originally published: Nov 23rd 2010
All Words: Jeff Jetton
All Photos: Mike Danko
Sometimes certain luminaries roll through our town, attracting the type of receptions typically reserved for kings and rockstars. In the world of literature, no man looms larger than the venerable Sir Salman Rushdie. Both king and rockstar, he’s the only author to hold the dual distinguished honors of winning the Booker Prize AND having a Fatwa (death sentence) ordered on him by the Iranian government. Dude is bonafide.
It’s funny, though, when you catch one of the world’s preeminent Atheists holding court in one of Washington’s most historic religious buildings: Can you really take this book reading (from Luka and the Fire of Life, his latest-ed) as seriously as did the throngs of wide-eyed starfuckers packed to the gills to hear a man shout from a podium the exact same pages that they would most likely be reading later that night? Isn’t he kind of spoiling the story?
How do you prepare for such an event? Does one dress the part? The downtown D.C. after-work crowd flocked in droves to see Rushdie drop sermon from his latest novel. Ties aplenty and khakis galore. We figured it might get Salman’s attention if we stood out from the crowd a bit. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed. Boston undercover cop is the look we were going for, but instead we somehow just got homeless person.
Our request for an interview had been denied by the PR folks at Random House. Go figure. We decided we’d just show up, looking out of the ordinary, and beg our way into some sort of an interview or, at worst, an arm-wrestling competition. After all, the guy MUST love to talk about himself, right? What we hadn’t planned on was getting hammered. But after the book reading, there were roughly 350 people waiting in line to have their book signed by Salman. We needed something to kill time.
Eat First Chinese Restaurant is on the same block in Chinatown as the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. We dropped in quickly for some beer and a Flaming Volcano to take the edge off, then came back after about an hour to see if the line had died down. It had not; ladies and gentlemen of all ages were clamoring to get a Rushdie signature in their copy of Luka and the Fire of Life.
So we went to the liquor store down the street and bought a bottle of booze. Not just any booze for any occasion, this called for something special: Gentleman Jack. Oh we fancy, huh?
At this point we started to calm our nerves and gain the type of confidence and poise one needs when kicking it with writers of great importance. The type of confidence and poise that can only be found in a golden bottle of sweet Tennessee whiskey.
The irony of kneeling before this literal literary God on the pulpit of this highly religious setting was not lost on us. Had there been a ring to kiss, we might have obliged. It was all very spiritual.
Or perhaps it was less the spirituality and more the spirits we’d imbibed, finally kicking in, rendering a newfound courage to ask the tough questions that the lillies in the publishing world never ask the literary giants.
And so it was. We hit the iPhone’s record button and, to be honest, had a fairly drunken, yet surprisingly candid, interview with one Salman Rushdie:
Salman Rushdie: (Laughs hysterically) That’s a very tough choice. I’ll have to pass, I think, I don’t want to be remembered as either of those.
BYT: Do you love all your books or are there some of them that are more…
Salman Rushdie: The answer is that I don’t really love any of them. I do not read them. I do not read the works of Salman Rushdie, I write them. By the time I have finished writing them all I can think of is never reading them again. It’s so deep, your involvement with a book, that once it’s finished, then you are really done with it.
BYT: Certainly. So who or what do you look to for a break?
Salman Rushdie: Almost anything really. When I am writing novels I don’t read a lot of novels so I try to catch up in-between.
BYT: Okay. Is there anything you and Hitch [Christopher Hitchens] are going to do now that the reality of mortality is out there? Maybe a road trip?
Salman Rushdie: Christopher? Well I don’t know, let’s see. All I want is for him to get better, you know. But he is a very tough man.
Salman Rushdie: He’s just flown to Dallas today to engage somebody in a debate.
Jeff: Well, we thought a road-trip buddy movie might be cool.
Salman Rushdie: (laughs) Oh Yeah! That would be cool.
BYT: Let’s call it Salman and Hitch: Bucket List 2.
Salman Rushdie: (laughs really hard while shaking head) That shouldn’t be funny.
BYT: It would be pretty fun, though.
BYT: Do your friends ever recognize themselves in your books?
Salman Rushdie: Nobody ever recognizes themselves unless they are not the character. (everyone laughs) There are many people who have claimed to be in my books, but unfortunately they were usually people that I didn’t know.
Salman Rushdie: People have come up and scolded me, “You shouldn’t have put me in your book!” And I thought: “we just met!”
BYT: How did you get yourself on the “no fly” list?
Salman Rushdie: That is one of those funny things that wasn’t really true. But there was a point where I did have to talk to the TSA and tell them that there wasn’t really a problem here. It was a long, long time ago.
BYT: Okay. What’s your favorite magic trick?
Salman Rushdie: Steve Martin has a very good magic trick. I’ll tell you what he does. He takes two playing cards and he folds one across along the width so it has the back facing outwards. Then he folds the other one across the length so it shows you the pips. So he pushes the long one through the short one and when it comes out the other side its folded the other way, its folded with the back outwards. Then when it is halfway through he tears it in half, he shows you the two halves and they are folded in opposite directions. It’s the most incredible magic trick. And he does it as close-up magic; he does it under your nose. So you can’t see how he did it. It’s the most brilliant trick.
BYT: That was William’s question.
Salman Rushdie: Well, Steve Martin’s trick is brilliant. I saw a trick at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. Again, this guy, he was doing close-up magic, and all along he had this unopened bottle of champagne on the table. At the end of it we all clapped and he said thank you, you have been such a great audience and to celebrate I’m going to have a drink. So he took the foil off the top, he took the wire cage off, he popped the cork, he poured himself a glass of champagne, he said thank you very much and toasted himself. He went like that to the bottle (clink) and the bottle was unopened.
BYT: Geez. The sleight of hand!
Salman Rushdie: It was just astonishing! Those are the two best magic tricks.
BYT: Did you ever figure that one out?
Salman Rushdie: No! I don’t even begin to know how he did it. Well, anyway there we are, those are the two best.
BYT: We have one last one. As an expert in Satanic Verses, which metal bands are the biggest pussies?
Salman Rushdie: Ha! You would have to ask my children that question.
BYT: (laughs) Alright. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.
Salman Rushdie: Thank you.
And when you’re done checking her out, drop by Politics and Prose to buy Luka and the Fire of Life or any of Salman Rushdie’s other works, including The Satanic Verses, the book that started it all. You can find Politics and Prose’s entire schedule of authorly bliss right here.