Wednesday, June 6, 2007

You won't see me

After I posted my quick appreciation of Paul McCartney's new album title last week, I opened a brand-new issue of The New Yorker and found John Colapinto's article "When I'm Sixty-Four," a study of "Paul McCartney then and now."

A better subtitle would have been "How I spent a week wasting Paul McCartney's time." The story contains a few interesting revelations -- I didn't know Sir Paul's company, MPL Communications, owns the rights to Guys and Dolls, for instance. But for the most part it is dull, shapeless and devoid of insight. There's no real criticism of his music, either then or now, and certainly no attempt is made to synthesize his body of work. That would make a really interesting article, don't you think? I'll tell you what doesn't make a really interesting article: exhaustively cataloging every encounter Macca has with an autograph-seeking fan during your time together. If all that detail added up to something -- if Colapinto used it to make some point about Paul as public figure -- it might make sense, but no, it stands alone, as if the very fact that Paul gets recognized a lot were newsworthy. At one point a fan compliments him on Pipes of Peace, and I thought, Ooh, interesting choice. Maybe this will be the segue into a discussion of Paul's long and varied solo career. Or maybe the author will contrast this episode with the earlier one where Paul was asked to sign a copy of Beatles 1, to discuss the breadth of his fame and following. But none of that ever happened.

I first realized I might be wasting my time when I got to the "describing the subject's physical appearance" paragraph and it began, "McCartney's hair, which he admits to dyeing..."

Admits to dyeing? The man's hair was gray for more than a decade; it's not a matter of "admitting" to anything. This is like saying, "Starr's mustache, which he admits to having grown..." It might make for interesting reading if you discussed his decision to go back to brown, and whether or not it had anything to do with his decision to marry a wife several decades his junior. Or if you discussed the alleged plastic surgery he does not admit to having.

But Colapinto does not do any of that. Instead, he focused on asking dumb questions and then including them in the article. For example, Paul is approached by a fan brusquely seeking an autograph (the first of many), and as he walks away, Colapinto reports, "I remarked that the man could have been another Mark David Chapman." If I had the chance to chat with Paul McCartney, and I said something like that, I would buckle instantly under the weight of my humiliation. Like Chris Farley interviewing McCartney: "Stupid! Stupid!" I certainly wouldn't tell the world about it in The New Yorker. I would also be too embarrassed to write this sentence: "I suggested to McCartney that it's difficult to know whom to blame for Ono's presence at the [Let It Be] sessions -- Lennon, who brought her along, or Ono, who stayed when she was obviously unwelcome." Did you now. I am sure Paul thanked you for that insight.

The piece is full of the sort of details (nine pages' worth, not counting photos) you might find interesting if you haven't already heard the story about how "Yesterday" was originally, provisionally titled "Scrambled Eggs" -- in other words, if you're not at all interested in the Beatles. But if you're looking for analysis, look elsewhere.

The article's not available online, but if you feel like killing 6 minutes and 40 seconds, you can listen to an mp3 of Colapinto discussing "what it was like to interview Paul McCartney" at The New Yorker's website. I think I'll pass -- I've wasted enough time on this already.


Unknown said...

As the guy who wrote the McCartney article, I read Mollie's comments with interest. Mollie wants more musings on Paul's body of work. Can you imagine anything more dull? Have you ever tried to wade through all the critical analysis of Beatles and McCartney music? Does the world want or need another syllable devoted to some dipstick's opinions about...Pipes of Peace?!?!?! Ahhh, Mollie, Mollie--if only YOU could have been the one to spend time with McCartney! We'd know so much more about what YOU think of Pipes of Peace! In fact, I want to know everything you think about McCartney's music. I don't WANT to know McCartney's thoughts when a flushed and sweating fan who's been lying in wait for him for hours crashes through his personal space. This in no way would conjure up memories of the murder of John Lennon--and even if it did, the appropriate thing to say to Paul at that point would, clearly, be, "Have I told you about my reaction to...Pipes of Peace"?
What a missed opportunity. If only bloggers ran the actual publishing world!

Unknown said...

Hold on a sec. More from me. The guy who wrote the McCartney piece in the NYer. Just read Mollie's "appreciation" of the TITLE of Paul's new album. I repeat, THE TITLE. Did she buy the album? Listen to the album? Have anything to say about the album? Nope. Mollie, you really are something else. I'm getting to like you better and better.
As for my re-telling of the often-told tale of "Yesterday" beginning with the nonsense lyrics about scrambled eggs: any true Beatles fan would know that the point of re-telling that story was that Paul has added vital new info--something of which he'd only lately been reminded: that the actual lyrics to Yesterday were written while on a 3 hour car trip from Lisbon to southern Portugal with Jane Asher. A never told tale that might seem hopelessly recondite, but in fact Beatles nuts want and need to know every tiny detail of this nature and if (as I believe) John and Paul will one day assume the proportions of ol' Will Shakespeare (if they haven't already), then even as small a detail as this about the most-covered popular song in history is of import. Mollie, that lovable, hapless dumb-ass (I say that with affection) misses all this. Just as she fails to point out the unprecedented glimpse my article gives of Paul at work on a guitar concerto in his Sussex studio, as well as the exceedingly rare glimpse inside his London home (Paul was so freaked about the access he gave me that I had to field several phone calls from him after I returned to New York). But you know what? I used to think that the Sussex studio and London home stuff was just EXACTLY what true fans of Paul wanted (and I've had hundreds of emails to that effect), but...funnily, I've now seen the error of my ways and I realize, through Mollie's agency, that I should have left that stuff out and concentrated on outlining my critical musings on Pipes of Peace.
Damn, this blogging stuff is fun! You just kind of type away...

Mollie said...

Hello, John, and thanks for your thoughts! Assuming it's really you, of course, and not an imposter. And if it is really you, let me say how much I enjoyed your article on the Piraha. I even passed it on (and I try not to do that too often, because I respect others' right to keep their homes free of back issues of The New Yorker, however it might conflict with my own chosen lifestyle).

Anyway: I very selfishly agree with you in that I do think it's a shame I wasn't the one hanging out with McCartney, but that's mainly because I'd get a big kick out of it. As for the article, perhaps it's a matter of taste, but I think a portrait of Paul as defined by his work, or an attempt to synthesize his solo career, would be more interesting than what you wrote. Maybe the world doesn't need more commentary on his music, but there are lots of things the world doesn't need that people like me enjoy reading anyway (blogs like this one, for example), and artistic analysis, even (maybe especially) where it's entirely uncalled for, is one of the things I like best about The New Yorker. In any case, I'd say the world is even less in need of another retelling of the "Scrambled Eggs" story, or any of McCartney's other standard interview anecdotes and answers.

I would also have been happy with a portrait of Paul as public persona. I would even have been happy to hear his thoughts on living a public life. But it seems to me there's a difference between hearing his reaction to the situation, and hearing his reaction to your mentioning John Lennon's assassin. (Especially since it was more of a dismissal than a reaction, at least as you reported it.) And no, I'm not all that interested in hearing your thoughts on Pipes of Peace (or sharing my thoughts, which actually don't extend much beyond "interesting choice"), but it would be interesting (at least to me) to hear Paul's thoughts on relating to such a broad fan base. Does he like it when people tell him their favorite movie is Give My Regards to Broad Street? Would he prefer signing Flaming Pie to signing Beatles 1? Does he even make the distinction? Those are the questions I'd ask, I think, because it's not obvious to me what he would say in response.

In short, I think you could write an interesting piece that focused on Paul's fame, recognizability, etc., but I don't think you did.

I'm sorry you didn't like my response to Paul's latest album title. If The New Yorker wants to send along a copy of the album, I'll gladly give it a listen and offer my thoughts on that as well. But I've bought the last several, and based on that experience, I now reserve the right to keep my money and enjoy the title alone.

Unknown said...

But you see, Mollie, the article of course IS about Paul "as a public persona." But it achieves this in a manner that eschews windy pontification of the kind (no insult intended) that dominates the so-called "blogosphere." The story shows rather than tells, by witnessing McCartney (obviously in good-boy-impress-the-journalist-mode early in our meetings) dutifully signing autographs and being "good" to his fans; and then we finally get to the end of the story where he's fed up with it and politely but firmly blows the woman off. Many readers saw all of this as an indication of what a grinding slow-death nightmare it would be to be as famous as McCartney, to have no private life, etc. You, instead, wanted an essay on the subject. And that's why you're a blogger and not a writer. And, if you can handle hearing this, it's why you're barely a reader. You should also understand that the New Yorker is divided into sections; there are feature stories, like the kind I write, and there is the critics, at the back; I do not and never will be a critic. I don't like them. They're usually up-their-ass on precisely the matters you and I have been discussing here.

Unknown said...

Please excuse dubious grammar in the last post--I was simultaneously trying to chat with an on-line tech dude from AOL.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least he admitted it...

Anonymous said...

Rather than bloviate with the rest, let's just say that I would agree that the gist of the McCartney piece wouldn't even make a very good Talk of the Town item. Not only was it an unenlightening and a dull read, but it also seemed to be a squandered opportunity.
But then, over the past few days, I noticed that McCartney gave interviews and photo ops to several other publications and realized that, duh, he's just plugging his new album and, more importantly, his new record label, now that he's stepped away from EMI. It's all marketing. Which is fine, but it needs to be recognized for what it is. How else can you explain why McCartney would allow someone to tag along while he walks around his neighborhood? It was the easiest way to make the writer think he was getting "quality time." This is one of those instances in which The New Yorker's arrogance betrays its naivete.

Anonymous said...

"I was packing to leave and Paul asked me if I had a guitar," says Welch. "He'd apparently been working on the lyrics as he drove to Albufeira form the airport at Lisbon. He borrowed my guitar and started playing the song we all now know as 'Yesterday'."

McCartney wrote some of the lyrics during a 5 hour car trip from Lisbon to Albufeira (in Algarve, south of Portugal), on the 27th of May, 1965, when he was on vacation with Jane Asher. The villa where Paul and Jane stayed was owned by Shadows' guitarist Bruce Welch. Bruce said that when he was packing to leave, Paul asked him if he had a guitar because (Paul) was working on the lyrics since the airport. Said Bruce: "He borrowed my guitar and started playing the song we all now know as 'Yesterday'.

McCartney said the breakthrough with the lyrics came during a trip to Portugal in May 1965:
"I remember mulling over the tune 'Yesterday', and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea ... da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and Yes-ter-day, that's good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It's easy to rhyme those a's: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there's a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and 'b' again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it."[4] ”
On 27 May 1965, McCartney and Asher flew to Lisbon for a holiday in the Algarve, and he borrowed an acoustic guitar from Bruce Welch—whose house they were staying in—and completed the work on "Yesterday".[5]

Anonymous said...

See, this is why I love the "blogosphere": You can take a traditional writer's work, politely criticize it, and have that writer respond to your criticism in a manner that is ever so much more fascinating than the original piece in question.

Assuming "John" is the same John who wrote the article, it would appear he looks down on bloggers such as Molly from his position on high. One can only hope that such arrogance may be just a kneejerk reaction to the growing access the public has to hold our loftier media types in check. Hopefully, the initial defensive reaction will turn to recognition of the bigger issue here, one that pushes them to think beyond their publishers in what they write, and actually acknowledge their paying readership, as well.

If John is indeed THE John, will he spend more time and effort considering his audience and his interview when he next writes for the New Yorker? One could actually consider the blogosphere a learning tool, if they were so inclined.

Anonymous said...

"John" doth protest too much, methinks.

Anonymous said...

Does any one else find it more than ironic that the one dishing out the churlish, ad hominem invective in this fisticuffs is not the blogger, nor one of the web denizens commenting, but the high and mighty New Yorker writer?

Amy Wilson said...

I think "John" is undermining his own arguments here... if bloggers aren't "real" writers, and beneath consideration, then why has he spent so much time here firing off churlish responses? Based on the Huffington blog post, I don't think it will have paid off in the way that he intended.

Anonymous said...

The McCartney article had been on my to-read pile until this exchange. Now, having read it, I daresay Mollie is right. The article lacks a true narrative arc -- a sense that the writer, having accumulated all this raw material, has transformed it into a *story*, the kind of thing that makes a profile in the New Yorker different from an interview in GQ. Rather, it reads more like a transcript written by some third party who was present when the interview took place: "I asked him if . . . ."; "I returned to the subject of . . . ."; "I mentioned that . . . ."; "He had suggested that . . . ." The feeling I'm left with after reading the piece is not, "What an interesting, complex fellow Paul McCartney is," but "The writer sure does want to make sure that we know that he -- HE -- got to spend time with Paul McCartney."

And perhaps that's the reason for the vitriol in the comments here. If the writer's goal had been to produce the first feeling, his reaction to Mollie's post might have been, "I'm really disappointed, because McCartney *is* this wonderfully complex individual, and I'm sorry I failed to convey that fully." But because there's so much of the writer in this piece, he sees Mollie's post not as a criticism of his craft, but as a criticism of him personally.

All very interesting, to say the least . . . .

Anonymous said...

I'm going to bet that this John is actually Ashton Kutcher, and you have somehow been wanly PUnk'D

Although I have to say, hearing Paul McCartney tell fart jokes is about ten times more interesting a premise than any of the ones described here.

Q: What do you call a dog with wings?
A: Linda McCartney


Little Miss Nomad said...

I'm not entirely sure why John would feel the need to respond to your criticism, which you are more than entitled to, in such an overtly aggressive way. Anyhow, I just wanted to add that there is little in celebrity-interview articles that is more hideous than a writer inserting themselves into the article to indicate how close writer and subject are, and what fascinating insights the writer has had into the celebrity's life, and that Vanity Fair and now the New Yorker should stoop to something so obviously of US Weekly caliber is depressing.

Kate said...

Yes, yes, John's piece is a feature article, not a piece of criticism. We get that.

And yet, don't Malcolm Gladwell's features *frequently* try to establish a paradigm or at least, boil down many disparate pieces of information into a few central questions?

Adam Gopnik's writings on Paris (also feature articles when they first appeared) also showcase both the reporting of facts and an attempt to synthesize that information into some kind of over-arching observation.

In any event, I dearly hope that John will draw one object lesson from this exchange. To wit: A New Yorker writer has no place chastising a blogger, any more than Aaron Sorkin should have mocked his online fans on "West Wing." It is unseemly for the famous and the successful* to smack down members of the general public, no matter how disrespectful.

*Does writing for The New Yorker still bestow fame and success? I'm not sure, but let's give John the benefit of the doubt.

Anonymous said...

John, here's the thing.

Read Mollie's post again. See how she is commenting on, and criticising, your article. Her focus is on this particular piece of writing, not you as a person. That's why she keeps using 'the story' or 'the article' or 'the piece' or 'it' as constructions:

the story contains a few interesting revelation...for the most part it is dull, shapeless and devoid of might make sense, but no, it stands alone...the piece is full of the sort of details (nine pages' worth, not counting photos) you might find interesting if you haven't already heard

That's because she hates the piece, not you.

Even when she does refer to you directly, her criticisms are about how you wrote, or approached, this particular piece of writing:

But Colapinto does not do any of that. Instead, he focused on asking dumb questions and then including them in the article.

Now, compare Mollie's criticism of your article with your ad hominem response to her:

You, instead, wanted an essay on the subject. And that's why you're a blogger and not a writer. And, if you can handle hearing this, it's why you're barely a reader. You should also understand that the New Yorker is divided into sections; there are feature stories, like the kind I write, and there is the critics, at the back; I do not and never will be a critic. I don't like them. They're usually up-their-ass on precisely the matters you and I have been discussing here.

John, can you see that you dismiss her as a 'writer' and as a 'reader' - and attempt to diminish all bloggers - instead of focusing on her piece, as she did on yours? See how you use 'you' a lot, instead of 'your post' or 'your criticism'?

In the blogosphere, which you so roundly dismiss, this is known as being a 'wanker'.

I suggest that you spend more time reading rigorous and professional blogs, gain some respect for the work that great writers do in the blogosphere, and approach bloggers - and writers - like Mollie with less condescension and bile.

Your kind of ad hominem rant at Mollie and, apparently, the entire blogosphere does nothing for your public image. Rather, it makes you look a bit like a WATB. If you don't know what that is, you can always look it up on the Google.

Your Pal Pete said...

It's hard for me to look at the exchange and think of the emergence of Punk Rock and how it relates to the "Blogosphere". Old media types sniping against the blog-based upstarts, criticizing them because anybody (including me) can blog to their hearts content. Insight is insight regardless of who gives it. If real humor or intelligence is delivered through the push button publishing of blogs(like the 3 chords of punk), it doesn't matter much to the ultimate receiver.
If it ultimately causes "real" journalists to become a bit more humble and shakes them from their lazy complacency, than so much the better.

MartiniCocoa said...

I read the article too and thought it was dull but enjoyed what insight it provided into Paul McCartney's life.

But I'm enjoying John's hardcore meltdown over honest criticism even more.

And Mollie, you are writer!

Don't listen to the all important I write for the New Yorker guy.

Anonymous said...

Kinda serendipitous that the guy's name ends in "pinto"--give him a teensy little smack on the behind and he explodes.

Anonymous said...

I was struck by the post which included the point-on assessment that "The article lacks a true narrative arc -- a sense that the writer, having accumulated all this raw material, has transformed it into a *story...*" True dat. Such neutral, even sterile writing throughout that McCartney piece. How strange that, as another poster noted, the profile could be littered with needless first-person insertions--and *still* achieve the distant, institutionalized voice that marks TNY at its worst. I actually found myself berating the story/writer aloud as I read: "Dude, how can you be so weirdly uninvested when the subject is Paul Freaking McCartney?" (Weirder still: the acid exuberance of John's postings here--the way the writing achieves color and voice, and reveals character, far more than any of the writing in his McCartney piece.) The first poster I quoted was right--much of the piece's limpness was due to the fact that it was lazily structured. Hell, it was *structureless*, an unfiltered notebook-emptying. And such a lost opportunity, since it will be a long time before any mag gets another real bite at that apple, if ever. I so wished Alex Ross--IMHO, the best classical music writer of this generation--had written this story. Anyone here who's read his profile of the great contemporary composer John Adams or the sublime profile/eulogy/analysis/love letter he issued last year about the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson may well share my feeling. If he could have brought the same mind and heart to McCartney that he brought to Adams and Lieberson...

But where was I? Here's where: At the point where the sentence I quoted at the top of this post continues: "... the kind of thing that makes a profile in the New Yorker different from an interview in GQ."

Gotta give you my take on that, friend: If GQ had gotten intimate access to McCartney, and the assigned writer had turned in a draft that read like the piece that ultimately ran in TNY, that draft would have undergone brutal revision--and anywhere from four to six re-drafts--before reaching even the first galley stage. And if after first and second galleys, and first and second proofs, the piece still hadn't acquired that "true narrative arc -- a sense that the writer, having accumulated all this raw material, has transformed it into a *story...,*" that piece would have been killed.

I say this confidently because I've been writing for GQ for twelve years, and have routinely (and gladly) experienced such muscular interventions, as has every other long-form writer there. (One piece of mine went through, count 'em, seven tectonic revisions before being killed.) I also say it with an edge of envy and irritation, because it so happens that GQ *did* try to get the kind of intimate access to McCartney for its June issue that TNY got, and for the same reasons. And the reason we didn't get that access was that, well--you know where this is going, right?--The New Yorker, with its peerless pedigree, got it.

So indulge me while I stand up for a moment for me and mine...

It always disappoints and surprises me when GQ is regarded/dismissed as "just" a fashion/celebrity mag. Fact is, since the early 1990s, GQ has produced some of the most daring, exuberant, idiom-bending writing ever to appear in *any* magazine, of any era. The so-called "bird's-eye" approach to non-fiction writing, in which a writer hovers far above the material, cool and omniscient, clad in a white lab coat, ever striving to create the appearance of "objectivity" (whatever that is)--is anathema at GQ. Instead, the unspoken philosophy (actually, it's spoken, and often) is to roll up one's sleeves and say, "Fuck it, I've got a take, and I'm gonna bring it with as much muscle as I can, so that the reader doesn't just know the story after reading it, but *feels* it." Put simply, the idea is to seek that "arc." This approach has created glorious triumphs and equally glorious, self-parodying failures. But can I point out some outstanding examples of this in GQ in the very form where talking about (profiles of musicians)? These pieces will freak you out, break your heart, and cause you to rethink your idea of what it is to be a human being: Elizabeth Gilbert's profile of Hank Williams III; Chris Heath's profile of Merle Haggard; Tom Junod's profile of P.J. Harvey; John Jeremiah Sullivan's profile of Axl Rose.

READ THOSE PIECES. Not for my sake, but for yours. And Imagine (capitalization intentional) that kind of spirit applied to Paul McCartney over the course of 10,000 words.

And for what it's worth, Mollie, I think you write beautifully, with equal parts balls and grace.

Mollie said...

Thanks, Liverboy! You won't find me dismissing GQ out of hand, for exactly the reasons you mention. Like you, I think it's good when a piece has a take on its subject -- even if I disagree with the author's POV (give me 10,000 words on how, after spending a week in his company, you came to the conclusion that Paul McCartney is actually from Mars; if the writing is solid I'll read it beginning to end). And like you, I read this profile thinking, "If only Alex Ross had gotten this assignment!" But then, he's just a critic, so what do we know.

Incidentally, I'd love to know who you actually are, so I can read your stuff! I think I'd like it. Email me (restricted dot view at yahoo) if you care to unmask yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hi Liverboy,

Just wanted to apologize for unfairly maligning GQ -- it was a snap reference intended as a proxy, but given that I haven't picked up an issue in some time, obviously an uninformed one. But you've inspired me to take another look.

Anonymous said...

No need to apologize, Mr. Anonymous! I don't get offended by people tagging GQ as a "mere" fashion/celeb book. Fashion *is* our bread and butter, after all, and we're often as guilty as any other glossy of ass-kissing celeb coverage. Then again, GQ has rightesouly whacked not just a few cover subjects in its history. Just the tip of the iceberg: Alan Richman--who, it's fairly uncontroversial to say, is the finest food writer on the planet. His piece, "Fifteen Mumbling Minutes with Robert De Niro," is taught in every journalism school in the country. And then there was his cover story on Steven Seagal, which prompted its subject to go on Letterman and accuse Richman of an unrequited homosexual crush, thereby proving himself every bit the deluded asshole Richman had said he was in the story...

No, as I said before, I'm just disappointed when GQ doesn't get its props--and am now delighted that you'll go and take another look.

Back to our original thread, though. Two things to add.

First thing: I couldn't help noticing how Colapinto's condescension toward bloggers (you people who can barely read, much less write) eerily echoes that of the classical musician he describes in his McCartney profile--that mincing fop who refused to join the hand-clapping at the "Hey, Jude" recording session because, as he sniffed, "I was not trained to clap."

Trying uttering those words with a stiff back and Gielgudian indignation--it's fun!

Second thing: a self-explanatory quote attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Franz Schubert. Allegedly delivered to a gathering of musicians in a Viennese coffee shop. I first encountered it, ironically enough, in an Alex Ross column:

""I am an artist! I am Schubert, whom the whole world knows and talks about! Who has written great things and beautiful things that you don't begin to understand!...I am Schubert! And don't you forget it! And if people talk about art, they mean *me*, not you worms and insects...crawling, nibbling worms who should be crushed under my foot--the foot of a man who is reaching
for the stars!"

The only difference here is that Schubert, though surely a preening boob, was right.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's *Ms.* Anonymous. :-)

But thanks for being gracious.

robneyer said...

"And that's why you're a blogger and not a writer."

Wow. I mean, just . . . wow. There's a pretty good chance, that someday you'll be a "blogger" and Mollie will be a "writer" (I mean, according to your definitions). What, then?

By the way, I enjoyed the piece. Which isn't to say it couldn't have been better.

Tally said...

I read that article in the New Yorker and didn't care for it either. BTW, came here via Amazon's blog.

Marla said...

I know I'm a lot late to the commenting here, but upon reading your blog this weekend, I noticed that a "john" responded to your post asking what your readers' guilty pleasures are. (This "john" posted a fondness for the Goo Goo Dolls' "Slide," which, I must say, is one of my favorite songs as well.) I think an excellent spin to this whole thing would be if John Colapinto had been a longtime reader of your blog (so then, by his logic, not a REAL reader?), enjoyed it enough to comment on it, and then went ballistic once he felt insulted by a writer he respects (you, of course). My world, it is a happy place.

In any case, this entire development of John Colapinto defending (and then embarrassing) himself on your blog had me thinking many things:

1. That you nailed it. The deficiencies you pointed out in his McCartney piece were the exact ones he was afraid he hadn't kicked. Such defensiveness always stems from knowing the person who is criticizing you is right.

2. That by harping on your casual mention of "Pipes of Peace" in such a condescending way, as if to say that "only a hapless dumb-ass likes 'Pipes of Peace'," he insults the artist whom he's so proud to say gave him such unprecendented access to his life. In one fell swoop, he's insulted his readers, all writers, McCartney fans and Paul McCartney himself.

3. That John Colapinto is obviously quite protected from the response he elicits from his readers. He's been writing for high-profile publications for many years now, and to react in such an unevolved, defeated, bombastic way to one example of well-written, insightful criticism shows how protected some writers can be. How is he not jaded yet? How much of his "hate mail" does he really see? Because any writer worth his or her salt gets criticized. That's the beauty of writing. People can agree with you, people may not, but you just have to be content with what you publish so you can respect what you hear in return. Colapinto must not have been content with what he published.

4. That, while I'm never one to incite a battle of the sexes or to take criticism and turn it into a gender issue, I still can't help thinking he may not have been so scathing, so blatantly insulting, so condescending and pious, if you had been a man. I think it would have been fascinating to see how differently he would have responded to a man. I would hope there would be no difference, but for some reason that I can't pinpoint, as I don't know him, I just don't have a feeling that that would be the case.

It's just as well. I know I've read a lot of his stuff in the past (though I can't remember what; probably when I subscribed to Rolling Stone), but I'd be quick not to read his work in the future. I imagine he's alienated quite a few of his readers through his behavior here, behavior that's a shocking thing to see from someone who's been in the business for so long. Odd.

In any case, you've handled the whole thing, as you handle everything, just beautifully. Well done.

Mollie said...

I love your theory, Marla! And I never did learn exactly how Mr. Colapinto found his way here... but I think I know who that other "john" was. Still, I prefer your version. And thanks for all your other thoughts as well -- I'd be happy to see this conversation keep going; there's certainly plenty of ground to cover!

Anonymous said...

A couple of observations on this amusing thread (discovered belatedly via the Huffington Post):

-As others have noted, Colapinto does make an ass of himself and handily confutes his own dismissal of the blogosphere. And note that the New Yorker itself has now launched a blog by George Packer (his posts still read like NY'er articles, but anyway...).

-It should be no surprise by now that many writers are quite thin-skinned. From what I hear, reports are true that Richard Ford spit on Colson Whitehead at a party a few years ago after the latter filed a nasty review of the former's book in the NYT. And Stanley Crouch did slap ol' Dale Peck upside the head in a restaurant. Now that writers are apparently paying attention to the blogs (by default if nothing else, since real criticism has all but vanished from the pages of newspapers and other old media), maybe captious bloggers had better start watching their backs in public places?

-Unlike most posters here, I did rather enjoy Colapinto's NY'er piece. Yes, a tad formulaic: journalist spends a few hours over a couple of days with celebrity subject, interspersing observed incident and interview material with broader reflections on subject's life and achievements. And yes, maybe too much use of the first-person singular, though I think you could defend some of that on grounds of full disclosure. I mean, McCartney wasn’t pondering these questions on his own--they were prompted by Colapinto. But in any event, I did come away with a distinct impression of what it's like to be Paul McCartney now: burdened by fame, haunted by loss, aware that most of his life has already been lived, and still finding refuge in work and music. These qualities are conveyed not through sterile generalities but through carefully chosen, concrete detail, and they’re linked, in turn, to the content of McCartney’s art. So on that level, the profile worked OK for me. Of course, it also suffers from the same limitations most celeb profiles do: in the end, you must conclude that the star 1)is in fact just like us, which should be obvious, or 2)is no ordinary mortal, which should be ludicrous (see Slate’s trashing of Esquire’s recent Angelina Jolie hagiography).

-Without taking Colapinto’s side--he lost me with his prickliness and cheap shots--I wonder if Mollie was too harsh. “Dull, shapeless and devoid of insight”? “A better subtitle would have been, ‘How I spent a week wasting Paul McCartney's time’”? I know that’s pretty tame stuff if we think of blogs as private, anything-goes chat sessions. But as blogs grow up, some, at least, are beginning to be treated like actual publications and are being held to higher standards of considered, judicious criticism. If bloggers want to be taken as seriously as old media, that means the criticism goes both ways. The blogger takes someone to task, and lo and behold, the target fires back. In some cases it devolves into useless flaming, but in others, both parties learn something and become even more thoughtful writers, critics or whatever. And that’s really kinda cool, dontcha think?