by Steve Hammer
Since the announcement I was leaving Indianapolis appeared in NUVO and in a story on indystar.com last week, I've been flooded with emails, text messages and Facebook posts that almost exactly reflect the reaction I've gotten from readers for the past 20 years.
My favorite reaction came from a reader of David Lindquist's very well-done story on me at indystar.com: "This will help the city's ranking." That commenter gets a +1 from me for brevity, accuracy and wit. Another: "Hammer's incoherent ramblings won't be missed." Fair point.
Other commenters, while claiming to despise me, nevertheless brought up stories they didn't like that I'd written 15 years ago. They trashed the music coverage that I stopped doing seven years ago. I haven't written a single story on local music since 2006, but some readers are still pissed off. People have long memories in Indianapolis.
The story by Lindquist meant a lot to me. Dave came to town in 1998 after The Star's previous music writer, Marc Allan, moved on to other assignments. I was prepared to make fun of this new guy Lindquist but had to stop after meeting him and talking to him.
He's exactly what a good journalist should be: dedicated to accuracy, funny and with good intentions toward every assignment. We slogged through dozens and dozens of shows together, many of them at what was then called Deer Creek Music Center. Sometimes the shows were amazing, but most of the time they were average, boring performances by superstars or ex-superstars, interesting only to their most-passionate fans.
People think that getting free tickets to 100 concerts a year is a really cool thing, and it is. But until you've actually dragged yourself out of the house and driven through traffic to attend those 100 shows, you don't realize that it's just another job.
Interviewing James Brown and shaking his hand in 1996 was one of the great experiences of my life. So was watching Prince perform at the Convention Center with Chaka Khan and members of Sly and the Family Stone. Pearl Jam at their peak was an awesome band.
But having to see Fastball, the Black Crowes, Britney Spears and 'N Sync? Not so much. It sure feels like work when you're trying to write a piece on the opening act to 'N Sync or interviewing the bass player from some national jam band.
Lindquist and I put in some hard miles together and the fact that he's still doing it is a testament not only to his skill and dedication but his mental stability. Dealing with musicians gave me a perforated eardrum, mental illness and a substance-abuse problem that took me the better part of a decade to shake.
But I take great exception to the adjective he applied to this column. He called it "left-leaning." I also was angered by a list of "the most liberal reporters in Indianapolis," allegedly put together by members of the Tea Party of Indiana and posted on indianabarrister.com.
I finished in 10th place. TENTH! I feel like my career has been in vain if I only rank as Indy's 10th most-liberal reporter. Friends, not only am I "left-leaning" and "liberal," I'm a straight up socialist with Marxist-Leninist tendencies. Matthew Tully of The Star, who ranked first on that list, never advocated the nationalization of the oil industry. Jim Shella of Channel 8, who also is supposedly more liberal than me, never called for a workers' revolution to topple the George W. Bush regime. I did both of those things.
What would it have taken for me to reach No. 1? Kidnap Patty Hearst? Lead a sit-in at Sen. Dan Coats' office until a Peoples' Commission on Truth and Reconciliation pays reparations to the descendants of slaves and the victims of Reagan-era predatory capitalism?
Man. Do I need to pay membership dues to the Communist Party USA? Will that bump me up the list? Clearly, I have been ineffective so far.
There were also laudatory words for me from at least one of my heroes, Dan Carpenter of The Star, who has been the writer to whom all those aspiring to greatness must be compared. The man is a living legend and an oasis of sanity in our city's media. His kind words sincerely warmed my heart.
But it was the compliments from the people who know me best that really touched me. I received so many words of praise from my co-workers in Indianapolis. Many of them thanked me for being so helpful, so friendly and so positive.
This marks a change in my life, being described as friendly, positive and helpful. I wasn't always that way. But my job downtown, where I started working in 2007, changed that. I showed up to work every day. I almost always played by the company rules. And I tried to help as many people as I could.
My coworkers, all of us proud members of the Communications Workers of America, are folks just like you and me. Some are single moms coming off public assistance and determined to lift themselves and their children out of poverty. Others are older folks who, like me, found themselves in their 40s, jobless and with little hope.
They helped me as much as I helped them. I've got six or seven more columns left before I leave the pages of NUVO for good, but I'm out of time for today. We'll talk more in the coming weeks.