#CLE-ative Groove: Meet Annie Zaleski, author, journalist and music aficionado

Our #CLEative Groove series features Q&A profiles on our city’s creative makers and shakers! Read on for our next installment with author, journalist, and music aficionado Annie Zaleski:

How long have you lived in Cleveland, and where do you currently live? I grew up here, left for college and various jobs in Boston and St Louis and then came back 11 years ago because I met my now-husband.

Name something local that helped to shape your creativity when you were younger: As a kid, I took art lessons with my best friend at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I still remember how excited I was to visit the museum—a Paul Klee exhibit was going on at one of the times we attended, and it made a big impression on my brain. Another formative experience was taking poetry classes at Kent State's Creative Connections Institute. Those classes helped me find my voice and feel like I belonged somewhere.

Annie meeting Duran Duran in 2000 at BlossomPlease share a bit about your professional path and how you got started: Locally, my professional journalism career started at Alternative Press, a magazine I grew up reading as a kid. I was an intern and later an editorial assistant in college, and then became a contributing writer for them. This work really kickstarted my career and helped me start to build a writing portfolio.

By the time I graduated college, I had started writing for the Boston Phoenix, Cleveland Free Times (RIP), billlboard.com and Amazon.com. That led to more local work with Cleveland Scene and The Plain Dealer; eventually, I also earned bylines in Cleveland Magazine, Crain's Cleveland and FreshWater!

Share a bit about your recent books on Duran Duran and Lady Gaga. Any fun behind-the-scenes stories or details about your process you can relay? The Duran Duran book is part of the 33 1/3 book series, which includes short books focused on one album. My book specifically focuses on 1982's Rio, one of the greatest LPs of all time! The Lady Gaga book is an illustrated biography full of photos that details her entire career—from her days in New York City to global superstardom.

Annie at the Rock Hall with her Duran Duran bookBoth books mean a lot to me: I've been wanting to write the 33 1/13 on Rio since 2007 (I started pitching it then!), and I've been a major Duran Duran fan since the early 90s. In fact, one of my first shows ever was the Lakewood Civic Auditorium show in 1997, so I brought decades of knowledge and fandom to the process. Fandom can sometimes be construed as a negative, but to me, it means you're passionate and knowledgeable about your subject—which can help you write a better, more informed book.
 
I wrote the 33 1/3 book during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, which was quite an experience because I was basically at home doing research. But the interviews I did for the book (including nearly all of the band members, as well as multiple people involved with the album and radio and record labels) really provided rays of light during a tough time. I also have a lot of Cleveland in there—Kid Leo was a big champion of the New Romantic movement and answered a few questions, as did John Gorman (formerly of WMMS, another big supporter of the band) and Donna Halper. Donna's notorious for discovering Rush while at WMMS but had insights about Duran Duran from later jobs!

The Lady Gaga book was also a joy to do. I've followed her career since her first album and have always admired her creativity, fashion sense, music, and versatility. The book is a biography of her life, but it's augmented by these inspiring photos of her fashion and performances. I did a lot of research for this one and tried to dig up things even mega-fans might not know about.
 
The Bop StopIn your opinion, what are Cleveland’s best-kept cultural and creative secrets? I think it's starting to get more attention now, but the Bop Stop is a fantastic place to see a show, as is Mahall's in Lakewood. I do love seeing movies at the Nightlight in Akron as well! I know it's not necessarily a secret, but the Capitol Theatre is also one of my favorite places to see movies. (Plus, then you can go play pinball at Superelectric right after!)

And, finally, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Archives are one of the city's greatest underappreciated assets. I've done book research there several times, and the collections they have there are totally invaluable and impressive.

Any quirky Cleveland stuff people need to check out? The Big Bad B-Movie Show, which is carrying on the city's proud tradition of late-night b-movies and comedy!

Any favorite local artists/galleries or businesses you want to shout out?
I am a huge fan of Angela Oster's art, which is whimsical and spooky all at once. Cool Critters are also adorable and monstrous—a perfect combo! I also own a lot of art by Arabella Proffer, specifically from the surreal Biomorphic Garden Party and then some more rock 'n' roll-oriented pieces. I also just like wandering around Genghis Con or the Cleveland Bazaar.

Cool WorldBusiness-wise, Whiskertin Lighting makes the kind of rad, unique lights I am always looking for. Cool World in Gordon Square is basically my retro dream come alive.

I would also be remiss not to mention all of the local record stores here, especially My Mind's Eye, Blue Arrow, The Current Year, Record Den, Bent Crayon, etc. We are very spoiled here with great record stores and owners who do a great job bringing excellent music to everybody here. The local bookstores too (including Visible Voice, Mac's Backs, Loganberry, etc.) are also treasures.

Share a fun fact about you that might surprise other people: When I was very little, I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I was always drawing, coloring, doing crafts and making my own greeting cards; later I was super into cross-stitching.

If you were a Cleveland landmark, which one would you be and why? The Agora. There's so much amazing history in the name and current building — I love the WHK tiles at the front! — but they're also creating new history by booking so many great new bands. Call it a perfect blend of reverence for history and desire to keep moving forward.

Favorite Cleveland mural/piece of art? I do love the Prince mural by Glen Infante at the edge of the Flats!

A typical day in your life might include… My ideal day involves sleeping in, leisurely record shopping, reading on the porch, excellent sushi, a nice glass of wine and relaxing company.

Learn more about Annie and her work here, and keep up with her on Instagram at @anniezaleskiauthor and Twitter at @anniezaleski. Also, stay tuned for more #CLEative Groove profiles! You can also follow @CLEativeGroove on Instagram here, or send suggestions for people to profile here.

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.