Mike Shea has been the publisher of Alternative Press since he started the national music mag some 30 years ago in Cleveland, where it is still based. That time has seen more than a few shows; Shea can still remember his first.
"I saw Blue Öyster Cult at Blossom Music Center," he says. "It was the first time I smelled pot. I was 14. I might have been hauled to a concert by my mom before that, but that was the first concert I went to with my friends on my own."
From that point on, he was hooked.
"Before I graduated high school, I hung out with my punk friends," says Shea. "We were Coventry kids but we were going to Pop Shop and Cleveland Underground and the Agora."
When the Smiths announced U.S. tour dates in the late '80s and didn't include a Cleveland stop, Shea, the former editor of his high school newspaper, was pissed. He wrote to the record label to complain. And he decided to start a music magazine so he could publish an editorial decrying the oversight. Ultimately, though, he says he started the magazine because he was fascinated by musicians.
"It's like people who are film critics and they write books about [director Martin] Scorcese in order to understand how he comes up with his films," he says. "In the same way, I'm fascinated by musicians. Not how they wrote the song but I'm more interested in them. So much of art is created by insecurity. Did I expect I would be a music journalist? No. It's always changing. It never gets boring. The genres keep changing and the bands keep changing. AP is a community. It's all family. It doesn't matter if you work at AP or Fearless Records. It's all part of us. It's like going to a family reunion every time a band is in town."
Being based in Cleveland might come off like a disadvantage in the music media world, but the truth is the exact opposite.
"There have been plenty of times when we wondered if it was good to be here," he says. "Spin and other magazines wrote from a New York-centric point of view. It's 'been there, seen it, done it.' They have a snobbish attitude. We were writing from a Midwest kid's perspective. We were down to earth and more real. The upper echelon of music journalists looks down at us. They dismiss us because we weren't legitimately writing about Paul Westerberg every other time. We weren't allowed in the cool cats club, but we outlasted all of it. We weren't writing for fellow music journalists. We were writing for these kids who followed us who lived in the suburbs and wanted to listen to music they felt connected with them. We weren't writing about the coolest thing that somebody saw in a bar in the East Village. And now, Cleveland has amazingly turned around and it's so alive."