Tufts alumnus Geoff Edgers (LA ’92) came to Varis Lecture Hall this Wednesday to discuss his new book, “Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith and the Song that Changed American Music Forever” (2019). He also came to speak to students and professors about how he landed his current position at The Washington Post as a national arts reporter, and doled out plenty of advice for students seeking a career in journalism.
His book follows the trajectories of Aerosmith and Run-DMC, building up to the moment when they meet in the studio wherein this herald of rap culture was born. Edgers’ idea for this book began after he wrote an article in 2006 for The Washington Post about the song “Walk This Way,” featuring never-before-seen content and beats released from the recording studio. Aerosmith’s song and its effect on rap music history fascinated him, and he was eager to delve deeper into the world of Aerosmith, Run-DMC and their fantastical creation.
Many fans of this song mistakenly believe that Aerosmith somehow saved or discovered Run-DMC, an American hip-hop group from Queens. What they do not know is that in the year 1986, Aerosmith’s popularity was at a low. Therefore, Edgers argues that Run-DMC actually boosted Aerosmith’s career and their own, in ways neither group could have predicted.
Edgers explained that the angle he took in the book was that of an opinionated narrative; he did not want it to be a simple history, but for it to have character and ‘spice’ in order to engage readers with this song and emphasize its importance. So how important was this song, really? Well, for starters, it was the first rap song to be played on MTV, making it a milestone in the popularization of rap music and its sound.
The book contains everything from LL Cool J quotes, such as, “your ego is not your amigo,” to the candid argument between Steven Tyler and Joey Kramer about who created the “Walk This Way” beat. (Spoiler: they both think they did it.) The story behind the song is long and sometimes complicated, especially if one does not know the figures well. But the way Edgers spoke about it, not one person in the crowd could have overlooked his passion for this work.
The other half of the lecture discussed Edgers’s career, which was striking in more ways than one. Perhaps it was his daring decision he named names in an investigative piece on R. Kelly arguing that the music industry enabled him to sexually assault underage girls. Or maybe it was his article on the lawsuit filed against the Boston Symphony Orchestra by a flautist getting paid less than the male oboist sitting beside her. It is no wonder so many in the audience expressed their wishes to read the articles he was most proud of; they show not only his extreme dedication as a reporter but also a bold career in breaking innovative stories.
Additionally, Edgers provided a great deal of advice about his career in journalism. When asked informed by how to track down important people, he explained that one has to be obsessive about getting the right people. In his profile on Jimmy Kimmel, he did not want just any producer or writer to comment, so instead he worked to get a hold of Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman and Howard Stern. After this declaration, the entire room gasped in awe.
Edgers also mentioned that “you have to get told ‘no’ a lot,” but that it’s all part of the game. After many unanswered inquiries, the only way he was able to get through to LL Cool J was by tracking down his personal email in library archives. Apparently, LL Cool J was happy to speak with Edgers; he simply hadn’t received any of the requests from his publicist. As Edgers explained poignantly, “most people around celebrities are just barriers,” so the only way to get to them is to circumvent the system. For example, when he interviewed Eddie Murphy for an article and spoke about his frustration in not being able to get a hold of Chris Rock, Murphy responded with, “oh, I’ll just text him,” and Edgers’s problem was solved in fifteen minutes.
Perhaps the best thing about this talk, though, was Edgers’ three Tufts professors sitting in the front row, pleased with the success of their former student. Professor Strong, Professor Ullman and Professor Levinson were important in this journey, as they helped him achieve the degree in English that landed him the career he loves. And where did he begin this journey? As an Arts writer and editor for the Daily.