L.A. Times rock-critic queen Ann Powers has a long, engrossing email chat with Rob Tannebaum, who conducted the “My dick is a white supremacist” Playboy interview that ruined John Mayer’s week last week. (Ruined a few people’s weeks, maybe.) Rob offers a few clarifications (“Let me answer a related question you didn’t ask: Mayer wasn’t ‘drunk’ during the interview”) and is cautiously sympathetic to Mayer’s plight, lamenting the way an incredibly long and complex chat was so brusquely distilled:
Twenty years ago, Milan Kundera pointed to “Rewriting as the spirit of the times.” Now, it’s re-tweeting as the spirit of the times. A story gets shaved and shortened until it can fit into 140 characters or less. The 140c version of the interview was, “John Mayer used the N word.” And Mayer’s too smart to be surprised by this.
For folks who ask celebrities questions for a living, this whole debacle has wider import: Mayer was undoubtedly among the most candid and unguarded interview subjects around, which is very likely now to change, and scare all the less candid folks into being less candid still:
I’ve done about a dozen Playboy Interviews, and I don’t think I ever spent less than four hours talking to any of the subjects. (50 Cent sat, patiently, for one continuous six-hour interview.) In the world of entertainment journalism, this is like an eternity! Years ago, access was far less regulated. During one Rolling Stone feature, a band’s keyboard player invited me to the wedding reception at his house later that night. Now, publicists want to keep all interviews as short as possible. It’s not unusual to be offered one hour for a cover story.
So, rock journos: The next time one of the Kings of Leon fails to invite you to his wedding reception, blame the racist-dicked guy who wrote “Your Body Is a Wonderland.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 2010