Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is it the Question, or the Answer?

I think I'm a pretty good interviewer, but even I recognize that the quality of the interview is based largely on the quality of the subject. Or, barring that, at least the mood of the subject. I've interviewed many famous people, and some of them are dull as all get out. At the same time, I've interview a lot of not so famous people who have been great.

In both cases it's good to know what you're talking about, which is why Terry Gross of "Fresh Air" fame bugs me so much. She's such an incurious interviewer, rarely digging below the surface of her subject even when her subject demands it, and especially even though the tone of her voice implies she's doing digging when she's not.

I heard a pair of interviews from her today that each feature a massive clunker. The first was with the late saxophonist Frank Morgan (who died Friday), where she stated the dominant forms of pop music these days to be "funk" and "rock." Huh?

The other was with film critic David Edelstein (one of my favorites) where Gross revealed she had no idea the current WGA strike covered both TV and movie writers. She was under the impression only TV writers were on strike, so firmly I guess that she had to ask "really?" two more times. Duh.

Most interviewers would kill for her subjects, which include a who's-who of arts and culture figures. I would hope that should anyone ever get a shot at speaking with subjects of the caliber that Gross typically snags that they would try just a little, teeny, tiny bit harder. Of course, the answers the very patient subjects give are often (if you pardon the pun) engrossing. But I wish Gross didn't leave such gems to chance and instead, after all these years, did a better job directing the conversation and not relying so much on so many predictable interview avenues.

Just had to get that off of my chest.

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