Every so often, the interviewer must become the interviewee
Sometimes in this business, you end up talking to someone so cool that when something happens to that person, other news outlets end up wanting to talk to you.
Remember that movie, “Almost Famous,” about a writer for Rolling Stone magazine?
There’s never been a more aptly titled movie about journalism.
For me, it was comedy genius Jonathan Winters.
Before moving home to Jefferson this past November, I just happened to work for the newspaper in Winters’ hometown of Springfield, Ohio.
As the paper’s A&E writer, I’d long wanted to interview Winters, whom I was warned was literally “crazy.”
I got my wish in 2011 when Winters was 85.
All I can say is thank God I had my digital voice recorder going — there’s no way I could’ve taken notes by hand.
It was classic Winters, who was always something of the Paleozoic Robin Williams.
He broke into characterizations and went off on tangents that initially seemed to be just silly until you realized how surreal and subversive they really were.
It was a lengthy interview, arguably among his very last, and my story ended up being picked up nationally.
I know it ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, because a former co-worker sent me a copy.
When Winters died last year, I got a call from an NPR station — would I talk about what it was like to talk to Jonathan Winters?
This was new to me, so I happily obliged.
Of course, there’s a flipside to being “almost famous.”
It’s called “almost infamous.”
And last week, that’s where I found myself.
I was helping interview potential summer intern candidates for The Jefferson Herald at Iowa State University, so I’m grateful I missed this call.
The CBS affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, wanted me to talk — live during their newscast, no less — about a local Ohio guy I’d featured in 2012.
It seems this particular gentleman was the subject last week of a nationwide FBI manhunt for allegedly abducting a teenage girl.
The case even appeared on “Nancy Grace.”
I listened to the voice mail from the TV reporter and breathed a sigh of relief to my wife at supper that night.
“What would I have said?” I asked at the dinner table. “That we went hunting for Bigfoot together using homemade spears?
“It’s not like he was a bank president.”
I think I was supposed to sound shocked that this guy — a trapper whose business cards advertised that he was, “Now specializing in coyote capture and cryptozoology studies” — was on the run from the FBI and Nancy Grace.
One of those cards had found its way to me, so I dutifully called to find out if the Springfield, Ohio, cryptozoology business was booming.
I rather specialized in seeking out offbeat — oddball? — local people to profile.
Take, for example, the little octogenarian who wanted the world to know he invented rap music.
I let him say his piece, and he actually had a pretty compelling claim in the form of a 1974 record he made.
His song was later slated to be featured on two compilations — one by a Chicago-based record label and another from Europe — of obscure soul and “proto-rap” songs.
Cryptozoology, if you’re wondering and haven’t been watching the History Channel for about the past seven years, is the study of creatures that may or may not exist.
You know the type — sasquatch, chupacabra, mothman, the Loch Ness monster.
As it turned out, no one had ever called to inquire about this guy’s cryptozoological services.
That is, except me.
That probably should have been the end of the conversation, but sensing some good material, I pressed on.
The guy wasn’t so much interested in studying Bigfoot as he was taking Bigfoot as a trophy — with a spear of his own crafting.
I had but one question.
“What time can I come over?”
Actually, I had two questions.
“If you let me tag along on a Bigfoot hunt, could I carry a spear, too?”
The rest is history.
In fact, that same area where we hunted for Bigfoot with spears in 2012 was, just last week, scoured by law enforcement wielding AR-15s.
Authorities eventually found the guy and the girl.
But, did we ever find Bigfoot?
I am, however, convinced that west central Iowa has a significant sasquatch population — so if anybody wants to take the local media along on an expedition, get in touch.