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Talking the talk
Anthony DeCurtisís art of the interview
BY TED DROZDOWSKI

Anthony DeCurtisís In Other Words is proof that celebrity interviews can run deeper than Jessica Simpson explaining she doesnít know how to use a washer-dryer. Johnny Cash and Bono discuss religious faith. Iggy Pop offers a skeptical take on his cultural impact and bemoans modern American rock as "guys getting their dicks hard with machine aid." Nile Rodgers lays out the egalitarian social politics of disco and the thinly veiled racism that dismantled the music and the movement. Here too is the full-length interview for the New York Times in which Rufus Wainwright detailed his drug-fueled descent into "gay hell," and DeCurtisís tense discussion with Eminem, who was taking heat for his gay-bashing lyrics at the time, and sweetly ironic experiences like sharing conversation and a pack of cigarettes with George Harrison in the former Beatleís idyllic garden years before he died of lung cancer.

DeCurtis has had A-list access for decades as an editor at Rolling Stone and Tracks, director of VH1 news, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, but this book gets as much juice from his gently thoughtful manner of questioning as from his connections with celebrity. Although heís known for his music journalism, heís also a pop-culture junkie who can slip into the worlds of Don DeLillo, Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Jonathan Demme as easily as that of Keith Richards. Even with the defensive Eminem, his belief in the interview as a conversational rather than a confrontational art comes through.

Yet heís comfortable challenging assertions. When Phishís Trey Anastasio, insisting that it "always sucks" when retired bands re-form, is informed by DeCurtis that the Clash were considering regrouping before Joe Strummerís death, he retorts that it would have been a nightmare. "You donít want to see the Clash again, do you?"

"Um . . . ," DeCurtis begins.

"Do you? You kind of do!", Anastasio interrupts. "But do you want to see them do ĎLondon Callingí?"

"Of course," DeCurtis replies. "What would you want them to do? . . . You can call it nostalgia, but if you go see the Rolling Stones, theyíre still great. Bruce Springsteen getting back with the E Street Band is another example. In a culture in which things so often seem disposable, that was a statement that things can last. It was also a statement about community."

The bookís sole throw-away is an interview with Lucinda Williams that sheds light on neither her nor her art, but the abundance of small revelations more than compensates. DeCurtisís discussion with Roxy Musicís Bryan Ferry focuses on his upbringing as a poor, simple farmerís son and is full of tearful reminiscences. DeCurtis confesses that heís "not much of an ironist. Irony too often seems merely cute or smug." Perhaps thatís why he draws so much out of Ferry and also David Byrne. He belongs to a different club, so they need to relate to him on less codified, more human terms.

Conducted in 1984, his interview with Byrne elicits a prophetic observation: "Iím worried about this country. . . . The quality of life and the quality of manufactured goods, and politically, everything seems pretty poor at the moment. . . . When you compare this country with Japan, and the educational system and all those kinds of things. . . .itís hopeless. Unless really radical things are done, this country is gonna be down there with the third-world nations weíre invading. I donít have any foolproof solutions. From our point of view as a band, I suppose our political statement is that weíre evidence of people working together and doing something that has, we would hope, some kind of quality in it, and yet isnít elitist. Thatís the best we can do as a band at the moment: be a living example."

Anthony DeCurtis | Borders Books and Music, 10Ė24 School Street, Boston | September 20 | 12:30 pm | 617.557.7188

 


Issue Date: August 5 - 11, 2005
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