Keeping Busy- Part 4 Matt Taibbi
That trash talking reminded me of solid jock locker room humor and there was a reason for that. Carrying our association over from the politics in RS, I was assigned to illustrate his column for MEN’S JOURNAL, also published by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner. It was there that I realized his passionate sports creds- as a basketball star for the Mongolian team in his mid-20’s, as well as his fanatical devotion to the Boston Red Sox among many other obsessions. Apparently, sports is his way of winding down from the politics/finance beat. I’ve worked for only three writers who could be positively gut busting hilarious when writing about sports- Rick Reilly in the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED days, a long and happy association with the one and only David Feherty who could actually make golf, and anything else, funny, and Matt when he was writing for MEN’S JOURNAL. My wife, Terri, can attest how often I would attempt and fail miserably reading to her at night rough copy I’d receive from the art director for a Matt column, unable to catch my breath, laughing like an idiot. In a weird way he is even more brutally funny when writing about sports. If he is an expert at deflating the egos of pols and bankers, he’s even more merciless with his sallies on athlete celebs.
It’s been a matter of no small satisfaction the frequency it has occurred in conversations that when people ask me what I do and, after the blank response when I mention illustration, they immediately have an a-ha moment when I mention the National Affairs columns for RS- “Oh, the pigs in suits!” "Of course, I know your work- you draw for the Taibbi columns." Seated one time at a lunch next to a perfectly amiable gentleman, I spent a little time explaining my work and who my clients were as he listened with apparent great interest. When I asked him what he did he responded, eyes half squinting, “I work for the Vampire Squid.” I stammered, “Oh, you must hate my guts then.” He responded no. He actually enjoyed the columns and didn’t dispute the accuracy of Matt’s disclosures, just that the writing was 'spiced' for the target audience. Now that I think of it, for what it’s worth, I’ve never met a Wall Street representative who took issue with the facts as presented in Matt’s investigations. The critiques have always been about the ‘tone’ of Matt’s writing. The pairing of Matt’s writing and my images has received quite a few thumbs ups from colleagues and readers in general. I like to think that this combination has added to RS’s great tradition of mixing illustration with great writing. Nothing matches Hunter Thompson and Ralph Steadman, nothing ever will, but it’s still nice to be linked, in a small way, to the spirit of that incomparable combo. I do regret never having had the chance to accompany Matt on the campaign trail a la Fear and Loathing, but it’s a small regret when compared to having been given the opportunity to illustrate his investigative articles.
I have only met Matt face to face once, maybe twice, and on both occasions when one of us was entering 1290 Avenue of the Americas, where Wenner Media is located, and the other leaving. Considering the combativeness of his journalistic prose, one could assume he’d be an angry guy ready to throw a punch, either verbal or physical, at a moment's notice. Quite the contrary, Matt has been utterly personable, low keyed, generous in his compliments and…..happy. Every once in a while I would get an email from him slapping me on the back for an image that had him rolling. That sort of acknowledgemnt makes for a very good feeling.
Tonight I'll be going over to a gathering place for farewell drinks from the RS staff for Matt. I was honored when Joe Hutchinson, Mark Maltais, and Will Dana asked me to create an illustration for a mock RS cover which he will be presented with.
Putting this post together has also inspired me to return to some of Hunter Thompson's writing. I picked up a reissue of "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" the other night with Matt's introduction as well as "Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone" a fantastic compilation of Hunter's work for the mag. Matt is very clear and honest when analysing the connection made between him and HST, describing Hunter's reports as more novelistic and his as more hard core investigative journalism. No matter- he's been an extraordinary writer of great style all his own and it's been a pleasure to have been so connected to his work for Rolling Stone.
Best wishes to Mr. Taibbi.