An Interview of Ron Mwangaguhunga by Ron Mwangaguhunga
What's your name?
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present an interview with Ron Mwangaguhunga
What's the Ron short for? Ronald?
It's short for Irony, the "I" and the "why" are silent.
Is that African?
Ugandan, I was born in Uganda, raised there, and London briefly, then Ottawa, Canada (The Corsair shivers) and Manhattan.
Sounds like you were you a military brat
Close. I was a diplobrat, a culturally significant animal that shares many of the same character traits. My dad was Uganda's Consul to the Embassy in Canada in the early 70s, then Ambassador to the US and finally the UN in the late 70s, while chairing the UN's Law of the Seas Commission. Growing up in the shadow of the UN in the 70s is about as idealistic as it gets. At the dinner table we spoke of Human Rights and The Year of the Child.
What was growing up in Canada as a Ugandan like?
Fucking cold, hombre. Wicked cold. And Canada in the 70s was kind of like Kentucky on ice. Lots of country and western on the radio, for some odd reason and people had CB radios in their living rooms. Trucker culture was very big there. I grew up to Dolly Parton's Jolene , Crystal Gayle, Johnny Cash tunes. And it was wild up North: humungous coyotes and coy dogs and wolves would wander into the city often, with patchy fur and tongues dragging, which, for a morsel-sized tidbit of a Ugandan boy, is kind of scary. I believe we were the first black people anyone in the town had ever seen. We did a good job representing, I must say. And, to this day, I get along with white people. White people like me.
And you went to the UN School in Manhattan
Yup. Dustin Hoffman's daughter was one year ahead of me. I should have scored her, but I was far too concerned with drawing pictures of dinosaurs at the time. You can imagine that she was very popular after Kramer vs. Kramer swept the Oscars. Those UN kids were fucking sophisticated. Everyone saw the Oscars, the major sporting events, the Presidential addresses, and discussed them. I believe some Kindergarteners actually had briefcases, but I may just be lying. The older kids did what rich sons and daughters of powerful people did in the 70s -- they went to dicos and fucked.
Very internationalist, this school. We sang Native American folk songs, did karate in gym class, studied world art: it was about educating possible world leaders and all that. The conservative hilbillies who oppose internationalism should look at the languages and music and literature curricula at the UN School before they express their own aggressive ignorance. (Ed Note: In retrospect I can see that this line earned me the hate mail, but bear in mind it was written in the heat of the build up to the Iraq War)
You went to college in Vermont.
Right, Marlboro College, which had a large proportion of studious, beautiful kids dressed in LL Bean pajama tops and faded blue jeans, talking contemporary philosophy and comparative literature. We did a lot of cross country skiing and amateur astronomy at our own planetarium -- of course, there were monsterous amounts of the "sticky ickey." It was Vermont.
It seemed like the thing to do. Marlboro was Secret History by Donna Tartt without the murder. I wanted to be a writer. I transferred out to go to Saint John's College, where I immersed myself in the Classics and Ancient Greek, then I went back to Marlboro and studied Literature and Philosophy. You'll see scattered references, like archaic ruins, alluding to the classics in my blog. I have to get my monies worth somehow.
When did the 80s end?
Somewhere in Secret History Donna Tartt says rightly that the magical weekend always officially ended (for kids of the 70s) with the Wonderful World of Disney, at 7pm on Sunday night. That's when one did one's homework. Officially the 80s ended the moment Rob Lowe gave Demi Moore his St. Elmo's Fire speech. The decade ended when Billy intoned: "This isn't real. You know what it is? It's St. Elmo's Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it. But the joke was on them. There was no fire. There wasn't even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep 'em going when times got tough. Just like you're making up all of this. We're all going through this. It's our time on the edge." Just like that with that gravelly world-weary voice: it's our time on the edge. And with that, the 80s abruptly ended as Billy took the Greyhound bus out of Georgetown with his loaded six string on his back. Lowe always knew that you leave a party while the gettings good: look at how he exited the West Wing before it jumped the shark.
So you've heard about the Kerry affair?
Alleged affair. Who hasn't. It's today's shadenfreude. If it is true, it won't help Dean, who supposedly chose to fight on in Wisconsin because he was privy to the info. If it is true, it will help John Edwards, whom I have always believed is the strongest candidate to tackle Bush. (Ed Note: This turned out as a hoax)
What's up with your obsession with RZA?
He's crazy like Swayzee. He's like the wind. Crazy people are interesting. Plus he feeds his kids colloidal silver -- hello? His kids are going to look pretty Smurfy pretty soon, because colloidal silver turns you blue.
What's up with the site design? It makes my eyes bleed
Hey, The Corsair is no frills. I'm a content man. What? You don't like the pea soup and electric blue motif? (Ed Note: If you remember, this site used to be designed really badly)
No. And what's up with speaking in the third person like that. And what's a Corsair?
The Corsair was sort of a Spy Magazine in nineteenth century Denmark. They attacked one of my favorite philosophers, Kierkegaard, in a way that remarkably anticipated the way tabloids attack the famous today in this age of shadenfreude. I like to think we are continuing in the tradition of The Corsair, but that I would have incorporated Kierkegaard's critique of our snarky democratic leveling and asked him to join the masthead. Kierkegaard was an OG blogger -- real old school. Hegel was his nemesis. It was on like Grey Poupon when those two slung the snark.
Are you crazy?
No, that's a misconception; I'm eccentric. I do yoga. I am opinionated. I like cheesy celebrity gossip and Herodotus. Annie Lennox told Time Magazine this week that she thinks of herself as a "thought factory." I like that. (Ed Note: The pretentious meter goes off the charts on that one, guys, sorry)
You're kind of all over the place. What's your mandate?
I cover media, gossip, fashion, politics, tv, fashion, classical civilizations -- a little bit of everything, fo' shizzle. It's a bonfire of the vanities every day at Corsair. I am going to try and incorporate the business world more into this also.
What's with the Cutty Sark?
Like most writers, I drink copiously. It was said at Saint Johns that I in my brief time there I drank the equivalent of the Chesapeake in gin and tonics. I don't dispute the claim. Cutty Sark is my beverage of choice. And no, I don't get paid to say that.
What are you like?
Shy, very shy, always flirty with the ladies, grave, African, occasionally amusing, scruffy -- I sport a "nurtured in the wilderness" look. A cross between David Chappelle and Mircea Eliade.
How long have you been blogging?
Since October 2003.
Do you like people to correct you?
I do. I'd rather have someone email me that I misspelled the name of Sofia Copolla, like a fine reader from CBS Marketwatch did, rather than look like an ass with the name out there. Better a correction than the 8 to 10 pieces of hate email I get.
And what's your obsession with Bill Murray?
The first movie I ever saw was Meatballs, and he is really interested in Gurdjieff, which I am too, and have been for close to a decade. Bill can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. He is the coolest man in America.
Presumably you've worked in the media world
Presumably. I've either worked at or written for The Nation, New York Magazine, Paper, New York Press, former NYC classical radio station WNCN, Fashion Week Daily, National Review Online, Sonicnet, which was absorbed by MTV Interactive, and MacDirectory, where I was editor in chief.
What do you like?
You mean aside from Naomi Campbell and the Max Mara models? I'm, assuming you mean blogs. As far as blogs go, I like the usual. Choire Sicha really made me laugh about a week ago when, as an aside, he mentioned that NY Social Diary had blacks in the party pictures, which is unusual to say the least. I must say here that I like David Patrick Columbia and he has had nice things to say about my site, but the Upper East Side that he often covers is, well, you know. Newyorkish is the sweet spot. Socialite Life is a place I frequent. I think Elizabeth Spiers is a hottie. I love Lowculture, actually I am an addict. I am a Lockhart Steele addict as well. And TMFTML and Uncle Grambo and his quest to broaden the english language. And I read Musto on line, and Rush and Molly and Page Six. And Old Hag. And Romenesko and VH1's Best Week Ever Blog. Oh dear, I hope I got everybody. That Jen Chung of Gothamist ... yummmy. And Memefirst. We love memefirst. I like Bunsen too. (Ed Note: This is massive ass kissing, on a cosmic scale, of which I am now ashamed, but I was new, at the time, and needed to kiss the right as to get me where I am today, which is somewhere in the Middle of the heap. Not my finest hour)
What would be your ideal media job?
Writing for Jon Stewart or VH1 or Trio or -- gasps -- Dave Chappelle might be fun. But everyone writing in NY who writes wants to do that. That's like saying, oh, I'd love to write and executive produce a drama for HBO. Like, you and everyone else, tough guy. But I do. If my boss is reading this, my current job is my ideal media job.
Spy was obviously an influence.
Spy and Spiers, Taki, Gore Vidal, Nabokov, Basquiat and Alan Thicke. Thicke of the Night was big with me. Just kidding. The Big Blue Marble and Land of the Lost and the Figure 8 Schoolhouse Rock Song were big with me; figure 8 got me wondering about infinity and eternal recurrence. My questions on the nature of Time, however, were somewhat resolved in a gentlemanly stalemate over the tv show Voyagers, featuring Meeno Peluce as a corsair who defied the linearity of time. Rock on Meeno Peluce. (And, RIP, Jon-Eric Hexum)
What other TV Shows?
Oh, lots: The Edge of Night, Upstairs/Downstairs, Poldark, The Linda Carter Variety Show, Good Times, Sherman Hemlsley on The Jeffersons, the first black self made millionaire on tv that didn't take over a third world country by junta -- actually every black man between 25 and 35 in America was influenced by Sherman. He's like the black Jesus. Fame the TV Show, I always wonder why they don't put repeats on Trio or VH1, that was a great show in the first few seasons. James at 15 is another show that I cannot imagine has evaporated: "It is so choice. If you have the means I highly suggest picking one (DVD) up." Very tender. Kiss Meets The Phantom ... too many to name. But I, Claudius was the watershed event. I wouldn't have studied the classics if not for that. And the Hardy Boys, dark. The whole ground of being of the 70s had that dark gritty urban vive to it: from Baretta to OPEC.
And what about movies?
Ingmar Bergman is my personal Jesus. Fucking haunting, that man. Watching his movies makes me hungry because you burn so many calories paying attention to the music, the emerging themes, the lighting, that fucking abrupt Sven Nykvist close up. Bergman also has this High Serious vibe about him that is attractive. Not many people nowadays approached art with a Rembrantian reverence, just look at a punk like Andy Warhol. He's a very strange Northern wind twisting through the labyrinth of Western art. Autumn Sonata, Cries and Whispers, Shame and From The Life of the Marionettes are works of art every bit as great as anything done by Vermeer or Josquin de Pres. Last week's NY Times Arts and Leisure said that Bergman is spooky, and he is: spooky like Jaime Summers pulling off the face of a fembot.
The earlier the better. Classical implies after Mozart, and that's too late for me. Early early music at the root of the musical impulse is what I am after. Aside from the random Schubert or Wagner piece, music has been going downhill since the middle 18th century. I love Medieval and Renaisance music. It has charm and I love the embroidery. Give me some Monteverdi drama, or Dietrich Buxtheheude and I'm raring to go. I also love world folk music, especially Corsican polyphony, it is very pure; then there's East African traditional music, and Tibetan chants that sound like mountain wind, Russian Orthodox chant. And freeform jazz and John Cage when I'm smoking the sweet leaf, which is increasingly rare as I am now over 30, and it is a well known fact that if you smoke weed after 30 something is wrong with you. Of course, for fucking and dancing one needs the requisite Mobb Deep. One can't fuck properly to Philip Glass.
In no particular order: Ada or Ardor by Nabokov, which is complicated, but once you work out all the family relationships, it gets fun. The Forbidden Forest by Eliade. The Forbidden Forest is like a bouillabaisse or a cassoulet.
It changes depending on the season you read it. I broke up with my fiance and the book had special meaning for me, and I just rred it a few weeks ago and the book -- or me -- was dramatically different. Like a bouillabaisse with white wine in winter as opposed to one with beer in the summer. I adore John Fowle's Magus and Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus.
Will you sell out?
Depends on how you define it. Will I jump at the chance if, say, Trio or GQ asks me to be their official blogger, or one of the cable networks offers me a footstep in the writing door. Or if Dave Chappelle or John Stewart wants me as a writer? Of course. I'd like to be recognized for the work I put in here. But will I alter or change my content? Never. Well, I won't use cursewords. But I like what I do now, which I don't want to say, they let me do my blog at work, just so long as I make my deadlines. But in the future I want to write for TV.
Who would you most like to take on a desert island with you.
Oh, without a doubt Helena Christiensen. Helena Christiansen is proof that there is a Divine Intelligence shaping the destiny of man. God, she's fucking incredibly gorgeous. And Naomi Campbell, I don't care how skanky my friends at Page Six say she is. I'd just wear a suit of armor.
No problem. Pour me a glass of The Sark on your way out.
(The Corsair will not be "published" tomorrow due to mi vida loca. Sorry)