Fascinating Interviews Cultural Icons Conducted with Themselves

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In an interview with himself — which you can read more about past the jump — The Doors frontman Jim Morrison noted that the self-interview is the “essence of creativity.” After compiling a series of fascinating conversations that some of the world’s biggest cultural icons had with themselves, we wholeheartedly agree. Does the idea of a self-interview seem too self-absorbed or controlling? Possibly — but we found that the format allowed for a lot of self-deprecating humor, artistic expression, and compelling self-reflection. In each case there seems to be a clear method to the madness. Past the break, watch and read as artists, writers, and musicians share their most personal thoughts on their career, search for answers to difficult questions, and charm us with their eccentricities. Did we miss your favorite self-interview? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments below.

Karl Lagerfeld

Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld conducted a quirky and charming interview with himself for online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter. In the short video, the Chanel powerhouse covers a variety of questions with his “twin,” revealing that he’s never happy with himself. He also cracks the whip on the secrets of success and shares his disgust for the term “muse.” We totally believe him when he says that being himself is not that difficult, and enjoyed his inclusion of a cliché stranded-on-a-desert-island question. Don’t ask him how to be chic, though. The designer says there are peasants in rags that do it without trying, and if you have to ask there’s a problem. +1 K.L.

David Byrne

Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme shot the 1984 Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense. The filmmaker thought the band’s shows were well-designed and cinematic, humorous, and saw an interesting narrative in frontman David Byrne’s “characters” that seemed to emerge with each new song. As a promo for the movie, Bryne conducted a hilarious and brilliant interview with himself, wearing his signature oversized suit and a host of fun disguises. In case you’re wondering why the singer wears the comically large duds, he explains it poetically: “I like symmetry and geometric shapes. I wanted my head to appear smaller … Music is very physical. And often the body understands it before the head.” Byrne shares that he doesn’t usually write love songs, because love is “kind of big.” What does he say to people who think he isn’t cut out to be a crooner? “The better a singer’s voice, the harder it is to believe what they’re saying.” Genius.

Stephen King

Horror writer Stephen King has conducted several self-interviews. This 2008 chat with himself covers upcoming book and film projects, politics (“I’ve got an Obama sticker on my car … “), what he’s reading (Robert Goddard and George Pelecanos), hamburgers, and his thoughts on Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” (“I liked the single … The taste of her cherry Chapstik [sic] is exactly right, the perfect detail … “). King even went so far to ask if he thought doing a self-interview was weird: “Not at all! Most fiction-writers are schizophrenic by nature. Which makes us crazy, I suppose, but it’s a profitable madness.”

Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov took control of an interview for The Paris Review, which wasn’t unusual for the author since he never conducted a talk without receiving and answering the questions in advance. (The above interview with Close Up shows him reading his answers to questions from index cards. Nabokov also wrote his novels on cards in small excerpts.) When Herbert Gold arrived to speak with the famed scribe in 1967 (having sent his questions in advance), Nabokov handed him an envelope with the finished interview. “Here is your interview. You may go home now,” he said to Gold. The results are fascinating and candid, discussing the familiar Nabokov topics like his time in exile. We’re also treated to his thoughts on Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita adaptation, which Nabokov finds “first-rate,” but didn’t follow his “directions and dreams.” The novelist also admits his secret flaw as a writer is his “absence of a natural vocabulary,” calls Ezra Pound a “total fake,” and regrets not coming to America sooner. Read the full conversation over here.

Jim Morrison

Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison is a must-have for any fan of The Doors singer — thanks to a collection of unpublished poems, drawings, photos, and random thoughts included in the book. The copy also contains an outspoken self-interview the vocalist conducted in the late ’60s/early ’70s. He reveals a deep love of poetry, hoping to ” … deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.” Morrison admits all his heroes are artists and writers, believes the interview is a new art form, and discusses poetry’s eternal appeal:

“As long as there are people, they can remember words and combinations of words. Nothing else can survive a holocaust but poetry and songs. No one can remember an entire novel. No one can describe a film, a piece of sculpture, a painting, but so long as there are human beings, songs and poetry can continue.”

Kurt Vonnegut

The Paris Review published a composite self-interview with counterculture icon and novelist Kurt Vonnegut in 1977. The actual interview took ten years and a total of four sessions to complete, with Vonnegut giving the chat “an extensive working over.” The Slaughterhouse-Five writer spends a long time describing his capture by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge with great detail. He also talks about his mother’s influence on him as a writer, amusingly defines a “twerp,” and discusses the lack of women in his writing. Vonnegut also asks a question that we’d like to know the answer to. When talking about his books being thrown out of school libraries, considered to be obscene, he wonders: “I’ve seen letters to small-town newspapers that put Slaughterhouse Five in the same class with Deep Throat and Hustler magazine. How could anybody masturbate to Slaughterhouse Five?”

Mark Twain

The famously eccentric Mark Twain conducted several self-interviews, including one for the Wheeling Register in 1882. Snarkily titled, “How the Innocent Humorist Simplified the Work of a Reporter,” the interview is best enjoyed first hand — but we will share that the American humorist delivered a few fun jabs on the subject of copyright laws. During his time, Twain struggled with dishonorable foreign publishers who purchased pirated editions of his work, sold them on the cheap, and denied him royalties. Twain eventually won the copyright protection he sought in Canada — due to a frequent offender based out of Toronto — and the author is pretty clear about how he feels on the matter in the Wheeler interview

Norman Mailer

Writer Normal Mailer interviewed himself in 1979 as a witty way to say goodbye. The Naked and the Dead author composed his own obituary, quoting himself and famous names (jokingly) — like fellow scribe Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, and former President Jimmy Carter. Mailer happily pokes fun at his life, mentioning his multiple marriages and back IRS payments. Read the full funny write-up below.

Novelist Shelved By Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer passed away yesterday after celebrating his fifteenth divorce and sixteenth wedding. “I just don’t feel the old vim,” complained the writer recently. He was renowned in publishing circles for his blend of fictional journalism and factual fiction, termed by literary critic William Buckley: Contemporaneous Ratiocinative Aesthetical Prolegomena. Buckley was consequentially sued by Mailer for malicious construction of invidious acronyms. “Norman does take himself seriously,” was Mr. Buckley’s reply. “Of course he is the last of those who do.”

At the author’s bedside were eleven of his fifteen ex-wives, twenty-two of his twenty-four children, and five of his seven grandchildren, of whom four are older than six of their uncles and aunts.

At present, interest revolves around the estate. Executors have warned that Mailer, although earning an average income of one and a half million dollars a year, has had to meet an annual overhead of two million, three hundred thousand, of which two million, two hundred and fifty thousand went in child support, alimony, and back IRS payments. It is estimated that his liabilities outweigh his assets by eight million, six hundred thousand.

When asked, on occasion why he married so often, the former Pulitzer Prize winner replied, “To get divorced. You don’t know anything about a woman until you meet her in court.”

At the memorial service, passages from his favorite literary works, all penned by himself, were read, as well as passages from prominent Americans.

His old friend, Truman Capote, said, “He was always so butch. I thought he’d outlive us all.”

Gore Vidal, his famous TV and cocktail-party adversary, complained sadly, “Norman did lack the wit that copes. I would add that he had the taste of Snopes, but why advertise William Faulkner, who’s responsible for everything godawful in American penmanship—one can’t call it letters.”

Andy Warhol said, “I always thought Norman kept a low profile. That’s what I liked about him so much.”

Gloria Steinem stated: “A pity. He was getting ready to see the light.”

Jimmy Carter, serving his fifth consecutive term as president, replied in answer to a question at his press conference this morning, “It is my wife’s and I regret that we never did get to invite Norman Miller [sic] to the White House, but we will mourn his passing. He did his best to improve the state of American book-writing and reading, which we all need and applaud.”