|Blur The Boundaries + Cross Over / Glenn O'Brien Interview
By David Goodman for BOMB
I recently walked through the doors of Interview Magazine - a childhood dream of mine - and spoke with Glenn O'Brien; the legendary TV Party-New Wave-Musician-Writer-Producer-Director-Style Guy. He began writing for Interview 30 years ago and now, after a journey documented on the pages of the most influential magazines, he's back to take charge of fame's time-frame.
David Goodman: With regards to your return to Interview, I'm interested in the idea of nostalgia and what role it plays in your "rebirth" of Interview. What do you want Interview to be?
Glenn O'Brien: Basically working for Interview was my first job in New York. I was part of the development of what it became. It started out as a little underground film magazine and we turned it into a magazine of interviews, a magazine about people. I always loved the idea of an oral magazine, of oral culture and oral history. I've been involved with Interview on and off for 30 years, and I always felt that it could be refined more. It's had great moments, when it's been totally with it. I don't know-in the last dozen or so years I felt that it could be so much better. That's why I was interested in doing something with it.
DG: You know, I've been reading Interview since I was young, and I've been trying to understand why I've always been compelled to read it. It just dawned on me recently that it comes down to desire. You have your hands in so many different aspects of creativity. What are your thoughts on the potency of desire, and how it is a part of culture and a part of Interview?
GO: Well, it's a part of many things we consider to be culture. From fashion and advertising, to rock and roll and cinema. Desire is inherent in Interview because people always want to meet people, specific people. They want to know what somebody is like. They want intimacy at a distance. With Interview you get to eavesdrop on somebody's life. 'Cause usually the subjects are speaking to someone with whom they share an interest or whom they take seriously. At least in this version Interview we're getting pretty interesting conversations.
DG: Right. Marianne Faithfull's interview by Evelyn McDonnell is a really great piece. And the interview with Francesco Vezzoli and Miuccia Prada and Rem Koolhaas speaks to an idea I've been interested in: architecture leading the way to bridge the gap between art and fashion. Why are there are there more people that collect a work of Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons than a piece of Yohji Yamamoto's? His vision is remarkable. I'm interested in what that is?
GO: The people whom you mentioned are people who think outside the box. The box being the genre that they're in. I mean, Miuccia Prada thinks beyond fashion, and Rem Koolhaas thinks beyond the conventions of architecture. And Vezzoli definitely is in his own territory. The good things in art and fashion question the nature of what is art or what is fashion; they step outside it. A designer like Rei Kauwakubo, or even Alexander McQueen...he had a show in Paris that was...
GO: It was unbelievable. It was like a combination of haute couture and Bob Wilson and Leigh Bowery. It was a real performance and that's not what people expect from a fashion designer. This is a really good time to blur the boundaries and cross over.
DG: Alexander McQueen's show was a visual explosion. I think of him and John Galliano, and designers that make decisions based on the development of ideas rather than one idea per season. It's similar to an artist building a body of work over time. What do you think is going to happen with the art world in this economic downturn?
GO: The economic situation is making people ask bigger questions. I was talking to a photographer who is sort of on the cusp of art and fashion, and he said that it wasn't deliberate but he found that he was working harder now, putting more work into his projects-not because he thought he had to but without thinking about it. I wrote an essay about this, but I haven't published it because I read something that was very similar by Dave Hickey. I just put mine in the can. Walking around Art Basel, just looking at everything, I felt that some things looked less like art than they did a year before. I had a conversation with Rachel Feinstein about this; she said that there would be a return to placing value on beauty, on labor intensity and technique. I think that there will be a reaffirmation of traditional art values and that we were going to see less gestural art, less easy conceptual art, if you will. I think this is good: if people work harder and focus more, the results are bound to profit.
DG: Does that speak to the integrity of an idea, if the process takes longer?
GO: It's good if people feel challenged. I never thought that artists and writers were really competing head to head, you know? Even magazines; I never considered that they were competing with anybody. We're competing with ourselves. But the intensity has been upped, in a way, and that's a good thing. It makes people think more about what they do. In a way it takes things out of the context of the market. People are always asking me what was going on in the '80s in the New Wave period. One of the reasons that was such a rich time was that mainstream success seemed so far off and so irrelevant to what young artists and musicians were doing. People just did work to please their peers and please themselves. It wasn't like, I'm going straight to Hollywood, or I'm going straight to Columbia Records. It was like, I'm going to do something that's totally going to freak people out, or freak out my friends, and that's where good work comes out. The market has overshadowed the community in recent years. So, you know, if the depression or whatever it is reasserts community values, I think that's good.
DG: The Internet has become an interesting addition, especially for the music industry. What do you think it's going to do for the magazine publishing industry?
GO: Basically the Internet does what the magazine industry used to do; it also does it faster and cheaper. So what does a magazine become? It becomes something that's extra... that's why we've tried to make it really beautifully made. The photographs are really well done. To be successful again, a magazine has to be more like a book, it has to have substance and be an object that you want. It's not just a bunch of information; there are better, cheaper ways to get that information.
DG: I think it's an issue of design as well. The actual magazine has undergone many changes in the last year. How do the new design elements translate to the content?
GO: I liked the Interview as designed by Fabien; there were things that I wasn't crazy about, like the logo. It was too gothic, too heavy metal, and not friendly enough. So when Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak (of M/M Paris) came on board I said we should change the logo, and they agreed. And, in the editorial offices down the hall we had put up a lot of framed covers from the '70s and '80s. It's funny because in 1990 I was responsible for going to this logo-it was made by Mats Gustafson. Now, to me, the old logo now looks more modern than the nineties one, maybe cause I'm used to seeing it. So I said we should go back to the '70s or '80s logo. So Michael and Mathias had the brilliant notion of drawing that logo from memory, and so that's what they did.
DG: That's cool. That plays on the nostalgic value of the magazine and a person's connection to it.
Read part 2 of the interview on BOMB's site. It'll be posted on 04.20.09.