Friday, December 20, 2013

Esquire's "What I've Learned"

What I’ve Learned

(By Various Celebrities, From Esquire Magazine’s Archives)


What I've Learned: David Bowie

Chameleon, 57, New York City, February 29, 2004

With a suit, always wear big British shoes, the ones with large welts. There's nothing worse than dainty little Italian jobs at the end of the leg line.

Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have.

When I'm stuck for a closing to a lyric, I will drag out my last resort: overwhelming illogic.

Lester Bangs, the raging rock critic of the seventies, allegedly once paid his highest compliment to a band by saying, "You make me feel like a motherfucker from hell." I realized then that we were on different planets.

I don't expect the human race to progress in too many areas. However, having a child with an ear infection makes one hugely grateful for antibiotics.

I've always regretted that I never was able to talk openly with my parents, especially with my father. I've heard and read so many things about my family that I can no longer believe anything; every relative I question has a completely different story from the last. I seem to have half a dozen family histories.

Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.

If I hadn't learned how to be a musician and writer, it wouldn't have mattered what I did.

I never knew too many rock people. I would get to a place, some club or other, and see all these famous rockers bonding. And I remember feeling completely on the outside. I regret that sometimes.

I'm in awe of the universe, but I don't necessarily believe there's an intelligence or agent behind it. I do have a passion for the visual in religious rituals, though, even though they may be completely empty and bereft of substance. The incense is powerful and provocative, whether Buddhist or Catholic.

The depressing realization in this age of dumbing down is that the questions have moved from "Was Nietzsche right about God?" to "How big was his dick?"

Make the best of every moment. We're not evolving. We're not going anywhere.

You're never who you think you are. Sometime in the eighties, an old lady approached me and asked, "Mr. Elton, may I have your autograph?" I told her that I wasn't Elton but David Bowie. She replied, "Oh, thank goodness. I couldn't stand his red hair and all that makeup."

They're never who you think they are. When I first came to America, around 1971, my New York guide told me one day that the Velvet Underground were to play later that night at the Electric Circus, which was about to close. I was the biggest fan in the UK, I believe. I got to the gig early and positioned myself at the front by the lip of the stage. The performance was great, and I made sure that Lou Reed could see that I was a true fan by singing along to all the songs. After the show, I moved to the side of the stage to where the door of the dressing room was located. I knocked, and one of the band members answered. After a few gushing compliments, I asked if I could have a few words with Lou. He looked bemused but told me to wait a second. After only moments, Lou came out, and we sat and talked about songwriting for ten minutes or so. I left the club floating on cloud nine -- a teenage ambition achieved. The next day, I told my guide what a blast it had been to see the Velvets live and meet Lou Reed. He looked at me quizzically for a second, then burst into laughter. "Lou left the band some time ago," he said. "You were talking to his replacement, Doug Yule."

I've always felt bemused at being called the chameleon of rock. Doesn't a chameleon exert tremendous energy to become indistinguishable from its environment?

Trust nothing but your own experience.

George H.W. Bush*: What I've Learned

*and Barbara Bush

The former president and his first lady on parachute jumping into your nineties, what's to like about Taylor Swift, and why they still won't forgive Jimmy Carter

By A.J. Jacobs

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Dad led by example. Mother would lecture us.

She'd say, Give the other guy credit. Nobody likes a braggadocio, George. Don't talk about yourself all the time.

Dad would just go out and do stuff. He would come home from Wall Street on the train. The other men would all go home and have a dry martini. He'd go down and serve as the moderator of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting. And we remembered that.

Oh yeah, I have a piece of the Berlin Wall ... they make them in San Antonio.

What struck me about her? Her beauty. Her sheer beauty. And her dress! She had on a green-and-red dress. Spectacularly beautiful woman. And I asked somebody, Who is that beautiful girl? That is Barbara Pierce, why? I said, Well, I'd like to meet her. And he brought her over. We said hi. Then they started playing a waltz. I said, Barbara, I don't know how to waltz. And she said, Well, let's sit down. So we sat down, and the rest is history. Been sitting down for sixty-five years.

Never did learn to waltz.

BARBARA BUSH: I think you ought to treat your spouse like you treat your friends. You clean your house for your friends, you make sure they're taken care of, and a spouse comes second. I think you oughtta treat him like a friend.

It's been pretty easy. You might not know this, but Bar's not that difficult to live with.

If you each go 75 percent of the way, it's a perfect match.

I waited till my eighteenth birthday to sign up. My dad wanted me to wait two more years. But he was all for it.

He was proud of you. I think that was the only time you ever saw your father cry.

He took me down to the station to say goodbye. And off I went. Knew nobody in the Navy. It was different then. Most everybody wanted to serve.

Your brother was physically not eligible because of his eyes, and it killed him.

I was walking out of the high school chapel at Andover. And somebody came running across campus and said there's been an attack. The next day, December 8, they convened a special chapel service. The headmaster, a tough guy, said, "All right, when you hear that 'Star-Spangled Banner' played, I want to see you guys standing at attention! I don't want you slouching in here like you've done here all the time." Never forgotten it.

I went back to Chichi-Jima in 2001. They said, This is where your plane went down. It was very emotional for me. You go to this little town and there are all these Japanese kids with flags — "Welcome, welcome."

I don't remember a lot of the details. Also, I think of my mother — "Nobody likes a braggadocio, George." I'd rather sit and look at the surf out there. So beautiful.

I was offered a job on Wall Street by my uncle. But I wanted to get out. Make-it-on-my-own kinda thing.

You told me that you sat on the subway and realized you wanted to work with something you could touch, not Wall Street.

Well, I don't remember that. But I could well have said that back then.

I'm going to do one more parachute jump. My ninetieth birthday, June 12, 2014. I liked it better when they let me do it solo. Now I go strapped onto some guy. My third-to-last jump, they said, I don't think you should jump today. I said, What are ya, worried about an old guy? They said, Well, how about a tandem jump? So I did a tandem jump. I've been doing it ever since. But the solo is much more fun.

The USS George H. W. Bush is a great thing in my life. It's amazing. A great honor. The difference between this and the old carriers when I was a pilot is unbelievable. Five thousand people on it — it's like a city.

Gorbachev was always very pleasant. I was the first one to have any contact with him, because I went over as vice-president when he took office. And so I told Reagan that we've got a different guy here, a different leader. He's easy to work with, good sense of humor. Could be tough, he could get angry, but I liked working with him. I give him great credit for how the world is today.

I got this letter today, asking Barbara and me to come to his eightieth birthday.

I went to see Lyndon Johnson, and I was telling him I wanted to run for Senate. And he said, "The difference between the Senate and the House is the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit." Johnson was amazing.

I don't write letters anymore. Got a few to write now, to thank doctors at the Mayo Clinic. But other than that, I just don't do it.

When I was president, trying to rally the country behind what became Desert Storm, Jimmy Carter wrote all the members of the United Nations Security Council and urged them not to support me in the resolution that would have given all countries, really, the right to use quote whatever means necessary unquote, and aggression. That means use force. And he lobbied against it. He went to foreign leaders. I mean it's just unconscionable. They asked him about it last night on the TV.

He was proud of it.

One of our meals in China was upper lip of wild dog. Why the upper? They have to leave the dog with something.

After they told us that, we weren't hungry.

Taylor Swift is very nice. Twenty years old, unspoiled lady.

Tiddlywinks is a very important game. We haven't played lately, Barb. The secret — it's the wrist action. It's a delicate flip with the ... it's hard to explain.

Most restaurants we go, they remember — you're the one that doesn't like broccoli. You gotta be famous for something.

Well, the worst thing about the time that I was president I think was losing the election. Yeah, I really wanted to win, and I read smart reporters saying all these harsh things, like "He's not really trying" and "He feels he's got it." And that's not really true at all in my view. So that was a hurtful thing.

I loved going to Camp David. That was a marvelous getaway. You get on a helicopter, you're up there in twenty-eight minutes from the White House lawn. You get off the chopper and there's no press, no nothing, you just go in and see the top-run movies. You could talk to foreign leaders without intrusion.

I didn't give him any advice at all. But I was a very proud dad.

Too late, if he hadn't learned by then. He had a good example.

I never said, Now that you're president, here's what you've gotta do — no advice like that. He had his own people around him, good people. I had my chance.

What is my most treasured possession?

Your boat.

I was going to say my boat, but I'm trying to think if there's something else.

Your father gave you something. Wings maybe? You gave them to George W. Bush.

I think the boat is my favorite possession. But we're not things people.

If I could accomplish one thing in 2011? Probably I'd say be alive and not be drooling.

How about getting George P. home [from service overseas]?

He's asking me, darling. Maybe have a great-grandchild. We have none.

Jimmy [Carter] was terrible to George, so I didn't ever appreciate that. You don't criticize a successor and other presidents. I wouldn't, and he did. He got very personal about George, and I never appreciated that.

Dana Carvey is wonderful. He never was hurtful. I mean, he was funny, you know ... "Wouldn't be prudent." Very nice.

The great thing about Air Force One is when you go to some foreign country, it's kind of the symbol of the United States. People are pointing it out and ... magnificent aircraft. Magnificent.

Compare it to the Russian one we were on.

Well, that was old and awkward.

Dark and dreary.

But we don't wanna criticize because we were lucky to be on it.

The Queen's Bedroom was good. That's where we stayed when George was president. There was kind of a wicker thing over the toilet in the Queen's Bedroom. There I was, sitting where Barbra Streisand had sat. I couldn't believe it!

Cut that, George.

Why? What's wrong with that?

I loved "Hail to the Chief." Loved it. Not like Jimmy Carter.

He thought it was too much folderol.

What was it that Phyllis Diller said? "All my friends are dying in alphabetical order." She looks at the obituary, "Oop, yep, there he goes." So there are not that many of those left. A lot of the good ones are gone.

What did I think my kids would do?

We thought that they would be dictators.

No, we didn't know.

We just prayed they'd grow up.

They were all wonderful and we were very blessed.

They are.

I got pretty good at horseshoes. I got to be family champion here for a while.

I think the phrase "kinder and gentler" resonated. I don't remember how I came up with it. Probably some speechwriter wrote it. But I felt that way. Still do.

It's much worse to read criticism about your son than yourself.

He read every word.

Read it. Listened to it.

I love the phrase "insurmountable opportunities."

Interviewed September 20, 2010


December 31, 2003, 11:00 PM

What I've Learned: Lynda Carter

Superhero, 52, Potomac, Maryland, August 8, 2003

By Cal Fussman

The short answer is: Yes, there are hardships to being a young, beautiful woman. People just act weird.

Christopher Reeve was always amazing. He was amazing before he was amazing.

My daughter was about five and watching TV when I got a call that the pilot episode of Wonder Woman was going to be shown. And I said, "Jess, can I change the channel for just a second? I want to show you something." I switched the channel, and she watched it, and then she said, "Can I turn back to the cartoons?"

Strong and tough are very different.

A strong woman is not threatened. It's okay to be sweet. It's okay to be feminine. It's okay to be vulnerable and generous. It's not a sign of weakness to need. It's okay to be supportive of your guy. It's not about control.

Tough is about control and abandoning the feminine.

Guests of guests may not bring guests.

This modeling agency I'd gone to was putting on the Miss USA contest. Why would I want to run around in a bathing suit? But my mother and sister talked me into it. Three weeks later, I was Miss USA. Didn't even sing. There was no talent. It was purely tits and ass.

I don't do entourage.

There's only a certain amount of feminine analyzing that men can take before they shut down.

Someone who expects to be impressive doesn't usually impress me.

I chose to play Wonder Woman as a regular person. The costume and the action took care of three quarters of it. You don't have to act like Wonder Woman.

Public service is an important part of my life. I've got to admit, irritable-bowel syndrome was a tough one to decide to do. You're talking about bowels. When they first came to me, I said, "I don't think so." I actually laughed -- not in front of them. But then I talked to my mom, and she encouraged me to do it. The truth is, there are so many people who suffer. Did it ever occur to you why there are so many ads on TV about antidiarrheals and laxatives? Twenty percent of the population! It can be what used to be called "spastic colon." That is, having no control, or else being unable to go to the bathroom for five or six days and becoming bloated and having extreme abdominal pain. It's not fatal -- but it destroys your life.

Every age has its charm.

Men are about hierarchy. They walk into a room, figure out who the top dog is, and then see where they stand in relation to everyone else. Women are about community. They walk into a room and look to see who they know, who they can bring together.

A woman president? I hope in my lifetime. I think Hillary has paved the way for that to happen, whether you like her or not.

Behind every great woman is a great man.

Kids are people becoming. I'm trying hard not to fix my kids.

I watch my son try on his manhood like a coat. It's the outside that he's looking at. You see the Cool Guy, the Pensive Guy, the Macho Guy. He's just trying to see which one fits: "I'll try this one on this week." I guess you go through all those incarnations until you realize you're not your father and you don't need a coat at all.

Aging does take some getting used to. I can't say never, but that knife makes me nervous. I've seen some scary-lookin' people.

Heaven and hell are right here. People who live for the hereafter will probably never get there because the hereafter will always be the hereafter. Even if there was a hereafter, when you got there it would be now then.

January 2, 2009, 7:30 AM

Alice Cooper: What I've Learned

What do UFOs, Tiger Woods, kung-fu movies, and tape-recorded dreams have in common? Alice Cooper.

By Cal Fussman

Cooper lives in Phoenix, where he owns a sports bar that serves a two-foot hot dog called the Big Unit.

What most people don't understand is that UFOs are on a cosmic tourist route. That's why they're always seen in Arizona, Scotland, and New Mexico. Another thing to consider is that all three of those destinations are good places to play golf. So there's possibly some connection between aliens and golf.

I'm pretty sure that Tiger Woods is an alien, so that clears that up.

My mom taught me that everything causes lockjaw. But I've never met anybody who got tetanus.

When we did "School's Out," I knew we had just done the national anthem. I've become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school.

Never be late. When you're late, what you're saying is that your time is more important than the other person's time. That's pretty egotistical.

You have to treat your wife like you treated her when you first met her and were trying to get her in bed.

I'm not crazy about country-western music. But the lyrics are good. "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy" is pretty clever.

My fastest time in high school was a 4:29 mile. I think cross-country has something to do with my longevity in my business. When you're in an eight-mile race, you never give up.

They should invent some way to tape-record your dreams. I've written songs in my dreams that were Beatles songs. Then I'd wake up and they'd be gone.

If you were to say to me that you needed a romantic and sentimental song in four hours, I would have that song written in four hours.

Golf is the crack of sports. If you hit five good shots, you know you can hit six good shots. The next time you hit six good shots, you know you can hit seven.

The greatest trick Satan ever had was to get people to believe he doesn't exist.

Every horror movie usually has some good laughs in it.

It used to be said: As GM goes, so goes America. Now it's: As Starbucks goes, so goes America.

Anything after 115 degrees doesn't register anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

Mickey Mantle never played for the Orioles. Now, it's hard to get behind a player when you know he may not be there next year because some other team will pay him $5 million more.

When I moved to L. A. with this little wimpy garage band, the first people we met were the Doors. Then we met Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. All of the people who died of excess were our big brothers and sisters. So I said to myself: How do you become a legend and enjoy it? The answer is to create a character as legendary as those guys and leave that character on the stage.

I have a little routine. It's an hour and a half. I get the makeup on. I put on a really cheap, bad kung-fu movie. As soon as the curtain comes down, I turn and can continue the conversation I was having the moment the curtain went up.

God gives you a life and says, Okay, what are you going to do with it?

Interviewed by Cal Fussman, August 2, 2008

February 20, 2012, 10:55 PM

Willem Dafoe: What I've Learned

Actor, 56, New York

By Cal Fussman

Dafoe is everywhere: Disney's fantasy adventure John Carter (out March 9), the sci-fi 4:44 Last Day on Earth (March 23), and The Hunter (April 6).

Published in the March 2012 issue

There's a real wisdom to not saying a thing.

Turn off the sound in a movie, and if you can tell what's going on, the movie should work.

"Don't spit on your luck." My wife always says that. Good Italian woman. It's like a mantra for her.

Spitting on Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July was pretty much fun if I remember right. Not to be taken personally, certainly.

Let's hope I never end up on a deserted island, because I could never make a decision on which three CDs to take with me.

My father used to say, "You don't deserve it if you can't take care of it." I've always been haunted by that.

Let's say you're a really boorish pickup artist. Certain phrases aren't available to you in a foreign country, because you don't have the language available to you. So you have to put a kind of new sincerity into these little phrases. Maybe that's why some men do better in other countries.

Corruption is something you face all the time. Avoid it.

I have no doubt that if I met Bob Dylan, it would be disappointing — and annoying to him. But that's why I like Bob Dylan.

I was really lucky. The father of a friend of mine had tickets and he said to his son, "Who do you want to invite along?" That's how I got to go to the Ice Bowl. I felt really guilty. I was a Green Bay Packers fan, but I was twelve years old and there were people who would have killed for that ticket. I was so worried about being cold that I put on so many socks that I think I cut off the circulation in my feet. I must've gotten frostbite. When I got home, my feet were screaming pain. Only in retrospect do you appreciate how fantastic that game was.

You gotta leave Wisconsin behind when you're playing Christ, right?

I think you do your best when you're doing it for someone else. Think of when you're first in love, what power that gives you. You're like Superman — because you're doing it for someone else.

Before we started filming Platoon, we had these Vietnam veterans take us out in the bush, and for two weeks, with no contact to the outside world, they taught us how to do soldierly things... It was beautifully practical, and it created a special stake. We wanted to respect their experience. You always have to earn your right to pretend.

At some point when I do a role, I feel like I'm the only guy to do it. Nobody else should be doing this. You always gotta get to that place where you own it.

Of course the devil could tempt me. What he could offer me would be that state where you disappear into an action. When you disappear into doing. It's the sensation that I seek over and over again. When you're in motion and doing something and the world drops away and you become that thing. I would take that if I could sustain that forever.

If you call it a risk, it's probably not a risk.

I was born William, but I was called Billy growing up. I didn't like it. It was diminutive — it didn't have any force to it. So as a kid I was always looking for a nickname. It doesn't take a psychologist to tell you that would be a form of mask.

When I went to Milwaukee, I was living in this house with a bunch of crazy people, and one guy really took it upon himself to call me Willem. Willem. And it kind of stuck. When I became an actor, I thought of changing my name back to William, but that seemed too formal and British. So I just stayed with Willem and now go through life with a fake name.

I remember the first time I saw my name on a marquee. I was in Hong Kong. To Live and Die in L.A. I never thought I cared about those things, but it was exciting. Probably because it was in Hong Kong.

Why do I die so much? It's confusing to me. Maybe it's because I like strong characters. And it's natural that in a story sometimes they want to get rid of those strong characters.

Celebrity is okay as long as you know it's not about you.

The things that you worry about aren't the things you should worry about. The things that you don't worry about are the things you should worry about.

Sometimes there is no second or third take.

It's never one or the other. It's always that balance between control and abandon. How much control, and how much do you let it go? You're always regulating between the two.

As I get older, I die less.

February 20, 2007, 11:00 AM

What I've Learned: Clive Davis

Impresario, 73, New York City

By John H. Richardson

So here I ammeeting with you on a fucking Saturday -- I didn't know it was Rosh Hashanah! I'll be struck down!

I grew up orphaned when I was a teenager. I take nothing for granted. Failure's right around the corner.

I found myself at the Monterey Pop Festival about a year after I took the job, and I saw Janis Joplin. I was aware this was a revolution, and this was going to be the risk that I took to see if I could trust my ears.

It all came very quickly. I signed Janis Joplin, the Electric Flag, Laura Nyro, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Aerosmith, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Springsteen, Earth, Wind & Fire...

Miles Davis said to me, "You're signing Blood, Sweat & Tears, you're signing Chicago, using brass. They're stealing my riffs, they're selling millions -- I'm in poverty selling a hundred thousand albums. What gives?" I said, "Look, you're playing at the Village Gate, and you're doing very cerebral, incredibly historic music. I'll call Bill Graham up and I just know that if you go out there and play in front of college kids, with your style, your looks, your music, something's going to happen." And he did it, and it led to Bitches Brew, which sold over one million copies.

I don't have a trained ear, and I didn't study to be a musician. By luck I ended up in the right law firm, whose client was Columbia Records. If not for that, I never would have gone into music.

You look for uniqueness, you look for headliners. When I signed Patti Smith, I did not think she was going to be the biggest artist in the world, but she was doing something so different, it was spellbinding.

A record company has to reinvent itself every three or four years.

On my expense-account violations, they said I should have allocated half of it to business -- so I admitted that aspect. A year later, Columbia, knowing they had wrongly handled the situation -- this is documented -- gave me a million dollars in the formation of Arista just for mail-order rights. Was it traumatic? Yeah. Was my life put in turbulence because of external forces that had nothing to do with me? Yes. But then I formed Arista with an equity interest rather than as a salaried employee.

I brought Lou Reed over, I signed the Kinks, I signed the Grateful Dead...

When Aretha Franklin saw the success of Dionne Warwick, she called me up: I see what you're doing, I need a creative partner. Ultimately, that led to Whitney.

Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, TLC, Puffy, Toni Braxton...

Billie Holiday didn't write and Ella Fitzgerald didn't write. Sinatra didn't write. Your career can go right down if you have a manager who says you'll make more money if you write your own songs. If you don't have a hit, you'll make no money.

Bruce didn't explode. He sold thirty-two thousand of the first album, sixty thousand of the second. That was a period when Bill Graham had closed the Fillmore West and the Fillmore East, and "Is rock dying?" was everywhere. So I took over the Ahmanson Theatre for seven consecutive nights to show that music was vital, alive, and one of the artists on this huge Radio City–like stage was Springsteen. He had never been on a stage of this size, so he stayed there, and he didn't know where to go. I went up and said, "Look, I love your words and I love your lyrics and I love what you're saying, but you've got to make use of the stage. Otherwise, you're a small figure standing behind the monitor." Fast-forward to right before Born to Run comes out, he calls me up, "I'm playing the Bottom Line, you gotta come down to see me." I was totally unprepared. In this period -- nine months, a year -- Bruce Springsteen had become Bruce Springsteen. He came out with an energy level that was unrecognizable, hopping from one table to another table! It was unbelievable, it was mesmerizing, and I go backstage and he says, "Remember the Ahmanson Theatre?"

A real headliner is someone that can take Madison Square Garden and make it a living room.


I could go on. Dave Matthews, My Morning Jacket, the Foo Fighters, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson...

I have four kids and four grandchildren. We have dinner together as a family every Sunday night. We take three vacations a year together. I don't want to be loving strangers. We want to be able to grow through life together meaningfully.

Given a choice of being on top or not, I prefer being on top. You want to win. You want to verify your judgment.

I think it's a good idea in America now for Pink to special-guest-star for Justin Timberlake.

There were two major artists that I passed on. One was Meat Loaf.

May 20, 2010, 9:00 AM

Jon Favreau: What I've Learned

The director of Iron Man 2 on the difficulty of listening to others, what it's like to have sex on screen (or not), and why he never wants to live to be 100

By Cal Fussman

You don't want Citizen Kane to be your first gig. It must be a terrible burden. When fate parcels it out to you incrementally, it might seem frustrating at the time, but it's a blessing.

I've always avoided physical confrontation. It was part of growing up in Queens — riding the subway to school every day. You definitely had the caribou mentality: Stick with the herd and avoid the predators.

I don't envy people who were born into privilege. It's that struggle that makes you who you are.

This is just a memory, because my mom has been gone since I was twelve, but there was always an appreciation for whatever I did creatively. If I built a tower out of blocks, she'd get out the Instamatic camera to take a picture. This came in handy whenever disappointment was heaped upon me later in life.

You have to create the quiet to be able to listen to the very faint voice of your intuition.

I don't have to look at how much things cost on the menu when I'm ordering food anymore. That was a big deal.

My grandfather always said he didn't care when he got ripped off for money. He said he was most offended when somebody took his time. I didn't understand that at first. But I do now.

I had a writing teacher who said, If you want to learn how to write a screenplay, read The African Queen twice.

Kids don't want to be guitar players anymore. They want to be DJs.

You get your Charlie Parker record and play it over and over again. You play it note for note, and eventually you find your own voice.

I don't get stage fright. I get exhilarated.

Storytelling relies more on instinct than intellect.

Why do people like Star Wars? Why does Avatar play in every country around the world? Why is Shakespeare around for so many centuries? Why does the Bible endure? You're dealing with simple, basic, well crafted stories that are decorated differently. You gotta study the old masters and put the modern-day spin on it.

You tend to gravitate to the things you grew up with. So I like Carvel even though it might not be a gourmet ice cream. I just had it with someone from L. A. He said, "This is what you were craving?" Yeah. Because you grew up with it and you love it.

Sex onscreen? I can't answer that one. I've always been the friend of the guy having sex in the movies.

The definition of friendship changes over time. When you're little, you play next to someone. As you get older, you get to engage, to connect and reveal. Later on, it becomes who you collaborate with and achieve goals with. It becomes bringing out the best in each other. Whatever the version, it's all about overcoming loneliness.

Holding the attention of a very loud family is a challenge when you're a little kid. To get a voice at the table, you better bring it, otherwise you won't be listened to. When you can make adults laugh, you get to hang with the adults. Otherwise you're at the kiddie table.

With Swingers, there was the exuberance of youth — of finally being heard. A lot of that comes out of adolescence, from the frustration of not being heard. When you finally get the conch shell, you want to shout out as loud as you can what's on your mind. We hit a note.

We didn't have a lot of money for lighting, sets, or costumes on Swingers. But it was amazing how much music could emotionally put a perspective on a given scene. It was wall-to-wall Sinatra at first, but we couldn't afford it. When we put a Sinatra song into Elf, it was a big victory for me. I could finally afford Sinatra. And boy, does it do the trick!

As you age, there become fewer and fewer people whose advice is actually relevant.

People want to hear the same song sung over and over again. So it's my job as a filmmaker and storyteller to tell an inevitable story in an unexpected way.

Playing Rocky Marciano was a lot of fun and a good excuse to lose a lot of weight. Fortunately, Rocky was not known for his finesse but for his power. That's a lot easier to fake. I remember feeling bad for Will Smith when he had to play Ali. That's a hard one to fake.

You'll have different problems than you had last time.

The illusion is that the more you put into yourself, the happier you are. When your life becomes about something bigger than you, ironically, that's when it becomes the most fulfilling.

I haven't mastered the skill of listening yet. Maybe one day.

Living to a hundred? My God, you must say goodbye to so many people. I can't imagine.

When it's my time to go, I hope I feel the same feeling I do when we wrap a movie: It was great. It was hard work. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But I'm glad it's over.

What I've Learned: Carrie Fisher

Actress, writer, 45, Beverly Hills

By Mike Sager December 31, 2001, 11:00 PM

Nothing is just one thing.

What I've learned about Hollywood you could put in a cup -- a bra cup, size C.

For years people have asked if I mind being remembered as Princess Leia. I used to say no. But now I will say that it sometimes bothers me, yes. It follows me around like a little smell.

I'm very sane about how crazy I am.

Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me.

Mothers are great. They outlast everything. But when they're bad, they're the worst thing that can happen.

What I know about love I learned from being a mother. I want to chew the back of my daughter's thigh.

When you breed two Hollywood people together, you end up with someone like me.

If I'm drawn to anything, it would be kindness.

Here's what I've learned: that someone can change the course of history with a box cutter.

Fathers have laps. They have patience. They want to hear what you have to say. They have Band-Aids in their medicine cabinet and books to read to you. My father didn't have any of that. But he had songs to sing. He had other stuff.

I like having written, the same way I like having gone to the gym. I'm a conversationalist more than a writer. I take dictation from myself. I talk about myself behind my back.

I know my likes and dislikes now. I don't like exercise but I do it. I like drugs but I don't do them.

All the good people are nuts.

Ambition is exhausting. It makes you friends with people for the wrong reasons, just like drugs.

I don't have wifely skills. I tried to learn them. I tried to learn to cook and clean and stuff like that. But then I realized it's not skills you need, it's impulses. It's having the impulses to care for someone.

I got a fortune cookie that said, "You will always be surrounded by comfort." And I wrote after it, "But you won't always be comfortable."

Everything is negotiable. Whether or not the negotiation is easy is another thing.

Rehab? The first time is a gift; the second time is a bitch.

When you get on a manic run, you feel like you're a house burning down from the inside out. It's like having a bellyful of electric eels. Every ball you hit is out of the park. Every word you're searching for is right at the tip of your tongue. You look through the facts in your head, your library, your catalog of memories and experiences and information, and it's all there, everything. You have every connection before you even look for it. It's the best version of yourself, sold back to yourself on the cheap every minute every minute every minute.

The older you get, the easier it is to spot the phonies. And I just think, How unpleasant for them.

Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

There's no way to prepare for seeing yourself rendered as a twelve-inch plastic doll.

It's more difficult when you lose a man to another man. It's not like you can look at yourself in the mirror and think, Mmmm, if only I had bigger breasts.

I like songs that should only be sung at night when your heart is breaking.

I have tried to function as a trusting person and I've been nailed. Now it's me that I don't trust.

I'm so sick of talking about myself I'm gonna faint.



October 1, 2004, 2:00 AM

What I've Learned: Arny Freytag

Playboy photographer, 54, Los Angeles

By Cal Fussman


I've lost count. More than a hundred centerfolds. It's not about the nude girl anymore. It was when I was twenty-five. But hopefully I've evolved beyond that. I mean, you don't want to be fifty-four years old and looking up girls' skirts, do ya?

Centerfolds have taught me patience and tenacity.

If they were insecure, they wouldn't be in here with their clothes off.

I remember the first Playmate I looked at. I was fourteen. 1964. At the time, I wasn't thinking about making a career taking pictures of nude women. I think I had a very normal reaction.

My parents were religious. At first, they were concerned about my career, and they went to talk about it with the minister. He removed their worries. He said, "There's nothing wrong with the naked body. God created that." As time went by, they even started to enjoy Hef's parties.

Architects use ivy to cover flaws. We use clothes.

Once a year, you'll get a girl who's flawless.

You want a breast to look round. Highlight one side, shadow on the other. Light it straight on and it'll look flat.

Twins who wish to be photographed nude are hard to find. Triplets, even more so.

It's a different dynamic shooting twins. Most of them are very close, but there's always a little jealousy over who's getting the attention. But they're always more fun than one.

Shooting a centerfold in a phone booth is tough. Stewardesses in an airplane bathroom, too.

Every guy has a stewardess fantasy.

First thing I look at? The face. Always the face. She's gotta be pretty. Without pretty, I don't care how good the body is. Bar rules don't apply here.

They say the most beautiful women in the world are from Reykjavi­k. But we spent a month in Iceland, and we had a very hard time getting girls. The women there will dance on the bar with no clothes on when everybody's drunk, but they didn't want to be seen nude in a magazine. They said, "Look, we live in a very small country. Everybody knows us."

English women are prudish. Their society isn't as open as ours is. Their weather is terrible.

The Japanese have a very rigid culture. But what you see on top is not what you see underneath. There are subway cars hired out in Tokyo filled with girls wearing schoolgirl uniforms. They're dressed up in little skirts, with book bags on their shoulders. The train moves like it's a real train, and the guys walk around and feel up the girls. It's a real problem on the Tokyo subways, with men actually doing that. So some guy designed a club to fulfill the fantasy.

I'm not sure why they're shy in Thailand.

You put Carmen Electra in front of a camera and all you need to do is push a button.

Marriage? Don't do it.

I married a Playboy bunny. Didn't work out. It's very difficult for a woman to be in a relationship with someone who sees nude women every day. If the tide was turned, I'd have a hard time with it. I understand.

How did I get started? When I was young, I started pointing my camera at girls and discovered that, jeez, they really like this. Once I figured that one out...

It takes five days to shoot a centerfold. One crunched-up foot will ruin the picture.

My assistant, Chuck, is the most patient guy I've ever met. I asked him, "How did you learn to be so patient?" He said, "I grew up with four sisters."

I'm not out until four in the morning anymore. But you never lose your membership in the mile-high club.

I have a lot of respect for women. I really do. People think that because I shoot them nude, I don't. But it's just the opposite. Remember, they came to me. They all say it was a great part of their lives. Never once have I heard anyone say she regretted it.

Is the last thing I want to see at the end of a hard day of work a naked woman? Well, I wouldn't say that....

No one has shot more centerfolds than Arny Freytag, a Playboy photographer since 1976. He has also shot Joan Collins (December '83), Goldie Hawn (January '85), Carmen Electra (three times), and, of course, Pamela Anderson (twice).



October 13, 2009, 10:15 AM

Joan Jett: What I've Learned

The rock star on the word "rock," the color black, Mike Tyson, Howard Dean, the immediacy of the music industry, and more

By A.J. Jacobs

joan jett picture

Michael Lavine

There's this thing that happens when a guitar chord is struck a certain way — it slightly bends out of tune and then goes back into tune. And there's a connection from that sound right through your crotch, right up into your heart.

They've turned the word rock into nothing. It's a meaningless word. "It rocks." "That food rocks." "She's rocking in that outfit." They've taken the word and stripped it of all its menace, of all its dirt, of all its sex.

Pop music is not a threatening style of music. It's music that says, Take me for what you will. Rock 'n' roll says, You're mine, motherfucker.

When people said to me, "Girls can't play rock 'n' roll," I'm like, What are you saying? Girls can't master the instrument? I'm in class with girls playing cello, violin, piano, Beethoven, Bach. You're telling me they can't play guitar?

I learned to scream from Marc Bolan of T. Rex.

Nobody knows what anticipation is anymore. Everything is so immediate. No more standing outside Tower Records in a long line.

I remember times when I was at shows and the person onstage locked eyes with me. And in that moment, everything was right with the world. I think that's part of my job, to create these thousands of moments every night. And for the rest of their life, they can say, "You guys looked at me," or "You sweated on me," or "I got your gum."

I like the way black looks. I think I look better in darker clothes. And maybe the fact that I wear black so much makes me more aware of putting people at ease. The black is sort of the bad-guy guise, so I work overtime to make people comfortable.

The sun, the smoking and drinking — I avoid them. I have friends the same age as me who do those things, and it's a whole different deal.

Don't be afraid. Because you're going to be afraid. But remember when you become afraid, just don't be afraid.

They said, "Lose the guitar. Maybe you'll be more palatable without the guitar."

Partly, I like a bad reputation. But I also want a reputation of being a good person.

I think some of our lyrics that might be considered angry, if they were sung by a guy, they'd be called passionate or intense.

I don't look good in beige.

When you're onstage, you just have to empty out and stay as empty as you can and let it come in. It's like you're driving around in your car and all of a sudden, you wind up on the other side of town, and you're like, How'd I get here?

The national anthem is a very hard song to sing. You gotta start in the right spot or you're screwed.

I never lived in Wisconsin. One of those images you see as a kid — I might have been six or seven — it was a Sports Illustrated cover. Everybody was completely muddy, so muddy you couldn't see who was wearing what uniform. One guy had a swipe across the helmet where the mud was wiped off, and you could see part of the G through it. For some reason, as a kid, just seeing that G, I became a Green Bay Packers fan. Isn't that weird?

If you're a woman who doesn't wear a dress, you are gonna take shit. If you're a woman who doesn't wear a dress and shaves her head, forget about it.

When I watch these cop shows, I think of how many things boil down to: Someone's pride was offended. Somebody was disrespected.

When the Runaways broke up, I didn't know what I wanted to do. A breakup is like losing a very good friend. It's like a death.

I was Mike Tyson's wake-up call for several fights — he would have me call him on the morning of a fight. He was so sweet to me.

I was onstage when Howard Dean did his famous yell. It was completely blown out of proportion. The press couldn't even get the emotion right. They were saying he was angry. No, he was effervescent.

I don't think about the shouting. Should I do it high, do I do it hard? I just do it. It's guttural.

In the beginning, I used to eat discarded food off other people's Holiday Inn trays. I mean, it was discarded.

People come up and stab you, give you a shot in the ribs with one finger, like you're the Pillsbury Doughboy. They want to see if you're real. They have a sense of ownership. You're public domain, to be touched, like with the Statue of Liberty.

I don't Google myself. Never read message boards, either, because that's even more dangerous.

Being in a band is like being in a family. It's intense, it's emotional. It's not always smooth. In fact, something's kind of weird if it is smooth.


December 22, 2008, 7:30 AM

Chuck Klosterman: What I've Learned

Twenty-three life lessons from the thirty-six-year-old writer and Esquire columnist -- Americans' fleeting emotional embrace, historians' manipulation of reality, his definition of success, and more.

By Cal Fussman

Klosterman grew up on a farm near Wyndmere, North Dakota, and attended the University of North Dakota. His first book was Fargo Rock City.

There's no rivalry between North and South Dakota. I guess we kind of see ourselves as both working against Minnesota.

Growing up in North Dakota, I was less influenced by the media. Because of that, I think it helped me understand the media better.

I can't play anything, can't sing. The fact of the matter is, critics do not become critics because they aspire to do what they're criticizing. That very rarely happens. Only the very worst critics are like that.

When I read criticism, I never learn anything about the record or the movie or the book. I mostly learn about the writer.

I don't like songs that employ animal effects that aren't dogs barking.

I've found that for most artists, the art they produce is the most natural aspect of their life. If they had taken the time to consider what their motive was for doing something, they would have done something else for a living.

I don't have any big regrets, because I'm pretty happy with my life. But I have lots of minor regrets. I always order the wrong dish in restaurants. Always. No matter what I order, somebody else orders something that's better. It even got to the point where I was consciously trying to pick things that I didn't think I wanted, because I thought I would reverse the process and actually pick the things I would later regret not having. But I regret that, too.

The best place to have interesting thoughts is sitting quietly in a dark room.

I think it would be interesting to go back to the Bronze Age and ask people how they felt about bronze. We look back and it's the only thing we remember about the Bronze Age. But did the average guy really have an interest in bronze at the time? So you see how historians can manipulate reality.

Regardless of hair color, a third of people seem to be smart, a third of them are dumb, and a third of them are average.

I had a very specific problem at quarterback. While I could not throw the deep ball, I also could not throw the short ball with any accuracy. So basically, we had to run the option on every play.

Some days it's incredibly easy to write four thousand words in an afternoon. Other days, it's impossible to write two sentences. There's no consistency with the difficulty of the process.

The best profile writers are people who can take a small amount of access to the person and amplify it so that it becomes a metaphor for what that person might represent or could represent. Which means the best profile writers are the ones who construct the most reality. So the best profiles are kind of the worst ones.

Editors who self-identify with writers tend to look at pieces and think how they would've written them. But there's a certain kind of editor who actually wants to be an editor. That is their aspiration, and they tend to be really good at it.

The only way there would ever be peace is if something really, really terrible happened that made peace irrelevant.

I have to say, Mount Rushmore is pretty disappointing when you see it. You might as well look at a picture. It's no different.

My definition of success is having the maximum amount of control over your own life. On a scale of 1 to 100, I'd say I have 84 percent.

A friend is someone I would immediately contact if I got cancer.

The cutoff for chasing a hat blown away by the wind is an eighth of a mile. After that, buy a new hat.

My mother taught me how to deal with adversity through stoicism. Over the course of my lifetime, it certainly seems like there's been a strange American emphasis on embracing any emotion you happen to be having at any given moment, and that there's something psychologically wrong with you if you're not constantly confronting your emotions in public. I don't like that quality. I think it's bad for society.

There's a lot of great Alice Cooper songs, but not "School's Out." That one's too overt. It's sort of an Alice Cooper song for people who don't like Alice Cooper. The Alice Cooper songs you want to listen to are "Cold Ethyl" and "Under My Wheels."

They took a weird picture. The picture is of me with a bunch of other people, who they obviously feel look like me, in beards and glasses, wearing sweaters and dressing like they're lazy. It wasn't my idea, but I don't know what to do about it.

My mom calls me Chucky. My mom and people who are taunting me. Those are the only two times you add y to the end of a name.

Interviewed by Cal Fussman, October 23, 2008


December 31, 2005, 11:00 PM

What I've Learned: Alyssa Milano

Actress, 33, Los Angeles

By Mike Sager

Italian men age very well. That's what I've learned from Tony Danza.

At the time I did Embrace of the Vampire, I was going through a transition from child star to adult actor. I was on Who's the Boss? from age eleven to nineteen. After the show was over, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I wanted to continue working, but I was only offered parts as the hot, steamy, sexy girl. So I took them.

A big part of life is realizing what you're good at.

Once upon a time, it wasn't cool to be on TV. Maybe with the exception of Michael J. Fox, once you were on TV, you were on TV. Period.

When I was a teenager, I had five albums released in Japan. The Japanese fans are very passionate and very loyal. One time, I was with my dad. We got into a limo and we looked back, and there were probably five hundred fans running after us. And my dad said, "This is your Beatles moment."

If you have parents with a healthy relationship, you don't learn that you don't have to be married. I thought being a healthy adult meant you had to have a spouse. I didn't know any different.

The only way to learn about yourself is through other people. After my divorce, my mom said to me, "It's okay if you marry your best friend, but he still has to make you weak in the knees."

If you come from a solid family structure, it doesn't matter what you go through in your life. You're going to be okay.

I went to Iraq on a USO tour. This was two months after the war was declared over. When we got on the ground, they started throwing us helmets and bulletproof vests. I'm wearing a little Prada shirt, you know. I wanted to look good for the boys. Basically, I was doing my service to the country. And so I put this vest on, which was about ten pounds, and this helmet, and I go over to Tommy Franks, General Franks? And I said, "I have to be honest with you. I'm freaking out a little bit right now. I just need to know that we're going to be okay." And he said, "Little darlin', I guarantee you this: We've got more bullets than they got assholes." Not quite the answer I was looking for.

The thing you can't even conceptualize about Iraq while watching it on TV is the condition of pretty much everything. Try walking by a Porta-John in 120 degree weather. The flies and the stench are unimaginable. Try wearing twenty-seven pounds of equipment in that heat. Every soldier we saw in Baghdad was sort of comatose. They didn't smile; they had a deep sadness.

The apathy in America is probably even scarier than the administration.

My favorite tattoo, visually, is probably the one on my lower back. It's a sacred heart. There's a lot of single-needle work in it, which you don't normally see. The guy actually did it freehand. It was quite an experience.

I'm doing laser hair removal right now. I'd rather get my whole body tattooed daily than do the laser. Oh, my God! I've had two sessions, and I can honestly say that it's the most painful experience ever.

I was never attracted to actors. The first time I saw a man pluck his eyebrows in the makeup trailer, I was like, That is just wrong!

I don't know why I go out with pitchers. Maybe because I'm fascinated by the fact that these guys can stand up there in front of fifty-five thousand people on a mound, totally alone, totally isolated, and throw a ball ninety-five miles an hour into a little strike zone. Or maybe it's because they're the only ones who've asked me out.

How can you be a good actor if you isolate yourself from society? Part of acting is being a student of humanity and human behavior. If you're not in the real world, how can you portray it?

Just because something doesn't fit into a normal mold doesn't mean it's abnormal.

This has been my life forever, so it's not odd to me.

December 16, 2011, 12:01 AM

Gary Oldman: What I've Learned

Actor, 53, Los Angeles

By Cal Fussman

Oldman has made a career of being the guy you remember more than the protagonist. He's the lead in the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. An acting teacher told me that.

You choose your friends by their character and your socks by their color.

"Fuck 'em." Shortest prayer in the world.

A lazy man works twice as hard. My mother told that to me, and now I say it to my kids. If you're writing an essay, keep it in the lines and in the margins so you don't have to do it over.

I wanted to play Dracula because I wanted to say: "I've crossed oceans of time to find you." It was worth playing the role just to say that line.

We all look for that other half, that partner. I mean, wouldn't it be great to say that line to someone and mean it?

There's 99 percent crap across pretty much everything. And then there's that one plateau where I want to be.

You ever go into a house, see a light switch, and it's slightly crooked? Drives me crazy. Crazy.

There are bass players who know when not to play. I don't know if that can be taught.

Bernie Taupin! My hero growing up! His lyrics are cinematic.

You can make a performance better in the editing, but you can sure tear passion to tatters with the scissors.

What would you do if you were a painter, and you gave your painting over to someone, and then you saw it in an exhibition and they'd cut seven inches off the top of it? And the corner was painted red. We thought it would be better red. But that wouldn't happen.

I enjoy playing characters where the silence is loud.

The phone call is often the best part of it. Your agent says, "They want you to play Hamlet at the Old Vic." And you go, "Holy shit! Hamlet at the Old Vic! Wow! God! Fantastic!" Then you hang up and it's "Fuck, I'm playing Hamlet."

The lights go down. What do you got?

When you meet someone, you can get something out of him like when you first look at a painting.

I'm almost incapable of lying. I'd be a terrible spy.

New York is London on steroids.

Downtown L. A. looks like they started to build Chicago and then gave up ... and let it become a sprawling suburb.

I never moved here. I came here to make a film. I've lived in America now for nearly twenty years.

You're tired? Have a baby, then come back and tell me how tired tired is.

There's no handbook for parenting. So you walk a very fine line as a parent because you are civilizing these raw things. They will tip the coffee over and finger-paint on the table. At some point, you have to say, "We're gonna have to clean that up because you don't paint with coffee on a table."

You don't step straight up to the front of the ATM line. You don't cut in front of people at the ticket desk. You take your turn. You can learn great life lessons from board games.

My kids are my greatest achievement.

They're proud of what I've done, but wonderfully underwhelmed.

I don't bring the work home. That's because I do the work up front. I prepare. Once you find the character and take it around the block a few times, the engine will always be warm. You just need to rev it up. You're not turning the key cold. You can finish a day, leave it at work, go home, and help the kids with their homework.

I never thought I'd see the end of celluloid in my lifetime, but it seems to be one amazing deal away.

By the way, the Harry Potter series is literature, in spite of what some people might say. The way J.K. Rowling worked that world out is quite something.

A few years ago, my mother asked what I'd like for my birthday. I had enough socks, slippers, and ties. So I said: "I don't know, get me a ukulele." It kind of fell from the sky into my head. And she got it for me. I started playing it and now my kids are into it. So we've gone ukulear in the house.

I don't pursue things. They come to me. They come through the letter box. People get an idea in their heads. "What about Gary Oldman?"

A director expects you to come in, open your suitcase, and say, "Okay, here's my stuff, guv'nah."

There's only one authentic version of Gary, and I've got to really know who that is.

December 15, 2010, 11:04 AM

Mary-Louise Parker: What I've Learned

The actress on getting naked, her refusal to Twitter, and why she's nothing like a can of Budweiser

By Cal Fussman

I'd rather have to put my teeth in a jar at the end of the day than Twitter.

Running from something and running to something are the same thing.

I don't get tired of hearing that somebody liked my work. I'm not for everyone. If I were a beer, I definitely would not be a Budweiser.

Avocado is the perfect food. It's so substantial. So rich. There's something sensual about an avocado. You peel it and then you have to scoop out the rest and kind of lick it. Avocado makes everything better. A burger. A sandwich. It's support. It just backs everything up.

"I'm sorry, but ..." — no. A qualified apology is not an apology. I can forgive most anything. But I won't forgive anything if it's defended. That's just weakness.

If being honest is the goal, I can unzip to a pretty deep level. But what you get today is not necessarily what you'll get tomorrow.

Being naked has a certain element of drama.

I'm not jealous. I would expect a man I'm with to look at a beautiful woman. If he doesn't, he's trying to hide something.

You meet a woman who's clumsy and doesn't read, and because of that it won't work. But then you meet a woman who's clumsy and won't read, but she's just right for you. The two can have the same failures, but some ineffable alchemy allows you to forgive the right one anything.

My parents taught me how to be a parent. But I'll never live up to it.

I like to pretend that I'm a tough guy. It's kind of an admission of defeat if I have to ask for help — or even kindness. But if it doesn't come, at some point I snap and demand it.

"I read your journal." I can respect that. Good for you. Everybody would read your journal. But how many people would tell you that they did?

Your journal has probably been read, I've got news for you.

I might have to get in the hot tub. Can you still talk to me in the hot tub? Would that be weird?

I never feel more useful than when I'm making my kids a bowl of soup.

My daughter made an amazing jump in the pool the other day. I said, "You're so brave." She said, "No, I was scared." I said, "That's why you're brave. If you weren't scared, you wouldn't be brave at all. You'd just be dumb."

I like to restructure the rules to make them fit my own needs.

I'm not gonna go off if there are no M&Ms in my trailer.

At a certain point you know the last chapter, and you don't want to have to write it.

There's always going to be somebody smarter, prettier, nicer. It's better to appreciate it instead of being threatened by it or defending yourself against it.

Mediocrity is underrated.

My kids have taught me that I'm not as good a person as I like to think I am, and that I'm not as bad a person as I sometimes think I am.

People who show up and don't know their lines or come in without an idea just can't be taken seriously.

We have Monet Day in the house. We buy a bunch of flowers from the deli, float them in the bathtub, and then paint them. We've also done Dalí Day. We put on mustaches and burn paper clocks. I haven't figured out how to do Van Gogh Day.

It's nice to have the luxury of not being overburdened with a self-image.

There's bliss in watching Antiques Roadshow and then having some chicken salad. That can be thrilling.

It takes much more skill to write something thoughtful than to just be mean.

Why do actors end up with other actors? Where else are they gonna meet other people? Somebody who works at Macy's might go out with somebody else who works at Macy's, right?

No regrets. But there have been things that are worth regretting.

My son once asked me, "What happens when we die?" I said, "Nobody really knows. Some people think that the spirit" — and he stopped me. "What's a spirit?" "Well, it's a part of you that doesn't change and people think that some part of it lives on." He said, "Here's what I think. I think we go into the ocean, we wash up on a desert island, and Georgia O'Keeffe finds our bones and then she paints them." And I said, "I'm going with your version."

February 20, 2007, 8:00 AM

What I've Learned: Iggy Pop

Singer 59, Miami

By Cal Fussman

The first moment? Driving down a nice two-lane highway, summer day, Ann Arbor, Michigan. I'm in the backseat of a '49 Cadillac. Always had a good car, my dad. Frank Sinatra's singing: "Fairy tales can come true/It can happen to you/If you're young at heart." My dad's singing along. From that moment on, when people asked me what I wanted to be, I would say, "A singer." As I got older, I realized that might not be realistic. So then I thought, I'll become a politician.

The more walking-around money I have, the less I walk around.

Sex may be a little more factual than love. You know whether it was good or not. You know whether you liked it or not. You're not going to change your mind about it ten years later.

Try to find some ground that hasn't been covered.

The peanut butter, the shards of glass -- I look back upon those moments kind of like a proud parent.

We lived in a trailer. My parents gave up their bedroom, and I moved in with my drum set. My dad just sat there with his quarter-inch military haircut, reading the newspaper. My parents wanted to light my artistic candle. But over time, the definition of "the arts" began to stretch. And as I got older, they suddenly realized, Oh, my God, we're the parents of Iggy Pop.

I became Iggy because I had a sadistic boss at a record store. I'd been in a band called the Iguanas. And when this boss wanted to embarrass and demean me, he'd say, Iggy, get me a coffee, light. And that really pissed me off, because in those days a cool nickname was Tab or Rock. I had a nickname that I couldn't escape around town and it was torture. Then my band opened for Blood, Sweat & Tears. I think the entire band got fifty dollars total. But we had a lot of new ground. And afterward a huge piece was written about us in the Michigan Daily. In this story, the writer calls me Iggy. I was like, Oh, fuck. We got all this press, but they're calling me Iggy. What could I do? I knew the value of publicity. So I put a little "Pop" on the end. Took me thirty years to make what I wanted out of the name.

My mom was a saint. She taught me to be terminally nice.

You must've had a night where you did two grams of nasty blow in New York City and a fifth of Jack Daniel's and been with not the greatest chick you ever slept with and you got two hours' sleep and you wake up and it's the morning rush and you're hearing honk! honk! honk! out your window and it's gray and it's cold and you just want to die. At that moment, yeah, I regretted what I'd done the night before. But big-picture regrets? Nah.

I'm not a one-trick pony. I've had my picture in People magazine vacuuming the floor. I do a little vacuuming, a little bleeding.

A lot of people tried to out-Iggy Iggy. G.G. Allin. He was just doing every awful thing onstage: having sex, going to the toilet. He took that detail and ran with it. That didn't put me in a position to compete with him. Just the opposite. It made me embarrassed.

I was lucky. I'd seen my own vomit and it was green. It was some sort of bile, and it told me this is too serious. Can't go on. The green vomit gave me a chance to step out and get a little perspective on the world.

The drugs went away gradually. The outbursts got fewer and farther between. The big turn for me came when my body began to remember all the times it felt bad. Then I became very, very strong. I really don't want to crawl under the table and shiver and see little mice running under my eyes for the next fourteen hours. I don't want my confidence for the next twenty-two gigs fucked with.

Qigong is such a powerful form of energy that some of the masters in China can walk on tissue paper. You know -- twelve large men cannot push me. There are guys who can do that shit. I've learned enough of the qigong to deal with the musician's lifestyle.

Nothing's shocking anymore. The transfer of information has become so fast, we're at the point where even the straightest little old lady in Jonesville, South Carolina, is saying, Ah, we've heard about that Marilyn Manson and we know what he does at night....

Almost all cool-ass rock front guys are incredibly huge assholes. It would be nice to meet one who wasn't.

I find it hard to focus looking forward. So I look backward. What was I doing when I was thirty-nine? That was the first time I woke up and thought, You're about to decease unless you get some sort of plan going. I did, and that worked out pretty well. So there's hope for twenty years from now.

The best piece of wisdom my father gave me came fairly recently. I was trying to decide on a new woman in my life. He said, "Well, just listen to your medulla oblongata. It'll tell you what to do." So I listened to my medulla oblongata, and it said, "Get with that Nigerian-Irish chick. Go with the hottie."

I have no idea why a guy would bring a jar of peanut butter to a concert.

There will always be explosions. But there will always be a vestige left.


February 20, 2007, 11:00 AM

What I've Learned: Jaime Pressly

Actress, 29, Los Angeles

By Mike Sager

I'm a woman; I'm going to fluctuate.

Determination is kind of like rhythm: You can't teach it. I've always had this voice inside of me saying, "You're going to do it, don't give up!" Maybe it's because I have a lot of testosterone. I don't know. I just have so much drive. There's nothing you can do or say that's going to stop me from going where I want to go.

When somebody is kissin' my ass and sugarcoatin' everything, that's when I say no.

Classic is classic for a reason.

Jaime is spelled that way because it means "I love" in French. Pressly is always misspelled, with an e, because people think it's gotta be spelled like Elvis.

The people who actually give a damn about me spell my name correctly.

I performed in public for the first time at three years old. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was on a big stage. There were probably three or four hundred people in the audience. We were doing this dance, this Kermit the Frog routine, all of us in our little green leotards. After the dance, we had to come out and do a forward roll or some other little trick. My trick was this thing where I took my legs and literally wrapped them around my head, and then I put my hands down and I walked around the stage on my hands -- I was a little contortionist, you know? And so I walk down the mat and back, and then Miss Jodi goes, "Okay, Jaime, put your legs down." But I couldn't! I was wearing tights and I had this hairpiece in my hair, and the tights got stuck on my hairpiece, and I couldn't unwrap my legs. I was like, "I'm stuck! I'm stuck!" But Miss Jodi, she was a cool customer. She just reaches down and puts her hand through my legs and picks me up like a basket. And then she says, "Wave good-bye, Jaime!" And I did. And everybody just lost it laughing and clapping, and she carried me offstage. When I got in the back and they got my legs undone, I went, "Listen, Mom, I'm famous! I'm going to be famous!"

If you want to do something, just do it. No one is going to do it for you.

It's not that I want the control; it's just that I want to be able to take care of myself, which is why I've worked as hard as I have -- so no one can tell me what I can and cannot do. When you're financially equal, there's no resentment.

We all have baggage. The question is: What baggage can you deal with?

My father taught me what it is to fish -- to be able to breathe, to be able to chill out and wait for the fish to bite. Simple things like that have really helped me stay in this business, because it's a waiting game. You've gotta be able to calm down and not take every job. You wanna wait for the big fish.

You get one negative thing out of your mouth about somebody, and seconds later you trip and bust your ass. It happens instantly.

I love television because I get to stay home.

Comic timing: You're either born with it or not.

Earl is not like an everyday TV show. We shoot a minifilm every week. There is such a thing as good television and good writing.

I was supposed to be on that first plane. I was in North Carolina, and I needed to go to L.A. To get there, I had three different options -- none of which were direct flights. One of the options was Raleigh to Boston to L.A. At the last minute I changed it. I was like, a) I don't want to get up that early, and b) it's stupid to go around your ass to get to your thumb. So I canceled it last minute. And that turned out to be the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. I don't really like to talk about it, but there it is. It's what could have been.

Once you've appeared in Playboy, you can't ever work for Procter & Gamble.

Pretty runs out.

June 1, 2005, 1:00 AM

What I've Learned: Burt Reynolds

Actor, 69, Jupiter, Florida

By Ross Johnson

I was number one five years in a row at the box office. But what's really stunning is that no one until me had ever gone from number one to number thirty-eight in one year.

The greatest actors in the world are the people around you when you're at the top of the mountain.

God forgive me, but I love the attention of people.

Your bullshit detector gets better with time.

I've had to reinvent myself four or five times. And I'm now working on the most challenging reinvention: survivor.

I once said to my friend Ossie Davis, "You know, I was first-team all-state when I was in high school." And he said, "How many blacks were on that team?" I said, "None."

For a white guy, I was fast. I ran a 4.4 forty on grass in football shoes.

When I told my dad I was going into show business, he said, "If you ever bring any of those sissy boys around here, I'll shoot 'em and make a rug out of 'em for your mother." At the end of his life, whenever he saw Charles Nelson Reilly, who's rather flamboyant, he'd kiss him on the cheek.

When my dad said something to me, I said, "Yes, sir." I didn't question him. And I was forty years old.

My son said, "If you go to an actor's house, there's a picture of the actor and other actors. If you go to a producer's house, there are Picassos. I think I'll be a producer."

I could have won millions of dollars in lawsuits about the AIDS rumors back in 1984. I survived it by my father's philosophy: "I'll piss on your grave."

Nowadays, instead of saying, "He's a prick," I'll say, "He's complicated."

Bankruptcy? It's not pleasant. There are some people who look at you like you've got leprosy and their bank account might drop if they touch you.

I don't play golf. I don't have a hobby. I'm pretty passionate about my work, even though I sometimes have this realization on the second day of shooting that I'm in a piece of shit. So I can do one of two things: I can just take the money, or I can try to be passionate. But the name of the boat is still the Titanic.

Paul Newman is the personification of cool.

I'd rather be shot in the leg than watch an Ingmar Bergman picture.

The best direction I ever got was on Deliverance, when John Boorman said, "Stop acting. Just behave. We'll wait for you, because we can't take our eyes off you." I didn't know he said the same thing to Jon Voight and Ned Beatty.

I can tell a young person where the mines are, but he's probably going to have to step on them anyway.

For a long time, if you were seeing a psychiatrist, you were thought of as being a wacko. But because of good ol' Dr. Phil, people know we need to talk to someone who just sits there and is nonjudgmental and says, "Do you think it's a good idea not to have a bowel movement for three months?" Because a lot of stuff gets clogged up there, and you gotta get some of it out. And getting it out is painful, and you can bleed.

If I hadn't been an actor, I would have been a coach, and I would have been a good one. All teaching is is communicating.

I once went to group therapy. Everyone there blamed someone else -- their mother, their father, their agent. When it got to me, I said, "You're all full of shit. You're gonna be here forever. Look in the mirror. You are responsible for every mistake you made."

The stupidest thing I ever did was turn down Terms of Endearment to do Cannonball Run II. Jim Brooks wrote the part of the astronaut for me. Taking that role would have been a way to get all the things I wanted.

I've made fun of myself the person, but I don't take roles where I make fun of the actor. I've worked too hard and too long with too many good people, and I respect myself as an actor.

What makes me feel good? Old friends.

I hate prejudice of any kind, whether it be color or sexual preference. I don't give a shit if you had a goat. If it's a happy goat, and you're happy, I'm happy for you. However, I may not want to have dinner with the both of you.

My autobiography is a good book, considering it was written in three days.

I live in Jupiter, Florida, which is Perry Como's hometown. I get second billing.

January 31, 2006, 11:00 PM

What I've Learned: William Shatner

Actor, recording artist, author, 74, Los Angeles

By Mike Sager

Sex should be a template for your day. You need to start slow and end completely.

There's something to be said for the niceness and politeness of Canadians, saying thank you and being concerned with a stranger, being helpful and all that. By the same token, I would wish for Canada and my fellow Canadians to include in that politeness a kind of drive that occasionally results in a little ass kicking.

The essence of paint ball is the fact that when you get hit by a ball full of paint, it hurts just enough to say, "Ow, I gotta get out of the way," but not enough to say, "I quit."

The line between making a total ass of yourself and being fundamentally funny is very narrow.

I was always working. Maybe you weren't aware of the movies I was making, or the television I was doing, or the shows I was creating, or the books I was writing; there have been thirty. But I have always been solidly at work, running as fast as I can. You just haven't been conscious of it. Suddenly I'm above the radar.

In the next six months, two shows will be coming out. One is vaguely called Shatner in Concert, which is a concert reality show based on my album. The other one is based on a book I wrote called I'm Working on That. It's a scientific look at how the science of today, and scientists themselves, were affected by Star Trek -- though the Star Trek theme is very oblique. It's mostly about how I don't understand the science of today.

Marriage is a reflection of your life in general: how you treat people, how you argue, how secure you are in your own thoughts. How vehemently do you argue your point of view? With what disdain do you view the other's point of view?

We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.

The conundrum of free will and destiny has always kept me dangling. Everything in the universe follows concrete rules: The galaxies move in predictable ways. Stars are formed within definitive parameters. Viruses mutate. From the highest to the lowest, physics shows us that everything works according to rules we can observe. The only fly in the ointment is man's free will. I could go down those stairs and leave right now, right in the middle of this interview, and I could do so by my own free will, alienating Esquire magazine. But I choose not to alienate Esquire magazine and I stay. I think I'm operating under free will. But am I? That's the dilemma. God is either in the destiny or in the free will. Unfortunately, I don't have the answer this morning.

Whether it's drugs or artistry or athletics, all life seeks to re-create that ultimate sexual moment.

You have to create your life. You have to carve it, like a sculpture.

What I've learned about acting is that I'm constantly learning; I'm constantly challenged. Playing the role of Denny Crane on Boston Legal -- that's on Tuesday nights at ten o'clock on ABC, folks -- I'm constantly looking for color, for variants, for shade and nuance. The difference between a laugh and no laugh is refinement. I'm constantly seeking that refinement.

Being an icon is overblown. Remember, an icon is moved by a mouse.

Seventy-four is a foreign land. I'm an old man, but I'm still pumping weight. I'm lifting fifty pounds, thirty reps, three sets. And then squats, all the rest. I'm athletic, I ride show horses in competitions, I hunger -- my passions are every bit as unbanked as they were when I was thirty-five. So I don't know what seventy-four means. I'm seventy-four. This is what it looks like. I'm ready to slug it out with the next guy.

Empathy is a learned characteristic. Some people take longer to learn it than others.

When I played the death of Captain Kirk, the night before, out in the desert, I forced myself to think of what my own coming death would be like. There is a moment, I feel, in that marginal area between consciousness and death, just at the last moment, when you say to yourself, Oh, my God, I'm really dying...and then you're out, you're dead. For me, Kirk had always lived a life of awe and wonder; those were his feelings about the universe and everything he encountered. And that's why I played those scenes the way I did. The meeting of every new alien was never marked by fear or apprehension. Rather, the emotion was always one of awe, the magnificence of creation. I felt like he would greet death in this same spirit. When it came time to film, I ad-libbed a bit in the scene. Just as he was about to die, I had him say, "Oh my," as though he'd seen something, and then before he could express it, he was dead. And that came out of my own hope that when my time comes, I will look at my death with the same kind of awe and wonder. Maybe, in that instant, the secrets of the universe will be revealed.

December 14, 2010, 7:57 AM

Aaron Sorkin: What I've Learned

The screenwriter on his (very) brief political career and how his work has evolved over the years. Also: what a friend really is.

By Cal Fussman

Everybody does lists of the hundred greatest movie lines of all time. "You can't handle the truth!" always seems to be in there, which is very nice to see. But for me, the best line will always be: "We're going to need a bigger boat."

The rules are all in a sixty-four-page pamphlet by Aristotle called Poetics. It was written almost three thousand years ago, but I promise you, if something is wrong with what you're writing, you've probably broken one of Aristotle's rules.

You're allowed one fuck in PG-13. The rules are silly. Not all fucks are equal and not all cocksuckers are equal.

I had a lot of survival jobs. One was for the Witty Ditty singing-telegram company. I was in the red-and-white stripes with the straw boater hat and kazoo. Balloons. Even when you're sleeping on a friend's couch, you have to pay some kind of rent.

I desperately need the love of complete strangers. That's one reason I overtip. I love when skycaps, waiters, and valets are happy to see me.

The only political experience I've ever had came in sixth grade when I had a crush on Jenny Lavin. Jenny was stuffing envelopes after school at the local McGovern-for-President headquarters. So I thought it'd be a good idea if I volunteered, too. One weekend they put us all in buses and took us to White Plains, the county seat, because the Nixon motorcade was coming through. We went with signs that said MCGOVERN FOR PRESIDENT. I was holding up one of these signs and a 163-year-old woman came up from behind, took the sign out of my hand, whacked me over the head with it, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. The only political agenda I've ever had is the slim hope that this woman is still alive and I'm driving her out of her mind.

I do not diminish the incredible symbolic importance of a black man getting elected president. But my euphoria was a smart guy getting elected president. Maybe for the first time in my lifetime we had elected one of the thousand smartest Americans president.

I kind of worship at the altar of intention and obstacle. Somebody wants something. Something's standing in their way of getting it. They want the money, they want the girl, they want to get to Philadelphia — doesn't matter. And if they can need it, that's even better.

Whatever the obstacle is, you can't overcome it like that or the audience is going to say, "Why don't they just take the other car?" or "Why don't you just shoot him?" The obstacle has to be difficult to overcome. And that's the clothesline that you hang everything on — the tactics by which your characters try to achieve their goal. That's the story that you end up telling.

Oh, I'd love to get A Few Good Men back. I feel like there isn't a scene where, if I could have it back for half an hour, I couldn't give you a better scene.

I keep thinking that I graduated from college a couple of years ago when it was actually 1983.

You'll be able to say "motherfucker" on network television before you'll be able to take God's name in vain.

When you're a hit, you get a little more elbow room and you walk with a bigger stick.

Except when I didn't have any, money has never been that big of a deal to me.

A friend is somebody who says the same things to your face that they would say if you're not in the room.

By the way, you don't have to necessarily always enjoy being with your friends. It's possible to have friends that drive you out of your mind. Don't you have friends that you've had since you were a little kid? And you constantly have to explain to people who're just meeting him: "I've known him since fifth grade. He really is a good guy. Trust me. Really — he's got a heart as big as Montana."

I feel like if I'd gotten married once a year, every year since I was twenty-five, there would never have been the same five groomsmen twice. Two new people would always be coming in. My brother is a constant. He would stay.

There are these signposts along the way of getting older. The first is when the Playmate of the Month is younger than you are. Suddenly you're starting to feel dirty because you're twenty-three and she's nineteen and you really shouldn't be looking at that picture.

The next thing that happens is professional athletes are younger than you are.

Then coaches and managers are younger than you are.

And finally, the last one that happens: I'm the same age as the president of the United States.

When I'm done with an episode of television, I feel euphoric for about five minutes and then I'm Sisyphus.

All being finished means is that you haven't started yet.

December 15, 2009, 10:45 AM

James Spader: What I've Learned

The award-winning actor meditates on the importance of readjusting, the skills of tight-rope walkers, and more

By Cal Fussman

My Emmys are on a shelf in a closet.

What makes for a good character is weakness and strength — that combination that we all have. It's often missing from characters in badly crafted stories.

I can honestly say that there is not another available shelf for them to be put on in the house. Every other shelf has books, pictures, glasses, dishes, or pots and pans.

Anyone who's ever lived? More than anyone else, I'd like to meet Nathanael Herreshoff.

The best thing about sailing is peace. I should change that. It's a combination of peace and exhilaration. It makes the value and the quality of the exhilaration that much more exhilarating because of the peace that surrounds it. And it makes the peace that much more peaceful because of the exhilaration.

Some of the best concerts I might have gone to when I was seventeen aren't memorable at all. It doesn't mean they weren't fantastic. They just aren't memorable because I can't remember them.

The awards are not locked away. I go in the closet to dress and so forth.

If the last successful thing I've done is play a bad guy, then I'm treated as such when people meet me on the street.

No one can protect you from embarrassment.

Always strive to be fair.

I am not the way I was when I was seventeen. I know a lot less, I think. Or at least I know that I know a lot less.

I left high school with the option of returning whenever I wanted. The high school was tremendously gracious in that way. They said, Any time you want to come back, we'll welcome you. Maybe I should take them up on it. I'd probably make great use of it.

Nobody would ever see the awards unless they went into the closet.

But they wouldn't be invited into the closet. Is that unique? I bet not.

Somewhere along the line, thought and intellectuality has been looked upon as a tremendous deficit.

I found it strange when the change of a political position on a certain issue became a deficit. I was absolutely stymied by it, because I think that's a great quality — that one has the ability to evolve and develop an idea based on information and thought. That seems to be what we do as enlightened human beings.

Absolutes are limiting. And ultimately they couldn't be more fallible.

I like to be wrong. I like to find out something new.

Well, it wasn't always girls with an s. Sometimes it would be one girl. A particularly compelling girl. I signed up for ballet in high school because Greenough Nowakoski was taking it.

A variety of texture — that's what makes a good sandwich.

Sometimes you get caught up continuing to watch a bad movie. You just want to see what happens.

There are very few good movies. When one ends, it gets pretty quiet.

I am not a great fan of the fluffernutter. That's just mush.

Tightrope walkers very often pretend to stumble to be that much more entertaining.

It was startling to see. It was the first Kennedy funeral in my lifetime where Ted Kennedy wasn't visible. And the sadness of that struck me. It saddens me even now that — thankfully — it was the last funeral he was going to have to go to.

Everybody's experience of their parents' death is so singular that I don't know if there's a relationship between your experiences and another's.

I'm not left wanting because my mother gave so much of herself. I got some of all of it. But at the end of the day, or in the middle of the day, or in the middle of the night, or at the very beginning of the day, whenever it might be, with everything I have from her, with everything she gave me, it doesn't matter — I still miss her.

I think the missing is just fine. It would be very sad and very strange to not. Therefore it seems like the right thing, and a wonderful thing for her — she would want to be missed.

It's necessary to readjust and then try again. And then readjust and try again. Fathers have to do that with sons and mothers have to do that with daughters. The level of readjustment isn't quite so much when fathers are dealing with daughters and mothers are dealing with sons.

My head tends to be spinning too fast for me to have a sense of how I'm walking.

You can always grab a towel, put it around your neck, and you've got a cape.


August 1, 2012, 12:32 AM

Gore Vidal: What I've Learned

The late great iconoclast and Esquire essayist, now dead at 86, on God and writing and disease and his legacy and more
By Mike Sager

Originally published in the June 2008 issue

Somebody was here the other day from BBC Radio. It's odd to meet a rather elderly man who says, "I've been reading you all my life." It makes you feel a slight chill.

God has been expelled. I think he knows when he's on a losing wicket.

I went into a line of work in which jealousy is the principal emotion between practitioners. I don't think I ever suffered from it, because there was no need. But I was aware of it in others, and I found it a regrettable fault.

There was more of a flow to my output of writing in the past, certainly. Having no contemporaries left means you cannot say, "Well, so-and-so will like this," which you do when you're younger. You realize there is no so-and-so anymore. You are your own so-and-so. There is a bleak side to it.

You hear all this whining going on, "Where are our great writers?" The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?

Everything's wrong on Wikipedia.

My general response to boarding school was: anything to get away from that fucking mother of mine. She was a monster.

Some of my father's fellow West Pointers once asked him why I turned out so well, his secret in raising me. And he said, "I never gave him any advice, and he never asked for any." We agreed on nothing, but we never quarreled once.

Every fool I knew had gone to university. I didn't think it necessary. I'd seen some of the results, you know?

When I was young, I was bored shitless with being desired by others. I don't look in the mirror anymore.

I lived with Howard for fifty years, but what we had was certainly not romantic love, not passionate love. And it certainly was nonsexual. Try and explain that to the fags.

Nonprofit status is what created the Bible Belt. The tax code brought religion back to this country.

At a certain age, you have to live near good medical care — if, that is, you're going to continue. You always have the option of not continuing, which, I fear, is sometimes nobler.

There are some joys in the higher hypochondria.

When you get a hereditary disease, you realize you're part of the main. No matter how much you may have tried to be your own man, you're going to be like your parents.

I've developed a total loathing for McCain, conceited little asshole. And he thinks he's wonderful. I mean, you can just tell, this little simper of self-love that he does all the time. You just want to kick him.

Patriotism is as sickening today as it has ever been. I was watching the news before you came and there was a lot of coverage of Kosovo and the problems there. They showed footage of people burning an American flag. And the newscaster got all broken up and teary-eyed. He says, "I guess [sob] I just feel something here, folks, when I see the American flag being burned." And I said, You fucking asshole. Whatever happened to the news?

When she was running for the Senate, Hillary's psephologists discovered that the one group that really hated her was white, middle-aged men of property. She got the whole thing immediately — I heard she said, "I remind them of their first wife."

"You got to meet everyone — Jackie Kennedy, William Burroughs." People always put that sentence the wrong way around. I mean, why not put it the true way, that these people got to meet me, and wanted to? Otherwise it sounds like I spent my life hustling around trying to meet people: "Oh, look, there's the governor."

I met a lot of people, but I didn't get to know them.

People in my situation get to read about themselves whether they want to or not. It's generally wrong. Or oversimplified — which is sometimes useful.

For a writer, memory is everything. But then you have to test it; how good is it, really? Whether it's wrong or not, I'm beyond caring. It is what it is. As Norman Mailer would say, "It's existential." He went to his grave without knowing what that word meant.

I was the meanest kid on the block.

We're the most captive nation of slaves that ever came along. The moral timidity of the average American is quite noticeable. Everybody's afraid to be thought in any way different from everyone else.

Get rid of religion. It'll do you no good.

As the Greeks sensibly believed, should you get to know yourself, you will have penetrated as much of the human mystery as anyone need ever know.

I wasn't like everyone, you know. What everyone did, I was sure not to do.

June 14, 2007, 9:03 AM

What I've Learned: Jack & Meg White

Musicians, 31 and 32, Nashville and Los Angeles

By Scott Frampton

Meg's really afraid of this interview, by the way. That's why she's not talking.

Simple is not always better. For Michelangelo, no. For the White Stripes, simple is better.

I was an apprentice in an upholstery shop when I was a teenager, and there were three staples in a piece of fabric. After I stared at it for five minutes, I was thinking how three was the minimum number of staples it would take to hold that fabric on one side of the board. A wheel could have no less than three lugs on it. A table could stand with three legs.

I always return to the number three. I use it as a basis for everything I do.

Red, white, black. Vocals, guitar, drums. Storytelling, rhythm, melody.

I was also one of three upholsterers on my block growing up.

The Holy Trinity -- that's the big one.

Constraints lead to creativity. You don't come to the studio, play a couple of hours, see you tomorrow, you know? Eight months later, $2 million later, four hundred tracks later, you're left with nothing of what your goal was to begin with.

The records I love were probably made in a day.

I'm very conscious of playing the room. You start thinking, How am I going to trick them, how am I going to get to the point where we'll be friends?

It's not cool to care. It never has been. We've battled that. It scares a lot of people away.

Our presentation of the band is the greatest insurance policy. It might bother someone so much that they can't take the band seriously: "You're not wearing a T-shirt with some clever logo on it, something sarcastic and cynical. How can I take you seriously?" If they can't get past that, there's no point in sharing music with them.

Irony is the easy way out. It's an anti-opinion, an opinion without taking any chances.

I've never really had a moment when I thought bagpipes wouldn't appeal.

Love? I've got an inkling. I've got an inkling. But I've got a lot to learn.

I don't get nervous when I go up there. I've always thought that I should, but I don't.

We don't have a set list. We don't know what our first song is going to be. We just walk out onstage. No safety net. And the struggle begins immediately, ten thousand people or a hundred thousand people. We come out, guns blazing, and see what happens next.

You're asking me all the questions! Makes me feel rude.

Each one of my guitars came to me accidentally. They're all hard to work with. They're all cheap. They don't stay in tune very well. But they're ferocious.

I present the song to Meg, and we treat it as if we're covering someone else's song. That breathes life into it.

Critics have an undying urge to compare everything to something else. Every riff has to be compared to another band's riff, and every chord change is compared to every other band's chord change. Anything kind of powerful is Led Zeppelin. Anything kind of poppy is the Beatles.

We always come back to redheads. I find them fascinating. Aspects of good and evil wrapped up into one person. Some cultures are afraid of redheads and consider them evil, and some venerate them. They have a fire inside.

Someone told me, "You're going to like your thirties. Things don't bother you as much." That's true, it seems, almost instantly.

My daughter's a year old now. You start to see the whole world over again. That's what I was hoping for, and that's what I've been getting.

When Meg sat down at the drums, that was a really important moment. We recorded on a little two-track, but it sounded heavy and full and simple. It was a marriage -- Detroit garage rock, the Velvet Underground, blues -- and it all came together as a platform where I could start writing. It was finding Meg.

I can sit and pretend that I'm in control or in charge, but the song is very much in charge. It always is. The album isn't in charge. The name of the band isn't in charge.

The funny thing is when you learn what your songs were actually about.

December 20, 2010, 3:29 PM

Fred Willard: What I've Learned

The actor shares his long list of dislikes — celebrity, ballet, fake accents. Plus: the best sandwich he's ever had.

By Cal Fussman

You think you want to be famous. Then you see twenty or thirty people with cameras running after somebody coming out of a restaurant. And you say, "That might be fun for a night." The idea is to be just famous enough that when you walk into a restaurant, the maître d' says, "Oh, I have a nice table."

Ballet I love for about five minutes. Then I want to see a comic come out.

When I was a kid, I remember one aunt drinking on Thanksgiving and falling asleep at the dinner table. Her husband said, "Betty, wake up and finish your drink."

Opera has made me consider suicide.

Flying into Bora Bora makes you feel like you're in The Wizard of Oz and suddenly it's Technicolor.

I wish sex could last as long as love.

There was ABC, CBS, and NBC when I was a kid. That was it. How difficult it must've been to be successful back then. Now I look up and notice I'm watching Channel 504. Everyone is a star of some show.

The remote has saved my sanity.

If you're going to take a risk as a comic, make sure it's surrounded by other things that you're certain are funny.

When I was a kid, hearing something from the president was like hearing something from God. Now I hear the president and think, What is he, crazy?

My daughter thinks I'm a little more on the straight and narrow than I actually am.

If you like Albert Brooks, you'll like anything he does.

Comedy relieves you. A lot of times we think we're the only people bothered by certain things. Then you hear a comic say, "Don't you hate it when . . ." And it's "Oh, my God! Of course!"

Animated voice-over guys have it good.

A great director is someone who makes you feel like you're moving forward.

I'll tell you what does bother me: English actors doing American accents. I wouldn't want to see five Americans doing Monty Python.

Another thing that annoys me: They do the inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York. The museum is in Cleveland.

I remember hearing that when James Dean finished East of Eden, he sat in his dressing room and cried because the filming was ending. When they say, "That's a wrap for Mr. Willard," I say, "Oh, boy, thank you."

It seems to me you're always retired in this business. You know, after your last job.

When you get to a certain age, it's kind of the same thing. There's no new school to go to, no new teachers. There's some comfort in that.

What makes a successful marriage? Well, I've been married about forty years now. My wife and I went back to Hawaii in 2001 to renew our vows. It was a hippie thing. We found a woman-Reverend Jackie. Picked a spot out by the ocean where a guy was playing guitar. I think he was the best man or something.

My father died when I was young. He was out delivering Christmas packages like he did every year. My mom said that after he delivered the packages, people looked down at him from the buildings and he always turned around and waved, but he didn't that day. He got in his car, had a heart attack or something, and died. He was buried on Christmas Eve. I had no brothers and sisters, so I was all by myself. It really changes you. For the rest of your life you're always expecting something bad to happen.

I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich last night. It was the best sandwich I ever had. Just wonderful. White bread, American cheese, ham, tomato, mustard. Mary made it. Mary says I'll tell you virtually every meal I eat is the best I've ever had. She's right.

I've heard a lot of comedians were young when their parents divorced, or when a parent died or was killed. It forces you to have a sense of humor.

One of the great things about kids is, they haven't heard a lot of the old jokes. You can get away with the corny ones.

December 31, 2005, 11:00 PM

What I've Learned: Neil Young

Legend, 60, Woodside, California

By Cal Fussman

A best moment in music? Sometimes when I'm playing my guitar, I get to a point where it gets very cold and icy inside me. It's very refreshing. Every breath is like you're at the North Pole. Your head starts to freeze. Your inhalations are big -- more air than you ever thought there is starts pouring in. There's something magical about it. Sometimes when it happens, you wonder if you're gonna be okay. Can you handle it?

Yes, there was something good that came out of having polio as a kid. Walking.

The sound of a harmonica hits you directly. There's no language barrier.

The wisest person I ever met had to be my companion in the hospital a few months ago. I was recovering from complications after an operation to remove an aneurism in my brain. She was about eighty-five years old and maybe five feet tall. An old black lady from South Carolina. This young nurse wasn't really in touch with what she was doing, and the old lady would tell her how to do what she needed to do without telling her. She never talked down to her, just gave examples. I felt that this old woman must be deeply religious, but there was nothing forceful about her. I woke up one morning at a quarter to six and looked out the window. Fog was on the bridge outside the room, and I said, "Well, that's just beautiful." And she said: "Yes, it is." She turned toward me with this eighty-five-year-old face that didn't have a line on it, no strain, nothing, and she said: "So the master's not taking you. It's not your turn."

Courage is a mindless thing. People say, "Wow! How could you do that?" And you say, "How could I not do that?"

It's like having two eyes. You either look through one eye or you look through the other. Or you look through both of them. Sex is sex. Love is love. Love and sex is clear vision.

There's something peaceful about boxing. If you beat the hell out of a bag or go against a competitor, you and your reflexes will be so at one that you won't have time to think about anything else. You have to be totally yourself to box.

When I was six, I really didn't know what God was. But I did know about Sunday school. I was reading a lot about God, but I was bored. I couldn't wait to get out of Sunday school. God was secondary to the whole thing. But as time went by, I got more and more angry, to the point where I didn't like religion. Hate is a strong word. But I just kept getting angrier and angrier...until finally I wasn't angry anymore. I was just peaceful, because I thought: This is not fruitful for me. I rejected the whole thing and found peace in paganism. Jesus didn't go to church. I went way back before Jesus. Back to the forest, to the wheat fields, to the river, to the ocean. I go where the wind is. That's my church.

Epilepsy taught me that we're not in control of ourselves.

Most people think it's the other way around: that time is going faster and we're doing less. But really time seems to be going faster because we're cramming so much into it.

Our education system basically strives for normal -- which is too bad. Sometimes the exceptional is classified as abnormal and pushed aside.

One thing that has come out of having children with cerebral palsy is strength. At first it made me very angry. I was almost looking for a fight. I was always looking for someone to criticize my son in my presence. I would envision different scenarios in which I would become violent reacting to people's reactions to my children -- especially to my severely handicapped child. Eventually, he taught me that was not necessary. Just by being himself. By being a gift to us. He showed us how to have faith and belief and inner strength and to never give up. I look around and see people hurting themselves for no reason. Drinking too much. Taking drugs. Beating themselves up in some psychological way. That really bothers me, knowing that these people got everything they needed to succeed. All they have to do is believe in themselves and in the gifts they're wasting. And yet there are all these other people on the planet who have none of the gifts that are apparent. The gifts are all locked up inside, yet their spirits are so strong that they just keep on going. And I think: This person who has this spirit, why can't he have some of the outward gifts?

Maybe this is a little too thoughtful, but we're all just passengers in a way.

The best is approaching. I have everything -- well, not everything, but a lot of things that I've accumulated through my life experiences. It's easier to communicate through music than it ever has been before. It's easier to play. It's easier to sing. It's easier to write. Nothing is forced.

When my doctor discovered the aneurism in my brain, he said I'd had it for about a hundred years. He told me I'd had it for such a long time that I shouldn't worry about it...but that we'd have to get rid of it immediately. Yeah, that's Zen medicine. He's very wise. I trusted him completely. All the people who took care of me were absolutely the best at what they do -- even though there was a complication, a complication that has a one-in-twenty-seven-hundred chance of happening in my type of operation. They go into your brain through an artery in your thigh. Later, when I was out of the hospital, my leg exploded. I was out on the street and it just popped. My shoe was full of blood. I was in some serious trouble. I was about fifty yards from the hotel and I just made it. The ambulance came about ten minutes later. I don't know if I need to go into this. I don't know if the event is important. But the result was. That's what led me to that lady. The wisest person I've ever met.

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