Meet the Media – Ben Marks, Senior Editor, CollectorsWeekly.com
- What’s your top story for today?
We have a page on our site devoted to vintage tube amplifiers, so I thought it would be fun to write a simple, somewhat geeky piece about what happens inside a triode vacuum tube to make tube amps sound better—allegedly—than solid-state amps. Basically, it was going to be a how-it-works story. Six interviews and more than 20,000 words of transcripts later, I’ve got a rather unwieldy rumination about sound, music, auditory perception, and technology on my hands, but I think it’s going to be a much more interesting article than I had planned.
- Tell us about your dream assignment.
Well, I’ve interviewed Wes Wilson, and I’ve been in the basement of the Smithsonian, which is sort of like that scene at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” so I’ve already had two editorial dreams come true. But it would be amazing to build a bamboo bicycle from scratch with someone who really knows what they’re doing.
- Describe the wackiest story you’ve written.
Probably the piece I wrote earlier this year about the Piano Drop, which was an event held in 1968 in a field outside of Seattle. A couple of self-described hippies thought it would be cool to hear what a piano sounded like when it was dropped out of a helicopter. Somehow they managed to make it happen, Country Joe and the Fish performed, and miraculously, considering how stoned everyone was, no one was killed. A year later, Woodstock was held in upstate New York, but the Piano Drop was really the seed for the arty rock concert out in the middle of nowhere.
- What is your PR pet peeve?
When someone sends me a pitch that only reveals how little they know about our site.
- Top trend in the industry you’re currently covering or are interested in.
I think people are bored with articles about what stuff is worth. To be fair, we do some of that (for example, our article about the library volunteer who found an old Bible in his neighborhood library’s donation box—he just sold the book at Sotheby’s, raising a few thousand bucks for the cash-strapped institution), but I’m more interested in what I like to call ‘the stories behind the stuff.’ For example, my colleague Lisa Hix recently wrote a lengthy piece about what the artwork of 17th- and 18th-century Japan tells us about the lives of courtesans during that era (spoiler alert: it was not all peaches and cream). The third member of our small staff, Hunter Oatman-Stanford, just wrote a cool story about how Pyrex began as an industrial material, until the wife of one the scientists at the Corning Glass Works made a sponge cake in a jar originally designed to hold a car battery.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but have lived in a bunch of places, from Camden, Maine, where I was a lobster fisherman, to Seattle, where I ran a restaurant with a couple of partners (one of whom I’m married to). Growing up, I always fantasized about being a writer, but never really got into it until I started freelancing in the late 1980s, which means I learned on the job through trial and error. Fortunately, I had some very good, and very patient, editors along the way. From the early 1990s until 2008, I mostly wrote and edited for Sunset (at the magazine, in the custom-publishing division, and for the book side of the company). Since then, I’ve been published by the likes of The New York Times and Boing Boing. Go figure. I’m also the vice president of The Rock Poster Society, which is an all-volunteer group that produces exhibitions and events for rock-poster artists from the 1960s to today.
Questions or comments for Ben? Leave a comment below or send an email to [email protected].
10 thoughts on “Meet the Media with Ben Marks, Senior Editor of Collectors Weekly”
After hearing that the basement of the Smithsonian is like Raiders of the Lost Ark, I have to check it out! Thanks for sharing!
Really fun to read your blog and I can’t wait to see the story on the vacuum tube amplifiers.
Ben, thanks for your post. I used to do PR work for an auction house in Baltimore, and I always found that the stories behind the items were far more interesting than what they actually sold for. The helicopter-piano drop story sounded so good that I had to look it up. Great read.
I loved hearing about the piano drop – and how a stunt like that can be fodder for much bigger events. I also want to read your piece on the bamboo bicycle someday when you find the perfect person to interview for it!
I dropped a couple of pianos, during my days as a piano mover. The sound is mostly “splat!”
I also had the good fortune to be a subject of Mr. Marks’ prose, as one of the “Hippie Daredevils Who Were Just Crazy Enough to Invent Mountain Biking.”
Thanks so much for sharing this with us! I had never heard the term “vintage tube amplifiers,” but wouldn’t you know that I’m now Googling around for more information. Thanks for teaching me something new.
Ben, thanks so much for a great post. As a trained pianist, I especially liked your piano helicopter story. Did you ever hear about the performance artist in San Francisco who placed pianos outdoors in parks so people could “happen upon” them? I always thought that got at the heart of how music should be a part of everyday life. I’ve been following your writing since your Sunset days – keep up the great work, Ben. Cheers, David
I’m so glad you mentioned the article that Lisa Hix wrote about the Asian Art Museum’s “Seduction.” That was a great piece on Collectors Weekly!
Thanks for the great blog Ben! It certainly seems that you come across many interesting characters and objects in your career which is a fantastic way to keep learning new things.
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