My favorite interviews (at least in retrospect) were the ones where things didn't go so right.
Comedians are on my mind this week, so I'll start with them. Comedians are the most difficult people to get anything. Lewis Black and Aries Spears were sort of dull on the phone. (revision -I re-checked my notes and they weren't so bad) Martin Short was disappointing. He sounded slightly distracted, subdued and not particularly interested in doing the interview. Very likely, doing interviews with a small paper are pretty low on his list of fun things to do. I've never spoken to anyone in entertainment who yells, "bring on the interviews!"
Rodney Carrington was only funny by accident, because he lost his temper. While talking to him on the phone, I asked about him doing another television show. That's when he snapped.
"You give them something that you know is funny, that you know works and they come in, ruin it then want you to kiss their ass an inordinate amount for the privilege."
-Something like that. He ranted for a couple of minutes about the people who'd taken over then cancelled the show he didn't much like to begin with. It was good on a lot of levels. I wasn't trying to nail him or prod him into melting down. It was natural, funny and honest.
I got shocked by fame once. I called kd Lang and got a little overwhelmed, even had to apologize for being starstruck. What was amazing about that is I don't actually own any kd Lang albums. I like her work, but I'm not a fan. I was just caught up in her minor celebrity. I just couldn't build rapport of any kind and so the interview was me saying stupid things and her trying to answer questions that really weren't there.
Tift Merritt, country singer, wouldn't relax. We started talking and she sort of wrung herself like a dish rag, which was very strange to watch. With every question, she became a little more withdrawn. It was just weird.
I had to interview Ambrosia Parsley twice. I taped over her interview with someone else's interview on the same day. She was a trooper and gave me her answers all over again, without really altering them... and she smelled nice.
Jill Sobule was high and apparently crashed as we spoke. It was weird, one moment she was sort of there and a little bouncy. The next moment, she was curling up into a ball in her chair.
I've had to borrow pens from a variety of artists over the years. I've had to ask Mountain Stage to loan me batteries for my tape recorder and once did an interview on a series of paper towels because I left my notebook in the car.
When I called Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, I had the time wrong. He was in England and I got the zones mixed up. We ended up scrambling to get the interview time worked out and it almost failed because I had to get around Public Broadcasting's phone bureacracy. However, because of the misfires and confusion, I now have Nick Mason's personal email address, his home and cell numbers --in case I want to call him up for the holidays.
I have been turned down by Bruce Springsteen's people roughly ten times. In 2004, during the Moveon.org concerts, I complained about the music tour circumnavigating the state of West Virginia. I could never get a straight answer on why, except that this was decided not by the political arm, but by the artists involved. Since Bruce was the posterboy and defacto head of the artists side, I tried to get an interview and was shot down.
I have since taken a personal interest in Springsteen. His last show here was nearly 30 years ago, which irritates me. As a continuing personal mission, I send a note every couple of months to his publicist. She's always very nice when she tells me, no.
Carrie Underwood was dull and seemed like she was breathing her own gas. It's not entirely her fault, of course. By all reports, she's a fine, upstanding woman with a lot of brains and a lot of talent. She just wasn't particularly engaging. She deflected questions or gave flat, uninteresting answers.
Toby Keith's people screwed up my chances for an interview by not talking to one another. The tour manager was making press inquiries, while the publicist was denying they were doing it. That one really pissed me off at the time, but... hey, whatever.
I've asked questions about albums that were the wrong album for the wrong artist. I've been behind on the most current project a couple of times and on occasion, didn't even know what instrument the person I was talking to played. Man... that just looks bad.
It's slightly less than it used to be, but I typically ask one really stupid question per interview. I've asked so many dumb questions over the years, I've gotten in the habit of warning people that I will probably ask a few questions they've heard before, a few that might not make any sense right off and probably one or two that are outright dumb.
Call it lesson #8. Just be honest about who you are and a little laughter goes a long way.