I read The Last Interview, a 109-page trade paperback, in two sittings over the weekend. I believe it’s the 23rd installment in a series about deceased writers, musicians and celebrities.
It begins with an introduction by food writer Helen Rosner about how she discovered Bourdain and eventually got to know him personally. They were in touch right up to his death, and she never got to respond to his last note.
It’s unclear if she selected the seven interviews in the book, arranged chronologically from 2003, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, January 2018, and finally June 3, 2018, the last Sunday he was alive.
Quick digression on production quality. This book isn’t going to age well in your Bourdain collection. It’s printed on that coarse, cheap paper that yellows. And I wonder about the editing. Some chapters are transcripts of live appearances, and I was surprised to find typos like “Namimbia” and “Columbia” (the latter misspelled four times).
During a 2011 appearance in Sydney, Tony said about his daughter Ariane, “I don’t want her reading terrible shit about me on the internet, behaving badly toward women, for instance. I’m not going to do that.”
I just shook my head, thinking, “No, Tony, you did something much, much worse.”
As a Bourdain watcher since 2007, I didn’t really learn anything new about him here. The most notable bit for me was when Tony mentioned in his 2013 interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson the Roman condiment garam. He described it as “essentially rotten fish guts and rotten fish sauce,” and said it was as ubiquitous a seasoning in Europe as salt is to us. If he’s ever mentioned garam on TV, I missed it, and it was another example of his encyclopedic mind.
January 2018 is a transcript of Bourdain on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. That might have been the last time I saw Tony alive in real time. He seemed in good spirits, saying, “I’m an enthusiastic son of a bitch.”
In hindsight, we know he was then embroiled in trying to extricate his girlfriend Asia Argento from charges of allegedly raping a 17-year-old boy. You may refresh on the timeline of that in this archived post.
The last chapter is an interview with IndieWire, which was published on June 3, a Sunday. Parts Unknown Hong Kong first aired on CNN that night. It was also the weekend Argento cavorted around Rome for the paparazzi with Hugo Clement.
Obviously unaware he was being betrayed as he spoke, Tony raved about working with Argento on Hong Kong, which she supposedly directed. “My god, I’d love nothing more than to repeat the experience. She made it incredible.”
In other interviews, he’d called that shoot some of his best work. It’s become one of CNN’s “lost” episodes because they no longer rerun any Parts Unknown Argento was involved with.
Bourdain went on about Argento: “She listens to my advice and frequently if not most of the time, rejects it. That is something Asia cannot help but do. She is brutally honest about herself and anything, and it’s a great quality.”
I just about gagged on that paragraph. And when I turned the page and realized that was the last line in the book, my jaw dropped. It felt like the editor deliberately left readers to wonder, was Bourdain really that deluded or just lying? We still don’t know.
You can read that particular interview at IndieWire.
On Tuesday, June 5, Bourdain, while filming in France, would see the photos of Argento with Hugo. We’ve heard only unverified stories about arguments, and Eric Ripert told Tony’s mother Tony had been in a “dark mood,”
On Friday, June 8, Ripert found Tony dead in his hotel room of apparent suicide.
Personally, for the foreseeable future I’ll buy any book about or by Bourdain. Fingers crossed he left something more to publish. But I’d say go ahead if you want to give The Last Interview a miss. Reams of more illuminating interviews are available online.
For example, I was surprised that “Bourdain Confidential” in Popula from February 2018 with Maria Bustillos wasn’t included.
Or even better, you can just reread the books Bourdain wrote before his life took that last fatal turn.