When Miles Keylock told the class with a wry smile that he didn’t believe in weekends off, the traditional hours of a 9-5 workday, or silly things called “holidays”, his long hair and dark aviators seemed a lot less cool.  I couldn’t help but picture Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”–the epitome of the boss from hell.  With his blazer undone, his iPhone aglow in his hand, and his long locks tucked behind his ears, he exuded a rock star personae.  I could picture him standing beside Jimmy Paige at a Led Zeppelin concert, cigarette in hand.

Our professor and music journalist, Evan Milton, had called him in to our class to conduct a mock press conference.  As I prepared my questions in advance, I hadn’t felt intimidated, but as soon as Miles began to speak, I felt the air grow tense.  He spoke quietly, succinctly, but with a conviction that could split steel.  His title as editor of Rolling Stone South Africa began to fully register.  His hands sliced through the air, demonstrating his points and commanding our attention.  I could feel my throat tighten up as I prepared to ask my first question, and felt his somber gaze turn in my direction.  He answered in the same frenzied manner, tossing his hair off his face, before addressing the next question.  As the press conference continued it became clear that there weren’t any horns hidden beneath that long hair.  Instead, I began to see a determined man, bent on the pursuit of genuine and heartfelt journalism.

As students began to ask Miles more questions, ranging from the challenges of being an editor, to the process of choosing the image for the cover of Rolling Stone South Africa, Miles’ commitment to music journalism became clear.  Clearly his assertion about giving “360 degrees of dedication” to his job was not an exaggeration or a publicity stunt.  Although his work ethic goes unquestioned, Miles sets himself apart by staying true to his earliest conviction of using journalism to document genuinely interesting stories.  For him, this comes in the form of local South African music.  Miles talked at length about navigating the complicated terrain of the relationship between USA’s Rolling Stone and Rolling Stone South Africa.  Surely, his magazine has many ties to its father publication, but Miles made it clear that he was more interested in discovering the stories that have never been told.  Rather then just appealing to popular demand and reprinting the headlines of USA’s Rolling Stone, Miles tries to capture the essence of South African music.

Several times Miles made the distinction between successful bands and bands with interesting stories.  International success and sell out venues does not guarantee a profound story.  Miles looks for artists that, “are after the present”, rather then artists who coast off their economic success.  For Miles, these artists appear in unlikely places, such as rural villages and townships scattered across South Africa.  This realization has led Miles to attempt make his publication “a voice that is representative of an entire cultural landscape.”  It’s a lofty goal.  Yet, one would find it difficult to find a man more devoted to representing music in its truest form.  When business executives encouraged him to put international celebrities on the cover page to increase sales, Miles resisted, pasting South African artists on 6 out of the last 7 covers.  Even when advised to place Caucasian men on the cover more frequently, Miles resisted again, saying, “We have a moral responsibility to portray South African music.”

As the press conference began to wind down, I started to detect a central theme in Miles’ answers.  Rather than focusing on the business aspects of being the editor of Rolling Stone South Africa, Miles repeatedly emphasized the crucial characteristics of good writing.  In his eyes, good writing was directly connected to the truth: “Are you writing from the heart?  If not it will eventually tear away from your soul.”  Being inauthentic does not produce good writing because readers can feel when an author’s article lacks depth and feeling.  Miles’ most important role as editor is not to point out run on sentences, direct the course of the piece, or even to select the story.  His main goal is to encourage writers to find their voices, and to write stories that explore unseen topics with compassion and curiosity.

Now the dark aviators, the shoulder length hair, and the unbuttoned blazer seemed more like the clothes of a hopeless romantic and less like the uniform of a crazed boss.  At the core of this man is a teacher.  In his electric eyes I could detect a quiet look of content.  I saw a man who has combined his two passions in the world, music and writing.  I could also feel his desire to spread these passions to anyone who is willing to listen.  After this press conference, I’m sure he’s gained a few more listeners.

By Duncan Lowe

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