Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Music to Her Ears

Your new magazine editor brings an unapologetic love of ’80s rock—and an incurable passion for storytelling.

November 15, 2023

Erich Burnett

Annie Zaleski poses next to her published books.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

Annie Zaleski wrote the book on Duran Duran.

No, really. A longtime music journalist and native of Northeast Ohio, Zaleski chronicled the English rockers through Duran Duran’s Rio as part of the influential 33 ⅓ book series, which is dedicated to seminal albums released throughout history.

It’s one of numerous rock volumes penned by Zaleski, who has also written books about Lady Gaga, Pink, and Christmas music. She has also lent her talents to a host of newspapers, magazines, and online publications—among them Rolling Stone, NPR, The Guardian, Salon, and Billboard—as well as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She’s appeared as a guest expert on NPR stations, SiriusXM, and the BBC—and even co-hosted a podcast series for Cleveland Clinic, seamlessly stretching beyond the bounds of the musical world.

In March, Zaleski assumed the role of senior writer and magazine editor in the Office of Communications, where she shapes coverage of Oberlin’s alumni community. We caught up with the Harvard grad to learn how the gig’s going so far.

First things first: Who’s your favorite artist of all time—and your favorite artist you never got to interview?

My all-time favorite artist is R.E.M.—if you see an Ohio car with a DRIVER8 license plate, that’s me—with Duran Duran (of course) coming in a close second. In general, I’m a big fan of everything ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s pop and rock, with a soft spot for British music. On the weekends, one of my favorite things to do is listen to reruns of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview tons of rock stars (ask me sometime about how awesome Geddy Lee, Johnny Marr, Alice Cooper, and Björk are), but while I absolutely love David Bowie, I was never able to interview him. I put in a request back in the
early 2000s in conjunction with one of his last tours, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

How does your background in music and journalism help you in your role on campus?

As a journalist, my work is driven by critical thinking, a sense of curiosity, a commitment to research/fact-checking, and thoughtful questions. All of these skills are crucial to my job as a magazine editor and writer. They help me both discover and tease out interesting stories about the Oberlin community.

Although most of my forward-facing writing is about music, in recent years I’ve diversified what I write about to include topics like economic development, health care, business, and collectibles. (Fitting, since I am happiest when crate-digging in a record store!) Writing about topics outside of my usual niche also helps me be more versatile—and keep an open mind.

Writing about music—and interviewing famous musicians—certainly keeps you on your toes, because these things have helped me become a better listener and conversationalist. In addition to writing about popular music, I played the flute for eight years growing up, so I have a strong foundation in music theory and classical performance.

I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find a job that fit with my eclectic background—and I’ve sometimes felt at other jobs that my background in music journalism has been a detriment—but at Oberlin I’ve felt that both of these things are assets.

What was your impression of Oberlin prior to joining the staff—and what has surprised you most since getting here?

I had been to Oberlin multiple times for concerts (shout out to the Breeders at the ’Sco!) and had spoken about my work in several classes, so I already had a positive impression of Oberlin, particularly as it pertains to the students: They asked good questions, were engaged and inquisitive, and took their assignments seriously. What’s been a wonderful surprise is starting to meet faculty and discover how passionate they are about their own specialties—and how deeply they care about helping Oberlin students learn and grow, even long after these students have graduated. It’s the kind of college experience I wish I had—and it’s frankly so inspiring to hear from staff, students, and alums alike.

What’s your favorite thing about campus so far?

Maybe it’s cheesy, but I truly love the moment in my commute when I’m nearly to my office and have finally reached the campus and can see the Allen Memorial Art Museum and Tappan Square. It’s actually calming, which is a nice way to start what’s inevitably a full day.

You can learn more about Zaleski and her work at her website.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

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