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Having a thick skin is a requirement for any reporter. It's a fact that journalism is a low-pay, high-stress job but, on the other hand, everybody hates you. Being a reviewer can turn your skin to elephant hide.

"You're just jealous."

"You're just old."

"You're a moron." Or "idiot." Or "jerk." Or "talentless hack." Or "insert your favorite four-, five-, six- or 12-letter word here." Or get straight to the point with, "You suck."

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Shawn Ryan

I received every one of these compliments when I was music writer at the Birmingham News for the last half of the '80s and most of the '90s. I reviewed about 1,000 shows during my time there (yes, I did the math), so this is just the tip of the Iceberg of Anger.

Over the years, I was told — often in extremely graphic fashion — that not only was I a bonehead for my concert review, my mother and father were brother and sister (Mom never told me), I was shortchanged in the "man" department, if you know what I mean (not really my call), and I simply hate rock, country, R&B, jazz, hip-hop, pop, you name it (wow, then it was a really bad idea for me to take the music writer job, huh?).

When I wrote that New Kids on the Block were pretty good "for an act that couldn't really dance or sing," I received more than 100 letters from irate middle-school girls. Some came from a single class at a local school, which made me think: In what subject does a teacher tell students to scorch the newspaper's music writer?

But some folks, even when they disagreed with my review, were thoughtful and reasoned. And quite clever. When I gave country vocal group the Statler Brothers a lukewarm review, someone signed me up for their fan club, and I started receiving all sorts of newsletters and goofy Statler stuff. Well-played.

When I took the music writer job, I figured heavy-metal fans would be the angriest and cuss-iest if I gave one of their bands a bad review. Wrong. Country fans will rip your heart out and eat it in front of you. Why? My theory is that most rock fans have several bands they love and many others they just like. But country fans usually latch onto one particular artist or band; sure, they'll like others, but one is loved like no other and becomes part of their family. And you know what happens when you badmouth someone's kin.

Having a thick skin is a requirement for any reporter. It's a fact that journalism is a low-pay, high-stress job but, on the other hand, everybody hates you. Being a reviewer can turn your skin to elephant hide.

Yeah, I know. Wah, wah, wah, right? I get it. I saw some amazing shows and some amazingly bad ones. It was a way-cool gig. To steal a line from "Friends": "My wallet's too small for my 50s, and my diamond shoes are too tight."

So email me or call me or send me a letter telling me that I'm a "whatever." Years of lotion haven't softened my elephant hide.

Contact Shawn Ryan at sryan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327.

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