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Review: Selected Recordings 2000-2010 by Olaf Tyaransen

In the introduction to this collection of interviews with very interesting people, Olaf Tyaransen tells us where he believes it all went wrong for him.

"The masterplan was to be on my third or fourth novel by now, having also published a couple of acclaimed collections of poetry, and maybe thrown off the occasional stage play or film script along the way," he explains.

But then, as ambitions go, those aspirations to write a novel or a play are not what they used to be. There was a time when a young man might look at the leading novelists and playwrights of the day such as Norman Mailer or Arthur Miller, even one of the English variety such as Martin Amis, in much the same way that he would look at a Bob Dylan or a Keith Richards. These people were hugely charismatic, they were stars, and it was quite reasonable to want to be like them -- indeed to want to BE them -- in whatever way you could.

But we have moved from a time when literary men might have fist-fights in public over some perceived slight, to a time that is relatively well-mannered. A time in which Sunday Miscellany, with its carefully crafted little sermons, has replaced the Mass. And while you might have some level of appreciation for the writers who stitch that stuff together, if you were 16 years old you wouldn't actually want to BE them.

So Olaf may be on the right path after all, devoting himself to these portraits of punks, poets, pornographers and pariahs, wonderful people in many ways. Indeed, the pornographers, the publisher Larry Flynt and the movie star Ron Jeremy, come across as being intelligent. And Jeremy, with the famously massive penis, seems like just a basically decent human being.

Flynt is too complicated for that, yet he is capable of human kindness. Speaking of Courtney Love, who played Flynt's wife in the movie The People Versus Larry Flynt, he says: "Courtney's been having a tough time lately, but me and Mel (Gibson) have been trying to help her out."

That is among my favourite quotes in this greatly entertaining collection, along with the former UDA brigadier Johnny Adair's bit of banter, "wherever you go, everybody always loves the Irish. They love us!"

I have endless respect for Olaf's ability to get a notorious loyalist on tape declaring that everyone loves the Irish, partly because I was never much good myself at interviewing. It's a highly specialised skill, demanding either a ridiculously hard neck, or the quality which Olaf possesses, best described by Bono: "He's a beguiling character... I always feel I should be interviewing him." If he is not one of the hard-neck brigade, the interviewer himself must have a charisma which makes the star want to tell him things in some detail that they shouldn't really be telling him at all. Which may explain why Damien Rice chose Olaf as a conduit for his feelings about the break-up of his relationship with Lisa Hannigan, an awe-inspiring exercise in self-revelation. Or why the Tommy Tiernan interview at the Electric Picnic became horribly twisted into something else altogether. Or why the aforementioned Love's story of a lesbian fling with Kate Moss went around the world.

But even the best interviewers tend to be lacking in other areas -- many of them can't write a sentence, for example. Olaf can do both, and he is working in a time when these abilities are increasingly important. When I was interviewing people, I may not have been much good at it, but the PR industry had yet to seize complete control of the culture. So I might find myself hanging around all day in the studio with The Jam, who were then number one in the charts, and then interviewing Paul Weller in the soundproofed booth in which he was was recording That's Entertainment. Nor was it uncommon to get quite drunk with the subject, something that wouldn't really work in a world of Cheryl Cole performing her script to Piers Morgan.

But Olaf Tyaransen is still out there, listening to those odd souls who still have something to say. The masterplan may not have worked out exactly as he planned. But that Olaf is demonstrably the best rock 'n' roll interviewer in the world is some consolation.

Sunday Indo Living