The Last Interview Book Series Features the Final Words of Cultural Icons: Borges to Bowie, Philip K. Dick to Frida Kahlo

Where were you when you heard that Hunter S. Thomp­son had died? The unique­ly addled, unique­ly inci­sive tak­er of the strange trip that was 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca checked out six­teen years ago last month, a span of time in which we’ve also lost a great many oth­er influ­en­tial fig­ures cul­tur­al and coun­ter­cul­tur­al. The depart­ed include many of Thomp­son’s col­leagues in let­ters: soci­etal diag­nos­ti­cians like David Fos­ter Wal­lace and Christo­pher Hitchens; con­jur­ers of the fan­tas­ti­cal and the famil­iar like Ursu­la K. Le Guin and Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez; and spe­cial­ists in oth­er fields — Oliv­er Sacks from neu­rol­o­gy, Antho­ny Bour­dain from the kitchen, Nora Ephron from Hol­ly­wood — who on the page enter­tained us as they shared their exper­tise.

All of these writ­ers have passed into esteemed com­pa­ny: not just that of lumi­nar­ies from bygone eras, but of vol­umes in Melville House­’s Last Inter­view series. “Can you think of three writ­ers who, on the face of it, would have had less to say to each oth­er at a din­ner par­ty?” asks NPR’s Mau­reen Cor­ri­g­an, review­ing Last Inter­view vol­umes on Ephron, Ernest Hem­ing­way, and Philip K. Dick.

“Hem­ing­way would have knocked back the booze and gone all moody and silent; the noto­ri­ous­ly para­noid Dick would have been under the table check­ing for bug­ging devices and Ephron would’ve chan­neled what she called ‘the tru­ly life-sav­ing tech­nique’ taught to her by her Hol­ly­wood screen­writer par­ents to get through a rough time: the mantra, ‘Some­day this will be a sto­ry!’ ”

With a range of deceased icons, includ­ing Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Julia Child and Jorge Luis Borges, Fred Rogers and Fri­da Kahlo, the Last Inter­view books cast a wide net for such an aes­thet­i­cal­ly and intel­lec­tu­al­ly uni­fied project. “Each vol­ume offers, besides use­ful insights into its par­tic­u­lar author’s work, what an old friend would call ‘civ­i­lized enter­tain­ment,’ ” writes Michael Dir­da in The Wash­ing­ton Post. “Near­ly all the titles actu­al­ly con­tain sev­er­al inter­views, and some add intro­duc­tions. For instance, the Rober­to Bolaño opens with a 40-page crit­i­cal essay.” In some cas­es the inter­view­ers are as notable as the inter­vie­wees: “Two of Lou Reed’s ques­tion­ers — the mul­ti-tal­ent­ed nov­el­ists Neil Gaiman and Paul Auster — are now prob­a­bly as well known as the leg­endary co-founder of the Vel­vet Under­ground.”

From the world of music the series includes not just Reed but David Bowie and Prince, two oth­er one-man cul­tur­al forces who left us in the past decade, as well as their equal­ly irre­place­able pre­de­ces­sors John­ny Cash and Bil­lie Hol­i­day. At the moment you can buy the entire Last Inter­view col­lec­tion on Ama­zon (in Kin­dle for­mat) for USD $344, which comes out to about $10 per book with 34 vol­umes in total. You may find this an eco­nom­i­cal solu­tion, a way to explore the final thoughts of fig­ures fea­tured more than once here on Open Cul­ture.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Orson Welles’ Last Inter­view and Final Moments Cap­tured on Film

Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Inter­view: Record­ed by David Rem­nick of The New York­er

Mau­rice Sendak’s Emo­tion­al Last Inter­view with NPR’s Ter­ry Gross, Ani­mat­ed by Christoph Nie­mann

Carl Sagan Issues a Chill­ing Warn­ing to Amer­i­ca in His Final Inter­view (1996)

Janis Joplin’s Last TV Per­for­mance & Inter­view: The Dick Cavett Show (1970)

Watch John­ny Cash’s Poignant Final Inter­view & His Last Per­for­mance: “Death, Where Is Thy Sting?” (2003)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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