On interviews

I think I safely fall into the camp that would happily have a conversation with Terry Gross. I’d be lying if — like the Ira Glass note below — I didn’t admit to listening to her interviews to study the nuance of the art.

From Susan Burton’s profile of Terry Gross in the New York Times Magazine

Matthew Weiner, the creator of ‘‘Mad Men,’’ has been among the most frequent guests on ‘‘Fresh Air.’’ He imagined being interviewed by Gross years before it first happened, and once it did, ‘‘you’re like: Oh, this is my fantasy of a conversation,’’ Weiner told me. ‘‘I’m not even talking about people hearing it. I’m talking about actually having the conversation.’’

‘‘Having the conversation’’ — that’s what’s compelling about the wish. It’s a wish not for recognition but for an experience. It’s a wish for Gross to locate your genius, even if that genius has not yet been expressed. It’s a wish to be seen as in a wish to be understood.

From Ira Glass’ blog over at This American Life,

I’ve always admired how well she imagines herself into the mind of the person she’s interviewing. Like she once asked the magician Ricky Jay something like “Is there ever a trick where the behind-the-scenes stuff – the secret stuff we don’t see – is actually more interesting than what we DO see?” Inventing a question like that is such a pure imaginative act of empathy. She does it all the time. She asked my cousin Philip Glass, memorably, “Do you ever try to write music that doesn’t sound like Philip Glass music?” The greatest question he’s ever been asked in an interview. “Yes!” he responded, excited by the question. “And every time I fail.” […]

She’s incredibly efficient in those interviews. I don’t know any other word for it. They seem to speed to where they’re going and to cover so much more ground than you usually hear. There’ve been times when I’ve re-listened, just to hear the order of the questions and to figure out what was planned and unplanned. Like a magician sitting in on another guy’s act for two nights so he can figure out the trick, to steal it. […]

Really so much comes down to her judgment. I think when we talk about what makes someone’s work great, we overemphasize technique and not enough gets said about the importance of having interesting taste. In the end, whether you’re David Simon or the South Park Guys or Beyonce or a radio interviewer, that’s so much of the game. Terry’s a person with broad-ranging very interesting thoughts about things. She’s up to the job. An interviewer doesn’t need to be as interesting as her interviewees, for sure, but she needs to be pretty damn interesting, and, more important, to have the taste to know what’s truly fascinating and new.

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