NEXT week I am leaving the house for work. I’m quite excited about the prospect. I’m going to Edinburgh to do an interview for The Herald Magazine. I reckon it’s only the fourth or fifth time I’ve got up off the sofa for job-related duties in the last 18 months.
Once upon a time I’d travel to cafes and hotels around the country to talk to people for the magazine. Now and again, they might even invite me into their homes. For the last 18 months I’ve been inviting them into mine via Zoom calls. Which brings its own unique challenges. Can they see that mountain of laundry piled up beside the sofa? Should I have tried to wash some of those dishes in the sink before asking Damon Albarn about his mullet haircut?
The question now is whether things will return to the way they were? And is that a good thing? There are advantages to working on Zoom. They mostly involve never being more than 30 seconds from the kettle. (I’ve always maintained tea is nearly as essential as a recorder when it comes to feature writing).
There’s a zero(ish) carbon aspect to the current situation too. The other month I spoke to the actor Stephen Dorff. He was on his ranch in Tennessee, I was halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. No air miles were racked up in the encounter. Our consciences could be relatively clear.
But there’s no question many of the best interviews are done face to face. Even if it’s just for the details you might miss staring down the lens.
Because sometimes it’s what people do rather than what they say that can be most revealing. On one occasion Blur bassist Alex James felt perfectly happy to urinate in front of me. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have done that on Zoom.
Back in the early years of the century, I travelled to Manchester to talk to the late Tony Wilson, the man behind Factory Records. He was played by Steve Coogan in the film 24 Hour Party People, the reason for our conversation.
Wilson picked me up from a hotel in Manchester, told me he’d just fallen out with his girlfriend, spent the next three hours in his home telling me his back story while trying, mostly fruitlessly, to roll a joint. He then took a call from his girlfriend, and we went off to pick her up. They were on speaking terms again and she then joined in on the rest of the interview.
Normally that level of incident doesn’t happen often. Indeed, the days of spending days and days with an interviewee are mostly long gone (unless, maybe, you work for Vanity Fair).
So, I have no “Bjork broke my arm” stories. But there’s even less chance of a celebrity injury on Zoom. Which is a pity. Because it would make for a great intro, don’t you think?