Journos Gone Gonzo

Many of the video interviews you can find online have something in common: a mediocre to bad interviewer. That is certainly not due to Chilly Gonzales‘ intimidating personality, on the contrary, but because they freeze with respect for his seemingly temperamental and experiment-loving stage persona. Or they feel invited by it to cross the boundaries of the journalistically feasible. Mostly, they are hoodwinked by the perfection behind illusion. They forget or don’t see that at each of Chilly Gonzales‘ shows every detail is planned and well-orchestrated. Even though two of his unbeatable characteristics are quick-wittedness and a speedy mind, improvisation and spontaneousness usually evolve out of a foundation of perfect planning. Illusion doesn’t come out of the blue – something we know since David Copperfield (especially the one with the “magic” hairdo). Crossing the Chinese Wall doesn’t happen by saying abracadabra and some dramatic gestures, but after long preparation. During their own preparations, some journos seem to forget that fact and feel like being part of a show that doesn’t happen that way off-stage. It belongs to the more harmless syndromes that journalists often try to encourage Gonzales to “express himself” via his instrument and answer questions using the keys instead of his mouth. No kidding, a German daily newspaper (Frankfurter Rundschau) raised the question whether he also plays the piano with his genitals (“You make music with your penis?”). Maybe the writer tried either to be funny or was driven by the hope of receiving a spectacular answer. Anyway, at the latest during the process of copy editing this part of the interview should not have made it into the papers. Coitus interruptus, so to speak. It stands to reason that Chilly Gonzales, when asked with which other part of his body apart from his hands he is able to tickle the ivories, immediately jumps onto the next best piano and maltreats it with his feet.


Some of the interviewers paid too much attention to interviewing technique at journalism class and start off with an open question. As an answer to the question “What about jazz?“, the employee of a public service radio station (1live, WDR) doesn’t get the hoped for response – of course Chilly Gonzales was asked to answer with the instrument – in the form of freejazz-strumming, but an eye expression that says it all, even without notes or words. During the same interview, he doesn’t only forget to translate everything for his German audience, he also addresses them in English all the time. In-between. he manages to create awkward moments for everyone, for example by questioning whether “old man’s rap” is appropriate at all. At the end the only thing one wants as a viewer is to reach out the arm into the screen, stroke the interviewers head and explain to him that this was not half as crazy or innovative as he thinks, but just bad. Unfortunately, technological possibilities are not elaborate enough and so one has to witness, how the journalist brags on Twitter and Facebook about this embarrassment on tape.


Less confident, but not less trivial, two ladies of another renowned public service radio station (Deutschlandradio) present themselves. Again, Chilly Gonzales is encouraged to piano-answer (yawn). When asked, what the living arrangements were like with Peaches and Feist in Berlin back in the day, he goes consequently goes on strike and seems a bit perplexed for a moment. See here and here.


What many journalists seem to forget: An interesting interview is the result of an interesting conversation, based on thorough research. It’s not about checking questions on a list and it’s not about reinventing the wheel. More important is to create an atmosphere that allows the counterpart to feel comfortable and open up to a certain professional degree – no matter if you talk to an artist or the chairperson of your hometown’s International Women’s Club. A return to traditional, old journalistic virtues would suit many interviewers much better than a hollow hipster attitude. In this case, less is really more and mostly the simplest questions are the best. However, absurdity only arouses uneasiness and never extraordinary answers for sure.


Also, what interviewers really seem to love when it comes to Chilly Gonzales, are comparisons. The most mentioned certainly is Eric Satie. Nothing wrong with that, apart from the fact good writing actually means finding own words for the seemingly undescribable. And that Chilly Gonzales “was born Jason Charles Beck” is not worth any ink to be written down. Only few might know him from childhood days and will be able to refer to his “real” name. Chilly Gonzales is Chilly Gonzales. No matter how often journalists ask how much Chilly is in Jason and how much Jason is in Chilly – as if there was a stage Jekyll and private Hyde. Or vice versa. People who feel that it’s not enough to read, see, hear or listen to Chilly Gonzales, should concentrate on people like Britney Spears, whose private life has become more interesting than the music in the end.


Of course there are not only negative examples, but many great journalists, who still master the art of the interview (Gonzales once published a same-titled mini-series…). You will find some of these highlights – on !


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