Interviews. The word makes me cringe when it comes to job hunting. I’m terrible at them, my nerves usually getting the better of me. But interviews with writers, artists, and musicians? Those I love. Those I crave. I go through interview binges, seeking out every available interview about a particular person. OK that’s not exactly true, the binge is a little more specific than that and I do like to save some interviews ‘for later’ – last month I sought out Martin Amis interviews, but they had to be recorded. None of that printed stuff (pish posh!). I’d had enough of that for the time being, having already read his lengthy interviews with Identity Theory and the Paris Review, two of my favorite places to get my interview fix.
Whenever things got really slow at my bookstore, I would sometimes grab a copy of the one of the collected Paris Review interviews and bring it over to the desk to read some of the writer interviews. Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster, Dorothy Parker to name just a few. Let’s face it, when it comes to my subscription to the Paris Review, I’m mostly in it for the interviews. I just received the Summer 2011 issue and was informed that my subscription is about to run out. I now have to decide whether or not I can afford to renew (all their interviews are archived once the issue goes off the shelf, so I could save a bit by not renewing…but but the Paris Review!)
Like the Paris Review, Bomb Magazine is also famous for their interviews. They cover artists and musicians, however, not just writers, and their interviews occur between artists and across genres and artistic leanings (so for example, a writer might interview a musician, as was the case with Rick Moody and Ed Droste). This kind of crossover interview can provide atypical insight and points of view.
I’m particularly interested in craft and process. I’m only interested in the artist’s life in so much as it’s directly related to the work, but even then I tend to eschew knowing too much about my favorite writers and musicians because I don’t want that knowledge to color my feelings about their work (I’m sure everyone’s experienced finding out something they didn’t like about their favorite writer, artist, etc. It can be hard to look at their work the same way again). As you can imagine, as an interview lover, this can get pretty tough and leads to questions such as, Where does one draw the line? How does one really extract the life from the artist? What’s considered relevant to the work and what isn’t? How open should one be? Are interviews even necessary, or should the work be able to stand on its own?
I recently read an interview with photographer Chadwick Tyler on Fashion Gone Rogue (NSFW, some nudity). Tyler’s responses were brief, even clipped in some instances. One commenter said “Aw I wish he opened up a little bit more” while another asked “Why should he ‘be more open’ – what imperative is there for that?” Both stances seem entirely valid to me. I was curious to know more, but I also understand the need for privacy and wonder if maybe one should just let his work speak for itself. At the same time, this was certainly not the most engaging interview I’ve ever read, and it left much to be desired.
Later on in the week, I was going through a Radiohead binge – beginning with Meeting People Is Easy (the documentary following the band during their exhausting OK Computer tour) continuing with Kid A Lives, Reflections on Kid A, and the 11th Hour with Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien (for the record, I was specifically looking for a long interview discussing Amnesiac but didn’t find anything satisfactory…the hunt continues).
The interview that stuck with me the most, however, was Reflections on Kid A with Thom Yorke because of an awkward moment around the 26 minute mark:
Q: How did the relationships between you and the band change during the years? I mean I can’t imagine that since everything’s happened to you that things have changed?
Q. In what way?
A. They’re better…y’know
Q. But were there any difficulties in –?
Q. Can you be more specific?
Q. Why not?
A. Cause it’s our business. I have a real problem with people asking that so– because it’s not anyone’s business really. I keep trying to tell the others not to talk about it either because it’s a bad idea.
Q. But have you ever had the idea of quitting Radiohead and doing your own stuff on your own.
A. Next question
Q. Do you have a problem with these questions?
Q. Why’s that?
A. It’s not your business, it’s nobody’s business but ours.
Q. It’s just…
Let’s just say the interviewer never gets his answer. It is clear from the start of the question that Yorke doesn’t want to talk about it yet the interviewer presses on in hopes of getting something. I’m not really faulting him, he’s just doing his job and the surprise in his voice when Yorke refuses to budge is apparent. The question itself isn’t totally out of line. He’s asking about the band not about Thom Yorke’s home life, yet it’s clear that Yorke thinks this is too personal or irrelevant or both, that all that matters is they put out the album. But what is considered too personal? I imagine it differs from person to person. And should artists be more forthcoming?
Would speaking about some of the difficulties help the viewer gain better insight into Kid A?
I don’t have to remind you all that we live in a celebrity obsessed culture and that social networking allows us to put it all out there if we choose (as he who shall not be named can attest). It seems increasingly that we’re expected to put ourselves out there, whether or not we want to. But where is the line? And what does this mean for the artist? Technically they’re not obligated to do interviews. It’s in their interest, at the very least for promotional value, but they don’t have to. We all know this on some level, and yet, we, as fans often have certain expectations. We want our favorite artists to be more open so we can better understand them and their work.
Are we doing ourselves any favors though? Does it matter what the artist has to say about their own work or their own life? I mean let’s face it, there are songs that call to mind very specific things for me that have very little to do with the band’s intentions. That, of course, is the nature of art and interpretation. So shouldn’t we just let the work speak for itself? Easier said than done I suppose. As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m pretty sure I’m going to continue my hunt to find a Radiohead interview that covers Amnesiac.