Lightening People: NYC Lore

by Staff SOURCE Nowness

Interview Magazine Editor-at-Large Christopher Bollen’s striking portrait of thirty-somethings wandering New York in the aftermath of 9/11, is hauntingly rendered in this video collage of readings by the author’s illustrious circle of peers.

Filmmakers Jauretsi and Crystal have woven together the voices of Chlöe Sevigny, Nate Lowman, Leelee Sobieski, Rufus Wainwright, Waris Ahluwalia, Kalup Linzy, Natasha Lyonne and Kirsten Dunst into a kind of tone poem, paired with a montage depicting a band of young brothers exploring Washington Square Park and the rooftops of their native city. The result captures the vibrancy and diffuse energies that make Manhattan so unique, much as Lightning People does: at once sprawling and intimate, the book explores the bipolarities of the Ohioan writer’s adopted home. “Some of my friends say this is not a Valentine, but an F-you to New York City,” Bollen admits. “I think they’re both in there—the underside and the place of endless dreams.” Written with the deftness you’d expect from a longtime editor of tastemaking magazines V and Interview, Bollen's novel pops with descriptive gems, the poignant characterization tuned by over a decade of profiling cultural icons, from Norman Mailer to Mary-Kate Olsen. NOWNESS caught up with Bollen to talk literary idols and downtown fauna.

Has interviewing your idols influenced your work?

When I was at V, I’d never interviewed anyone and was suddenly interviewing Joan Didion and Norman Mailer. Those were my first interviews, talking to the heroes of my childhood. I do wonder if, at a certain moment, it becomes time to stop talking to the people you admire and start living your own life.

Are you still turning your harsh editorial eye on every word and comma?
Well, yes. There is an impulse to never stop editing. I think it was Robert Penn Warren who said a poem is never finished, it has to be yanked from the poet.

In the second half, the book really lets loose.
At first I worried that it was a little over the top and outrageous—and part of me thinks it is. But in the last ten years everything in New York has been outrageous and over the top. The most extreme things happening seem just as likely as the most sane and somber.

Do you think the book has an artistic ancestry?
Well, it’s funny that novelist and literary Brat-Packer Jay McInerney interviewed me for the current issue of Interview. I would have liked to have written a book about people in their 20s in New York—the characters would have been much cooler, it would have glamorized youth. The scenes of going out in the novel are not glamorous. You never get anywhere. You just lose the more you go.

The original title of the book was Animal. You are something of an expert on the fauna of downtown New York. What are the most prevalent species you see out there?
There are very few herbivores in New York. Everyone is pretty carnivorous. There are very few loner animals. And very few who mate for life I bet. Not a lot of penguins.