The Long and Winding Road That Leads to Fiona Apple

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” So goes the oft-quoted line from William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun. Time is circular, and our relationship with our own personal histories is ever changing. This is a concept with which the enigmatic Fiona Apple is deeply familiar. The 34-year-old singer-songwriter is about to release her fourth album—the first in seven years—aptly titled The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. The spinning wheel of time cranks back and forth for Apple, who continues to re-examine her past while trying to keep up with the present. Like most artists, however, Apple finds that her fans cherish the past more than she does.

In 2000, a 16-year-old fan named Bill Magee approached Apple after a show in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania with a request: he told her he was a member of his high school’s gay-straight alliance and hoped that Apple could write a few words of support. “[I] was much more interested in interacting with a celebrity than building an alliance between gays and straights,” he admitted on his blog 12 years later where he posted a scanned image of the letter he received less than a week after requesting her response. Apple wrote: “All I know is I want my friends to be good people, and when my friends fall in love, I want them to fall in love with other good people. How can you go wrong with two people in love? If a good boy loves a good girl, good. If a good boy loves another good boy, good. And if a good girl loves the goodness in good boys and good girls, then all you have is more goodness, and goodness has nothing to do with sexual orientation.”

“My brother was the one who told me about it,” Apple tells me just weeks after Magee posted the letter on his Tumblr, which was then picked up by various sites like Jezebel and Pitchfork. “I was like, ‘A letter I wrote to someone when I was 22 has made its way online?’ That’s the scariest thing I could possibly hear in my life. And the subject matter was so important—I know how I’ve always felt so I knew it wasn’t going to be a bad letter, but I was like, ‘What did I say?!’”

The letter’s sudden popularity online is indicative of how much has changed since Apple released her debut album, Tidal, in 1996. For starters, she was then a 19-year-old singer-songwriter signed to a major record label and churning out emotional and dark odes at a time when her contemporaries were singing bubblegum-pop love songs. She made headlines after appearing in the video for “Criminal.” Shot in a seedy apartment, the video featured a scantily clad and emaciated Apple, sparking criticisms of the exploitive quality of the images (and suggesting that she had an eating disorder). In 1997, when accepting her award for Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards, Apple infamously shouted into the microphone, “This world is bullshit, and you shouldn’t model your life on what we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying.” While the speech was replayed and parodied on TV for years following, Apple was lucky enough to have said those words before the days of blogging and YouTube; had she given the speech 15 years later, it may have turned into a career-damaging viral video and sparked a few thousand snarky tweets.

She also has the luxury of being a successful artist who doesn’t need to promote herself online. “They want me to tweet now, but I don’t,” Apple tells me ofher label reps. “It doesn’t feel natural to me. But I do find it actually more interesting to see people posting ridiculously mundane shit. I like to hear about what people had for breakfast or what they did all day. It’s interesting because I don’t know how other people live.”

While Apple is hardly a recluse, she’s made few public appearances in the seven years since the release of her third album, Extraordinary Machine. The excitement following the announcement by Epic Records of the late-June release of The Idler Wheel speaks to the loyalty of her fan base. (And as for that long-winded title, it’s a callback to the much-maligned 90-word title of her acclaimed sophomore effort, universally shortened to When the Pawn…) The Idler Wheel does not deviate from the familiar sounds of Apple’s earlier records; the songs are still layered with complex instrumentation, and her reverberant voice still takes center stage in each tune. The album was produced nearly in secret over the last few years—a surprising move from an established artist with the resources of a major label at her disposal. But Apple explains that her experience with the label system is what allowed her to feel free to work on her own. “It was very casual, and I wasn’t fully admitting that I was making an album,” she says. “I got to use the time in the studio to inspire me to finish other things rather than feel like I was finishing homework to hand in. It wasn’t a lot of pressure. And the record company didn’t know I was doing it, so nobody was looking over my shoulder.”

Most might take that mentality as a reaction to the restrictions of her record label, especially after the drama surrounding the release of Extraordinary Machine. After collaborating with Jon Brion (who produced When the Pawn) to create an early version of the third album in 2002, Apple then decided to rework all but two of the songs with producer Mike Elizondo. The original version of the album leaked online, and Brion suggested in interviews that Apple’s label had rejected the demo and forced her to rerecord the songs (a claim that Apple later denied). Still, it incited an uproar among her fans. An online-based movement called Free Fiona organized demonstrations outside of the Sony headquarters in New York, and protestors sent apples to the label’s executives. The final version of the album was released in 2005 and received positive reviews and earned Apple a Grammy nomination. “I ran into the guy who started Free Fiona after a show in Chicago,” she tells me. “He apologized to me! They didn’t get the story quite right, but they did help me get my album out. I felt so bad that he had spent all this time thinking I was pissed at him—I had a physical urge to get down on the floor and kiss his shoes!”

It’s an intense reaction (she admits she didn’t bow to her fan because “it would be weird if I did that”), but Apple is still a very intense person. Dressed in a flowing skirt paired with several layers of spaghetti-strapped tank tops that reveal her slender frame (which seems healthier than in her early days, giving the impression that she must spend most of her downtime on a yoga mat), Apple fidgets in her seat during our conversation, often giving off an infectious giggle. But she is surprisingly comfortable to talk to, not much like the somber young woman who sang of heartbreak and disappointment. “I don’t think I’ll ever have an idea of what I look like to the rest of the world,” she replies when I ask if she ever worries that her lyrics, which are sometimes in stark contrast to the up-tempo, progressive sounds of her songs’ instrumentations, give off the wrong impression of her personality. “It’s all your own perception. I could easily be concerned with how I’m taken and then have all the good stuff filtered through to me and choose to believe that. For the rest of my life it’d be the truth for me, but not the whole truth.”

Born Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart in New York City to Brandon Maggart and Diane McAfee, Apple’s musical destiny was settled at birth. The McAfee-Maggarts are, while not reaching Barrymore-level name recognition, an entertainment family; Apple’s father was nominated for a Tony for his performance in the Broadway musical Applause, both her mother and sister are singers, and her half-brothers work in the film industry—one an actor and the other a director. She’s a third-generation performer, as her grandmother was a dancer in musical revues and her grandfather a Big Band-era musician. While Apple’s auspicious introduction to the pop world had critics calling her a prodigy, she crafted her early songs as a cathartic necessity. (“Sullen Girl” from Tidal, in particular, is about her rape at the age of 12.) “Over the years it’s transferred more into a craft,” she says. “I use myself as material because that’s what I’ve got. But these days I write less than half of my songs to get myself through things. I have to find other things to be meaningful— otherwise I’d just be miserable all the time.”

Her songs are still extremely autobiographical, which is perhaps their charm. Following in the footsteps of other singer-songwriters, especially women who emerged in the early ’90s and expressed their emotions in particularly vulnerable ways, Apple’s openness has always had an empowering appeal. Her songs seem to suggest that feeling a variety of emotions—sadness, glee, despair, insanity—is not only normal, but, like those self-reflective musicians before her, she also gives permission to her listeners to feel the same way.

Even for Apple, her older songs are relics of another time, and she now makes them applicable to her life in the present. “They all kind of become poems after a while,” she says. “You can take your own meaning out of them. It’s been a very long time [since my first albums], and I can apply those songs to other situations that are more current in my life.” She admits she has changed greatly since she started writing songs in her late teenage years, especially when it comes to how she portrays herself. “I don’t feel comfortable singing the songs that I wrote. I used to blame other people and not take responsibility. I thought I was a total victim trying to look strong.”

And she is much harder on herself in the songs on The Idler Wheel than she ever was before. Sure, she admitted to being “careless with a delicate man” in “Criminal,” arguably her most famous song, and in When the Pawn’s “Mistake” she sang, “Do I wanna do right, of course but / Do I really wanna feel I’m forced to / Answer you, hell no.” On The Idler Wheel, Apple examines her own solitude and neuroses as well as their effect on her relationships with others. “I can love the same man, in the same bed, in the same city,” she sings on “Left Alone,” “But not in the same room, it’s a pity.” On “Jonathan,” a somber love song layered with robotic, mechanical sounds that’s presumably about her ex-boyfriend, author and Bored to Death creator Jonathan Ames, she urges, “Don’t make me explain / Just tolerate my little fist / Tugging at your forest-chest / I don’t want to talk about anything.”

But performing, as a central requirement of her career, still takes precedence. “Some nights I’m very, very nervous, and some nights I’m not at all,” she tells me. “I think, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m not a person who does a show, I’m a person who should be on a couch watching TV.’ But then it’s like I get knocked into another state of consciousness, and then I’m left behind, and the person that’s doing the show is there and there’s nothing else in the world existing other than the note she’s singing. It’s such a joy to do, but I forget about it until I’m on the stage.”

Apple has lived in los Angeles since Tidal’s release in 1996, although she admits that she’s “not an L.A. girl.” “I was supposed to stay in New York,” she tells me. “I remember being 17 and asking if I could record in New York. How did I end up here? It’s 15 years later… How did that happen?” Apple doesn’t seem to process time like other people. When I ask when she began recording The Idler Wheel and when she knew it was ready, she has a complicated answer. “It must have started in 2008. Or 2009. I don’t know! I have no idea. It’s weird to think that there was 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.” Her big blue eyes suddenly look to her right as she furrows her brow. “Where’ve I been? What was I doing? What was that year about?”

Maybe the solitary nature of living in L.A. contributes to her aloof tendencies. “I’m not a social creature,” she says, “I don’t go to parties all the time because I’d probably just wonder why I’m there in the first place.” Her preference for being alone may also stem from the kind of personal criticisms that people tend to throw at female musicians. “I’ve gotten so used to being misunderstood. Nobody’s ever really said anything bad about my music, but when I’ve had albums come out there are always people making fun of me. ‘Oh, she’s back?’” She didn’t even expect the comments (mostly online) when the full title of The Idler Wheel was announced. “I didn’t stop to think that anyone would call it ridiculous, but people did. I thought, ‘Ahhh. My old friends.’ I’m not sure what’s ridiculous about it, but that’s what they’ve got to say.”

I cautiously mention the infamous acceptance speech from the VMAs, a moment early in her career that defined the public persona of Fiona Apple as an angry, ungracious woman. “I’ve never been ashamed of that,” she replies immediately. It was the first moment, she says, in which she felt like she could speak up—to break free from the shyness that defined her childhood and early teenage years. “I genuinely, naïvely thought that I was going to put out a record and that was going to make me have friends. I expected to give it to people and they would understand me; no one would say to me, ‘We don’t want to be your friend because you’re too intense or too sad all the time.’” It wasn’t necessarily the case.

“Do you still think the world is bullshit?” I ask when we talk about the VMAs. She laughs. “It’s not the world!” she exclaims. “Of course people think that ‘the world’ is the whole world. I felt that I had finally gotten into the popular crowd, and I thought, ‘Is this what I’ve been doing this for?’ I felt like I was back in the cafeteria in high school and still couldn’t speak up for myself.”

These days, Apple spends more time focusing on her own art rather than the reactions to it. With age has come calm and decreasing desire to pay attention to her detractors. “I’ve decided it takes too much energy to try to avoid it,” she tells me, brushing aside her freshly dyed crimson hair. “I’m not going to hide from the world.”

Photography by Dan Monick
Styling by Djuna Bel

Morning Links: Tyler, the Creator Arrested in L.A., Taylor Swift Joins ‘Hunger Games’ Soundtrack

● Tyler, the Creator was arrested last night in Los Angeles, in front of his crying mother, after he trashed some sound equipment during a performance at the Roxy. Kill people, burn shit, fuck school, etc.The adults were bound to step in eventually. [Rap-Up]

● Stephen Colbert has offered $500,000 to cover the cost of his home state, South Carolina’s, GOP primaries, and he is only asking in return that the ballot be rebranded as "The Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Republican Primary" and that one referendum be added asking voters whether they feel "corporations are people" or "only people are people." "I’ve already filled out the check, and to prove it’s no joke, I’ve written ‘No Joke’ in the memo line," he says. Needless to say, the GOP does not sound thrilled by the idea. [LAT]

● Taylor Swift has joined The Hunger Games team by way of this woozy, melancholic addition to the soundtrack, "Safe and Sound," featuring The Civil Wars. Is it for Peeta? Prim? Rue? [THR]

● America’s got its first The X Factor winner in 19-year-old Melanie Amaro. "She is a star," assured Simon Cowell. [People]

● Lest you not believe it could be, Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are so serious they sent out joint holiday cards this year, each informing the recipient that a donation has been made in their name to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Best Friends Animal Society. [Celebuzz]

Jonathan Ames Is Pretty Bummed About ‘Bored to Death’

Yesterday, HBO fans were incensed by the network’s cancellation of one of its most acclaimed shows, Bored to Death, the Brooklyn stoner detective comedy starring Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis. The usual storm of internet outrage followed: petitions were started, tweets were tweeted, tumblogs were tumbled. How could such a smart show be cancelled on such a smart network? Where would we find such an accurate representation of Brooklyn? Where was the justice?

Sadly, the show is probably gone for now, a fact that isn’t lost on series creator Jonathan Ames (also the name of the show’s main character, if you didn’t know). He talked to Vulture about the numbness of cancellation, how he’d seen the end coming for a few months, and his disappointment over HBO’s seemingly arbitrary ratings thresholds. "It’s very sweet," he said of the petitions to save the show. "I don’t want to discourage it, but I’m embarrassed." The real meat comes when he talks about the potential for more stories, regardless of the format.

Hopefully no matter what happens, they’ll live in the audience’s minds, like they’re still out there, getting stoned and screwing up. Half seeing, half blind. This would be a weird identity thing for me, but maybe I’ll write a book from the fourth season from the point of view of Jonathan Ames, the character. That would even confuse me! [Laughs.] I have ideas for a fourth season that could translate nicely into a fun caper/detective movie. One of the things I wanted to explore was that as Jonathan became a more capable detective, we could increase the action and the slapstick and the adventures. A comic book could be fun, because I could write out all these things we wanted to do. You’d miss their inflections, though.

If you live in New York and you’re reading this right now, it’s not too late to grab a drink with Ames. He’s having fans meet him at the Brooklyn Inn where he’ll buy a free drink for anyone who shows up (or so he says; he has a lot of fans in Brooklyn, I’m sure). I bet he’d love to hear all of your fan theories.

‘Bored to Death’ Creator Jonathan Ames Gets Steamed at the Russian Baths

Russian Bath on 10th St., Friday September 17, 2010, 7:30pm “Don’t lose your key,” the real Jonathan Ames says from outside the women’s locker room of the Russian baths on 10th street in New York’s East Village, where I’m changing out of my clothes. We’ve convened at the baths to talk about his HBO show, Bored to Death, the second season of which premiered last Sunday. “It’s really important that you not lose it.” I hang the wide beige rubber band with the key attached from my wrist. The show is about a Brooklyn writer named Jonathan Ames, who moonlights as an unlicensed private detective. And while the Jonathan Ames of the show explores the underbelly of life in New York—as the real Jonathan Ames does in his essays, so too the fictional characters of his novels—the real Jonathan Ames claims the Jonathan Ames of the show shares his name but isn’t him. “I don’t feel connected to my name. I don’t know who I am,” the real Jonathan Ames said in an interview for Big Think. “I’m so confused as to my own identity.” The Russian baths are a network of saunas and steam rooms. We have two bottles of water. I cough. I say I’m a little sick. He peels the plastic off his water bottle to differentiate between them. “This’ll be good,” he says. “You’ll sweat it out.”

We go into the Turkish sauna first. It’s like a small amphitheater of wood benches rising up four levels. We sit on the top bench and sweat. I’m in yellow plastic slippers and a robe, which is sleeveless with large, loose armholes, belted the waist. The real Jonathan Ames is in black shorts and yellow plastic slippers. He says he’s been a little worn down recently, though production for Bored to Death ended in June. When it is too hot for me in the sauna we break.

I ask him how much control he has over the show and casting. As Creative Director, he says, he has control over every aspect of the show. As a writer, he shares responsibilities with a team, but he gets a “pass” on each draft of an episode. I ask him if working on the second season was more difficult than the first. He says it’s always a challenge to make it better, that it’s almost “animalistic” — the way it never ends, the challenge of improving the show. When he says “animalistic,” it reminds me that he frequently uses Darwinian language in his writing.

On the creator’s blog for the show, I read that the real Jonathan Ames’ great-grandfather came to this same bath, and that nothing makes him happier than coming here. Once, while meditating in the baths, he wrote for his blog, “I felt this overwhelming gratitude for everything in life.” The feeling inspired a scene in Bored to Death where Ted Danson’s character, George Christopher, says he has a moment of unexpected and overwhelming gratitude for everything in life right before he gets a herpes blister.

In the Russian sauna, a monk’s cell of dark concrete walls and tiers of wood-slat benches, half-nude bodies lie prone or mill around in the heat. We go to the top again, where it’s hottest, and sweat sitting side by side.

The real Jonathan Ames rests his elbows on his knees, clasps his hands, and drops his head, bobbing it gently from side to side. His torso is trim and toned. From time to time, he rubs one hand then the other over his head. He is quieter than I had imagined he would be. In interviews I’ve seen of him, he’s histrionic. Here, he is subdued. Then I remember reading that he changes his personality to match the personality of the person he is with. I don’t think I’m being quiet, or at least, I wasn’t when we first entered the baths. But words feel useless here. The real Jonathan Ames looks at the floor, sweating, maybe calling on inner wisdom.

When I watch the show, I look for hints of the real Jonathan Ames that I have observed in his essays and novels. There are some similarities between the real Jonathan Ames and the Jonathan Ames of Bored to Death, who’s played by Jason Schwartzman. The real Jonathan Ames is the author of eight books. His first was the novel I Pass Like Night (1989) and the second—published nine years later—was called The Extra Man. In the interim, the real Jonathan Ames struggled as a writer; his publisher rejected one of his novels. He went back to school to get his MFA at Columbia University and taught night class at the Gotham Writers Workshop. The Jonathan Ames of the show is also a struggling writer who has had his second novel rejected and who teaches night class. The real Jonathan Ames wrote about his childhood neuroses, sexual fetishes, and his unusual adventures for his column at The New York Press—for example, the time he tried to attend an orgy but couldn’t get in. The Jonathan Ames of the show, in his capacity as a private detective, visits S&M dungeons, flop houses, and explores the sexual inclinations of other character’s, like polyamory. (The real Jonathan Ames has never done any detective work, private or otherwise.) Both Jonathan Ameses have engaged in amateur boxing. The last book the real Jonathan Ames published, in 2009, was titled The Double Life is Twice as Good.

“You ready?” Jonathan Ames scoops a bucket of cold water from a stainless steel basin and pours it over me. It is shockingly cold and my blue cotton robe is drenched. He pours freezing water over himself.

We sit off to the side on a bench in the corner, in front of which there is a thin geometric mat. “I sometimes do sit-ups on that,” he says. “It looks very monastic,” I say. He says it’s “austere.” He speaks carefully and his voice is deep and sonorous. I cough. He leans away a little, smiles, and asks, “How sick are you?”

A blond, short-haired woman in a black one-piece and necklace walks in. Her name is Laura and she works at the bath. She and Jonathan greet each other. Laura sits down on the mat and hugs her knees. She looks up and says to Jonathan Ames that they must not have been feeding him in LA—he looks too skinny.

The real Jonathan Ames says he’s brought Jason Schwartzman to the bath twice and that he always tries to turn people on to it. “Jason Schwartzman was my first and only choice,” he says about casting the show. “I considered, briefly, playing myself, but I knew that Jason could do a better job of playing me.” I notice a large man with his head wrapped in a brown towel standing over another man, hitting him repeatedly with branches. The second time we go to the water basin to pour water on ourselves, the real Jonathan Ames says, “You can do it yourself now,” as if he’s taken the training wheels off my bike.

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Before it was a show, “Bored to Death” was a short story the real Jonathan Ames published in McSweeney’s about a writer who decides to be a private detective and puts an ad on Craigslist offering his services. When an HBO producer approached the real Jonathan Ames about working on a project, he suggested basing a show on the short story. It wasn’t the first time he’d pitched a show to Hollywood executives. “I had done some Hollywood pitching over the years,” he says. “I wrote and acted in a pilot for Showtime based on my memoir What’s Not to Love?” Pitching, he says, is, “not unlike oral storytelling,” which he’s done a lot of over the years. He had a one-man show called Oedipussy at PS122 in 1999, and has performed with the live storytelling organization The Moth.

We’re taking sips of our bottled water by a pale blue dipping pool, which Jonathan Ames says is too chlorinated for him to use. Four lightly dressed women have covered their faces and bodies in mud, which is cracked and green, and are laughing and lined up in a massage chain next to the pool. “Let’s go up to the roof,” he says. “Do you have your key?”

The roof feels like a country club. It’s warm and quiet. The light is gentle. There are hard wooden chaise lounges with thin mats and neck rolls for good posture. Jonathan Ames sits on one and points to the chaise in front of his. “Why don’t you take that one?” I lie down in my wet robe and open several small towels, placing one over my chest and stomach.

“Yes,” says Jonathan. “Cover yourself up good. Like this.” I look back as he’s putting a towel over his shins. He puts several more over his body, and says, “You can even put one over your head.” He pulls up a brown towel smoothly over his face and drops it. “But then you can’t see the view,” he says from under his towel, “which is also nice.”

I lie back and put a towel over my face. It’s too hot. I pull it down and look up at the sky. It’s deep blue and framed by a dark green fringe of trees behind the white wood walls, beyond which two stars are visible. “Let’s go eat something,” Jonathan Ames says after twenty minutes. “Then we’ll sweat some more.”

The café at the bath house has faux-wood tables, wood-paneled walls, and vinyl covered chairs. Jonathan Ames has a brown towel wrapped around his head and several towels draped around his shoulders. He seems to be accruing towels, and with a head covering—he is almost always wearing some kind of head covering—he seems more comfortable. He has ordered herring and sliced red plum tomatoes. He suggests I get a lemonade. He seems happy and talks about the Omega 3s in herring. I think about how his amateur boxing nickname was “The Herring Wonder.” I cough. He lifts his towel playfully and protectively over his mouth. There are only men in the café area. A couple of them behind us are speaking Russian.

I ask him if he’s ever been to Russia. He says he’s been to St. Petersburg. He taught a workshop there. He roomed with George Saunders. They are friends now. I ask what that was like, being in St. Petersburg. He says it was “raucous.” I ask him what he means. He gets vague. I imagine Jonathan Ames and George Saunders at an outdoor market buying nesting dolls. Later, he tells me he can’t recall any outrageous adventures, but that George Saunders is a “very kind and sweet man, a Buddhist with a sense of humor…. I probably had hang-ups about sharing a toilet with him—I have hang-ups about sharing toilets with all people.”

In the Turkish sauna Jonathan Ames lies down and says I can lie down on the bench beneath his. I open my eyes and Jonathan Ames’s elbow is jutting over the edge. I open them again and Jonathan Ames is doing sit ups. I open them a third time and he has gotten up and is sitting at the far end of the bench. We alternate between the Turkish sauna, the Russian sauna, and taking breaks by the dipping pool.

The next time we enter the Turkish sauna, a young man looks up and asks the real Jonathan Ames how the show is going. “I haven’t seen any billboards,” the young man says. “Are you not doing that this season?”

“I’m not sure about that,” says the real Jonathan Ames. “I’ve seen one in Times Square.”

Premiere of Bored to Death. Skirball Center for the Arts, Tuesday September 21, 7:30pm The real Jonathan Ames is on the red carpet with a tall blonde woman. There’s a large light flashed on him. He is talking into a camera. The Jonathan Ames of the show, Jason Schwartzman, is further down on the red carpet, also with a bright light flashed on him.

At the bottom of the stairs inside the theater is comedian Todd Barry, who’s talking to a group of people. He pulls his hand off a woman’s shoulder and points back to her as he walks away. “We’ll talk later,” he says. I catch him on his way into the theater. He is very friendly with a deep and smoldering voice and long eye lashes. He was on one episode in the first season—“Take a Dive!”—in which he had to wrestle the Jonathan Ames of the show for a bottle of Viagra. “I had never done any stunts before,” he says and smiles. “It’s not like I was jumping off a building…. But they pad you up and stuff.”

Jonathan Ames is on stage in a sharp blue suit giving an introduction. He’s not wearing a hat of any kind, which is unusual, I think. He says to the audience that he’ll probably never get married so this is like a wedding for him. He thanks HBO for giving his parents (Florence and Irwin) naches (which he pronounces “nu-kus”). He says in Yiddish it means “parental joy.” “Now I’m going to do three hairy calls,” he says. He says it’s a sound he and his friends would make on the playground when being attacked by more normal children. He walks downstage and puts one hand by his ear and holds the other one straight out by his side. He makes a sustained one-toned vocal expression for six seconds. It sounds like a siren.

The first two episodes of the second season of Bored to Death are screened. In one, the real Jonathan Ames has a cameo. He is nude but for socks and a yarmulke. He claims his parents did not recognize him in the cameo.

The lights go on and I see a man with curly gray hair and a large digital film camera talking to Jonathan Ames. “That man has been filming Jonathan for like ten years,” says author Stephen Elliott. Sometime during the screening, Jonathan Ames put on a camel colored golfing hat.

Clem, a friend of mine from school, is talking to Ted Danson. He’s holding a recorder up to Ted Danson, who must be six-foot-four, I think. I wonder what Clem is asking him. I spot Jason Schwartzman, who’s standing with friends by the corridor to the bathrooms.

Jason Schwartzman is not much taller than me and is delicate with fine features and longish hair. He’s in a gray suit and has a small toothbrush mustache that, I later discover, he had grown for a film and decided to keep. As I approach him, several expressions appear on and leave his face in quick succession—welcoming, warm, questioning, grateful, patient, possibly fearful. He lifts his eyebrows. I think he might be trying to decipher whether I think I’ve met him before. I say I’m writing a profile for BlackBook and went to the Russian bath with the real Jonathan Ames. He says he heard about it and asks how I liked it. I point out that there seemed to be lots of models at the baths. “That was not my experience when Jonathan took me to the bath,” he says and laughs. His wife, fashion designer Brady Cunningham, comes over. She is a petite, pretty woman with long hair in a ponytail. She’s pregnant. The man with the camera closes in on Jason Schwartzman.

Afterparty. Capitale, 10:00pm There are many comedians at the party—Todd Barry, John Hodgman, Jim Gaffigan, Horatio Sanz, Jack McBrayer. Pool tables and bottles of wine bear the Bored to Death logo at Capitale, a cavernous beaux art former bank in Lower Manhattan with Corinthian columns, pilasters, and vaulted ceilings. I have a Brooklyn Cyclone—a specialty drink with gin and honey. Over us is a glass skylight. I ask Clem what he asked Ted Danson. “I asked him who inspired his character,” he says. “Jonathan Ames says it was based on a combination of George Plimpton and Christopher Hitchens,” I say. Hors d’oeuvres are being passed around. Scallops on puff pastry, grapes stuffed with goat-cheese, and mini pizzas. “Hey,” says another friend. “Those mini pizzas are just Bagel Bites in disguise.”

“My dog has diabetes,” says comedienne Jenny Slate, who plays the girlfriend of the Jonathan Ames of the show. She’s in a small black dress and is accompanied by a man in glasses, her comedy partner Gabe Leidman.

“How do you know?” I say.

“He peed all over me,” She says. “Then all over the apartment.”

We head into the main room, which is outfitted with tables along the walls like something out of Caligula: Rare and smoked meats, pastas, salads, crudités in large silver serving dishes. The real Jonathan Ames, still in his camel-colored hat, is surrounded. The man with the camera is moving slowly around the cluster of people, the camera resting on his shoulder.

I eat roast beef with horseradish sauce at a tall white-clothed table near a portrait-photo booth, outside of which is a small table displaying sado-masochistic paraphernalia. I put on a black fingerless glove with silver studs. “I saw Jonathan’s parents go in the S&M photo booth,” a friend says. Heather Burns, who plays Zach Galifianakis’s girlfriend Leah on the show, is leaning against the bar. She says it was great working with Jonathan Ames. “He’s an open person, and understanding of people’s faults.” I see a bottle of Bored to Death chardonnay next to Heather Burns. I put it in my bag along with my studded glove.

Ted Danson looks like he’s leaving. I stop him and tell him about the Russian bath. Ted Danson leans over a little and says, “Did he take you up to the roof to smoke pot?”

“No. Did he take you up to the roof to smoke pot?”

“No. Absolutely not,” he says loudly.

“You can smoke pot at the Russian bath?”

“You can do anything at the Russian bath.” He smiles, bows slightly, and walks out.

Diesel Taps Authors for Flash Fiction Film

imageA pairing of the literary and the fashion worlds doesn’t exactly seem like a match made in heaven. That is, unless you’re talking about Tom Wolfe’s suits, Truman Capote’s spectacles, or the late Hunter S. Thompson’s propensity to break every fashion (not to mention, literary) rule in the book. But, thanks to “Flash Fiction” — a recently launched multimedia project courtesy of Diesel — the literary world is getting a whole lot more fashionable.

“Aiming to bring some of the biggest contemporary names in literature to the forefront of public attention, Diesel joined forces with digital studio Idealogue and the Accompanied Literary Society to present Flash Fiction, a large-scale video installation showcased at the newly opened One York Building.” Essentially, authors like Jonathan Ames, Column McCann, and Sloane Crosley, as well as screenwriter/director/producer Paul Haggis, contributed short, contemporary stories “based around the Diesel Fall 2008 campaign images,” which were then reinterpreted into an Idealogue film. While the installation was obviously promotional, hey, at least it looks cool.

Jason Schwartzman & Jonathan Ames Get Boring

Television is ideally seen as a launching pad for by actors en route to film career. Look at what ER did for George Clooney, what Friends did for Jennifer Aniston, or what The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did for Tatyana Ali. But recently, there’s been a wave of film stars retreating to the small screen, often to critical acclaim and ratings success. Take Martin Sheen in The West Wing, Glenn Close in Damages, and Holly Hunter in Saving Grace, as recent examples. Now, Coppola clan member Jason Schwartzman is taking a shot at serialization with a new HBO comedy pilot called Bored to Death.

Schwartzman will play a thirtysomething Brooklynite writer struggling with all those things thirtysomething male writers struggle with: money, alcohol, and women. To cope, Schwartzman’s scribe draws from his heroes, the grizzled gumshoes of Hammett and Chandler, and becomes a makeshift private eye. The pilot was penned by Jonathan Ames, himself a New York writer — albeit a successful one — who once had a pilot for Showtime based on exploits called What’s Not To Love? (Apparently a few things, since the show didn’t get picked up.) Given Ames’ predilection for perversity, kinky action is all but guaranteed in his HBO show.