Episode 338 – Simon Doonan

Virtual Memories Show 338:
Simon Doonan

“Drag has been the wallpaper in my life forever.”

Author, fashionista, creative ambassador, and recovering window-dresser Simon Doonan takes us on a guided tour of gender non-conformity with his latest book, Drag: The Complete Story (Laurence King)! Simon & I talked through his personal history with drag, how drag has evolved over the millennia, how the current moment is pushing drag in new directions, and why male British comics were so comfortable performing in it (a long-standing question of mine). We also get into his love of craft and how dressing windows at Barneys New York was the perfect venue for him, the value of having a day job and not making art the center of one’s life, how a kid who failed his 11+ wound up writing a shelfload of books, the joy of his crafting reality show, Making It, why he didn’t get through the auditions for Queer Eye, the TV skill he had to learn, his love of history and his abhorrence at the idea of being anyone’s role model, why it’s life-affirming to wear some color, what sort of drag I’d be able to pull off, and plenty more! Give it a listen (conversation begins at 7:53)! And go buy Drag: The Complete Story!

(NOTE: All of Simon’s proceeds from this book go to the Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ youth at risk for homelessness)

“I think it’s good for writers to get out and work. Like Simone Weil: she used to work in a car factory.”

“The message I got from my parents was that life’s just not that complicated. The idea that they’d have been involved in my college application is absurd!”

“I have the ability get very interested in things that are outside of myself. My windows were often based around that.”

“I thought about being an Artist, but realized how much more fun it was to be a window-display designer.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Writer, Fashionista and Author Simon Doonan is the Creative Ambassador for Barneys New York. His books include Saturday Night Fever Pitch: The Magic and Madness of Football Style, Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You, Confessions of a Window Dresser, and Gay Men Don’t Get Fat. Simon appears as a judge on the NBC television show, Making It, co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. His new book is Drag: The Complete Story.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Doonan by me. It’s on my instagram.

Episode 182 – Virginia Heffernan

Virtual Memories Show #182: Virginia Heffernan

“It’s very, very weird to do something along with three billion other people.”

magic-and-loss-9781439191705_hrCultural critic Virginia Heffernan joins the show to talk about her new book, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster)! We talk about what’s behind the screen, why the internet is bigger than the Industrial Revolution, her first experience online in 1979, what it’s like to be in a piece of performance art with half the world’s population, her crushing defeat at meeting Joan Didion, why she’s nostalgic for landline phones, the motive motive of Pokemon Go, asking The New York Times to host a shred-guitar competition, and why there’s value in Reading The Comments! Give it a listen! And buy Magic and Loss!

“The Magic is the part of the internet that is delightful, that moves you to a new space, that is the Mystery of existence. The Loss is that sick feeling you have when you’ve been online all the time.”

We also get into the karmic hassle of filing expense reports, the necessity of having an online avatar, balancing her virtual and physical presences, the Talmudic ferocity of language-correctors online, the long history of selfies, what goes wrong every time she tries to write fiction, being a fiction fact-checker for The New Yorker, why people should read upthread, and the miracle of her author picture and the uncanny valley. Now go listen to the show!

“Absolute banality is not good, but babbling eccentricity is dangerous, too.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

vheffavatarVirginia Heffernan (a.k.a. @page88) is a journalist, critic and author, most recently, of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Heffernan has been called “America’s preeminent cultural critic,” “a public intellectual for the 21st century,” and among the “finest living writers of English prose.” Edward Mendelson in The New York Review of Books called Magic and Loss, “surprisingly moving…an ecstatic narrative of submission.” Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of WIRED, writes, “Heffernan is a new species of wizard. It is a joy and a revelation to be under her spell.”

From 2008 to 2012, Heffernan wrote “The Medium,” a weekly column about Internet culture, for The New York Times Magazine. Before introducing the column, Heffernan spent four years as a television critic at the daily New York Times, where, in addition to writing reviews and features, she chronicled the convergence of television and the Internet. In 2002, she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard, where her dissertation was on financial dynamics in American novels. Before that, she served as articles editor at Talk Magazine, senior editor at Harper’s Magazine, and television critic for Slate. From 2012 to 2014, she was the national correspondent at Yahoo! News. From 2015-2016, she was a Visiting Scholar in the department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU, and editorial director of West, a venture-capital firm in San Francisco. She still consults with VCs and startups.

Heffernan has also written for The New Yorker, Mother Jones, New York Magazine, Salon, MTV, Politico, VICE, WIRED, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Glamour, The Message, Matter, and many other publications. She has appeared on The Open Mind, 20/20, CNBC, MSNBC, and regularly on NPR. As an academic and a journalist, Heffernan has lectured and keynoted at Google, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, Princeton, Dartmouth, Ohio University, Harvard, Union College, NYU, The Savannah College of Art and Design, The National Gallery of the Arts, and Boston College, among many other institutions, universities, and corporations. Her essays have been widely anthologized, including in Extreme Exposure (1999), Unholy Ghost (2002), and Prime Times (2004), Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future (2014), What to Think About Machines That Think: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence (2015). In 2005, Heffernan (with co-writer Mike Albo) published the comic novel, The Underminer (Bloomsbury).

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded Ms. Heffernan’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Ms. Heffernan by Francis Hill.

Episode 132 – Rootless People

Virtual Memories Show #132:
Christopher Bollen – Rootless People

“I wanted to be a writer since I knew that I couldn’t be a detective.”

tumblr_noaa2szheD1u3hieto1_500We close out the summer of 2015 with a great summer novel, Orient (Harper) by Christopher Bollen! We talk about his new book, the difference between a “smart murder mystery” and a “literary thriller,” the perils of Male First Novel Syndrome (as evinced in Lightning People: A Novel), the challenges of writing about Long Island, how his years at Interview magazine honed his ear for dialogue, his fascination with rootlessness, why it’s too easy to parody the contemporary art scene, and more! Give it a listen!

“Remember how you could totally judge a stranger by what they were reading? Now we’ve totally lost that cue, thanks to e-books.”

We also talk about Christopher’s impending 40th birthday, his reverse mid-life crisis, “kids today,” the people he now realizes he should’ve been nervous about interviewing when he was young, the allure of detective stories, why childhood bookish shut-ins have great skin when they get older, how I once nearly blew up a shopping mall back in my high school years, and whether the actual inhabitants of Orient were peeved about his new novel.

“You don’t interview Fran Lebowitz; it’s more like you’re her audience.”


We talk about some books and movies in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Christopher BollenPortrait_Christopher-Bollen2 is a writer who lives in New York City. He regularly writes about art, literature, and culture. His first novel, Lightning People, was published in 2011. His second novel, Orient, was published by Harper in May 2015. He is currently the Editor at Large at Interview Magazine.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song (I’ll ask DB if it’s okay to make it official). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Bollen’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Bio photo of Mr. Bollen by Danko Steiner; not-as-good photo by me.

How I Misspent My Summer Vacation, 2011 Edition: Day 1

“Spokane. Shit. I’m still only in Spokane . . .”

I can’t think of the last time I took a (planned) weeklong vacation. (Last December’s northeast-blizzard-enforced stayover at my in-laws’ in Louisiana doesn’t count.) Typically, Amy can only get away for a few days, so we tend to take long weekends instead. But now we had a full week: Thursday to Wednesday. Off to the Pacific Northwest!

We’d been thinking of taking a trip to Vancouver for a while now. Amy’s parents had been there years ago and loved it. Then one of my work-pals in Spokane, WA invited us to his wedding, so we decided to make a Seattle/Spokane/Vancouver week of it! (Seattle, because the fares to fly into Vancouver were insane, and I have a ton of friends in Seattle.)

The summer’s been weirdly rough for me. After working very hard on my July/August issue through the month of June, I found myself beset ever since by a combo of ennui and anxiety: ennxiety? anxui? Regardless, I’ve been uninspired and frazzled ever since wrapping up that ish. Amy, has been pretty burned out by work too, so we were hoping the change of scenery would be restorative.

I set up flights, hotels, a rental car and a dog-sitter, and put Amy in charge of finding us some nice restaurants. I was, of course, filled with anxiety about leaving the dogs with someone for a week, but the sitter offered to stay at our place, so the boys wouldn’t have to deal with a new environment while we were away. Added bonus: this made us clean the house (somewhat).

Speaking of anxiety, I expected us to be at the airport late, then delayed en route to Seattle, where I’d set up an 80-minute layover to connect to Spokane, and/or to die in a smoldering wreck smack-dab in the side of a mountain. We got through Newark security 85 minutes before the flight, arrived early in Seattle, and had smooth flying throughout. No, I’m not fun to travel with.

While the not-morbidly obese mom in the denim skirt so short that her vag was scrubbing her seat in the row ahead of us was punching the DirecTV unit because it refused to recognize her credit card after no fewer than fifty swipes, Amy & I countered the lowbrow vibe by watching, Public Speaking, a documentary about Fran Lebowitz on my iPad. I’m tired of telling people about great stuff I’ve read or watched, but this is really a blast, and it’s only about 80 minutes long. She’s seen a ton, loves New York, and, in her words, “is always right.” Plus, she’s a great speaker.

(The mom and her mulleted progeny were headed on to Alaska, as were a multitude of other passengers in tube tops or Zubaz sweatpants, several of whom found it acceptable to use the airplane toilet barefoot.)

The flight was almost 5.5 hours, but I just didn’t have the head to read. Sometimes I feel like I’m letting some recording angel down if I watch movies or TV instead of reading. I also watched Howl (nice, not great, and way too ACTED in the courtroom scenes), and The Social Network (second time around, watching mainly for the David Fincher Moments, and also to figure out why this role of Jesse Eisenberg bothered me so much less than his other ones).

Arriving at SeaTac, we had to claim our big suitcase and go back through security, so there was a good opportunity for my anxiety to flare up, since the security lines were pretty long. But then they said that there’s an express area for Seattle-Spokane flights, so I was stuck just being at ease. Boo.

We grabbed lunch at the Seattle Tap Room in the airport, where I was served one of the worst burgers ever made. I grabbed some Starbucks by the gate (when in Seattle…) and was gratified to discover that they don’t serve it at the heat of a thousand blazing suns. On the short flight to Spokane, I watched the last episode of season 1 of Spaced. Still no reading.

But all this preamble and ramble, and we’re not even in Spokane!

So we landed in Spokane, got our suitcase ($20 charge on Alaska Air each way; from now on, we will travel with two roll-aboards), and took a cab to our hotel, the Davenport.

This wasn’t my first trip to Spokane. In February 2002, I was invited by a local economic development council to check out all the great biotech-y stuff in the Spokane metro area. One of my magazine’s major advertisers was in the city, so I figured it would be fine to take the trip and see them. I convinced the EDC to fly me out to Seattle a few days early, so I could hang out with friends there. That schedule reduced the airfare significantly (Saturday night stayover), so they were amenable.

Not knowing anything about Washington’s geography, I had no idea that Spokane was quite so climatically different than Seattle. February in Seattle means dreary rain and mist and 50 degree temps. February in Spokane means whiteouts and temps of — no lie — 4 degrees. I was, to put it mildly, unprepared for the weather. To put it more bluntly, I have never been so cold as I was on that jaunt.

Still, I had a decent time in Spokane in ’02. Two weeks before the trip, the organizers mentioned that they needed me to give a speech about the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry before an audience of local businessmen and other interested parties. (Go here and search for “Roth”; turns out they were charging admission for my speech!) I felt that it was a little unfair to spring that on me so late in the game. I’d never really done any public speaking, and was convinced that I was going to be exposed as a fraud. As you can see, this anxiety thing is nothing new for me.

The night before my speech, I sat at the desk in my lovely room at the Davenport and filled 3 pages of a hotel notepad with observations and topics for the talk. The next morning, I got 2 or 3 lines into the notes before I said, “But really, to understand that, you need to understand . . .” and proceeded to ad lib for another 25 minutes. I’d been working in the pharma-field for fewer than 3 years, but it turned out that I’d internalized a great deal of info and trends and — surprise — was capable of threading everything together for a coherent talk, as well as a Q&A. I don’t remember much of the speech, but I did get a big laugh by blaming that period’s pharma R&D drought on Hillary Clinton.

I didn’t get to see too much of Spokane on that visit. On the first day, I was spirited around to industrial parks, hospitals, and universities. After my speech on the second day, a bigwig at my Spokane-based advertiser took me on a little tour before bringing me over to the company’s manufacturing building.

His name was Rick, and he died early this year from lymphoma. Driving me around the city, he told me that it was quite a change from his home back east. I asked him how he was getting along in such an isolated region. It’s not to knock the city, but it’s out of the way in comparison to, say, Philadelphia.

Rick drove me by his house. It was quite the spread: 3 stories high, plus basement, atop a valley overlooking the city. It was beautiful site. He said to me, “This house cost me $250,000. I’ll get over not being in Pennsylvania.”

So here I was, 10 years later, back at the Davenport. It’s a wonderful old (restored) hotel, and it possesses The Most Comfortable Beds of Any Hotel Ever. (They sell ’em, and my wife is seriously considering ordering one behind my back.)

Amy & I cleaned up, unpacked some (enough for 2 days in Spokane) and headed out to meet my work-pals (and the groom-to-be) for dinner.

Let me note here that “work-pals” doesn’t mean I don’t like ’em as much as regular pals. It’s just to denote that I met them through work. That usually means we only get together during trade shows, when we’ve all been traveling and spend much of the day on our feet in convention center exhibit halls. We talk about our “civilian” lives, but rarely do we encounter each other outside of this work-travel environment. Ironically, work-pals only get to see me in suits and nice clothes, so they have no idea how ratty I can look.

However, my Spokane pals are different than my other advertisers. Amy asked me if I have as much fun with people from other companies as I do with these guys. There’s one other work-pal I consider a great friend, but most everyone else is business-first: like ’em, but we don’t hang out during my vacation.

So what makes the Spokane crew different?

Piss-taking. I’ve never seen a group of people so mercilessly goof on one another, yet stay friends and remain productive. Amy got to see a little of how they interact when we took out a bunch of ’em during a conference in New York last March. Our first night in Spokane, when they took us to dinner at Clinkerdagger (?), she got the double-barreled experience.

(I think they were on good behavior in March, but eventually concluded, “If she could be married to Gil, she can’t possibly be offended by, um, anything!”)

So, over a nice dinner (most everyone ordered a surf & turf, while I went with a tuna ahi dish), my pals proceeded to demolish one another and, of course, me. It’s infectious. I never mind getting blown up by this crowd, even though I tend to bristle at that sort of thing in general.

We were also treated to a great “It’s a small world” anecdote. The guys were telling us about how great Spokane is, and how people from even outside the area all seem to know each other. Then John B. told us, “Back in the ’70’s, my in-laws went to see Gordon Lightfoot once. They said it was the worst show ever, because he was obviously hammered. He could barely stand up on stage, and didn’t even finish the show that night.

“Well, years later, I’m working here, and [a slightly older member of our dinner party] tells us the story about how she and her husband once hung out backstage with Gordon Lightfoot when he was in town . . .”

“. . . And we got him so wasted and high before the show that he couldn’t stand up!” she chortled.

“I never told my in-laws that my boss wrecked their evening 30 years ago.”

If it weren’t so goddamned cold in wintertime, we’d consider moving out here.

After dinner, Amy & I walked through Riverfront Park to get back to the Davenport. It was dark when we left, but I’d never heard talk about the mean streets of Spokane, so I figured we were pretty safe. We did manage to walk through a shooting-gallery-esque block of teenagers, but no one gave us any crap.

And that was the first day of our vacation.

Coming up in day 2: The Mean Streets of Spokane!