Jon Ronson: “I’m interested in hypocrisy”
Mr. Ronson, your investigative journalism has brought us books like The Psychopath Test, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, The Men Who Stare at Goats and Frank. Why did you prefer writing non-fiction over fiction?
Honestly? I just don’t think I’m very good at fiction. (Laughs) I’ve tried it a couple of times with film and it’s been successful, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. Whereas in non-fiction, I think if I walk into a room, I really know how to make it work as a good piece of page-turning writing. I think I always had a natural aptitude for it, right from the beginning. But I’ve got this sort of secret worry that it’s because fiction is harder. So what I’m really saying is that I’m good at the easy stuff! (Laughs)
What is so daunting about fiction for you?
There was a kind of infiniteness to fiction that I found sort of… Disconcerting. I remember having these really panicky thoughts, like, “I can make this person say anything. I could make him do anything! I could put a jetpack onto his back and shoot him into space!” I don’t like this feeling of having no rules. It took me a couple of years to figure out how to take the skills I’d learned with non-fiction and adapt them to fiction. Eventually, you get to a place where your character would do this but wouldn’t do that, and that’s when it becomes more like journalism.
Clive Davis: “You’ve got to earn it”
Mr. Davis, despite an extensive career as a record producer and executive at Columbia Records, do you still feel like you have something to prove in the music industry?
I’ve always felt that you’ve got to work for it. And that continues to this day: you start with a fresh record every time out. I once said to someone, “They don’t play your record because you discovered Joplin. You’ve got to earn it with each time out.” And so over the years, I think that that pretty much has been a mantra.
Would you say that mantra has been the secret to your success?
I would say that a strong work ethic was also a vital ingredient. That’s something I was born with, I’m convinced of it; it was nothing that I acquired. If you take on anything, you try to do it your best. It also helps if you’re a worrier — and I’m a good worrier. You try to worry about what don’t you have and what you need to have in order to make it happen or succeed. In that respect, I never took anything for granted, so when I gradually learned that I had ears, it definitely was a major defining moment of my life.