Saturday, March 27, 2010

CRAIG TALKS TO JANET JACKSON #1: The Car Ride


In my writing career, I've been lucky enough to interview one of my favorite performers, Janet Jackson, for two VIBE magazine cover stories, first in 2001 for the All For You album and then in 2006 for the 20 Y.O. album. The 2001 interview was significant for me because it was my first cover story. It also came at a turning point moment for Janet because she had recently gone through a divorce and was returning to the music scene after a four year absence. 

I traveled to Minneapolis, where she was recording the album. On the day of the interview, we met up at her hotel and she drove us to the studio. LISTEN HERE for audio of the conversation that took place on the ride.  I apologize for the quality. I was using a handheld tape deck, and there was a lot of noise in the car. (The entire interview lasted for hours. I'll post additional excerpts in the upcoming weeks.) 

Also, if you want to know more about what was going on behind-the-scenes, I've included an excerpt from my book, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Washington, D.C., which tells the story of how I went from being a stripper to becoming an entertainment journalist. Hope you enjoy : )



Excerpt from  All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Washington, D.C.


On one slow Friday afternoon, while working as an editor at VIBE magazine, I got the biggest shot of my still relatively new writing career. I was sitting in my cubicle, dutifully counting the minutes before I could leave, when one of the senior editors flew out of her office looking stressed. She stopped briefly in the common area outside my cubicle and I asked what was wrong.

“It looks like the Janet Jackson cover story is going to fall through,” she said. “Janet’s people need it to happen this weekend, but the writer can’t do it.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

She threw her hands up.

“Can’t you reassign?” I offered.

“Of course. But who can we get to do it so quickly? And it has to be someone we can trust with such a big cover story.”

A voice in my mind starting chanting, “I’ll do it. I’ll do it.” The volume grew louder with a force that felt like words were going to thrust themselves out of my mouth. I tightly pursed my lips, trying to lock the words inside. I wanted to say them, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the nerve…Who the fuck was I? Seriously. Just a little more than a year before, I was selling dick feels for a buck. What made me think I could be a big-time cover story writer?

But the voice kept chanting, like the crowd at a football game or a really popular drag show. The editor stood there thinking for a few moments before she said, “Oh well,” and turned to head toward the restrooms.

“I could do it,” I said to her rapidly receding back. I winced as the words left my mouth. It felt like I’d just sucked a Lemonhead.

She kept moving.

“I could do it,” I said a little louder.

“Huh?”

“I could do it.”

She paused. I could see her thinking it over, her expression saying not yes or no but “hmmm.”

“You think you could pull it off?” she asked. “Have you ever done a cover story?”

“Uh, well, no. But you know, I did all these big features for the Washington Post and everything. And you know, I’ve interviewed big stars like Mariah Carey before, so, I mean, yeah, I think I could.”

The truth was that despite all the short pieces I’d done at Entertainment Weekly, the number of long features that I’d ever written added up to about a handful.

“Well, let me think about it,” she said.

“Cool,” I replied, trying my best to embody the word.

The next few hours went by like decades as I waited for her answer. But then, once she said yes, after getting approval from the editor in chief, time went into fast forward.

The next day I was sitting on a plane to Minneapolis, where Janet was recording her new album, All for You, with her longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. A notebook was on my tray table, and I was thinking up questions for the youngest daughter of one of the most famous black families in the world. There was a lot of ground to cover, considering the recent breakup of her secret marriage to constant companion and collaborator René Elizondo.

***

The morning of the interview, I sat on the couch in the lobby like a TV cop on surveillance, my head turning right and left. Which direction would Janet be coming from? I wondered. I mean, for all I knew, she could sweep down from the chandelier, all dressed in black, a headphone mike around her face, her arms posed in fierce angles above her head. Or maybe some of her background dancers would slink out before her and then she’d suddenly jump from behind a potted plant or something. I simply didn’t know what to expect as about fifteen minutes passed by with my mind coming up with increasingly elaborate entrance scenarios. (The front glass shatters, and she comes swooping in like a ninja.)

Finally, I looked in front of me at the bank of elevators and saw that one was open. Inside was a giant of a black man and beside and slightly behind him was a small figure beneath a baseball cap and a shower of golden brown hair. It was Janet.

I walked toward the elevator.

“Hey, I’m Craig,” I said. “I think I’m supposed to be meeting you guys.”

“Hi, I’m Janet,” she said earnestly. It still surprised me when celebrities introduced themselves like there was any chance I wouldn’t know who they were. That was cool, though, because no matter what you knew about them, you were still meeting them for the very first time. I stepped in the elevator and the towering bodyguard pressed the button for the garage. I tried to make small talk.

“So, um, how’s it goin’?” I asked.

“Fine,” she said, not making eye contact.

“Your hair looks nice,” I said quickly. I couldn’t think of anything else.

“Thanks,” she said, trying to be polite. But I knew she was thinking, “Who is this creep?” like I was trying to pick her up at the hotel bar. I wanted to yell out, “No, I’m gay. Totally a homo.” But I controlled the impulse.

Once we arrived in the parking area, we walked over toward two black SUVs and Janet told me that she’d be driving the two of us to the studio while the bodyguard followed behind. I went along with the program, got in the car, buckled up, and sat back as she pulled out onto the street. But inside I was worried. I had heard that during interviews celebrities would sometimes try to do normal everyday things like driving in order to appear regular. But this didn’t necessarily mean that they were good at the tasks they were trying to pull off. I couldn’t stop wondering who had taught Janet how to drive, anyway. Tito? La Toya? Bubbles?

The car moved out from the underground garage onto the street. When we were about a block away from the hotel, the car jerked to a stop and then shot forward. “Oh no,” Janet sighed. “I just ran a red light.” I looked up from my notepad to make sure death wasn’t impending. I was glad that no 18-wheelers were hurling toward the passenger window, but I secretly wished that I had stashed some Dramamine in my bag or maybe even worn Depends. Now, to be fair, I’d certainly run my share of red lights in the past, but I was always more nervous when I wasn’t behind the wheel. Plus, the fact that I hadn’t decided on my first official question was increasing my anxiety. All of my meticulously prepared questions seemed lame.

I was lost in this thought, as we pulled onto a snow-covered interstate. Sand, salt, and assorted frozen debris splattered against the windshield. “Look at this,” Janet said, increasing the speed of the wipers.

“Isn’t this a mess?”

“Yeah, it’s bad,” I said, now filled with so much nervous energy that I probably could’ve propelled the car on my jitters alone. I decided that the only way to ease my nerves was to just start talking. I abandoned my questions and launched into the one topic that made me most comfortable: sex.

***


3 comments:

glittermunkii said...

thank you so so much for posting this. Its really weird..... i was just reading this interview when i came across this. I havent read a janet interview in so long, especially not an old one. I love this conversation! i wish the magazine didnt edit everything out.

ellenoir1@aol.com said...

Great interview! It appears she wanted to talk. She's always more open in her print interviews than radio and tv. Secondly, she probably WANTED you in the car with her so she could talk freely without the body guard listening to every word.

And from what I've read Janet likes to drive. She did an "in the car" interview with writer/author David Ritz during the Janet years. It's printed inside the Design of A Decade CD.

Anyhoo, looking forward to part two. As an entertainment writer and blogger, I too hope to one day interview Janet too. I'll definitely check out your book. Seems you've got an interesting story to tell too.

Thanks 4 posting!
Alice (I'm on Blogger too)
hollywoodliveandwork.com

嘉岳吟惠 said...

TAHNKS FOR YOUR SHARING~~~VERY NICE.................................................