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What George Clooney, Lupita Nyongo, Elton John and Eddie the Eagle taught us in 2016

George Clooney called Donald Trump a fascist, Lupita Nyongo took on Hollywood racism, Elton John discussed money and Eddie the Eagle admitted he skied like an ostrich what we learned in a year of Guardian interviews

LIFE AND DEATH

Patti Smith is as hard as nails

You can decide your own fate. Are you going to let it all fall apart? Or are you going to own it?

Keith Richards reckons the Rolling Stones Altamont gig, where a man was killed by a Hells Angels security guard, wasnt all bad

I think given that there were about half a million people there, Id say that 499,000 had a good time. Which is not bad on the average, you know? And one man died, but a baby was born, so the same number came out as went in. If that hadnt happened, it would have been considered a Woodstock on the coast. All it takes is one sucker with a knife.

Thandie Newton is furious about abuse and exploitation

Im always angry. I wake up angry. There is a lot to be angry about. Anger, she says calmly, is a positive energy.

Nicola Adams enjoys her work

I guess when Im smiling, waving to the crowd, looking really happy, an opponent is going to look at me and think wow, is she even nervous? But really, Im just enjoying myself.

Woody Allen hasnt overcome trauma

I dont believe in the Nietzschean notion that what doesnt destroy you makes you stronger. You see these soldiers come back with PTSD; theyve been to war and seen death and experienced these existential crises one after the other. There are traumas in life that weaken us for the future. And thats whats happened to me. The various slings and arrows of life have not strengthened me. I think Im weaker. I think there are things I couldnt take now that I would have been able to take when I was younger.

Jeremy Irons thinks abortion is a tremendous mental attack

I believe women should be allowed to make the decision, but I also think the church is right to say its a sin. Because sin is actions that harm us. Lying harms us. Abortion harms a woman its a tremendous mental attack, and physical, sometimes. But we seem to get that muddled. In a way, thank God the Catholic church does say we wont allow it, because otherwise nobodys saying that its a sin.

Vanessa Redgrave wanted to die after having a heart attack

Trying to live was getting too tiring. I was with my daughter, and I said, Im sorry, I just think Im going to have to give up, knowing shed be unhappy, of course. And she was wonderful. How did Joely (another successful actor) encourage her to keep living? By telling me I could. Her saying I could give up released me.

Lauren Laverne shudders at the memory of being a teenage pop star

I look back now and I feel terrified about all the things that I did. But also more forgiving towards myself because I was so young. Everyones an idiot when theyre 16.

The Heseltines have shot lots of grey squirrels on their Northamptonshire estate

Three hundred and fifty. Absolutely awful things.

Shah
Shah Rukh Khan, Robbie Williams, Clare Short, Samuel L Jackson and Marilyn. Composite: Linda Nylind, Getty, Sarah Lee,

TALENT

Making mix tapes taught Lin-Manuel Miranda how to compose a Broadway smash

I feel lucky to have grown up in the era when we made mix cassettes. I think it affected how I write scores. Because when youre making a mix tape for your friends, its 90 minutes of music, in the order in which you curate it, so youre creating the ebb and flow. That prepared me to write scores more than anything else. You want to surprise them, tell them how you feel about them, you want to express the wealth of your taste. How is that different from writing a Broadway score?

Elton John doesnt play the piano at home

I play 107 shows a year, why am I going to go home and play the fucking piano? Ive got one at Woodside [his Windsor estate] and one at my house in Atlanta, and I never touch them. Rufus Wainwright plays every morning when he gets up I have to play an hour every day so everyones different, but, God, I couldnt think of anything worse. I have leisure, and I have work. And I do enough work. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is play the piano.

Boy George misses the wizard behind the curtain

When I was 19, there was still the mystery of rocknroll; there was still the wizard behind the curtain. Kids now, they know how to make records, they know where to get their clothes. We had to dream about it: is this possible? Now, its like: Yeah, you can be famous, you get on this show, you do that, you do this, but I think the thing is, I dont think it necessarily means that much. Im glad I had that exciting first part of my career in a decade when you could make a cultural difference of sorts, you know?

Phil Collins didnt get his message across on his 1993 album Both Sides

It was like coming out of a toilet with toilet paper on your foot and trying to walk elegantly while trying to get it off. I think thats one of the reasons I did retire, frankly. It seemed that the only way I could stop this was to stop and start again. I stopped. Im yet to start again.

Eddie the Eagle knew the sky was the limit

Id like to say I flew like an eagle, but I was probably closer to the ostrich. Did he ever say to the makers [of film Eddie the Eagle], youre doing me down?I thought the skiers skiing down that slope in the film are not very good, whereas in actual fact Im a hell of a lot better. But that didnt matter to me because I know Im a good skier, and people who know me know that.

Shah Rukh Khan says women made him a star

I lost my father, then my mother, early on, he says. But the women in my life the actresses have helped me immensely. Everything I am is because of them. They are doing all that work and, mostly, I take away the credit for the film. Im Shah Rukh Khan. None of them has become Shah Rukh Khan and I hope they do. Im not trying to be pompous about myself. Madhuri Dixit has held my hand in those dancing scenes and Im not leading her, shes leading me. Juhi Chawla taught me how to do comic timing, Kajol taught me how to cry. They worked their asses off and then, at the end of the film, its Shah Rukh Khan: the superstar. And I know it. I cant deny it. And I can never ever forget I am [there] because of women. All my chivalry, goodness, gentlemanliness only stems from the fact that its my way of saying thank you. They are fabulous in the films. In every film.

ADDICTION

Robbie Williams gave up smoking but got hooked on Minstrels

Thats the thing with having an addictive personality. One fire goes out and another pops up. And that fire became working out and eating Minstrels. I transferred the smoking to working out three hours a day, and then eating Minstrels for three hours every night. Thats not an exaggeration. And then I stopped the working out and just carried on with the Minstrels and I ballooned to the point where the Daily Mail suggested I was akin to Elvis before he died. It was horrible, terrible. I had to go on stage, too: Yeah, I know, I look like Elvis before he died. Sorry, everybody, as Im pointing at you suggestively, pretending that you think Im sexy.

So I went on this pretty hardcore diet. You woke up and had a boiled egg, then nothing for five hours, then had vegetable broth, then steamed veg, then nothing until the next day. After five days of that, first off, I was really fucking emotional, because youve got nothing, your bodys starving. And the second thing is, you just needed something to suppress your appetite, so this started again. I tried to hide it from my wife for five weeks. At night Id hide my mouthwash and hand sanitiser in a safe place, then wake up an hour before she got up, climb out of the window, take my top off, so as not to smell of anything, then smoke, hand sanitiser and mouthwash, top back on, shoes off so as not to wake her up, climb back in the window.

Even when Samuel L Jackson was out it, he always hit his marks

I had a very good theatre reputation. Granted, I was a fucking drug addict and I was out of my mind a lot of the time, but I had a good reputation. Showed up on time, knew my lines, hit my marks. I just wasnt making a lot of money, but I was very satisfied artistically. I was doing Pulitzer prize-winning plays. I was working with people who made me better, who challenged me. So I was doing things the right way, it was just that one thing that was in the way my addiction. And once that was out of the way, it was boom! The door blew wide open.

Marilyn spent 20 years taking crack and heroin while watching the Alien movies on loop

He retreated to his mothers house in Hertfordshire and stayed there for 20 years, without going out, unless it was to the hospital or a dealer, or a doctor. But in general I just sat in a room for 20 years. I didnt want contact with people. The phone would ring and I just wouldnt pick it up. The curtains were always drawn, I didnt know whether it was night or day.

What did he do all day? You know the Alien movies? I had the box set of that. I had my laptop and my drug paraphernalia was all set up around me. And Id watch the first Alien film, then the second, then the third, fourth, fifth. And when it got to the end of the fifth one, Id put the first one back on again. So that was it. Over and over again. It was, like, my life has gone out of control, but I can control this, this tiny little bubble of behaviour: that was my safety, sitting in front of this computer screen with what Im watching, and I know all the dialogue and I know whats going to happen. I could control how I felt. Oh, Im bit tired, let me have some crack. Oh, Im a bit depressed, lets have some heroin. I need to go to sleep, Ill take a downer. I just wanted to die, but I couldnt do that, I think because I was brought up a Catholic, with that idea that if you kill yourself you go to purgatory. I kept thinking, Well, itll be just my fucking luck, Ill kill myself and wake up in exactly the situation Im trying to get away from and itll be for eternity. At least I know this is going to end at some point.

Boy
Boy George, Leslie Jones, Gary Lineker, Lupita Nyongo, Suggs and Steve McQueen. Composite: EPA, REX, Getty, Rob Greig,

STYLE

Native Americans were like a religion for Adam Ant in the 1980s

It was all the things Id grown up with that I felt were heroic and sexy and had a warrior bravado to them. Id been reading about and studying pirates and the Native Americans for a few years the Native American thing was as close to a religion as I had. Putting the Apache war stripe across my nose was a declaration of arms against the music industry, which I felt had ignored me and treated me very unfairly. I wanted to look like a buccaneer: when they raided somewhere, they would take all the stuff they could carry or wear and not take anything else. And then I got the Hussar jacket, the one worn by the 11th Hussars in the charge of the Light Brigade. They were the most ridiculed regiment in the British army because they were thought to be too well dressed. People called them the Cherrybums, because their uniforms were so tight, and all the young ladies came out to look at them when they were on parade. They were despised by the rest of the army, but they did this heroic, disastrous thing.

Boy George explained the art of glamour and survival

Life is kind of like clinging to a rock, isnt it? Were all clinging to a rock, and some people have got a better grip than others. Some people look bedraggled and other people look like Jerry Hall dressed as a mermaid on that Roxy Music album cover.

POLITICS

Zac Goldsmith ranted about Sadiq Khan

Whos criticised me? Honestly, whos criticised me? He has. No one else has. Love it or hate it, the Labour party is more radical now than any time in my lifetime. He is radical and divisive because of his approach to politics. He is a fundamentally partisan figure in politics. These are terms that I use and will continue to use to describe Sadiq Khan. And it is obvious to anybody who is not unfair or wanting to misinterpret, the terms I was using were in a political context. He looks at me, and his hands are shaking.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson is not friendly with Jeremy Corbyn

At PMQs I always try to get myself into a Buddha-like state. I try not to have any facial expression at all. Because if I laugh at a Jeremy joke, two hours later on social media its either interpreted as me laughing at Jeremy, or laughing at an opposition joke. Or, if I scowl at something someone says, people are accusing me of scowling at Jeremy. So I try to keep a straight face, which everyone always interprets as me looking really sad and miserable. Thats actually not the case. Im generally just trying to remain expressionless.

Watson remains in contact with Corbyn, though it sounds rather semi-detached. We still send the odd text to each other. Its usually about family stuff, you know. My dads ill, and he [Corbyn] is always asking about my dad. My dads a big supporter of Jeremy. Its a sort of chat really.

Clare Short was underwhelmed by the Chilcot report

I dont think anyones even going to read it. Except perhaps historians. Do you know, its longer than all the Harry Potter books put together?

I thought, she says of the extracts she read, it was terrible. It was deeply underwhelming, and not well informed. It had lost the plot on what it was meant to do. The person who had written it well, I dont believe this is John Chilcot, because he is a very bright guy.

HOLLYWOOD AND RACE

Leslie Jones knew it was important to be in Ghostbusters

Back in the day, when I was coming up, the last page of Jet magazine was a guide to all the times black people were going to be on TV, because we were hardly on TV and we needed to see and support our people when we were. So my thing is, my parents and grandparents would have been, Woah! She is in a Big Movie! A superhero in a BLOCKbuster. Why wouldnt you be dancing in the street?

Steve McQueen said the Oscars whitewash was like apartheid

Hopefully, when people look back at this in 20 years, itll be like seeing that David Bowie clip in 1983. He is referring to a clip that has been widely circulated online since Bowies death, in which the singer politely assails his interviewer about MTVs under-representation of black artists. Im hoping in 12 months or so we can look back and say this was a watershed moment, and thank God we put that right.

It is not just actors and directors either. Its like Johannesburg in 1976, if you go behind the scenes. I made two British movies [Hunger and Shame] and I never met one person of colour in any below-the-line situations. Not one. No black, no Asian, no one. Like, hello? Whats going on here? Very odd.

When it came to working in the US, making 12 Years a Slave, McQueen was adamant that he wouldnt let the same thing happen again, particularly not on a film about slavery. I expressly said in a meeting, Look, I cant make this movie in a situation where I dont see any black faces other than my own behind the camera. We need to employ certain people. I made that very clear and it was attended to. Two African American assistant directors were duly hired.

Lupita Nyongo is going to keep calling out the film industry

For the third time in as many years, she appeared on the front of the US edition of Vogue, which ran the coverline: I want to create opportunities for people of color. Its not the sexiest way to sell a fashion glossy, but Nyongo is unapologetic.

Films inspire people to feel differently. A lot more can be done. We can be more empathetic when we realise how much more alike we are than how different we are.

Does she feel a burden, as a black actor, to keep talking about the issues?

But you see, I dont like to fight the reality. The reason it is so acute is because of the stage we are at. When we are talking about inclusion in entertainment, its because entertainment isnt inclusive and, until such a time as that becomes the norm, then this work has to be done.

SPORT

Nicola Adams says boxing is like chess

Boxing is 50/50, mental and physical. You can be the strongest, fastest, most technical boxer out there, but if youre not there mentally, you wont win. You see boxers who look unbelievable in the gym, and then they get into the ring and they fall to pieces. The mental aspect is about how to stay in control, to get your opponent to make mistakes and then to capitalise on them. Its a bit like chess, really. She has played chess since she was 10.

Gary Lineker compared football and sex

The one thing about scoring a goal is you never know if its going to happen again. Whereas with sex, theres always the chance that something

Chris Eubank Jr and Sr explained the psychology of boxing

Jr: Obviously, in the buildup to some fights, theres animosity and testosterone and banter but at the end of the day, we all understand that this is a business, just two men who are trying to further their careers and provide for their families. There shouldnt be any true malice towards your opponent.

I learned very early on once I started boxing as a kid that if you go into the ring emotionally charged you make mistakes. I have fought fighters in the past who I dont like as people, but you have to block out any type of dislike or hate.

Sr: The feeling between two fighters is profound. You smell a mans blood, it smells like rust. You get into a clench, you feel his strength, you feel his desperation, he feels yours. Youre sharing this.

RELIGION

Sarah Perry had a churchy childhood

I would go to school and people would be talking about television, which was meaningless to me, and bands. I can remember someone talking about Take That, and I was like: Take what? Her church, the Ebenezer Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel, was a 19th-century building in Chelmsford with thick, mottled-glass windows, like the bottom of a beer bottle, inappropriately. And on a Sunday morning, when Sunday trading opened, I would see people walking past the windows on the way into town. That glass might have been a gap of 100 years as far I was concerned, because I was in chapel with my head covered, in a long skirt, with my King James Bible, and at the front of the church a little old organ being pedalled away, and a man with a beard and proper fire-and-brimstone rhetoric. And people just trolleying along into town. I think that will never leave me, that feeling that something that may only be a pane of glass but might as well be an abyss separates me from everything else.

Vanessa Redgrave thinks there is no conflict between science and religion

I know its a strange question to ask a Marxist, but do you have faith? She smiles, almost beatifically. Yes, certainly I do. And the reason I do is because I dont consider science and religion two fixed opposites. Human beings have felt the need to explain things that they couldnt explain, and acknowledge the existence of things they cant explain but want to. She is talking so slowly, so deliberately, she could be setting a dictation test.

So religion and Marxism is another contradiction she is happy to embrace? Yes, because if youre not happy to embrace contradictions youre not going to get very far in understanding anything.

LOVE

Ben Whishaw found it a relief to come out publicly

And that just made it worse. Because then people assume youve got some really juicy, awful thing that youre keeping from them. After an intrusive journalist exposed his civil partnership with composer Mark Bradshaw, he was forced to speak more openly, and he found this something of a relief. Because now people arent that interested, because now theres nothing being concealed, he says.

He tries not to think about how others might consider him or perceive his sexuality. If you dont let it be a weight upon you, it wont manifest as one in your life, he says. I just try to give it little space in my brain. Its not interesting to me.

George Takei was in the closet on Star Trek

You live under the fear of being outed all the time. I played the game. I took a female friend to premieres and parties, and then Id take her home and go to a gay bar. It was a double life. Interestingly, I recognised some faces in those bars and wed say Hi, but we didnt mention it the day after.

Christine McVie says Fleetwood Mac are umbilically tied together

I still think theres a certain need for each other in our band. In a strange way. Were umbilically tied together, somehow. Without one of us, were incomplete.

George
George Clooney, Macaulay Culkin, Lady Leshurr, Jay McInerney, Mark Ruffalo and Dustin Hoffman. Composite: Getty, Linda Nylind, Laura Barisonzi, WireImage

MONEY

Woody Allen spends $100 a week on lottery tickets

Ive talked this over with my wife. We would still go on living in the same house, I would go on working, I dont want a boat, I dont want a plane.

So why do it? He seems stumped. The odds are bigger than astronomical. Youd have a better chance of shuffling a deck of cards and naming them all in row. Ive never got more than two numbers. Id probably shoot myself if I got five and missed by one. That would really be a killer but I dont have that problem.

Eddie the Eagle was rolling in cash in his heyday

In 1988, I earned something like 700,000. Yeah! I was earning 10 grand an hour opening shopping centres. Yeah! The most I earned in one day was 65 grand. I opened the Alton Towers fun ride in the morning, did a commercial in the afternoon and an appearance at a nightclub in the evening. Sixty-five grand in one day!

Suggs from Madness says London is no good for would-be stars

Nowadays, you cant even find somewhere to rehearse unless your mummy and daddy can pay for you. All the arts are just fucking old Etonians and that is a big problem. And its boring. Where are the urchins? We certainly wouldnt be sitting here now.

Elton John doesnt spoil his children, Zachary and Elijah

They get 3 pocket money, but 1 is for charity, 1 is for saving and 1 is for spending, they get three coins and put them in separate jars. And they have to work for it help in the kitchen, help in the garden. Theyve got to learn the value of doing something and earning something for themselves. They live a very local life in Old Windsor, they go round their mates houses, its not a showbiz life as such. Theyre not stuck behind the gates of a mansion. Saturdays when Im home, we go to Pizza Hut with them, we go to Waterstones, we go to the cinema. Ive never been a recluse, Ive never hidden away. Im on the school run.

Lady Leshurr turned down her first big break because it meant starting a beef with Nicky Minaj

Atlantic Records in the US offered her a deal. They flew me out and we had a conversation, but their idea was that they were going to pit me against Nicki Minaj. It was like: Shes the biggest female MC and you need to take her down, and I wasnt feeling that at all. That whole stereotype of female rappers and their supporters having to compete with each other it seems to be a crime to be a fan of two female rappers that are successful. So I turned it down. The amount of money they were offering me was amazing. Ive always turned to music to get my mum out of the house, out of that situation, so to see that type of money thrown at me … Im not going to lie, I cried on the plane home, because I thought Id made a mistake and my mum needed the money. It might have been my only chance. But I know by now I would probably have been dropped and my career would have been ruined.

DONALD TRUMP

George Clooney thinks hes a fascist

I met Donald once. I was sitting in a booth and we talked for a while. Then he did Larry King, and he said I was very short. And I was like: I was sitting down the whole time, Donald! Hes just an opportunist. Now hes a fascist; a xenophobic fascist

Lets put things into perspective. You know, the truth of the matter is, in election season, things go crazy, and the loudest voices are the furthest and most extreme. So you hear a massively stupid idea, like were going to ban Muslims from the country. Now, were not ever going to do that. He shrugs. It says in the Statue of Liberty, bring us your huddled masses. Its not whats going to happen.

Elton John wouldnt let his music be played at election rallies

I dont really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign. Im British. Ive met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, its nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, Im not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted fucking Nugent? Or one of those fucking country stars? Theyll do it for you.

Macaulay Culkin is superstitious about even saying his name

I have leanings, but Im the definition of a disenfranchised voter I think the system is ugly. This whole Trump thing is amazing. (Trump cameos in Home Alone 2, showing our hero the way to the Plaza Hotel lobby, although we cant talk about it.) Culkin doesnt want to be drawn further. Discussing politics is the quickest way to alienate people, so I dont wanna go into it. And Trump has enough column inches? Exactly! Hes like the Candyman, we have to stop saying his name.

Mark Wahlberg has played golf with him

Hes an OK golfer. Ive gotten to know him a little bit since, on various occasions. Ive never met Hillary Clinton.

It turns out that Wahlberg and Trump met almost a decade ago at one of those weird celebrity golf events that always seem to be happening in California or Florida. What did they talk about? He was very Donald Trump-like, talking about the things that he does, things that he has, business interests, properties, stuff like that. But he wasnt ever mean or rude. I dont think he asked me too many personal questions, or about what I do.

Dustin Hoffman thinks hes a conman

Its not that hes there, its that he has a following thats more disturbing, says Hoffman. He fell in at this moment when the majority of the Republican electorate feel, as they say, betrayed by their own party. Hes not that original weve seen people throughout our lifetime that are Donald Trumps. He does have a charisma, but so does the guy selling you a watch on the corner and telling you that its a Rolex.

Tim Roth hates him

I hate everything that he stands for. He should never be forgotten or forgiven for anything he said on the road to the White House. There should be no concession to him. No Lets give him a chance. None of it, he says. Grab them by the pussy, right? Look at where we are now and who is in charge of this country and, by extension, a good chunk of the world someone with misogynistic tendencies.

If you neglect the working class for so fucking long they will rebel against you. There was a dire need to stop a rise of fascism in America and we didnt take it seriously enough.

Mark Ruffalo says hes a blip

I feel bad for the Republicans. Its an untenable situation for them in a lot of ways. The people who are clear-headed and really do hold conservative values are on the outs. Whats driving the party at the moment is nothing other than fear and xenophobia, and a kind of paranoia that is not sustainable. You cant govern with it. Trump, he says, is an interesting blip in a country that is undergoing kind of a correction. Money has corrupted the political system, which has lost its credibility on both sides of the aisle. To Ruffalo, [Tump] is playing into all the ugliest aspects of the fear that has been fomented by the media and the politicians themselves; in contrast, he says, Bernie Sanders is offering a reimagining of the basic premise of what America is.

Jay McInerney says he gives New York a bad rep

Hes this cartoon of a New York tycoon, and barely a tycoon at that. I have friends in the real estate business and they say, number one, he has hugely overinflated his wealth, and number two, hes impossible to do business with; hes not trustworthy, he sues everybody. Hes not well regarded in that community As a New Yorker, I regret that hes associated with the city I love.

Interviews by Alex Needham, Paula Cocozza, Jess Cartner-Morley, Catherine Shoard, Simon Hattenstone, Archie Bland, Emma Brockes, Alexis Petridis, Dorian Lynskey, Nosheen Iqbal, John Patterson, Decca Aitkenhead, Steve Rose, Emine Saner, Alexis Soloski, Ryan Gilbey, Peter Robinson, Andrew Pulver, Rhik Samadder, Hadley Freeman and Rory Carroll.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/19/what-george-clooney-lupita-nyongo-elton-john-and-eddie-the-eagle-taught-us-in-2016


Jay McInerney: ‘You can only blow up your life so many times before it becomes ridiculous’

With Bright Lights, Big City, the novelist established himself as the chronicler of New Yorks hedonistic 80s elite. Thirty years and four marriages later, he is still fascinated by wealth and Donald Trump though his friendship with Bret Easton Ellis is flagging …

It is more than 30 years since Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerneys first and most famous novel was published, and everything and nothing has changed. The 61-year-old still lives in Manhattan, in apenthouse a few blocks from one of his first addresses in New York. (In the early 1980s, the rent on his Bowery apartment was $375 a month. A night at the Bowery Hotel, where McInerney stayed last week while his air conditioning was being fixed, is $425). He doesnt snort cocaine in club bathrooms any more, but when hes in the city, he still goes out every night. And he retains a charm perennially described as boyish but that strikes me, today, as something more tentative, a state ofmild bafflement that seems poised between hopefulness and the ever-present threat of disappointment.

The most unwavering aspect of McInerneys life, at least as it pertains to his public image as a novelist, is his identification with the upper echelons of New York society, an affiliation that has earned him a reputation over the years as a social butterfly. McInerney is the first to say of his own experience: It became alittle unrepresentative. Successful novelist is not an everyman category, and to add, somewhat ruefully, that unlike the protagonist of his latest novel, Bright, Precious Days, who struggles to raise kids in New York on a publishing salary, when McInerneys own children were born, I was actually pretty flush.

The novelists divorce from Helen Bransford, his third wife and his childrens mother, wiped him out financially, but his fourth wife, Anne Hearst, is an heiress and a certified member of the Upper East Side social crowd, the ins and outs of which continue to preoccupy his work. In light of all this, I had expected to find someone a little mannered, a touch absurd in the Tom Wolfe style. Instead, this morning, McInerney is guileless to a degree that makes me feel vaguely anxious for him.

Bright, Precious Days is the third novel in a series, after Brightness Falls and The Good Life, and chronicles the lives of Russell and Corrine Calloway, who came to New York in the 1980s chasing a literary dream and woke to find themselves, at 50, in a small apartment with two children, one bathroom and no money for summer plans. McInerney calls this the life not lived; had he not become a successful writer, he would in all likelihood have become an editor like Russell Calloway, one of the stretched middle classes in a city increasingly hostile to anyone not on or married to a banking salary. Theyre lucky and privileged in some ways, hesays. But in other ways most 50-year-old parents would like to have some space and multiple bathrooms. These are the kind of sacrifices people make to stay in Manhattan. Is the price of being a New Yorker worth it?

This question and the assumptions underpinning it are, as with the focus of so much of McInerneys work, vulnerable to a charge of so what?. The Calloways, who live above their means and knock around town with hedge fund managers and billionaires, might move out of the city to a perfectly good life elsewhere. That they cant bring themselves to go not even to the suburbs, but merely uptown to Harlem is not a drama with wide-ranging appeal. Meanwhile, their creators view from the penthouse can come across, in these times, as a little unseemly. Beyond the exigencies of the story, the rich matter, says McInerney, because, I think as a writer its certainly interesting to observe them. And I think not enough people do. These people have a huge influence on the way that we all live. And I do think these [hedge fund] guys are usually either figures of satire or weird wish fulfilment girly romance-novel fantasy. But more often theyre objects of derision.

There is an assumption of philistinism, I say.

Exactly. And sometimes its justified. I had dinner with a friend of mine last night whos a Wall Street guy, and hes on the board of the Whitney Museum, hes the major patron of the Roundabout Theatre. Hes involved in so many cultural and charitable activities I admire that. I know him because hes a wine collector. I make fun of wine collectors; some of them are philistines. But I dont know. I try to keep an open mind.

McInerney is, famously, a wine collector himself and his enthusiasm for his billionaire chums on the scene is so artless, it feels a little grudging to hold it against him. Nonetheless, a few months ago, his old friend Bret Easton Ellis took McInerney to task, telling the Sunday Times that their friendship had cooled because Easton Ellis wasnt rich enough for McInerney.

McInerney
McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis on the town together in 1990. Photograph: Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Huh! says McInerney. I didnt see that! He looks taken aback. Actually, Isay, Easton Elliss first charge was that their friendship had cooled because McInerney didnt like how his friend had portrayed him in his novel, Lunar Park. I actually thought it was very fun, says McInerney and laughs, mirthlessly. He insists on saying that. I thought it was very amusing. Bret never says … you can never take anything he says straight. Hes always gone for effect. Up until a couple of years ago, Isaw him pretty regularly. I hope to seehim next month when I go to LA on book tour. We were very, very close. I think when Bret decided to leave New York he chose to reject a lot of what he left behind. He had a very hard time here in the end and I think that, basically, hes very down on New York for very complicated reasons some personal, some symbolic and Ithink Irepresent New York and his old life, including some very difficult aspects.

In their heyday, the two men, along with the novelist Tama Janowitz, formed a literary rat pack and were frequently out on the town until dawn. McInerney gives a big sigh. Personally, Im a little sad about his wholesale rejection of the city. Hes been saying for the last 10 years that New Yorks over, New Yorks over. Well, just because you chose to leave, doesnt mean everything ended.

One thing that strikes me about McInerneys image in that era is that he was only a bad boy in comparison to some perversely old-fashioned idea of the novelist. Unlike Edward St Aubyn, say, McInerney never seemed in any real danger of falling down a drugs hole never to return.

No, no, I wasnt that guy, he laughs. I was the guy who, after staying up till dawn, would feel horribly hungover and remorseful for the next few days, before I went out and did it again. What is that book of [St Aubyns], set in New York? Its just gruelling. And wonderful.

He means Bad News, the second in St Aubyns series of five autobiographical novels that describes how he nearly died from a heroin overdose while in New York in the 80s. It makes me think, Hey, Im not so bad! He was so far out there. Also, I had to write.

You werent privately funded, I say.

I wasnt. I graduated from college and my parents said goodbye and good luck. They paid my tuition, and that was it. So I was scrambling around. When I first came to New York, I was writing freelance book reviews, doing freelance copy editing. Until I published Bright Lights, I was very strapped. Which Im, frankly, grateful for. Ive seen far too many trust fund kids fail to launch in any direction except down.

McInerney
McInerney with his fourth wife, Anne Hearst, in 2005. Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex/Shutterstock

McInerney grew up all over the US as his father, a sales and marketing executive, frequently changed jobs, eventually settling in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for his high-school years and graduating from Williams College in 1976. He went on to attain a masters degree, studying writing under Raymond Carver, at Syracuse University, and then moved to New York, where he set about living the rackety life that would provide the material for his first novel.

Bright Lights sold millions of copies when it came out in the mid-80s and established McInerney as an arresting new talent and, perhaps,, thanks to the vigour and innovation of that book, with its famous second-person narrative you are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning as a more literary novelist than he would turn out to be. In Bright, Precious Days, there are many good, sharp scenes that nail the social swirl and hypocrisy of wealthy New York, but there isnt much in the way of real psychological acuity, and many of the characters struggle to rise above the level of stereotype. McInerney has, it seems to me, suffered over the years bytrying to flog himself into a posher novelist than he naturally is.

Either way, he seems touchingly pleased with the good reviews the novel has earned in the US. For years, I felt like I had been paying for the success of Bright Lights, Big City; my perceived manner of life, whether its the alleged partying or being a semi-public figure, or being comfortably off. I feel like, with this book, it was finally judged on its merits. There are a lot of people out there who resented me. Ihope thats over.

Most novelists who read their own reviews can probably recite by rote the best and worst lines, but few would expose themselves to potential ridicule by doing so in public. McInerney is so game and, in this regard, so likable that he plunges in regardless, quoting word for word not one, but two Janet Maslin reviews in the New York Times, one of which is seven years old. Her review of his latest novel was a little cryptic, he says. But then when she said, Please, Mr McInerney, write another, I thought, I guess she likes it. Because her review of my short stories His idea of etiquette is holding a girls hair while she snorts a line of cocaine was favourable but very prickly.

McInerney is surely right when he says his early fame and wealth tipped opinion against him. Twenty years ago, when his twins were born, he was living in very un-writerly style in a four-bedroom co-op in the Carlyle hotel. (It was originally a two-bedroom, but, when the twins arrived, he bought the co-op downstairs from his friend Stephen Fry, and knocked through). And look I wish I had been more sensible. I wish I had invested more wisely. I wish I had bought the painting that Jean-Michel Basquiat offerred me at three in the morning, for $700. It would be worth like $30m today. I didnt invest wisely, I didnt conserve the money. I got divorced three times, which squandered money. On the other hand, I havent been a trainwreck, either. Ive been stumbling along fairly successfully.

His worst financial period was in 2000, when McInerney was overdue by a year in delivering The Good Life and living alone in a one-bedroom apartment. I was really up against the wall. I was getting divorced and trying to take care of the kids, and I had to really produce to get my way out of this. I was in debt. It was boom and bust. The Carlyle apartment mostly went to my ex-wife and kids which is as it should be. I dont regret any of that.

McInerney
McInerney in 2006: he likes his fine wine. Photograph: David Howells/Rex/Shutterstock

He and his ex-wife remained on good terms, which is characteristic of McInerney. Of the various exes, he says, including the ones that I didnt marry, Im close to all but one or two. One knows men like this and they are always on good terms with their exes, always given the benefit of the doubt by their women on the basis of likability, affability and a mild but irresistible propensity to appear slightly lost. To marry four times is, of course, not a sign of cynicism, but its opposite. I am an optimistic person. I like to think Im romantic. McInerney shrugs and looks pained. I also think Ive settled down. You can only blow up your life so many times before it becomes a little ridiculous.

In other words, he grew up and is now something of an elder statesman a scary thought. Well, Ive been waiting! The trilogy is an attempt by McInerney to take a mature, panoramic view of New York and some aspects of that aremore successful than others. The publishing world is, of course, very well rendered, but Corrine Calloway runs a food bank in the Bronx and there is some excruciating dialect Dont you be talking bout my kids. Aint none ayo fuckin bidness from the characters there, to whom Corrine ministers before popping off to lunch at the Four Seasons with her billionaire lover. Imention Jonathan Franzens spat overrace the novelists confession, in an interview in Slate, that he doesnt write books about race because, I dont have very many blackfriends.

Did he? I missed that one. Oh lord. Well. On the one hand I suppose I understand that response. On the other hand, Ithink if youre someone like Jonathan Franzen, who attempts to write on the grand scale about the large issues of the republic, and of existence, I can understand why somebody noticed this omission. Its true. Now that I think about it, there arent any black characters in his books. Well, far be it from me to criticise Franzen. Hes an important novelist. But yeah, suddenly it does seem slightly surprising. McInerney laughs good-naturedly. I hadnt thought of his work in that way, but looking back, yup: white, white, white.

The current political landscape is one that, along with everyone else in the US, McInerney can only look on at in wonder. In the 2008 election, he was an early Obama supporter and says of his tenure: I dont think hes done a terrible job, given what hes faced. Im not sure who couldve dealt with that obstructionist Republican congress; a Lyndon Johnson, or someone with slicker legislative skills couldve brought them around a little, maybe, although obstructionism is the religion of these rightwing republicans.

Incredibly, Rudy Giuliani, currently stumping for Trump, officiated at McInerneys fourth wedding. They havent met this election season but generally, When I see him,I just avoid the subject of politics altogether, because I know were not going to agree on anything.

As for Trump: Hes this cartoon of aNew York tycoon, and barely a tycoon at that. I have friends in the real estate business and they say, number one, he has hugely overinflated his wealth, and number two, hes impossible to do business with; hes not trustworthy, he sues everybody. Hes not well regarded in that community.

Its the community McInerney holdsdear. And seriously, he was not a presence on the Upper East Side social world. Hes not charitable, or philanthropic and hes not social. One of the reasons many of us think he wont release his tax returns is that hes never given anything to charity in his life. As a New Yorker, I regret that hes associated with the city I love.

Whenever McInerney starts a new novel, he has to clear out of the city to Vermont, or Rhode Island, until he has the thing under way. But he always comes back. And when hes in New York, he really does go out every night. Every night, he says. Otherwise, I dont know; thats the point of New York?

It is this, 30 years down the line, that distinguishes McInerney from so many other burnt-out veterans of his city and his trade the utter lack of a jaded world view. This is a nice apartment, he says, enthusiasm rising. But most of what Im paying for is out there.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/01/jay-mcinerney-regret-trump-associated-city-i-love-new-york-bright-lights


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