my departure may open the way for one or two young journalists to build a career there like I did.
On his early days covering Chicago’s music scene
Kot: The music scene was exploding, even in the 80s. ... I would go and see club shows in Chicago. ... It wasn't like stuff that you were hearing on the radio necessarily, but you were getting this vibe that this was a very vibrant nightlife scene here in Chicago. There was all these different kinds of communities of music going on. And then in the 90s, when I started writing about it, people were saying, ‘Well gee, don't you want to come to one of the big cities?’ … I'm like, ‘You don't understand. I'm on a goldmine here. There's like a ton of great stuff going on in Chicago.’
On meeting music icons, from Iggy Pop to Lou Reed
Kot: I'm a young geeky music fan and I'm doing one of my first big interviews for the Tribune and I go, ‘I've got to talk to Iggy Pop.’ ... I don't know what made me think to do this, but I brought in like an armful of Iggy and the Stooges records and all these bootlegs that I had, like illegal records, you know. And he ended up signing every one and putting a note on each one and then talking about it. … He was just so open about his life and about the way he lived his life and the music he made and why he made it. It was like, wow, no wonder I admire this guy. I’m glad I got to meet him.
Lou Reed had this reputation for being a total curmudgeon and just throwing reporters out of his interviews because he couldn't stand the questions they were asking. I was nervous about talking to Lou for the first time, it was backstage at a Farm Aid concert, of all things. So I'm sitting down to talk with him and right away, my tape recorder does not work at all ... and … he's got the shades and everything, kind of very aloof. And all of a sudden, it was all like he took pity on me, he said, ‘Let me look at that.’ ... It broke the ice completely. And after that, he was just like, ‘Whatever you want to know, ask me anything.’ … The interview went great after that. He'd, like, completely relaxed me and made me feel like, ‘Oh, I belong here’ by that simple gesture.
On starting a new chapter
Kot: I do have my basketball program which I love: Over The Edge basketball. ... We train grade-school athletes to play high school sports, high school basketball. It's a student-athlete approach to the job. And I love doing Sound Opinions. Jim DeRogatis has been a part of my life for a very long time., and I hope that will continue because again, we love doing it. It's fun. … I've written six books and I'd like to write another one.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.