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Grilling Salman: The Rushdie Interview
December 27, 2010 | 4:00PM

originally published: Nov 23rd 2010

All Words: Jeff Jetton
All Photos: Mike Danko

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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.

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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?

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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 DepartedBoston undercover cop is the look we were going for, but instead we somehow just got homeless person.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

BYT: Would you rather be remembered by generations of non-reading television watchers as Cat Stevens’ mortal enemy or the guy who married the hot chick on Top Chef?

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.

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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.

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Salman Rushdie: He’s just flown to Dallas today to engage somebody in a debate.

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Jeff: Well, we thought a road-trip buddy movie might be cool.

Salman Rushdie: (laughs) Oh Yeah! That would be cool.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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For more Salman Rushdie, look here.  For more Padma Lakshmi click here.

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.

Comments:

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Recent Comments:
  • Nate 1 says:

    You do know he won a Booker prize and was shortlisted for another before he ever wrote The Satanic Verses, right?

  • Michael says:

    This was fun to read.

    I, too, aspire to be a horrible author who manages to piss off a Muslim or two, who will then issue a fatwa, which will, in turn, make me world famous, and therefore rich because all kinds of suckers will then buy my drivel because they want to see what all the fuss was about in the first place, and why a bunch of illiterate goons will listen to some power-mad religious asshole who says that I need to die because of a sentence or two in my otherwise forgettable novel.

    Seriously dude has been riding the waves of this fatwa nonsense for far far too long. Though I don’t really blame him, I blame the people who are so overwhelmed by media furor that they spend their money on his crap. I’ve read better stuff in the “All in a Day’s Work” section of Reader’s Digest.

  • Katie G says:

    awesome interview, for real.

  • Kimberly says:

    More guerrilla-style interviews, please.

  • shona says:

    wicked cool jeff! nice job :)

  • Max says:

    Um…amazing.

  • Bradley says:

    Thank god for Jeff Jetton.

  • Ashley says:

    this was fantastic.

  • AShley says:

    this was fantastic.

  • Logan Logan says:

    Also “Midnight’s Children” was, and is to this date, considered one of the finest pieces of post-colonial literature ever written, composed 4 years before Satanic Verses. Also, “Shame” was awarded the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, written 3 years before SV. Rushdie was in fact a celebrity for his literary merits well before the mooslimb controversy gobbledigook.

  • walberque says:

    and, you nicked his copy of the book. total result. well done.

    @Michael: I don’t really care if you don’t like his writing style, but if you think his literary chops were earned by the fatwa, then you’re a fool. Midnight’s Children is great, and Shame (not my style) was well acclaimed before Verses. I would add that the Moor’s Last Sigh is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read (the Verses is a rip-roaring read, as well). But, no, I’m sure you’re right – I just have to find these brilliantly-written magical realist letters to Readers’ Digest (do you do all your reading these days in port-o-potties at tea party rallies?), and note that Rushdie’s plan all along was to spend ten years of his life in hiding, hoping some loon wouldn’t find and kill him – all to sell a couple books. I take that back – you’re not a fool – you’re a literary genius in the making. Now where’s the treatment – I think Random House will pay six figures!

  • Dakota says:

    my mother is mortified that i’m friends with you Jeff. i however, very much enjoyed this, although in trying to explain to my mother WHY it is that you asked Salman Rushdie which metal bands are the biggest pussies, i did share a brief fleeting moment of concurrence with her in her assertion that you are maybe the most disrespectful dude ever. but no matter, i got over it.

  • svetlana Svetlana says:

    william photo bombing that staff snapshot at the end is like a cherry on top of a surrealist cake that is this article

  • Jeff says:

    @Dakota If you think YOUR mom has trouble understanding why I do the shit I do, imagine how MY mom feels. No matter, I just ask myself, What Would Hunter Thompson do?

    P.S. Tell your mom I say hi.

  • Michael says:

    His public and monetary fame, awards or prizes or not, was made by Satanic Verses. That was my point. Plus, William, you said I was the best writer of our generation and you can’t take it back. Now I just need to piss off some Muslims, and I mean some real ones, not some who may read my snarky comments on BYT. Or, rather, I just need to actually write again.

    Seriously though I don’t think he’s that great of a writer. He just doesn’t speak to me. My opinion.

  • Ernest says:

    And now, as an icing on the cake of this topic, an excerpt from prize-winning Mr. Rushdie himself:

    “Without being disrespectful dude and despite how much he enjoyed this, Jeff doesn’t concur for a brief fleeting moment with his friend’s Dakota assertion that his mother has the biggest pussy ever, but no matter, at first mortified he gets over it…”

  • your sweet internet name says:

    Jeff, I am convinced that you are a literary genius in the making and I wish you were one of my children but alas Jan and Bruce got you first. That was brilliant!!

    Ann Peters

  • Corrie says:

    I’m sure this was his most memorable interview of the night. Those questions showed pretty excellent, boozey insight. Those were some real laughs, man. Your momma should be proud.

  • Ernest says:

    This Salman is a complete fake. Poor literature, I mean. A scandalously overrated fraud. “Post-colonial”?.. Post colonial my foot. And who cares whose momma has the biggest pussy ever… It may as well be Logan’s, for all I care.

  • yassyp says:

    jeff… wow, so lucky! awesome interview!