I [also] did an interview with Eddie Vedder one time. We did the second half of it over the phone; he was much better over the phone. In person, he’s a little shy…very friendly and very gracious, even a little deferential. [He] was polite but not particularly informative. Over the phone, he was much better able to access his own feelings. He felt less like he was being interviewed and somehow the phone gave him the ability to disappear into himself a little bit and then to speak from that place. And that’s ultimately what you want, whether you’re in the room with the person or you’re interviewing them on the phone. You want them to be able to access something in themselves so that they’re not speaking from their head; they’re speaking from somewhere inside themselves. And you can make that work, depending on the person in either situation.
We’ve come upon the eighth anniversary of George Harrison’s passing. Did your first interview with him, in particular, have any profound effect on your perception of his music?
The hardest people to interview are the ones who made an impression on you as a kid. It’s difficult. I mean, as much as I admire Bono or Peter Buck [of R.E.M.], I was a grownup by the time I met those people and heard their music; I was kind of formed. I am who I am because of the Beatles. So, meeting [Harrison] was hard. It had a kind of surreality to it. It does to this day… I realized I was going to be in situations where you could just be overwhelmed by the emotions connected with your own experience. Sitting there with him, it was very hard to stay focused and do the work and get the interview done.
What I like about that interview is toward the end where he’s talking about his relationship to John Lennon, about a sense that if you can’t experience the spirit of a great friend who you loved deeply after he’s gone, what hope could you ever have of experiencing Jesus or Buddha or whoever it is that you’re interested in? That’s a kind of simple idea, but it’s really powerful. And it’s one that has stayed with me, that things don’t have to be lost. That moment where he just says—quoting Dylan as he did so often—“‘If your memory serves you well, we’re going to meet again.’ I believe that.” The degree of conviction and the degree to which those things were true to him became much more powerful for me, obviously, after he died. But their importance made an impression on me at the time and has for all these years since.