David Marchese of The New York Times Magazine on Death, Diet Coke, and Wayne Gretzky
If you’re a fan of celebrity, chances are you’ve encountered the work of David Marchese. His interviews, whether published by his former employer, New York Magazine, or his current one, The New York Times Magazine, regularly unearth some of the more revelatory details about our most mystifying stars. The most famous example is probably Marchese’s 2018 conversation with Quincy Jones, during which he revealed, among other things, that he used to date Ivanka Trump. But there are countless examples of other eyebrow-raisers in Marchese’s ouvre; in his interview with Eminem, the rapper said he frequented strip clubs and Tinder to find dates post-divorce. Or, there’s his recent interview with Whoopi Goldberg, where she admitted that hosting The View is not “enough.”
In conversation with the master of the “in conversation,” Marchese is calm and measured. He’s cerebral. He parses ideas. He speaks at length, framing his points thoroughly and with context. Though sound bites have made him a household name in journalism, Marchese isn’t chasing them. Instead, his work focuses on the breadth of conversation. He wants to understand how a subject thinks about the world, and he succeeds at it. So how does Marchese think about the world? We caught up with the interviewer and asked him a series of questions, lifted from Glenn O’Brien’s infamous 1977 interview with Andy Warhol, to find out. Marchese touched on all corners of the human experience, from God to masturbation, from death to poop.
JACOB UITTI: What was your first work of writing?
MARCHESE: The first thing I remember writing that anyone ever paid attention to was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I can’t remember what the assignment was, but we wrote little stories about a fictional place. I ended up writing something that was basically all about a town that existed in the sewer and was covered in poop. I remember the teacher and my dad praising me for it. Of course, that felt good at the time, but in retrospect I assume they were probably just worried that writing about a town where everyone was covered in poop reflected some mental anxiety on my part, or something like that. So, I don’t know that it was flattering attention that it got, but it got attention, which was an important lesson.
UITTI: Did you get good grades in school?
MARCHESE: I always did well in English class. I was otherwise a pretty bad student. Once I got to high school, I really hated it. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I found certain social dynamics hard to parse. I didn’t like what I was learning. I had a hard time understanding the application of it to my life. As a result, there were long periods where I skipped class a lot. [Laughs.] I was suspended at one point. I don’t really look back on high school particularly fondly.
UITTI: Did they say you had natural talent?
MARCHESE: Yeah, I guess they did. I remember one teacher was walking down the hall and she stopped me between classes. She made a point of saying that I had talent. I guess she had just read some assignment I had given her. So, I had an inkling that I was certainly better at that subject than I was at other subjects.
UITTI: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
MARCHESE: I grew up in a part of Toronto that was at the edges of the city proper. So, even though it was in Toronto and in a city, it was kind of a suburban adolescence, which meant that the options for fun were somewhat limited. In the pre-driver’s license years, it was a lot of going to friends’ houses and watching movies and playing music together. Then, once people got cars, it was that alternatively most stultifying and enjoyable thing of all time, which is just driving around aimlessly, listening to music, concocting excuses to go from one location to another.
UITTI: Were you in a band?
MARCHESE: I was, pretty briefly.
UITTI: What was the name?
MARCHESE: [Laughs.] The band’s name was Scream And Die. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what the music might have sounded like.
UITTI: Did you go to the movies a lot?
MARCHESE: Oh yeah. There were summers where, unthinkingly, me and my friends would just buy tickets to whatever the big release of the given summer weekend was. I would see all that mid-to-late 90s crap: Michael Bay movies, Jerry Bruckheimer movies. But I think my inclination was more towards comedies. I remember the Farrelly brothers’ Kingpin being a favorite at the time, or The Big Lebowski. That was an entryway into a slightly more sophisticated world of filmmaking. Of course, we would go to the video store all the time too and rent stuff based on what the picture on the cover of the video box looked like. The Blockbuster near us was pretty well-stocked. Not that this is the most obscure movie, but I remember they had Spinal Tap there. When I went to rent it, the clerk, who seemed like this ancient fossil—although he’s probably younger than I am now—he said, “I don’t know that you’re going to get all the references.” I was probably 13 years old. I rented it anyway, and I remember thinking, “I don’t know, these references aren’t that obscure…”
UITTI: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to become a writer?
MARCHESE: I would probably want to preface that by saying, in my experience, luck and circumstance seem to be the biggest factors in anybody’s ability to make a living as a writer. So, any advice I might give is worth a grain of salt. But the two things that seem to be helpful undeniably are to write as much as you can as well as you can. Preferably for a reasonable fee.
UITTI: Who do you think is the world’s greatest living artist?
MARCHESE: I think the greatest factor has to do with longevity and doing brilliant work over a long period of time. So, the ones that come to mind are Toni Morrison, Sonny Rollins, and Bob Dylan.
UITTI: Do you ever think about politics?
MARCHESE: How could you not?
UITTI: Do you ever vote?
MARCHESE: I always vote.
UITTI: What’s your favorite piece out of all your work?
MARCHESE: I wrote a piece that I would not necessarily say is of particularly high quality in probably 2003 or 2004, before I was a professional journalist. The piece was about a trip I took to Detroit to see a semi-obscure heavy metal band called High On Fire. I went with some friends from Toronto to Detroit to go see the show for a web site called PopMatters. I wrote a long travelogue concert review about the experience of getting to the show, being at the show, and driving back from the show. It was not particularly good, but I think it had some energy to it and I got good feedback on it. It made me think that I could do work in a way that I thought was interesting to me and that other people might have an interest in reading. I would definitely not recommend anyone going back and finding that piece to read because at the time I was doing Lester Bangs imitations and that piece certainly falls under that category. But in terms of what that piece represents to me as far as my aspiration to be a writer, I think that one might be a favorite.
UITTI: Pepsi or Coke?
MARCHESE: Depends on my mood. I would say I end up drinking Diet Coke the most of any cola beverage. My taste preference as far as the horrible taste of diet sodas go is probably Diet Pepsi. I think it’s a little sweeter. But it just so happens that Diet Coke, at least in the bodega I go to, seems to be a little bit easier to find.
UITTI: Do you think about dying?
MARCHESE: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. I would not say it’s at the forefront of my mind, but I would also not say it’s not present in my thinking. For a couple of reasons: I have two little kids. Having kids made me think about mortality. Also, a very close friend of mine, probably my closest friend, certainly my oldest friend, committed suicide last month. So, death has been on my mind quite a bit since then, I think understandably. But I also read a lot—well, I don’t want to say a lot because that makes me sound like an asshole. But now and then I read philosophy books and even books that probably could best be categorized embarrassingly as “self-help” or “new age,” and death and how to think about life is obviously a recurring theme in those kinds of books. So, it is something I think about. But I wouldn’t say I’m scared of it. I think the more I think about it, the less scared of it I become. But I am interested in how one might think about death.
UITTI: Do you change your clothes to write?
MARCHESE: Definitely not. I work mostly in an office, so it would be pretty awkward to do that.
UITTI: Do you ever take any drugs?
MARCHESE: I don’t anymore. The drugs I take now are antihistamines for my allergies. But in college, I smoked a lot of marijuana. Really, too much. I think it made me pretty depressed. I would always have maybe an hour or two of a good time and then would invariably find myself in a lonely cocoon of self-loathing and psychedelic music, which I realized was not making me happy. So, I really haven’t done that in years. But aside from marijuana, like a lot of people, I dilly-dallied with other drugs in my 20s. Mushrooms, cocaine a small handful of times, ecstasy, what else? I was always much more interested in psychedelic drugs than, like, cocaine. But there was a drug that certainly was legal in Toronto for a period called Salvia. We smoked some of that, and I remember laying there in my little apartment with my friend and having these intense visions of what seemed like Aztec empires. Then when it ended, we both looked at each other and simultaneously said the words, “Aztec elephants,” which was pretty enjoyable. I think what probably seemed like a cosmic journey was just about seven minutes in real time. I think doing the relatively little that I did of those drugs, particularly the psychedelic ones, stuck with me, and I remain interested in that mindset.
UITTI: Do you think your work will go up in value when you’re gone?
MARCHESE: No, not at all. I expect my work to be forgotten.
UITTI: Do you think that people should live in outer space?
MARCHESE: Yeah, I think they should. I think we’re probably going to have to in some form or another. But hopefully not in my lifetime. Wouldn’t that be cool, though? Oh my god. Flying around in outer space, seeing earth. Though you probably wouldn’t be able to see earth. Maybe it would be a blinking star somewhere off in the distance and you’ll have some weird vestigial pang of homesickness. But who wouldn’t want to live in space?
UITTI: Do you think the future will be futuristic?
MARCHESE: You know, these oracular questions are kind of funny because they’re not ones that I normally think about. I think the present is already pretty futuristic, so it makes sense to me that the future would continue to be futuristic. But the other day somebody tweeted that the future of humanity is small, roving bands of hunter-gatherers living at elevated altitudes. So that’s probably not going to be that futuristic. I would say the near future will probably remain futuristic.
UITTI: Do you know how to drive?
MARCHESE: Yeah. I’m also proud to say that my parallel parking skills have vastly improved since I’ve had to deal with alternate side parking in New York City.
UITTI: Do you sleep in the nude?
MARCHESE: No, I sleep wearing underwear. It’s a weird thing, though, isn’t it? Why do you wear a layer, what amounts to protection, when you’re just sleeping in bed? So, maybe I should sleep nude.
UITTI: Do you wear boxer shorts or jockey shorts?
MARCHESE: I wear boxer briefs. Let’s be clear about that.
UITTI: Do you look in the mirror when you get up?
MARCHESE: No. When I get up, the kids have woken us up. I have two little girls who are four and two. We’re pretty much trying to get them ready and out of the house as if we’re late to catch a plane every single morning. That’s the feeling of it. And not in a bad way, but that is how it feels. There’s not really time to look in the mirror.
UITTI: Do you think you’re a father figure to anyone?
MARCHESE: I would hope to my children. To anyone else? No. The two people to whom I am a father would probably be the two people to whom I am a father figure.
UITTI: Did you ever hate anybody?
MARCHESE: Well, Hitler’s a real asshole. But aside from world historical evil people, I can’t think of anyone I really hated. I remember being pretty crushed in, I think it was 1993, when Wayne Gretzky was on the L.A. Kings and scored a hat trick in Game 7 of the NHL Conference Finals against the Maple Leafs and it eliminated the Leafs, who really had a good team that year. I felt something maybe close to hate towards Wayne Gretzky at that point. But that would probably be the only instance.
UITTI: Did you ever try to grow a mustache?
MARCHESE: Yeah, I had a mustache for maybe a summer nine years ago. This was a period when I was single and didn’t have anybody to tell me better. It wasn’t an ironic one. I was really trying it out. But people kept commenting, “You look like a cop,” or whatever. I just felt too self-conscious about the fact that this thing on my face was something people were paying attention to and feeling at liberty to comment on that I couldn’t deal with it and shaved it off. I haven’t attempted one since, though I have had a beard and mustache a handful of times since then. But never just a straight mustache—that was a one shot deal.
UITTI: Do you believe in flying saucers?
MARCHESE: I believe in UFOs in the strict definition of unidentified flying objects. I believe there are things that have been flying around that, whether they’re the result of government experiment or weather phenomena that we’ve misinterpreted, I think those are out there. But in terms of alien entities swooping by earth, I’d say the jury remains out on that one. Though, I hope they exist.
UITTI: Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?
MARCHESE: I had a period when I was really into JFK conspiracy theories and there are some very persuasive ones that argue that he didn’t act alone. But my instinct is that he probably did.
UITTI: Do you know how to dance?
MARCHESE: I guess the short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that I’m a terrible dancer. I enjoy watching other people dance, though.
UITTI: What’s your favorite scent?
MARCHESE: My in-laws have a little place in the Catskills and the air in the mornings there has a very lovely scent. I wouldn’t know how to characterize it with any specificity, but I know I like it.
UITTI: Do you believe in the American Dream?
MARCHESE: That’s a funny one because it feels like a fraught question in a way that it maybe wouldn’t have been even five years ago. But I think America affords certain people certain opportunities to do the things that they’d like to do in a way that isn’t necessarily the case in other countries.
UITTI: Are rich people different from poor people?
MARCHESE: These questions either have very simple answers, or—and in this case, the simple answer would be, “Yes, they have more money”—they have more complicated answers. I don’t know a lot of rich people, personally. But from what I understand, it seems like everybody’s dealing with different versions of the same problems, whether they have more or less money. People are people, that’s what I would say. But if you had to choose between the problems of a rich person or a poor person, of course you would choose the problems of a rich person.
UITTI: Do you think the world can be saved?
MARCHESE: I sure hope so.
UITTI: Do you think there should be any censorship?
MARCHESE: You want to say there should not. But I don’t know how to think about the question of whether explicitly hateful speech should or how it should be protected or treated in regards to that question. My instinct is to say there shouldn’t be censorship. It’s a difficult question.
UITTI: Where should they draw the line?
MARCHESE: I would say a lot of these questions are above my intellectual pay grade.
UITTI: What do you look at first on a woman?
MARCHESE: Her eyes. Number two: her hands.
UITTI: What about a man?
MARCHESE: Also eyes.
UITTI: What’s your favorite sport?
MARCHESE: Basketball is my favorite to watch and probably to play also, although I play it only very rarely now.
UITTI: I have to ask: Did you follow the Kawhi Leonard storyline?
MARCHESE: Yes, of course. Like I said, I’m from Toronto. The playoffs were so exciting! You couldn’t believe that they were going to pull it out until the buzzer went off in the last game. Although, there was that weird thing where the last second took like five minutes, for whatever reason, which sort of robbed me of some of the emotional catharsis of a clean ending. I don’t begrudge him at all. He came for a year, he never promised to be here longer than a year, the team won a championship. How can you be anything but appreciative about that? Nothing he would have done beyond this would have surpassed it. So, I can live happily with the one-and-done.
UITTI: What do you think about masturbation?
MARCHESE: [Laughs.] Yeah, I got no problem with it. I think it’s a normal part of sexuality as long as it’s only done with willing partners.
UITTI: Do you believe in God?
MARCHESE: No, I don’t. In some maybe half-hearted ways I’ve tried to find my way to that kind of belief in the past and would maybe go in the direction of saying there is a greater intentionality to the universe. But God as I think it’s commonly understood—I just can’t muster a belief for it. Also, not to be smug, but I always butt my head up against this: how can any truly rational thinking lead to the answer that there is an all-seeing, all-powerful being in charge? I can’t square that circle, you know?
UITTI: Do you have any secrets you’ll tell after everyone’s dead?
MARCHESE: You know, I would say that in the course of almost every interview I do, at some point somebody goes off the record and tells me something either very interesting or very juicy that of course I never share. But, boy, it would be fun to share some of those sometime.