It’s fair to say you’ve had a varied career and numerous jobs, which job do you feel most free doing?
I have always been a writer, from the beginning, and if you’re doing that job correctly you are free in the sense that you’re not just filling space or writing a promo blurb. It’s not work for hire, you’re saying something in your own voice, which seems increasingly difficult.
Would you consider yourself ambitious and do you know what drives you?
Yeah, I’ve always been ambitious enough to keep rolling the bolder up the hill. I have no desire for celebrity—that’s kind of awful—but I like having power and influence.
What do you love most about editing magazines?
I love putting words and pictures together. And I have always been an advocate for writers and artists. I just don’t like the business side of magazines. I think magazines as we have known them are obsolete. They’re mostly hoes. It’s a bad business model.
When you came to Interview what interested you most about the publication and how do you feel your vision for it helped shape it in it’s early years?
I have always thought that most writers, particularly in journalism, were full of shit. I loved the idea of a spoken word magazine. It’s no coincidence that Interview arrived at the same time as the audio cassette tape. It enabled us to use language in “the vulgate,” the way people live and speak it, not in some retro rhetorical sense. I think Interview introduced the modern “warts and all” interview. The Q/A or dialogue format goes back to Socrates and at its best it challenges the assertions that go unchallenged in solo writing. I also liked the idea of dealing with film, music, art, fashion etc. in the same venue.
You must be tired of this question now but obviously being a part of Andy’s factory and that image of New York at the time has a romantic quality to it, what was it like working for Andy?
When I first got there I thought I’d missed it—I missed the silver Factory. Later I thought, “well, I am still alive.” For me Andy had a real work ethic and thought about things in depth. He was kind of a brilliant boss because he could steer you in a direction and make you feel like it was your idea. “Oh, gee I like that typeface you used here. Maybe you should use that more.” He could make criticism seem like a compliment. He really was really encouraging when he saw something he liked, and he had a way of getting the best out of all sorts of people. His non-management management style was brilliant.
You worked for Rolling Stone at a very interesting point in it’s history, what do you believe were the main lessons you learnt whilst at the magazine?
At Rolling Stone I learned that the most retrograde tendencies could mask themselves as progressive, that corporate bureaucracies are often vicious, that people in the truth business are often liars. Rolling Stone fired all their funny writers except for Hunter Thompson, and they killed a lot of his best projects. He wanted to go to Vietnam! Imagine.
I do feel that you had the energy and approach of getting things done and getting them out there, TV Party if created today could of been put out on YouTube, what’s your personal opinions on the internet and social media and is there a specific web only media organisation that you read?
Public access cable TV was the Paleolithic YouTube. There are so many great things on YouTube, not just stupid pet tricks but Russell Brand and Hennessy Youngman (the artist Jayson Musson). From the beginning of my “career” I always felt that the problem with media was the middleman, the distributor, watering down and filtering out and profiteering along the way. That’s the film business, the TV business, and that was the music business until the model exploded. The literary world today, with all of its stupid novels, is a remnant of that old model. The brilliant thing about the Internet is that at times it really does eliminate the middleman. And the middleman is the enemy, not your friend no matter what he looks like.
I love your bio and how you say the magazines speak for themselves, I personally believe Interview was amazing under you it has that connection with the artist and musicians that many publications strive from Ryan McGinley showcasing his diary to the new format and Kate Moss cover, I know you can’t talk about why you left but could you talk about what made you go back?
I always felt that I had unfinished business. That this model never went all the way. I think it came close sometimes, but in my three turns there I think it was always the ideal of the format that inspired me.
TV Party was actually amazing, I love the rawness of it all and how authentic and honest the majority of the guests seem to be, how did it come about and what was the story behind it?
I always loved smart television, from witty game shows like What’s My Line in my childhood, to smart talk like Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, to genre breaking comedy shows like Ernie Kovacs and Jackie Gleason. TV made it possible for a Midwestern kid to acquire a New York sensibility. I could think of nothing more exciting than inspired live TV. TV Party sort of happened by accident because someone invited me on to their little public access show and I was shocked when lots of people actually saw it. I said to my friends, “Let’s do a TV show!” I think the direct inspiration for TV Party was Hugh Hefner’s Playboy’s Penthouse, which had guests like Lenny Bruce and Ella Fitzgerald. It was cool and sophisticated. But as a former student radical I think I wanted to do a Socialist Realist version of Playboy’s Penthouse.
You had some pretty shitty callers did any of the abuse personally effect you and was there any incidents of physical abuse?
No, we thought it was funny. Chris Stein loved the abuse. When somebody got really nasty we’d tell them to meet us in Union Square after the show to settle things, and then of course we went to the Mudd Club instead.
Downtown 81 is as much about the city as it is the artist, what do and don’t you miss about 70’s & 80’s New York?
I am not a nostalgic person but in those days New York was not a tourist spot or a shopping playground of the obscenely wealthy, it was a gritty town of ambitious immigrants from bad places, and that includes most of the people in the art world. It was full of cultural, aesthetic and sexual misfits. It was rebellion as lifestyle. New York was the center of the art world then—art production. Now it’s the center of art speculation. I still like the diehard New Yorkers and I like the food and you see a lot of beautiful people, but I don’t find it as exciting as it was. I arrived at 23. I don’t know if I would still move to New York if I were 23 now.
What do you feel the biggest issues are now for the city?
It is run by real estate interests and big money. Developers of obscene architecture for billionaires get millions in tax breaks. Artists were always the shock troops of real estate, even if they didn’t know it. They gentrified dangerous areas to make them safe for occupancy by the rich. It’s getting hard to find a good slice of pizza or a bialy because the landlords are jacking up rents continually, hoping an H&M store will move in.
You’ve known and worked with some of my personal favourite artists, Warhol, Haring & Basqauit, what was your personal opinion on each of them and what do you feel their legacy is?
Well they just get bigger at auction, which is our critical standard today, but I think the work is still very alive. Magical really. At a certain point art is magic and people forget that. Until it hits them on the head again.
You’ve said previously that the Schnabel Basquait film pissed you off forcing you to finally complete Downtown 81, so what was your reaction to Factory Girl?
At least Julian understood the milieu he was depicting. He was just using it to position himself as sage mentor to the directionaless angry young black man. I called it his “pre-emptive strike on art history.” Jeffrey Wright is great but unfortunately he only got to play the dazed and confused Basquiat, not the inspired and ebullient genius Basquiat. Now I Shot Andy Warhol and Factory Girl just didn’t get it at all. They didn’t get the spirit of Andy’s enterprise, even though both had very good actors playing him in Jared Harris and Guy Pearce. But I Shot Andy Warhol was more like the Fran Lebowitz story than the Valerie Solanis story. Factory girl was sort of Gidget Goes to Hell. But the worst Warhol portrayal has to go to Crispin Glover, whom I love, playing him in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. It’s sort of Glover playing Truman playing Andy.
Do you think there’s a specific reason why no one has really done a great Warhol film?
Well, Warhol made some pretty good Warhol films. And I’m still trying.
Advertising and magazines go hand in hand as it’s all a form of media and communication, could you talk a bit about how you got into advertising and some of the work you’ve done that’s memorable and an achievement to you?
I got into advertising by accident. When I was making no money writing my mother used to say “Why don’t you get a creative job like advertising?” But then I just fell into it. My friend Paula Greif—a brilliant art director and film maker—was doing a TV spot for Barneys and asked me to write it, so I did. I discovered it paid well. And they loved what I did, maybe because I brought an entirely outside perspective to it, so I wound up being Barneys creative director, then started doing Calvin Klein and all the rest. I still love a good TV spot. They’re usually for auto insurance for some reason.
You seem to be more interested in culture opposed to one singular strand of it, do you feel more closely connected to one specific discipline over another?
Culture is a way of life. It’s a holistic system. That’s something increasingly absent. We are fluttering around trying to piece a culture together from fragments. I think that’s the big job we have as people –rebuilding true culture. Absence of true culture is why barbarism and savagery are on the rise. As far as disciplines, I’m kind of stuck being a writer. It’s like having blue eyes. You don’t choose it. It just happens to you. I used to be good at drawing but it atrophied. Now if I try to sketch a story board people laugh. But I love words and pictures together.
Could you talk about what’s caught your interest lately from fashion, art & film?
I am really bored with luxury and bling and all that. It’s horrible. I like the philosophy of A.P.C.’s Jean Toitou; he talks about how dressing modestly is actually much sexier because something is held back. In film I love the ones who go their own way like the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Paolo Sorrentino, Larry Clark, Harmony Korine. In art I find myself drawn to beautiful work. I love Chris Ofili and Peter Doig. I find most conceptually based and performance based work to be really weak and academic—its museum stooge work that fostered by too powerful curators. Art is way too fashionable now. Art and Fashion should just have a good fuck and get over each other. Unfortunately our whole economic system is based on novelty and speculation.
You’ve been giving style advice for some time now, what piece of advice given to you is something you stand by and can you remember the most bizarre advice you’ve been asked?
I don’t know. It’s been going on so long I think I’d have to look it up. Most of my advice is just common sense, which always produces good jokes. I think the best fashion advice was Warhol’s “the best look is a good plain look.” And Beau Brummell’s “If people turn to look at you on the street you are not well dressed.”
Which nation do you believe to be the most stylish?
It’s really the people who have a deep culture. You see pictures of African refugees and they often look fantastic. Their ancient tribal cultures give them an elegance and depth that you won’t find in so called advance societies. But all culture is local. As soon as people get swept up by luxury brands or mass political or religious movements it’s all over. For some reason Sicily seems to make great fashion designers. And Japan has a great philosophy of fashion, wrapping the body, not sensationalizing it.
Who would you consider style icons?
The Big Lebowski? Neil Young? Francesco Clemente? It’s hard to say, because if you say “style” people think about fashion. Real style is essential. It’s in the DNA. Aretha Franklin is a style icon. Bob Dylan.
What was the last art piece you added to your collection?
I just got works from Thomas Scheibitz and Blair Thurman. My wife gave me a beautiful Gertrude Abercrombie painting from 1957 for my birthday. And Walter Robinson gave me a nice painting of a double cheeseburger.
You talked about politics on TV party, even if it was years ago it’s still refreshing to see young individuals engage in politics, Have you always been political and what do you believe are the main issues that America faces now as a nation on a whole?
Yes, I’ve been on the side of revolution since I was in school. Of course I spent years hiding in the fashion business. My son is a fifteen year old communist and we pretty much see eye to eye. We need to change the whole process of politics. I know that people like Jon Stewart, George Clooney, Chris Rock and Russell Brand are entertainers, but they could take a few years off in politics. We need beautiful good actors, not bad actors conjuring up the lowest common denominators. The whole idea of TV Party was that television is the government and what we call the government is really just the main show.
You’ve been in a band and worked for Rolling Stone, where does your passion for music stem from and who do you believe is an iconic musician that continues to inspire to this day and a musician that’s currently on the scene that you admire?
I looked up my most played songs on iTunes and the artists include The Wailers, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Lee Perry, Sarah Vaughn, Sinatra, Junior Murvin, Hoagy Carmichael, James Brown, John Coltrane, Anita O’Day, Henry Mancini…
Parties & most specifically industry events can have that networking element & vibe that detracts from the fun if it’s simply a place to be & be seen, you’ve previously stated that you learned from Andy that parties are work, why do you think you feel that way?
I think most people don’t realise how interconnected their work and their life is. I think of myself as a work, I guess as a culture worker. I thought the party as party concept was fun because it was based on coming together for mutual interests and people really interacting, not remotely, or through channels, but in person, one to one. When I first moved to New York you went to parties in people’s homes, now they’re all corporate.
Could we talk about TV Party live, what’s the concept and would you consider it a revival?
Years ago Olivier Zahm and Andre Saraiva tried to talk me into doing TV Party again. I liked the idea, but maybe because I felt it was never what it might have been. It could have been more. Maybe it’s the same reason that I did Interview three times. I’m stubborn, but I would love to bring unprofessionalism and a sort of exploratory idea of politics to television. It could still happen, I suppose, but I think my aesthetic is as against the grain now as it was then. I liked things too long and done slightly wrong. I guess I’m a “dead air” guy in the age of the ten second clip.
Having been around some of the most respected contemporary artists, who would you say is inspiring now?
I love Christopher Wool, Tom Sachs, Freeman & Lowe…
Richard Prince is one of my oldest friends and I like what he’s doing with social media. It must be good since it gets hated on so much. And I love that he has taken the whole intellectual property bullshit thing even farther than he has before. Now we have Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams paying Marvin Gaye’s family $7.5 million because they made a song that sort of sounds like one of Marvin’s. That’s insane. If intellectual property was really like that nobody could do anything. The Rolling Stones would be in prison.
What format do you believe is the future of media?
Live. Heard a cool remake of Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised that goes into Twitter and Facebook. I like that digital media has made everyone a witness, but there’s no media like direct action. I like the idea of a live Broadway musical marching on the Capitol.