Erik Hedegaard, a writer’s life

Thu, 10/28/2021 - 6:00pm

“Hey Joey, whaddyagot?” asks journalist Erik Hedegaard. That’s a writer question loaded with sub-textual meaning. It asks: what are you thinking, what are you tracking down, what do you have that will get me thinking and set me off on a search-and-seize mission because I don’t have time for small talk, and I’m on a deadline, but I’m all ears - if you’ve got something. This is why I like Erik as a writer and as an all-purpose guy. He’s direct and focused; no dilly dallying with this guy. Moreover, he’s very inquisitive.
I met Hedegaard at the end of my teaching career at Narragansett High School while he was talking about writing to a fellow teacher bud’s English class. Erik talked about his craft, and what it was like to get people to open up and talk to him about themselves. He told the class about interviewing Johnny Depp in London, and how Depp ended the chat in a pub by excusing himself to go to the loo. Then, Depp simply up and ghosted on Erik. The interview was over and this notorious actor covertly skipped out the back door with his bodyguards; you know, because he’s Johnny Depp. As I ate my baloney sandwich in the back of the classroom I listened to this guy tell the students of his work.
What impressed me right from the rip was that he gave of his time to this class of high school kids. I liked this guy. Plus, we realized some commonality regarding writing, reading, surfing, and dogs.

Hedegaard went to Columbia University and studied creative writing. He told me once that he would write an entire novel out in longhand to help him understand narrative structure, and practice his craft. This effort informed me that he was all in with writing words on blank pages. Over the years we’ve discussed writers we like and their stylistic capabilities. Hedegaard is one of the few guys I’ve ever actually taken the time with to talk about writing—because we’re both usually inking up pages—and over the years we’ve flipped each other titles and writing ideas. His wheels are always turning but he’s a guy who keeps things on the quiet. Erik’s career is expansive, and involved doing interviews with folks like: Cameron Diaz, Kevin Costner, John Malkovich, Charlie Sheen, Doctor Ruth, Donald Trump, Marilyn Manson, Alec Baldwin, Jack Nicholson, Chris Walken, Don Winslow, Shania Twain, et al. (Google Hedegaard’s archive.)

Erik Hedegaard’s work has been published prodigiously in Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, Huffington Post, and Details Magazine. In regards
to him ever having tough interview subjects, Erik did mention to me one day that a gig he did with The Rolling Stones’s guitarist Keith Richards went awry one night. That’s all he told me. Moreover, he mentioned that interviewing the late Charlie Manson was difficult during
his visits to the Corcoran Correctional Facility in California. Furthermore, the arbitrary late-night phone calls from Manson were unnerving. Hedegaard had Manson living rent-free in his head for a year or so while he worked on the feature for Rolling Stone. This is a gig where Hedegaard truly earned his nickels. One day I went to Erik’s writing room to get his dog Lily so she could come for a run with our cockapoo, Sailor. Erik was working on a deadline with the Manson piece. He had on a red conical winter cap, motley-colored pajamas, different-colored socks, and his glasses were falling off his nose. He was a mess as he gathered up Lily and her leash. I grabbed the dog and scooted out to my truck while I chortled and guffawed. The guy was scattered.
The next day Hedegaard submitted 12,000 words to editor Jann Wenner. Impressive stuff. (I was taken aback by his word count. I figured he’d submit maybe 9,000 words.) We were talking about the piece in the driveway and Erik literally looked 10 years younger. A weight had
been lifted, Wenner fast-tracked the piece, and a few weeks later Hedegaard went surfing for a couple of months. After reading Erik’s piece
we went out for a burger and I told him—after I closely read the piece three times—that he wrote a stellar piece of journalism of a true and iconic sociopath. (I consider this one of the best pieces of contemporary journalism I’ve ever read.) Erik used some clever devices to contend with the manipulative nature of this maniac, and kept Charlie Manson squarely in his cell. He couldn’t charm nor con Hedegaard. Solid writer stuff.
Fifteen years ago Erik flew out to L.A., to interview Johnny Depp and Keith Richards. Both guys were basking in the glow of coming off the filming of the “Pirates of the Caribbean 3” and they would be hanging out for a sweet and casual chat at the Chateau Marmont Hotel with Erik Hedegaard who would then crunch out some fun stories, anecdotes, and sentences that would maybe help the franchise sell some tickets. Furthermore, it could possibly make these two rakish lads more money than they already had. That was the plan anyway, but things
went quickly awry as I had alluded to earlier. Quentin Tarantino couldn’t make up a wackier situation for these guys to be caught up in, and as Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
This whole thing went sideways because Erik - God forbid - didn’t know the significance of a skull ring that Richards dons on his right hand. I’ll leave the gory details for this train-derailment-of-a-story for the reader to check out and ponder in the privacy of his own chambers, because it’s just too salty for my column. However, I will tell you this, Hedegaard used the words “preening and palavering,” to describe these two characters giving each other serious love and kudos for their noteworthy effort as bonafide members of their kingdom of cool. Erik’s hilarious feature with a Poe-like tone and feel finally - after 15 years - got published two weeks ago.

My take on this is that Richards and Depp became unglued and basically ganged up on Erik; which was not cool. I get the whole wild man,
piratical, tough guy, rogue persona, and I understand the get ups. I really do, it’s how these guys are defined in their jobs and make a living. However, they were a touch out of line as Erik feared losing his job, stock and trade over the interview. Subsequently, Jann Wenner filed the piece after Depp called to complain about his writer. The endgame was that Wenner did the right thing and covered his writer. He had Erik’s back, and this hilarious and daunting piece eventually ran. Finally, Erik Hedegaard deservedly got a nod for a job well done—such is, the writer’s life. ‘Nuff said.