Interviews have become my specialty as a journalist, especially if the subject is someone I have admired and whose career I have followed. I still can’t believe my good fortune at having been able to sit down and talk with some of my true heroes.
An “interview” theme is something I thought would be good for the Miami art crowd—our Nov/Dec issue always travels to the annual art Mecca known as the Art Basel Miami fairs. I envisioned Andy Warhol’s original Interview magazine, where the interviews were more like conversations between two celebrities.
So it seemed about as good it gets in the art world when Jeff Poe, of the Blum & Poe gallery, and contributor John Tottenham got together. Two people that are justly celebrated in their own right: Poe, a high-profile art dealer and Tottenham, a well-known Los Angeles poet, painter, writer and man about town. The two have been friends for decades and regale us with stories of the LA punk scene, the horse track and their ailments. Their repartee keeps us on our toes.
Reading it made me wistful for my interview days. I was thinking about which were my favorites or what I felt best about. John Waters, Larry Clark and Mike Kelley came to mind, but they have always been my idols, so it stands to reason that they would be on my top 10 list. After so many interviews though, one starts to pick up certain idiosyncrasies among the interviewees. Things like who might insist on seeing copy before going to press, and who has rehearsed answers, never straying from the script. Then there are the ones who open up so unexpectedly that you walk away breathless. That was what happened to me when I interviewed Mike Kelley.
Kelley opened up to me in a way I was unprepared for. He was an intellectual, and I was afraid we’d go down that path, which wasn’t my preference. I stuck with the question/answer format, though the answers were more than any interviewer could ever hope for. My jaw was in drop-mode most of the time, and I was shaking on the drive home from our meeting.
A triumph for any reporter is when one gets one’s subject to open up. In this particular case, however, I can’t take all the credit. Kelley seemed to have already made up his mind that nothing was off the table when he led me into his living room, where the drapes remained closed. I made an attempt at small talk just to warm things up, but apparently that wasn’t necessary as the minute I clicked the recorder button Kelley blurted out, “So, whaddaya wanna know? Ask me anything.” Even when the interview came to an end, Kelley insisted he could keep going if I wanted. In hindsight I think, what an idiot, why didn’t I? But I really just couldn’t take anymore; I didn’t want to prolong the agony.
It is the hope that the interviewee will give one something rare, not necessarily a deep dark secret, but that they might reveal an unexpected part of their personality.
Mike Kelley did that with me, but it was indeed a bittersweet interview, as he took his own life while his image was still on the cover of the magazine back in 2012. That will always remain a tragic paradox for me. I was thrilled with my interview, but torn and conflicted by the aftermath.
Journalists take risks and go the extra mile to present good material to readers. They are the unsung heroes who want to communicate and present the truth. I think in our Interview issue we captured a lot of that.