By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Who do you like now?
There are very few people I read now, because there are very few people who write with that kind of energy. I‘ll tell you who I really like is the New Criterion poetry critic, William Logan. He’s every bit as good as Randall Jarrell was. He takes on everybody. He‘s terrific. I like Dave Hickey a lot. He did a tribute to the Carpenters that I thought was one of the great pieces of criticism I’d read. There aren‘t many others. The thing about all those Jewish hipsters was none of them were careerists.
You have a reputation for being vitriolic.
I think it’s totally overblown. A lot of that reputation was based on stuff I wrote 15 years ago at The Village Voice. When you‘re writing for The Village Voice, you can throw uppercuts in a way. You’re taking on bigger institutions and bigger writers. But at The New Yorker you could really kill somebody‘s career, and the same thing at Vanity Fair. I’ve always thought of myself much more as like a comedian.
Speaking of The Voice, you did an interview with New York Press recently in which you were very critical of what was going on there politically when you left.
By the time I left The Voice, there really was a political filter, and if you had a certain politics you were not going to get in. The only person who escaped that was Stanley Crouch, but Crouch is black. And I‘m not sure how conservative he was when he first came in, because he was mostly a jazz writer. But Stanley would deliberately say these incredibly provocative, anti-P.C. things that other writers could not get away with, but he could. And then they got rid of Stanley when he popped some other writer in the mouth. But then -- forget it. It wasn’t just that you couldn‘t be conservative, they had to know where your politics were coming from. They really did. They did not want some independent who might fool them.
I don’t like all the writers they use particularly, but it was very smart of Salon, which was clearly pro-Clinton, to let a David Horowitz or Camille Paglia write for them. I cannot tell you how [monotonous] the standard drumbeat on Camille Paglia is. “Why do they run Camille Paglia . . . I hate Camille Paglia . . .” The fact is, Camille‘s column gets a lot of hits and Camille makes a lot of sense. Camille has an incredible strain of common sense.
I think that’s what people hate, actually -- common sense. That‘s what rankles.
Yeah, it really rankles! They want her to be more of a lunatic. But what I notice is that it isn’t enough that they disagree with her column. They don‘t want it in there to begin with. See, that was the kind of thing I hated at The Voice, this thing of a “We don’t want that spectrum to be heard.” It affected the paper in a lot of ways. Even now, one of the things that‘s hilarious about The Voice is the way people who don’t even write about politics will stick in the Bush-Cheney references just to show that “Hey, I‘m not sold! You can’t make me bend to the hegemony of . . .” It makes for a real dreariness. Salon is much better for having different voices. I wish more magazines would do that. The thing is, I don‘t even think they’re afraid of their readers. I think it‘s all internal dissent. I think they’re afraid of people in the office having hissy fits. I did a joke in The Voice, and all these people circulated a petition to protest my joke in The Voice.
You made a joke in the office?
No, no, it was a joke in my column. I was talking about a certain television personality, and I said something like, “I don‘t need this person screaming at me about my inadequacies. That’s what girlfriends are for!” Which I thought was very mild, because really it‘s a joke about me, saying I’m the sort of person who frustrates girlfriends. And I said, “You can write anything you want in terms of petitions, but do you realize how absurd it‘s going to be if you run a letter in The Voice protesting a joke with 18 or 20 names attached to it?” That’s the kind of thing you do about, you know, “We deplore the bombing of the Palestinian townships . . .” You don‘t do it for a joke.
But at The Voice this tension would build up, and a lot of the feuds that would break out were not about the subject itself, they really were office animosities that had been building for years. Nat Hentoff was the focus because the feminists hated him, and Hentoff would goad them sometimes, when he wrote about abortion and things like that. So there would be these big battles in The Voice that would seem to be about a particular issue, but they weren’t. They were really about the fact that they wanted Hentoff out. And I think that‘s why a lot of publications are very cowardly. They don’t want that interoffice friction. You need certain publications to have almost a benign dictator at the top, to say, “I‘m going to open up the paper to different voices, and if you don’t like it you can leave. But don‘t tell me that so-and-so has no right to be in the paper.”