A Sheep in Wolfe’s Clothing: The Tom Wolfe Interview
Jeff Jetton | Nov 9, 2011 | 9:00AM |

Words: Jeff Jetton
Photos: Bruce Guthrie
Graphic Design: Cale

This was supposed to be our Mad Magazine nod, wherein we recreated their famous Spy Vs. Spy comic strip with our own special guest: Tom Wolfe. Yes, THAT Tom Wolfe: writer of Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff and The Electric Koolaid Acid Test; creator of New Journalism; sharpest dresser in literature; and basically an all-around national treasure.

No joke, we had designs on an elaborate scheme to recreate the Spy strip with a whole storyline about two secret agents, Mr. Wolfe (white) and Mr. Sheep (black. Black sheep? Get it?) that spend copious amounts of time and energy trying to eradicate each other in increasingly elaborate ways: dynamite, knives, guns, those old-fashioned bowling-ball-with-a-wick bombs that you always see in cartoons, whatever they can find.

It was all part of our perfect plan. But even the best laid plans oft go awry. Do you have any idea how much time it takes to graphic design that kind of stuff into a photo? Hint: it takes a long time. So instead we asked Tom Wolfe if we could ditch the spy shit and settle on an interview. And anyways, the Newseum is a more appropriate setting for this type of deep-insight reporting that brightest young things is known for (as opposed to rogue jackassery that you find other places). Unfortunately, Tom had only about six minutes to talk with us…

BYT: How much faster could you have written The Electric Kool-Aid Methamphetamine Test?

TOM WOLFE: Not much faster, that was the fastest book I ever wrote. I’ve never done that again.

BYT: Who is your dry cleaner?

TOM WOLFE: My dry cleaner is the best in New York. His name is George Torpe, and you can’t go wrong. Except you’ll pay a lot of money.

BYT: Where is he located?

TOM WOLFE: At the bottom of a co-op near Park Avenue.


BYT: Cool. Do you think you could have kicked Norman Mailer’s ass?

(Ed. Note: Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer had a long running feud)

TOM WOLFE: Physically?

BYT: Yeah.

TOM WOLFE: Oh yeah, definitely. His entire record was putting a knife through his wife’s rib. She weighed about 98 pounds. That and biting Rip Torn’s ear off.

BYT: He [Mailer] bit the ear off?


BYT: Why have so many great, interesting writers honed their skills writing about sports?

TOM WOLFE: They probably wanted to be athletes.

BYT: Not like you. You actually were an athlete, no?

TOM WOLFE: I was. Big league scouts successfully contained their enthusiasm, though, when all was said and done.

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BYT: Who’s your favorite pitcher of all time?

TOM WOLFE: The pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. What was his name. It’ll come to me. Dutch Leonard? It was years ago. I saw him play against the Washington Senators.

BYT: This was the original Senators. You’re dating yourself, Tom.

TOM WOLFE: I’m from the 20th century, I don’t know you guys.

BYT: On that note, have you ever heard of G.W.A.R.?


BYT: Band from your hometown of Richmond? They dress up in costumes like intergalactic…

TOM WOLFE: They’re banned from Richmond?

BYT: No no, they’re a band from Richmond, not banned from Richmond.

TOM WOLFE: (laughs) Oh, a band from Richmond!


(R.I.P. Flattus Maximus)

TOM WOLFE: It’s hard to get banned from Richmond.

BYT: You wrote From Bauhaus To Our House…did you ever consider just keeping the title and rather than writing about architecture, writing about British music in the 80s?

TOM WOLFE: I never considered writing about British music in the ’80s…who is that?

BYT: Bauhaus? British band, never heard of Peter Murphy? Our House was a song by Madness.


BYT: You’re dating yourself again, Tom…

TOM WOLFE: I told you, I’m from the 20th century.

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BYT: Dean Koontz or Tom Clancy?

TOM WOLFE: Neither one.

BYT: Good answer.

BYT: You’ve called yourself Conservative…

TOM WOLFE: I have never called myself Conservative. Other people do and I don’t agree with them.

BYT: As someone who has written about Wall Street, how do you feel about the Occupy Wall Street movement?

TOM WOLFE: I don’t know, I’d have to go talk to them. I don’t know who’s there, no one knows who’s there.

BYT: Would you say that New Journalism is radically different than Gonzo Journalism?

TOM WOLFE: No, it’s fundamentally different because Hunter Thompson was really the new Mark Twain.


BYT: You were in Cuba at the same time that Thompson wrote The Rum Diary [in Puerto Rico]…

TOM WOLFE: Really? I was there in the early sixties.

BYT: 1961. So you didn’t run into him?

TOM WOLFE: No. Not that I remember.

BYT: Bummer.

BYT: Do you have any good stock tips?

TOM WOLFE: (laughs) Sell them all.