August 13, 2021

I worked as an arts journalist for 25 years, and my job required me to spend a lot of time interviewing famous and emerging artists. A curious aspect of the profession is that while I remember vividly almost every encounter with a celebrity even decades later, I’m pretty sure that most of them never thought twice about me after our meeting. Case in point: in 1991 I had the opportunity to spend a fun couple of hours interviewing Madonna for The Advocate at the time when her documentary film Truth or Dare was just coming out. It was a ballsy interview – The Advocate called it “The X-Rated Interview” – and it earned her some juicy attention in the press. But that was one moment in a long career of receiving juicy attention in the press, whereas doing that interview changed my life. In the pre-internet days, my agent was able to sell the piece to the L.A. Times Syndicate, which resulted in its being reprinted in 11 languages in 19 countries around the world. I made a small fortune for one afternoon’s work, and it enabled me to spend a couple of years diving deep into personal-growth workshops and retreats.

I’m thinking about this after watching Susan Lacy’s Netflix documentary Inventing David Geffen. In 1985 I spent a week in Los Angeles as a 30-year-old reporter observing Geffen for a New York Times Magazine profile. I arrived thinking I would be lucky to get an hour here and an hour there to interview him. But he swept me up and took me along on a series of adventures, giving me tremendous access to his life and his business – from watching the rough cut of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (which his movie company produced) in his home screening room to attending the Los Angeles opening of Cats (which he co-produced on Broadway) to flying Elaine May to Seattle on the president of Warner Bros’ private jet so she could help Herb Gardner with the out-of-town tryout of his Broadway-bound play I’m Not Rappaport. I spent hours sitting with Geffen in his deskless office, watching him as he opened his mail directly over the wastebasket and yakked with artists and dealmakers on the phone. We talked about everything, and he shared many entertaining and provocative anecdotes he labeled “not for this story,” including details about his sexuality, years before he came out publicly as a gay man in 1992. He intended to dazzle me, and he succeeded. I wrote what I still consider one of my best celebrity profiles about him. But on the plane home from that week in Los Angeles, I had an emotional meltdown. I perceived in Geffen an incredibly clear, sharply defined personality – he’d been through lots of therapy (in the documentary he says he saw his psychiatrist every day for three years) and had done a lot of work on himself – while by contrast I felt fuzzy around the edges, like a blurry figure in a photograph. When the piece came out, he called to thank me – “You’re a peach,” he said – while appreciating the sly way I referred to his sexuality without outing him. And then…I’m sure he never thought about me again, while the experience sent me into therapy to see if I could gain a fraction of the clarity I witnessed in David Geffen.

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