Last week, I got a call from a record-company publicist who asked if I’d be willing to do an “EPK” with a well-known musician–I’ll call her Jane Doe. “Duh, what’s an EPK?” I replied, and was informed that it stands for “electronic press kit,” the canned celebrity interviews that are made available to TV and radio producers in lieu of face-to-face personal appearances. The actual interviewer–that is, the person asking the questions–is carefully scissored out of the videotape, leaving only the talking head of the celebrity in question.
I’m a journalist, not a publicist, and I normally wouldn’t have thought twice about saying no, but Jane happens to be an old friend of mine (we met before she became successful). Since she spends most of her time on the road, we rarely get to see one another, so I agreed to be the mystery interviewer, and the record company promptly messengered over a top-secret “white-label” advance copy of Jane’s new CD, which will be released next spring.
I put the album on, and was staggered. I knew it would be a major stylistic departure for Jane–I’d talked to her longtime producer about it a few months ago–but even so, I wasn’t fully prepared for how self-revealing, even confessional, her music had become. As I listened and marveled (for the album is extraordinarily beautiful), I thought to myself, How on earth am I going to talk to Jane about this in front of a TV camera?
The record company sent a big black car to pick me up Sunday morning, and the driver whisked me to the discreet front door of a boutique hotel on a midtown side street. I made my way to a chic sardine can of a room into which had been stuffed an entire video crew. A few minutes later, Jane arrived, trailed by her assistant and her stylist. (Don’t laugh–famous women musicians never step in front of cameras without first being fussed over by a stylist.) We hadn’t seen one another for two years, but no sooner did she walk through the door than we were hugging and chattering, just as if she were fresh off the bus, hoping to make it in the big city. I told her I’d become a drama critic, and she giggled and said, “Not like Addison DeWitt, I hope!” (Jane has seen All About Eve more times than any straight person I know.) Once her makeup was in place, we sat down in a pair of high chairs, and after what seemed like a half-hour’s worth of tinkering with the lights, the cameraman rolled the tape.
Like many performers, Jane is shy, which sometimes causes her to seem standoffish. In addition, she’s learned from hard experience to be on her guard when talking to journalists. For her to speak frankly about so personal a work of art would thus have been difficult under the best of circumstances. Yet there we were, brightly lit and surrounded by a tight knot of technicians and handlers, and for a brief moment my heart sank. Then I screwed up my courage and asked a question, and within a matter of minutes we might just as well have been sitting together in an empty room, swapping stories and passing a bottle. We talked about the record, the experiences that inspired her to make it, and everything else that came into our heads. She came close to getting choked up at one point, and my own eyes filled with tears in response.
The cameraman signaled for us to take a break so that he could change reels. “Omigod, was that too much?” Jane asked. “I feel weak in the knees after talking about all that stuff. I’ve never really talked about it like that. Was I rambling? Did I sound dumb?” She ran to the bathroom to fix her face, and I let out a sigh. As a Kingsley Amis character once put it, I felt as if I’d just sat through a complete performance of La Traviata compressed into one and a half minutes. (It took a little longer than that, but you know what I mean.) Jane returned, the cameraman rolled the tape again, and we wrapped up the interview. More chatter, more hugs, then I descended to my waiting car and we went our separate ways.
As I headed home, I recalled a passage from one of my favorite books, Andr