Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commas and Ampersands

What follows comprises two unrelated anecdotes about interviews that you should under no circumstances interpret as being about the same interview. Because they’re not. They’re not, they’re not, they’re not.

I write this first section as a combination of reminder and penance. (And, really, since when is the pain of penance not a good way to remind yourself to avoid the sin in the future?) Whenever I let a few months go by between big interviews — and by big interview I mean the sort of one-on-one that will constitute the vast majority of a subsequent article, as opposed to the interviews with different people that gradually assemble, Lego-style, into a single piece of text — I tend to forget that my best interviews are conversational in tone, with the person I’m talking to saying something and me responding with a follow-up question tailored to the preceding statement. These make for better quotes and overall a more comfortable experience — for me for the interviewee, and for the reader too, I’ll bet — than do the articles that result from the awkward interviews in which I work from a list of pre-written questions and consequently force the interviewee through a hedge maze rather than allowing them to wander about the garden as he or she pleases.

This second section — which, again, should not be interpreted as having anything to do with the foundation laid down in the previous paragraph — is about my disappointment with my sputtering, stuttering behavior during an interview with a certain singer-songwriter whose work I’ve enjoyed since early high school. He, of course, was a delight. Despite my failings, the quotes he provided will provide a sturdy framework on which I can build a good article. One small plus: I received an explanation for the subject of this post. The answer: Less some great Hardy Boys adventure, more a mix-and-match phone book jaunt in an effort to formulate catchy names for a piece of fiction. Rather than be disappointed that Adolpha Zantziger is not some long-forgotten muse to a whole generations’ worth of art or some furtively generous billionaire philanthropist recluse, I’m slightly happy that she turned out to be something close to the fictional story I created for her in my head.

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