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kottke.org posts about interviews

Interview with Wes Anderson’s cinematographer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2015

Robert Yeoman has been the cinematographer for all of Wes Anderson’s movies, save for the stop-motion The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Kyle Buchanan at Vulture talked to Yeoman about how he shot nine iconic scenes from Anderson’s films. Of the one-take shot near the end of The Royal Tenenbaums:

We had to triple up on scenes from The Royal Tenenbaums just so we could include this subtly marvelous shot from the finale of the film, where the camera drifts from character to character in the aftermath of an accident. “There were a lot of moving parts, and it was very difficult - Wes was determined to get it in one take and didn’t want to make a cut, so we did, I think, about 20 takes of it,” says Yeoman, who mounted a crane arm to a dolly for fluid movement. “The tough part is that it ends with a very emotional moment between Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller, and this scene was so difficult technically - things didn’t always happen when we wanted them to happen, and we’d have to cut - that it’s a testament to Gene and Ben that they were able to hang in there and really deliver on take 20.” What was going wrong before then? “I don’t want to name names, but there was one actor about two thirds of the way through it who kept blowing his lines, and we’d have to start over again,” says Yeoman. “That was a little frustrating, especially because Gene and Ben were waiting there, getting themselves to a certain place emotionally. I felt bad for them, but that’s just part of making films.”

(thx, greg)

Woz the designer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2014

Totally sweet and charming video of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talking about the early days at the company while setting up and using an old Apple II.

Of Apple’s two founding Steves, Wozniak was the technologist and Jobs was the one with the artistic & design sense, right? But it’s obvious from watching this video that Woz cared deeply about design and was a designer of the highest order. Those early Apple circuit boards are a thing of beauty, which is echoed in the precision and compactness with which Apple currently designs iPhone and Mac hardware. They each have their own unique way of expressing it, but Woz and Jony Ive speak in a similarly hallowed way about how their products are built.

Update: Wozniak still has improving the Apple II on his mind. From earlier this year:

I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it’s 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

(via @samryan)

Update: From Founders at Work, an interview with Woz that goes a bit deeper into the genesis of the Apple I and the early days at Apple.

By the time I was done, the design of the Nova was half as many chips as all of the other minicomputers from Varian, Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard, all of the minicomputers of the time (I was designing them all). And I saw that Nova was half as many chips and just as good a computer. What was different? The architecture was really an architecture that just fit right to the very fewest chips.

My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don’t just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.

Interview with Chris Rock

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2014

This Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock is fantastic, full of keen comedic, political, and sociological insights from Rock.

Q: What do you think of how he’s done? Here we are in the last two years of his presidency, and there’s a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he’s disengaged.

A: I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?

Q: He pandered to his target audience.

A: He’s the first cable-television president, and the thing liberals don’t like about Obama is that he’s a network guy. He’s kind of Les Moonves. He’s trying to get everybody. And I think he’s figured out, and maybe a little late, that there’s some people he’s never going to get.

And this:

Q: What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

A: I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Q: Well, that would be much more revealing.

A: Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Q: Right. It’s ridiculous.

A: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Q: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?

A: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.

Old masters

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2014

The NY Times interviewed several people in their 80s who are still killing it in their careers and creative pursuits. Says Ruth Bader Ginsberg about surprises about turning 80:

Nothing surprised me. But I’ve learned two things. One is to seek ever more the joys of being alive, because who knows how much longer I will be living? At my age, one must take things day by day. I have been asked again and again, “How long are you going to stay there?” I make that decision year by year. The minute I sense I am beginning to slip, I will go. There’s a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you’re doing to the hilt. I appreciate that I have had as long as I have… It’s a sense reminiscent of the poem “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” I had some trying times when my husband died. We’d been married for 56 years and knew each other for 60. Now, four years later, I’m doing what I think he would have wanted me to do.

The interviews are accompanied by an essay by Lewis Lapham, himself on the cusp of 80.

John D. Rockefeller in his 80s was known to his business associates as a crazy old man possessed by the stubborn and ferocious will to know why the world wags and what wags it, less interested in money than in the solving of a problem in geography or corporate combination. By sources reliably informed I’m told that Warren Buffett, 84, and Rupert Murdoch, 83, never quit asking questions.

I read a book several years ago which is relevant here called Old Masters and Young Geniuses, in which economist David Galenson divided creative people into two main camps: conceptual and experimental innovators:

1) The conceptual innovators who peak creatively early in life. They have firm ideas about what they want to accomplish and then do so, with certainty. Pablo Picasso is the archetype here; others include T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Orson Wells. Picasso said, “I don’t seek, I find.”

2) The experimental innovators who peak later in life. They create through the painstaking process of doing, making incremental improvements to their art until they’re capable of real masterpiece. Cezanne is Galenson’s main example of an experimental innovator; others include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, and Jackson Pollock. Cezanne remarked, “I seek in painting.”

How the Colbert Report is made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2014

For the first episode of podcast called Working, David Plotz talks to Stephen Colbert about how he and his staff construct The Colbert Report. This is fascinating.

My show is a shadow of the news, so I have to know what shadow it’s casting right now, so I can distort it in my own way.

At the 13 minute mark, he talks about how the team communicates with each other about how the show is shaping up, changes, concerns, etc. They do it all by what sounds like text messaging. Paging Stewart Butterfield, you should get those folks on Slack. (via digg)

You’re My Favorite Client

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2014

After writing Design is a Job and noticing no one had written a book for clients who hired designers, Mike Monteiro of Mule Design decided to write one: You’re My Favorite Client.

Whether you’re a designer or not, you make design decisions every day.

Successful design projects require equal participation from both the client and the design team. Yet, for most people who buy design, the process remains a mystery.

In his follow-up to Design Is a Job, Mike Monteiro demystifies the design process and helps you prepare for your role. Ensure you’re asking the right questions, giving effective feedback, and hiring designers who will challenge you to make your product the best it can be.

Monteiro recently wrote 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations and gave an interview to fellow designer Khoi Vinh.

I’ve been doing the primary research for this book for 20 years. I deal with clients every day and I see what works and doesn’t work and I’ve screwed up more times than I’d like to think about. But every lesson in that book is field tested. This book has zero percent theory in it. It was written on a factory floor.

The Game of Thrones title sequence

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2014

From the excellent Art of the Title, an interview with Angus Wall, the creative director responsible for the opening titles of Game of Thrones.

Basically, we had an existing map of Westeros and a xeroxed hand drawn map of Essos - both done by George R. R. Martin - and I took those into Photoshop and played with their scale until they lined up perfectly. The actual dimensions, the locations and their placement, and the different terrains are all based strictly on George R. R. Martin’s maps. It was really important that we stay as absolutely true to the books as possible because of the ardent fans out there.

Wall also works as an editor, often on David Fincher films. He won two Oscars for editing The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Running the lungs out of your body

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2014

A wonderful interview with Werner Herzog on soccer, his wonderful fatherless upbringing, the nature of reality, and, of course, Mel Brooks.

I told Mel, “Mel, you know what, I have seen an extraordinary film. Something you must see. You must see. It’s only at midnight screenings at the Nuart Theater. And it’s a film by — I don’t know his name, I think it’s Lynch. And he made a film Eraserhead and you must see the film.” And Mel keeps grinning and grinning and lets me talk about the movie and he says, “Yes, his name is really David Lynch, do you like to meet him?” I said, “In principle, yes.” He says, “Come with me,” and two doors down the corridor is David Lynch in pre-production on The Elephant Man! Which Mel Brooks produced! And the bastard sits there and lets me talk and talk and talk and grins and chuckles. And I had no idea [and kept thinking], Why does he chuckle all the time when I talk about the film? But that was how I love Mel Brooks.

DFW, on the cusp of literary stardom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2014

Just after Infinite Jest was published, David Foster Wallace came to Boston and did a radio interview with Chris Lydon. Radio Open Source recently unearthed that interview, probably unheard for the past 18 years, and published it on their site.

When I started the book the only idea I had is I wanted to do something about America that was sad but wasn’t just making fun of America. Most of my friends are extremely bright, privileged, well-educated Americans who are sad on some level, and it has something, I think, to do with loneliness. I’m talking out of my ear a little bit, this is just my opinion, but I think somehow the culture has taught us or we’ve allowed the culture to teach us that the point of living is to get as much as you can and experience as much pleasure as you can, and that the implicit promise is that will make you happy. I know that’s almost offensively simplistic, but the effects of it aren’t simplistic at all.

Some sort of a new media onion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2014

Felix Salmon, who used to blog for Reuters but now works for a new cable TV network, interviews Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed, a site best known for its lists and snackable meme content, for a site called Matter which is in turn published by Medium. Medium tells us the interview will take 91 minutes to read. Also, I am writing this from the Buzzfeed office and Jonah is a friend of mine.

Jonah is not your typical media mogul, however. He’s smarter than most, and more accessible, and also much happier than many to share his thoughts. Which is why I asked Jonah if he’d be interested in talking to me over an extended period. To my delight, he said yes, and we ended up having four interviews spanning more than six hours.

The resulting Q&A is long, for which I make no apologies. You’ll learn a lot about Jonah Peretti and how he thinks - but you’ll also learn a great deal about the modern media world, the way the Internet has evolved, and the way that Jonah has evolved with it.

If you want to learn the secret of how Jonah managed to build two of the world’s most important online media properties, you’ll find that here, too. Which brings me to another way in which Jonah differs from most other moguls. If you succeed in building something similarly successful as a result, he will be cheering you all the way.

I am looking forward to someone publishing the highlights of this. (via @choire)

Update: Here’s an attempt at some crib notes. (via @tgeorgakopoulos)

Louis C.K. on testing the limits

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 06, 2014

Louis C.K. sat down with Jonah Weiner for an extended interview where he discusses learning how to fix cars, tell jokes, fry chicken, and more. (Seriously, Medium is milking that whole time spent reading thing now.) He also gives some clues as to what he seems to be up to in the current season of Louie:

JW: You’ve talked about how you’ve had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in a catchy way. It’s almost as though you’re writing material for them. What’s the place of morality and ethics in your comedy?

I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there’s a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, “Oh, I’m just not doing it, I’m not doing the right thing.” There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don’t know what that is, I’m really curious about that. I’m really curious about what people think they’re doing when they’re doing something evil, casually. I think it’s really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it. I think that’s really interesting, I think it’s a profound human question…

I think it’s really interesting to test what people think is right or wrong, and I can do that in both directions, so sometimes it’s in defense of the common person against the rich that think they’re entitled to this shit, but also the idea that everybody has to get handouts and do whatever they want so that there’s not supposed to be any struggle in life is also a lot of horseshit. Everything that people say is testable.

At the LA Review of Books, Lili Loofbourow has a good essay about Louie’s abrupt shifts in perspective, in the context of its recent rape-y episodes. There’s Louie the dad, who garners sympathy and acts as a cover/hedge/foil to Louie’s darker impulses. There’s standup Louie, who acts as a commentary and counterpoint to dramedy Louie… except when he doesn’t, and the two characters blur and flip.

Louie is — despite its dick-joke dressing — a profoundly ethical show… Louie is sketching out the psychology of an abuser by making us recognize abuse in someone we love. Someone thoughtful and shy, raising daughters of his own, doing his best. Someone totally cognizant of the issues that make him susceptible to the misogyny monster. Someone who thinks hard about women and men and still gets it badly wrong.

I had to stop watching Louie after Season 1. I raced greedily through those episodes, enjoying the dumb jokes and the sophisticated storytelling, and telling my friends, “this is like looking at my life in ten years.” Then my wife and I separated and that joke wasn’t funny any more, if it ever was. The things in Louie that are supposed to indicate the cracks in the fourth wall — the African-American ex-wife and the seemingly white children — are actually true in my life. His character is more like me than his creator is (except Louie has more money). No haha, you’re both redheads with beards. It’s an honest-to-goodness uncanny valley. I had to walk away.

At the same time, I feel like I understand Louis C.K., the comedian/filmmaker, better now than I did three years ago. If you read that interview, you see someone who’s more successful now than he’s ever been, who knows he’s good at what he does, but who’s never been certain that anyone’s ever loved him or if he’s ever been worthy of love.

Now America loves Louis C.K. and hangs on his every word: on gadgets, on tests in school, on what’s worth caring about. How can he not want to test those limits? How can he not want to punish his audience for caring about a character based on him that he doesn’t even like very much?

The need not to know yourself

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 04, 2014

Adam Phillips is a writer and psychoanalyst, working on (among other things) a digressive, deflationary biography of Freud. He recently gave an “Art of Nonfiction” interview to The Paris Review which is one of those great Paris Review interviews about writing and life and approaching the universe.

PHILLIPS: Analysis should do two things that are linked together. It should be about the recovery of appetite, and the need not to know yourself. And these two things—

INTERVIEWER: The need not to know yourself?

PHILLIPS: The need not to know yourself. Symptoms are forms of self-knowledge. When you think, I’m agoraphobic, I’m a shy person, whatever it may be, these are forms of self-knowledge. What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way…

I was a child psychotherapist for most of my professional life. One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have. How much appetite they have—but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites. Anybody who’s got young children, or has had them, or was once a young child, will remember that children are incredibly picky about their food. They can go through periods where they will only have an orange peeled in a certain way. Or milk in a certain cup.

INTERVIEWER: And what does that mean?

PHILLIPS: Well, it means different things for different children. One of the things it means is there’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limiting, narrowed way. It’s as though, were the child not to have the milk in that cup, it would be a catastrophe. And the child is right. It would be a catastrophe, because that specific way, that habit, contains what is felt to be a very fearful appetite. An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.

We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense—as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.

Good Morning Minnesota

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2014

Photographer Alec Soth is interviewed by his young son Gus about his job, art, and leaving his family for work.

This is completely charming and awesome and heartbreaking. (via @polan)

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2014

I really liked this bit from Rolling Stone’s interview with Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone — they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

(via mr)

H.G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2014

In 1934, H.G. Wells interviewed Joseph Stalin. This is how the interview began:

Wells: I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world …

Stalin: Not so very much.

Wells: I wander around the world as a common man and, as a common man, observe what is going on around me.

Stalin: Important public men like yourself are not “common men”. Of course, history alone can show how important this or that public man has been; at all events, you do not look at the world as a “common man”.

Wells: I am not pretending humility. What I mean is that I try to see the world through the eyes of the common man, and not as a party politician or a responsible administrator. My visit to the United States excited my mind. The old financial world is collapsing; the economic life of the country is being reorganised on new lines.

Lenin said: “We must learn to do business,” learn this from the capitalists. Today the capitalists have to learn from you, to grasp the spirit of Socialism. It seems to me that what is taking place in the United States is a profound reorganisation, the creation of planned, that is, Socialist, economy. You and Roosevelt begin from two different starting points. But is there not a relation in ideas, a kinship of ideas, between Moscow and Washington?

In Washington I was struck by the same thing I see going on here; they are building offices, they are creating a number of state regulation bodies, they are organising a long-needed civil service. Their need, like yours, is directive ability.

Rare interview with Jony Ive

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2014

John Arlidge scores a very rare sit-down interview with Apple design chief Jony Ive for Time magazine.

He spent “months and months and months” working out the exact shape of the stand of the desktop iMac computer because “it’s very hard to design something that you almost do not see because it just seems so obvious, natural and inevitable”. When he has finished a product, even one as fresh and iconic as the white headphones that came with the first iPod, he is haunted by the idea: could I have done it better? “It’s an affliction designers are cursed with,” Ive frowns.

It was an affliction he shared with Jobs, although he seemed to apply it to everything, with — almost — funny consequences. Ive recalls traveling with Jobs. “We’d get to the hotel where we were going, we’d check in and I’d go up to my room. I’d leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: ‘Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. let’s go.’”

Would have preferred more of the actual interview — lots of biographical filler in this to make it accessible for the general public — but there are good bits here and there.

Interviewly

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2014

Interviewly presents interesting Reddit AMAs in a more readable format. Compare Bill Murray’s thread on Reddit to the one on Interviewly.

Bill Murray on Charlie Rose

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2014

If you’re reading this site, you’ll probably like watching Charlie Rose interview Bill Murray for nearly an hour. The whole thing is available on Hulu (US only):

The video is recent too: Feb 9, 2014. A clip is available on YouTube…check out that leather vest!

And from a different interview with Murray, we learn that everyone has been drinking champagne incorrectly. Here’s the Murray method:

I learned how to drink champagne a while ago. But the way I like to drink champagne is I like to make what we call a Montana Cooler, where you buy a case of champagne and you take all the bottles out, and you take all the cardboard out, and you put a garbage bag inside of it, then you put all the bottles back in and then you cover it with ice, and then you wrap it up and you close it. And that will keep it all cold for a weekend and you can drink every single bottle. And the way I like to drink it in a big pint glass with ice. I fill it with ice and I pour the champagne in it, because champagne can never be too cold. And the problem people have with champagne is they drink it and they crash with it, because the sugar content is so high and you get really dehydrated. But if you can get the ice in it, you can drink it supremely cold and at the same time you’re getting the melting ice, so it’s like a hydration level, and you can stay at this great level for a whole weekend. You don’t want to crash. You want to keep that buzz, that bling, that smile.

Buzz on, you crazy diamond!

The sixth extinction

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2014

About 250 million years ago, Earth suffered its fifth (and worst) mass extinction event. Nearly seventy percent of land species disappeared. And they got off easy compared to marine species. Are we headed for another mass extinction on Earth? I’m not ready to break that news. But something unusual is definitely going on and extinction rates seem to be speeding up. Here’s an interesting chat with Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction.

The worst mass extinction of all time came about 250 million years ago [the Permian-Triassic extinction event]. There’s a pretty good consensus there that this was caused by a huge volcanic event that went on for a long time and released a lot of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. That is pretty ominous considering that we are releasing a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere and people increasingly are drawing parallels between the two events.

Steve McQueen interviews Kanye West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2014

I always forget about Interview magazine but I really shouldn’t because a) Warhol and b) they consistently pair interesting people together for interviews. Case in point: director Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years a Slave, not Bullitt) interviews Kanye West for the Feb 2014 issue.

MCQUEEN: You’ve been on the scene as an artist now for 10 years, which is impressive, given the level of interest and artistry that you’ve managed to sustain in your work. In the process, you’ve become incredibly influential. So you talk about doing all of these other things, which is great, but there’s really no amount of money that could make you more influential than you are now. So my question is: What are you going to do with all of the influence that you have right now?

WEST: Well, influence isn’t my definition of success-it’s a by-product of my creativity. I just want to create more. I would be fine with making less money. I actually spend the majority of my money attempting to create more things. Not buying things or solidifying myself or trying to make my house bigger, or trying to show people how many Louis Vuitton bags I can get, or buying my way to a good seat at the table. My definition of success, again, is getting my ideas out there.

Thanks to Jonathan at The Candler Blog for the pointer; he also notes Glenn Kenny’s super-apt comment:

Clearly the problem with most Kanye West interviews up until now has been the interviewer.

What do we know about Bob Dylan?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2014

Tom Junod writes about Bob Dylan and what we know and don’t know about him and what that says about our ability to know anything about anyone. Maaaaan. *toke*

Bob Dylan is either the most public private man in the world or the most private public one. He has a reputation for being silent and reclusive; he is neither. He has been giving interviews-albeit contentious ones-for as long as he’s been making music, and he’s been making music for more than fifty years. He’s seventy-two years old. He’s written one volume of an autobiography and is under contract to write two more. He’s hosted his own radio show. He exhibits his paintings and his sculpture in galleries and museums around the world. Ten years ago, he cowrote and starred in a movie, Masked and Anonymous, that was about his own masked anonymity. He is reportedly working on another studio recording, his thirty-sixth, and year after year and night after night he still gets on stage to sing songs unequaled in both their candor and circumspection. Though famous as a man who won’t talk, Dylan is and always has been a man who won’t shut up.

Studs Terkel interviews Bob Dylan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2014

In 1963, Studs Terkel interviewed a 21-year-old Bob Dylan, before he was famous.

In the spring of 1963 Studs Terkel introduced Chicago radio listeners to an up-and-coming musician, not yet 22 years old, “a young folk poet who you might say looks like Huckleberry Finn, if he lived in the 20th century. His name is Bob Dylan.”

Dylan had just finished recording the songs for his second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, when he traveled from New York to Chicago to play a gig at a little place partly owned by his manager, Albert Grossman, called “The Bear Club”. The next day he went to the WFMT studios for the hour-long appearance on “The Studs Terkel Program”.

Dangerous Minds has more detail about the interview.

Bob Dylan is a notoriously tough person to interview and that’s definitely the case here, even this early in his life as a public persona. On the other hand, Terkel is a veteran interviewer, one of the best ever, and he seems genuinely impressed with the young man who was just 21 at the time and had but one record of mainly covers under his belt. Terkel does a good job of keeping things on track as he expertly gets out of the way and listens while gleaning what he can from his subject. It’s an interesting match-up.

Dylan seems at least fairly straightforward about his musical influences. He talks about seeing Woody Guthrie with his uncle when he was ten years old (Is this just mythology? Who knows?), and he mentions Big Joe Williams and Pete Seeger a few times.

Much of the rest is a little trickier. Terkel has to almost beg Dylan to play what turns out to be an earnest, driving version of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Dylan tells Terkel that he’d rather the interviewer “take it off the disc,” but relents and does the tune anyways.

(via @mkonnikova)

Tavi interviews Lorde

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2014

We may not have our jetpacks and hover cars, but our future-now has given us Tavi Gevinson interviewing Lorde and that’s just as good.

Tavi: On that note, you have a very unique way of looking at the suburb where you live, which I think you’ve called “the Bubble.” When did you realize the suburbs could be a source of inspiration?

Lorde: Well…this sounds so lame, but I grew up reading your blog, man! [Laughs]

Tavi: Oh no! “Ugh, that’s so LAME, shut up!”

Lorde: [Laughs] But no, I think there is something really cool about that whole Virgin Suicides vibe of making even the bad parts bearable. I hate high school so much, but there’s something kind of cool about walking around on the coldest day listening to “Lindisfarne” by James Blake or something and feeling like something has happened, even though it’s the worst thing ever. The album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire was influential to me in that as way well. I just think that record is really beautiful and nostalgic and so well-written. It’s a super-direct way of talking about what it’s like to grow up [in the suburbs], and I think that’s quite lovely.

You’re asking about stuff I’m not used to talking about in interviews, so I don’t have a stock way of driving the question.

Tavi: OK, then: “Do you feel 17?”

Lorde: AGHHHH! What do you even say to that, honestly?

Tavi: It’s kind of a trap, because if you say yes you’re shitting on their question by making it seem obvious, but if you say no you seem like you think you’re older and better.

Lorde: I always get these weird people being like, “Oh, she’s growing up way too fast, she looks 30.” Oh, god.

Tavi: People always say that. I remember — not to be all Mother Hen —

Lorde: No, go for it!

Tavi: I remember when people started paying attention to what I was doing, and it was like, “She should be getting knocked up like all the other kids her age!” It’s like, you complain when you think teenagers are stupid, and then when they try to do something, you’re all, “Oh, they’re growing up too fast, they don’t know what’s good for them.”

Lorde: It seems like a double standard to me. And there’s another part of it which I find really strange, which is that so many interviewers, even ones that I consider really intelligent and good writers, will do the, like, “Oh, you’re not taking your clothes off like Miley Cyrus and all these girls” thing, which to me is just the weirdest thing to say to someone. But then people will say, “She’s always talking about being bored, that’s petulant,” which I feel like is kind of taking the piss out of teenage emotions-just, like, making light of how teenagers feel. When people react that way about things that every teenager experiences, how can you expect to make anything good?

Gay Talese annotates Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2013

If you’re even a little bit of a magazine nerd, you’ll appreciate this: with the help of Elon Green Gay Talese annotates his celebrated celebrity profile, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.

EG: The punctuated alliteration is gorgeous — “preened and polished”; “matured” and “molded”. How much time would you spend on such a sentence?/eg

GT: Oh, I could spend days. Sometimes these phrases come to you and sometimes they’re terrible. Sometimes you think, “Maybe that’s okay” and you let it in. I throw a lot of stuff away.

EG: What percentage of what you write for any given story do you get rid of?

GT: More than half. Because it’s so easily the case that it’s turgid or overwritten.

EG: Do you throw away more now, now that you use a computer?

GT: I don’t think so. I’ve always thrown a lot away, even when I was working on daily deadlines for newspapers. That was really expensive because at the New York Times we were typing what they called a “book” — it had seven or eight pieces of carbon. A thick thing. If you threw it away, you were destroying 11 cents worth of, well, something.

(via @yayitsrob)

The “gourd pride movement”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2013

One of McSweeney’s most popular online pieces is Colin Nissan’s It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers. Its sublime opening paragraph:

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. I’m about to head up to the attic right now to find that wicker fucker, dust it off, and jam it with an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables. When my guests come over it’s gonna be like, BLAMMO! Check out my shellacked decorative vegetables, assholes. Guess what season it is — fucking fall. There’s a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant fucking squash.

Nissan’s piece is included in a new collection and has spawned a collectable mug. Here’s a McSweeney’s interview with Nissan about the piece and the “the whole gourd pride movement”.

McSWEENEY’S: A large part of what makes “Gourds” so funny is the language. Use of F-bombs in humor is sometimes seen as a lazy way to get a reaction from the audience, but here it just works. How do you fucking explain this?

NISSAN: Fudge if I know. It’s tricky because properly placed F-bombs really do have the power to work readers up into a lather, but they also have the power to make them think you’re a juvenile idiot with a terrible vocabulary. For whatever reason, the swearing worked in this case. I think part of it was the fact that despite the language, the voice in the piece was never really angry or negative, he was just incredibly excited. If he was angry, I actually think the swearing might have turned people off.

The night light

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2013

Paul Bogard recently published a book on darkness called The End of Night. Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh interviewed Bogard about the book, the night sky, astronomy, security, cities, and prisons, among other things. The interview is interesting throughout but one of my favorite things is this illustration of the Bortle scale.

Bortle Scale

Twilley: It’s astonishing to read the description of a Bortle Class 1, where the Milky Way is actually capable of casting shadows!

Bogard: It is. There’s a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That’s not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I’ve been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can’t have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.

A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it’s bright. That’s the great thing-the darker it gets, if it’s clear, the brighter the night is. That’s something we never see either, because it’s so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.

I can also recommend reading David Owen’s 2007 NYer piece on light pollution.

Feeding the Tour de France riders

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2013

Hannah Grant, a chef who used to work for highly influential Noma (among other places), is now the chef for the Saxo-Tinkoff cycling team currently competing in the Tour de France. She cooks for the entire team out of a food truck.

First of all, I set the menu. I mean, they can request stuff, the riders, if they want. I’ll note it and I’ll do it if it’s possible. But, obviously, then there’s rules to how to assemble the menu. Today’s a rest day, so we do a low-carb lunch for them. They’re not going so far, they just want to keep their legs going, so we don’t want to fill them up too much. And we don’t want to go too hard on the carbs so they don’t gain weight.

Then we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.

It’s all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that’s a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can’t just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.

Then I take it as my personal job to take these guidelines and then make an incredible product from it, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out on things. It shouldn’t be a punishment to travel with a kitchen truck and a chef who cooks you food that’s good for you.

Grant’s cooking seems to be paying off for the team…Saxo-Tinkoff currently has two riders in the top five and is in second place overall in the team classification. (via @sampotts)

Kuwait’s booming Instagram economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2013

In Kuwait, people sell all sorts of stuff on Instagram, using the service as a visually oriented mobile storefront instead of using a web site or something like eBay. From an interview with artist/musician Fatima Al Qadiri:

BR: Kuwait is a crazy mix: a super-affluent country, yet basically a welfare state, though with a super neo-liberal consumer economy.

FQ: We consume vast amounts of everything. Instagram businesses are a big thing in Kuwait.

BR: What’s an Instagram business?

FQ: If you have an Instagram account, you can slap a price tag on anything, take a picture of it, and sell it. For instance, you could take this can of San Pellegrino, paint it pink, put a heart on it, call it yours, and declare it for sale. Even my grandmother has an Instagram business! She sells dried fruit. A friend’s cousin is selling weird potted plants that use Astroturf. People are creating, you know, hacked products.

I dug up a few examples: Manga Box is an Instagram storefront selling manga (contact via WhatsApp to buy), Sondos Makeup advertises makeup services (WhatsApp for appts.), sheeps_sell sells sheep, and store & more is an account selling women’s fashion items. There was even an Insta-Business Expo held in April about Instagram businesses.

The Entrepreneurship and Business Club of the American University of Kuwait is holding an “INSTA BUSINESS EXPO” which will consist of all your favorite and newest popular entrepreneurs that grew their businesses through Instagram. Not only that, there will be guest speakers by Entrepreneurs that made it through Instagram as well!

(via @cmchap)

A man and his talking house

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2013

Tom Coates has outfitted his house with technology that allows him to control the lights, heat, etc. but also gives him all sorts of feedback directed to an iPhone app and a public Twitter feed. Derek Powazek interviewed Coates about his setup.

I also have a WeMo motion sensor in my sitting room that looks for movement. When it notices some movement, it posts an @-reply to me on Twitter, so I get notified wherever I am pretty much immediately. It asks me if I’m in the Sitting Room. I often find myself replying to the house. It feels rude not to.

If I’m not in the house and I get a message like this, then I can check on who is in my house by using my Dropcam. This is a little off-the-shelf product that costs about $200. I can, again, view the video feed from it on my iPhone. If it’s dark, I can turn on night vision, or (of course) I can just turn on the lights from anywhere using my WeMo set-up.

By the big plant in my Sitting Room, I have a Twine. This is a slightly odd little product from a company called Supermechanical. They were a Kickstarter project. It’s essentially a little battery-powered box with a couple of inbuilt sensors in it and a port for plugging in a few others. I use it for capturing the temperature of my house, vibration, and whether or not the plant has been watered recently. I have the temperature set up so that it tweets when the house crosses a threshold - allowing it to narrate when it gets too hot or too cold. I have the vibration sensor set up to shout at me if there’s an earthquake, but often it just gets confused when someone slams down on the sofa too hard.

You listen to this man every day

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2013

From the beginning, all I’ve ever cared about is things being great. I never cared about when they were done. Because I also feel like I want the music to last forever. And once you release it, you can’t go back and fix it, so you really have to get it right. And that takes time.

A chat with Rick Rubin. You may not know the name, but you definitely know the music (and you’ll probably never forget the beard).