Interview w/ Dan Kennedy • Author, “Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes” • Media Critic, Boston Phoenix

SM: When was the last time you had on a set of headphones?

DK: Ten minutes ago. I was listening to Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” and “In a Silent Way” on my iPod while reading the Sunday Times. I’m such an elitist schmuck. Yesterday I listened to some new live stuff at BobDylan.com – Zimmy covers of “Pancho and Lefty,” by Townes Van Zandt, and “Sing Me Back Home,” by Merle Haggard. Wonderful stuff.

SM: Barring yourself, what’s the best thing to come out of your hometown?

DK: Middleborough, Massachusetts, is probably best known as the hometown of Lavinia Warren, a dwarf entertainer who married Charles Stratton, a/k/a General Tom Thumb. There’s an entire section of the town museum set aside in tribute to the Strattons, and the town library has huge portraits of the couple and their wedding attendants.
When I was researching “Little People,” I learned that Lavinia’s sister Minnie – also a dwarf, and who died in childbirth – was buried about 20 feet from my parents’ graves. Creepy and intriguing.

SM: What was your last good deed?

DK: I conceded yesterday on my weblog (“Media Log,” at BostonPhoenix.com) that George W. Bush has many human-like characteristics.

SM: What was your last encounter with a lunatic?

DK: This wouldn’t be my most recent encounter, but it’s the most memorable. About 12 years ago, I received a manuscript at the Phoenix that was so well written that I was several pages into it before I realized the person who sent it to me believed the CIA and his father had conspired to implant a computer chip in his brain. Later, he dropped by the paper to see what I thought. I wasn’t around, but an editor somehow persuaded him to leave.
A few weeks after that, he broke into an elementary school in Southeastern Massachusetts, took hostages, and killed the school librarian. I realized it was a very good thing, as Martha Stewart might say, that no one could find me on the day he’d come looking for me.

SM: Regale us, please, with an anecdote.

DK: Last November, I accompanied my then-12-year-old son’s Boy Scout troop on a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in the Berkshires. (See, I’m not an elitist schmuck all the time.) We made beef kebabs over charcoal that we’d packed in. But it was so cold that it was taking forever for the meat to cook.
Anyway, I grabbed a hunk of severely undercooked meat, chewed it up the best I could, and swallowed – only it wouldn’t go down. I staggered around for a couple of minutes, trying alternately to swallow it or cough it up. Finally the scoutmaster realized what’s going on, and he started heading toward me. He’s a retired Air Force pilot, and I had visions of him doing a field tracheotomy on me with a pocket knife right on the spot. I made one more attempt to cough it up and – pow! – the hunk-o-beef went flying.
I know that’s not very entertaining. I lead a pretty boring life.

SM: Please describe an activity at which you are not very good, but that you hope to eventually be good at.

DK: When I was a teenager, I was a pretty good guitar and bass player. I played bass in a three-piece rock band, and also in the jazz band at Northeastern University. I’m terrible now. If I can ever slow down, I’d love to get good at it again.

SM: What is your first reaction to a roomful of strangers?

DK: Not panic, exactly. More like an out-of-body experience. I try to find someone I know, but if I fail, I’ve got two options: (1) if I’m there for work, well, it doesn’t really matter, so I’ll stick around and work – interviewing people, or whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing; (2) if I’m there supposedly to have a good time, I’ll leave, since I’m not.
At the Democratic National Convention in Boston last summer, The New Republic sponsored a party, which was one of the hotter tickets of the week. But once I got inside, I found myself packed shoulder to shoulder with people, didn’t recognize anyone, and left within 10 minutes. Friends thought I was insane.

SM: What was the last circumstance in which you found yourself that you could not comprehend entirely?

DK: Hah! You mean like in the past hour? My life consists of not entirely comprehending the circumstances in which I find myself.

SM: Please tell us a story about a low paying job you’ve held, and if you’ve never held a low paying job, please tell us a story about any job you’ve held.

DK: The lowest-paying job I ever held was as a janitor in a nursing home the summer that I turned 15. But that was horrible, so I’ll move ahead a year, to when I worked as a dishwasher for Howard Johnson’s at whatever the minimum wage was then.
It was actually a lot of fun. The cooks were thieving scoundrels, the waitresses were extremely good-looking (although they obviously wanted nothing to do with me), and one of my fellow dishwashers was a mentally retarded guy whose salary was partly picked up by the state.
The next summer I worked as a cook at a different HoJo’s, and liked it so much that I figured it would have been a good way to make a living. There are days I wish I’d done just that.

SM: Please describe an area of expertise you are willing to feign knowing something about to strangers.

DK: Well, politics is the most obvious. I know a fair amount about Macintosh computers, too, although I would live in terror of being shown up by someone who knows more than I. So I’ll say Bob Dylan. I think it’s safe to say I know more about Dylan than 99 percent of people, and as long as I don’t run into someone who collects bootlegs or goes to live shows all the time, I can definitely hold my own.

www.dankennedy.net