Tasos & Marina catch up with one of our favorite writer/editors Jesse Pearson in the interview below, presented alongside photos/captions of his workspace called home. The former editor in chief of Vice magazine is now in the process of editing the fourth issue of his literary quarterly Apology Magazine.
Writer/editor Jesse Pearson has been documenting the moment for over 10 years now. He approaches all his subjects personally, often writing about his own experiences, which puts him in the centre of his writing. His subjects revolve around art, photography, literature, food - and you can sense that he is writing about things he knows, people he’s met, his contemporaries, and friends. He is not simply observing everything that happens around him - he is an active participant in his stories.
His writing varies from interviewing abducted teenagers from religious cults to renowned artists, writers and directors like David Lynch. His affection for the unknown and the provocative can also be reflected in his magazine Apology, featuring critical articles, art, photography, and fiction. He has also edited the book Nudity Today, featuring nude photography by young artists and Contact High by Richard Kern.
Jesse is always somewhere in the background, appearing as a connecting or helping hand that forces culture and people forward, many times functioning as the initial kick that makes things - and situations - happen. We were wondering how he’s been doing lately and what he thinks about today, as he is editing the fourth issue of Apology magazine, his new brainchild. Often collaborating with creative people such as Tim Barber and Ryan McGinley, he’s always on the lookout for new stimuli, cultural, and culinary experiences (Weed and Stoner Food, Together At Last), in the company of his wife and 2 cats, Schweppes & Pickle.
TASOS & MARINA: Can you tell us how it all started with Apology Magazine?
JESSE PEARSON: After I quit my previous job, which was editor-in-chiefing a monthly for eight years, I thought I was done with magazines. I figured I’d write journalism and fiction and edit art books, and somewhere in between doing the two, I’d accumulate the same kind of satisfaction that editing a periodical gives me. And while I have been doing a lot of writing and a lot of book work, there’s a certain itch that can only be scratched by putting together some kind of semi-regular thing - an ongoing, living thing, which is what a good magazine is. So I guess what I realized is that it wasn’t magazines I was tired of, it was the world of normal magazines.
The idea with Apology is to make each issue like a zine - albeit a very luxurious zine - or an esoteric reference book. Unlike other magazines, there is absolutely no debt owed by Apology to the current cultural moment. I’m also doing whatever I can to change up common formal conventions. Like, the running order, which is the internal logic of each issue, is very different from what you’ll find in other magazines, which generally build and ebb in unsurprising ways. I’m more inspired by film editing than by print when I determine that aspect of each issue.
“…IT WASN’T MAGAZINES I WAS TIRED OF, IT WAS THE WORLD OF NORMAL MAGAZINES.”
What I keep telling myself is to not be afraid to make it weird. I should just get “MAKE IT WEIRD” tattooed across the backs of my hands so I can see it while I’m typing. But I think of my big inspirations, from various punk stuff to The People’s Almanac to RE/SEARCH books, and they are all weird. So I make Apology with aspirations to standing up next to those things, not to any other magazines that are around today. (Though if you were to ask me to name-check one other contemporary magazine that I think is doing it right, I would say Lucky Peach.)
“First three issues of Apology, featuring a spread of art by Linder and Michelangelo.”
From Apology’s second issue.
You are the editor of the book Nudity Today, what’s the idea behind it?
It came out in 2013, so I’m trying to access the files in my memory... I think it was a very simple idea. Right? I was seeing a lot of photographers, a number of whom I’d become close with (like Tim Barber, Jerry Hsu, and Lele Saveri), who when they made nudes, seemed to be coming from very different but somehow related zones of inspiration and vibe. Like, the influences are easy to see but the end results are so different from artist to artist. I was seeing a generational attitude toward nudity, I think. So I chose a small group of people - some of whom hadn’t even shot nudes yet but whom I thought would have something to add to that scene - and gathered their work together.
I was also thinking, as I was making it, of the kind of artistic nudity book you find on a friend’s parent’s shelf when you’re a kid and it totally expands your worldview - as well as introduces you to the world of horniness. I hope Nudity Today can be like that for a few lucky future kids.
“Here’s a shelf that just happens (I swear) to have a bunch of stuff I worked made or co-made on it. Apology; Nudity Today; Contact High, a book of Richard Kern photos of naked women smoking pot that I edited; Supernatural Strategies, a book by Ian Svenonius that I edited; a recent edition of the pulp classic Cockfighter by Charles Willeford, for which I wrote the intro; index A to Z, a history of the magazine index, where I was an editor in the late '90s / early ’00s; and a ceramic duck I bought at a thrift store that contains a ceramic pickle my wife made me. I use the colored tape to seal up mail-orders of Apology with an extra splash of panache.”
“Here’s a wall of random art that faces me while I work. There’s stuff by Tara Sinn, Terry Richardson, Johnny Ryan, Hermann Rorschach, Bill Knott, and a reproduction of a medieval painting of a dead knight and his loyal dog that reminds me of myself and my cat Pickle.”
How does NY inspire you?
I don’t live in New York anymore. After 15 years there, I moved to Atlanta last May. But as a born-and-bred Northeasterner (I’m from all around Philly, went to school in Massachusetts, did my time in NYC) I think that I carry that area’s attitude in my DNA. What that means to me is being very straightforward, to the point of being kind of a dick sometimes; always being ready to make or receive a humorous riff, preferably of the darker variety; and being very proud of where you’re from, which for me is a working-class-Rust-Belt-liberal-freak-druggie kind of a world.
Atlanta has been good. It was a big culture shock, coming here. The pace of life is much slower and much more willing to bend with the wind. As a Philadelphian/New Jerseyan, I’m always ready to lean on the horn and scream out the car window, both literally and metaphorically. So it’s been good to let myself adapt to this mellower feeling. It’s also beautiful in my neighborhood. It’s all lush and green in the summer, with sidewalks cracked by tree roots and kudzu growing up walls. It feels very alive, landscape-wise. Like every inch is crawling with little living things. And for what we’re paying to live in a two-bedroom apartment with a backyard (complete with bubbling fountain) and a sunroom, we could maybe get a closet out in Bay Ridge back in New York at this point.
“I included a photo of this shirt because it’s my spirit animal. I wore it until it fell apart (from, maybe, 2002 until 2010) and then, since it had been through so much with me, I couldn’t toss it. So I hung it on a dowel next to my desk. I ask it questions about the future and it usually answers me.”
If you were to come back in another life, in what form would you like to return?
I guess it would be good to just cut in line and come back as the omniscient being that decides what gets reincarnated as what.
Do you read a lot of classic literature?
Yes, but I read a lot of everything. And “classic” has many definitions. Like, I just finished a Richard Stark crime novel from the seventies. That’s classic. And I re-read a book of Richard Yates short stories. Totally classic. But if you’re speaking of the classics classics, then yes, I read those too. I think the most recent things that would fall under that umbrella that I’ve read or re-read would be Procopius’s The Secret History and a compilation, edited and translated by Guy Davenport, of Greek poets from the eighth to the third centuries BC, including Sappho, Diogenes, Herakleitos, and more. My friend Paul gave me that one.
Was there ever a time when you failed to fulfill an important goal?
That depends on what you think is important. I barely graduated from high school, but that doesn’t strike me as important. With the things that feel important to me, even if I’ve started something and then stepped away from it, I can’t really say I’ve failed, because I’m not dead yet. I mean, who knows what I might pick back up when I’m 80. One example is my study of Ancient Greek. When I switched to self-employment, I took that up with a private tutor. That was in 2010. Since then, I’ve gone through periods of working really hard at it and periods of setting it aside. Right now, it’s set aside because I’m so deep in making the fourth issue of Apology. But I’m sure I’ll come back to it. And even if I were to take a ten-year break at some point, I’d still probably come back to it. It isn’t over till it’s over, is what I mean.
“These are the reference books I go to most often, both for work and for pleasure. They’re sandwiched by two reading monks I inherited from my Catholic grandparents.”
“Here’s our cat Schweppes doing her usual Siouxsie Sioux thing on top of this very tall shelf right next to my desk. She does this for roughly twenty hours per day.”
What is your latest obsession?
Making smoothies! I’m taking this game to an entirely new level lately. Yesterday I made one that contained, in addition to lots of fruit: miso paste, edamame, ground turmeric, and fresh ginger. It was insane. It tasted like sweet dirt and I loved it.
Can you describe a typical day with your cats?
I don’t know, it’s like, how do you describe perfection? Can it be captured by mere words? (But, speaking of reincarnation, I’m convinced I knew my cat Pickle in his previous life. I think he might have been my grandfather.)
“Here’s what it looks like to be deep into typesetting the next issue of Apology (it’s out in April) while a large and orange cat-dog-fox-horse hybrid sits and stares at you.”
“This toolbox sits on the floor just behind my chair while I’m working. It’s significant because it’s full of handguns. A friend of mine who grew up in Georgia but lives in New York inherited them from his dad. He needed somebody to steward them, and I got lucky. There’s a great selection in there. A Czech police model 9mm, a cute little Smith & Wesson snubnose, etc.”
From Issue No. 2 of Apology.
What was the last piece of music you listened to? When and where was that?
I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately because there’s a big section on it in the next issue of Apology. So I’ve been making this mix CD - which in itself is a nostalgic act, and to take it even further I’m going to transfer it to cassette when it’s done - that is full of music of a really certain type that was big for me and my friends at one point early in high school. It’s all on the black clothing, clove cigarettes, patchouli oil, bad poetry in a spiral notebook kind of a kick. So, let me check... The last song played in my iTunes was “Hate My Way” by Throwing Muses. I just googled it out of curiosity and I see that it was used on that abomination of a TV series American Horror Story. That sucks. One of the perils of being an increasingly older former ’90s alterna-teen: The music that felt so private to you back then starts showing up more and more in movies, TV shows, and car commercials. The Pogues were used in a minivan commercial targeted at soccer moms a couple of years ago, and that almost made me destroy my television. And it was “If I Should Fall from Grace with God,” too, of all songs. Totally unbelievable.
(Oops, my wife just told me that you’re supposed to answer this kind of question with a made-up reply that makes you look tasteful. So, uh... the last thing I listened to was... “Piano Phase” by Steve Reich, or something like that?)