By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For the last few years, Taki‘s only American outlet (he’s much better known in Britain than here) has been New York Press, where, until recently, he edited a stand-alone section called Taki‘s Top Drawer. This summer, he left the alternative weekly in order to launch his new venture with Buchanan. Russ Smith, Press’ owner, says he was sorry to see him go. Not only was Taki‘s section popular with readers, but Taki himself was a personal favorite with the staff.
“Taki’s a great guy, a great fellow. He‘s remarkably fit, and a superb athlete who looks 15 years younger than his age,” Smith says. “To me, he’s the Keith Richards of journalism, because he really does drink enormously. He‘ll stay out until 4 in the morning, then get up at 7 and play tennis. Then he can meet you for lunch in a suit and tie, and you’d never guess that he‘d been out all night. He’s a terrific storyteller, a real gentleman in the old-fashioned European style, and a lot of fun to be around -- a lot of fun.”
At its best, Top Drawer was one of the liveliest newspaper sections in the country, featuring the philosophical musings of Jim Holt, the social mishaps of Toby Young, and the political analysis, or satire in some cases, of Taki, George Szamuely, Scott McConnell, Charles Glass and others. There was also the occasional contribution by Claus von Bulow and the even more ghoulish-sounding Clement von Franckenstein (actually a Hollywood actor). Given TAC‘s tiny circulation (15,000 versus New York Press’ 115,000), I ask if Taki isn‘t making a mistake by changing gigs.
“I wanted to have some kind of voice with people who count,” Taki replies. “I don’t mean it to sound snobby. It‘s nice to be read by someone who might draft a law or something. And that’s what we‘re doing. We’re targeting those people. We‘re sending it to every fucking policy wonk in Washington. I’ve had my run, I‘ve had 35 years as a journalist, and now I want a little bit more gravitas. I’m not going to be writing about how I got drunk and fell on the floor and chased some pussy.”
Still, even if Taki isn‘t writing about his drunken exploits for TAC (he saves them for his Spectator column), he doesn’t yet sound like the typical Washington drone. Far from it. By TAC‘s second issue he was already in full draconian mode, suggesting that sports stars who beat up women should be flogged rather than fined. There was more talk of thrashings two columns later, when he recalled how after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, he and Buchanan were not overly moved by the novelist’s plight. “If memory serves,” Taki wrote, “Pat suggested that the Anglo-Indian go to Nicaragua for help, Rushdie having advertised the Sandinistas as the best government on the planet. My suggestion was a good beating by the faithful, perhaps even a kneecapping.”
In person, Taki sounds a lot less reactionary than he does in print. (“I do that to piss off politically correct journalists,” he says when I bring up his remarks about flogging.) Nor does he see eye to eye with Buchanan on some of the social issues, like abortion, though he is very tactful about it. “Look, I disagree with him,” he says, “and in view of the fact that I haven‘t been a saint as far as that’s concerned at various times in my life, I‘m not going to be a hypocrite about it. But you know, he’s very devout, and I respect that.”
On many topics, Taki says that he and Buchanan are “completely” on the left now, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Like his co-editor, he thinks America is better off not spreading itself around the world, though probably for reasons that have more to do with aesthetics and Euro snobbery than with Buchanan‘s non-interventionist philosophy. Americans, in his opinion, just don’t have what it takes to be good imperialists. “When the English went abroad, they went native,” he says, puffing on a cigarette. “They fell in love with the climate, with the boys . . . Americans go somewhere, they open a McDonald‘s. I think they’re much better off here than anywhere else.”
Talking to Taki is a bit like conversing with the verbal equivalent of a machine gun -- anecdotes, one-liners, curses and theories are fired off in response to every question. When I ask him if the magazine is willing to endorse the development of alternative sources of energy, he launches into a tirade against Saudi Arabian princes (“camel drivers, as I call them, I refuse to use the word princes”); SUVs (“If they stop people carrying guns, why don‘t they stop people driving almost lethal automobiles? God, they drive me mad”); and, bizarrely, cigarette boats and water skis off the South of France. (“In the old days, you had a yacht to get away from the huddled masses. Now you can’t, because they have these goddamn water skis! It‘s maddening! You can’t swim anymore or you‘ll be beheaded. I mean, you need to go up to Alaska to find peace.”)