Friday, November 7, 2008

Brushes with greatness

Noel gets to talk to famous people all this time. Just this week it's been Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield), Dennis Hopper, and almost John Updike (before he got sick).

But I don't usually get to talk to people who are not famous for being religious scholars or artists-in-residence at my university (Chuck Klosterman in eleven days!). However, circumstances conspired today to put me on the phone with Malcolm Gladwell, author of such bestsellers as The Tipping Point, Blink, and his latest, Outliers.

It's the first interview I've done for the A.V. Club, and as often happens with these phoners, it was kind of a mess to set up. We actually had two people standing by to do the interview at one point, covering all possible hours of the workday. But at the last minute, the publicist offered a time that fit with my schedule.

So I took Cady Gray to school, went to the office, worked for 90 minutes, then walked home with my sheet of questions tucked into my uncorrected proof copy of Outliers. Noel showed me what buttons to push on the digital recorder. I called at the appointed time, but got Gladwell's voice mail; left a message, and he called back five minutes later.

Doing a phone interview is really hard. You've got one eye on your recorder to make sure it's working. If the person's on a cell phone, sometimes it breaks up. I didn't realize that the battery doesn't hold a charge on our cordless phone in the back -- the one the recorder is hooked up to -- so ten minutes in, when it started beeping for low battery, I was glad Noel had brought the other handset into the room, but I didn't know whether I could turn the low-batt handset off without disrupting the recording.

Thanks to all those concerns, I wasn't able to be extremely attentive to what Gladwell was saying, although I did get in a few follow-up questions in addition to my prewritten ones. He was pleasant, appropriately talkative, and said some interesting things about applications of his outlier thesis. When I get the transcript back from the interns in Chicago, I'll be able to see whether it all makes sense.

I think I'll be able to do a better job on the next one. It's nervewracking to talk to famous people, though.


Eric Grubbs said...

I still use cassette tapes to record interviews, but I can completely understand your concern about the recorder working. Three interviews I did for Post were done while the battery was dying and I didn't even know it. What was recorded was audible, but it sounded like we were talking in a wind tunnel.

Adam Villani said...

Were you able to ask him about Blink?

Maureen said...

I love Malcolm Gladwell. I can't wait to read the interview!