Remembering Ingrid Sischy

I first met Ingrid in 1989. Ingrid was 37 years-old, and was already the Editor-in-Chief of ArtForum, and a photography columnist for The New Yorker. She had just been hired by Peter and Sandy Brant to be Editor of Interview Magazine, which the Connecticut power couple had recently purchased from the Warhol estate, following Andy's death the year before.

I went up to the offices of The New Yorker magazine, on west 43rd, next to the Algonquin Hotel. I was 22 years old. She looked like Danny Devito. It was love at first sight.

I told her I wanted to be a writer and that because my band was playing all over New York City at the time, I had direct and intimate experience of the city's live music scene. She bought that, and asked me for some writing samples. My only published article at that time was an editorial I had written for the college newspaper, at Wesleyan, in favor of legalizing pot, so I said, "Yeah, sure I have lots of work I could send you, but I really feel like writing something special just for you." She bought that, too, and I wrote a restaurant review of an Indian place on Amsterdam and 79th, in which I literally referred to cunnilingus, as regards the taste of one of their curries. She hired me.

We began working together at the Interview Magazine office. It was still being run out of the last Warhol Factory, a weird industrial structure located at 19 East 32nd Street, that used to be a Con Ed building, so it really was kind of like a factory, except one where Mick Jagger and Diana Ross and Michael Jackson came to have lunch.

My title was editorial assistant. I remember right before the first interview she assigned me to do, Ingrid called me into her office and said, "Don't be too gynecological, just go for the big questions." I have tried my best not to be gynecological when I do interviews ever since.

When people die, we often tend to say how great they were. But Ingrid was a difficult boss. She was pugnacious, hard-driving, supremely canny, and possessed of a drive and intensity I have never encountered in anyone else. I watched her go from being an editor who knew nothing about music and fashion, to mastering the world of Paris and Milan couture, vacuuming David Bowie, Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada, and Elton John into her irresistible vortex not by dint of glamour but by sheer centrifugal force of will.

Ingrid was a person who would not be told "No." She could have won a bullfight by standing still in the middle of the arena and staring a bull into submission. There were many of us who worked with her as editors who for years afterwards used to meet like survivors to share jokes and stories, but deep down we were still shaken.

Under Ingrid's strict embrace I got my very first byline in print, and went on to write hundreds of articles for Spin, Details, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and eventually publish two books about music. I owe part of that to Ingrid because she gave me a chance when all I had was an unpublished restaurant review.

Many of us bristled under her intense relentless psychic gaze. My mentor, Glenn O'Brien quit. Legendary art director Fabien Baron stormed out in a screaming match. Ingrid was not above keeping you at the office until 2am to rewrite a caption 700 times on your birthday. She smoked in meetings with the staff, in her office, doors closed. (That eventually came to a stop, either due to laws changing or the onset of her illness.)

As Ingrid burrowed feverishly into the epicenter of pop culture, I got to tag along. Thanks to Ingrid, I got the chance to meet and interview Mick Jagger, Mariah Carey, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Britney Spears, Keith Richards, BB King, James Brown, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LL Cool J. and a long list of other greats.

In addition to introducing me to the stars of the late 80s downtown New York scene--Stephen Sprouse, Tama Janowitz, Julian Schnabel, Ed Rusha, Francesco Clemente, Jeff Koons, Alex Katz--Ingrid invited me to some very interesting parties. I remember one dinner at Odeon, where Ingrid and I had a meal with Madonna, Tupac, Gianni Versace, John Cale, and Sandra Bernhard--all of us at one round table.

She was a very fast learner. And also quite convincing. Shortly after we moved to our new office at the corner of Prince and Broadway, Peter Brant began an affair with Stephanie Seymour. Sandy Brant, Peter's then seemingly super non-lesbian wife, a woman who woke up and brushed her teeth in a Chanel dress, mother of five children, blonde, Connecticut millionaire, and hostess to the Duke and Duchess of York, soon became Ingrid's girlfriend. It wasn't just that Ingrid converted Sandy to the L word. I don't think the thought had ever even crossed Sandy's mind before meeting Ingrid. They wound up spending 25 years together and I think it was real love.

Ingrid could be very gracious and charming. When I got a role hosting a series on MTV about independent music, she and Sandy sent me a huge bouquet of roses. And when she invited me to come back to Interview after my years away at MTV, our relationship had shifted in some ways--but in some ways, it hadn't.

Ingrid had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which I expected might have shifted her priorities, and I had changed, too. No longer the meek 22-year-old wannabe writer, I now had my own show on television, was a published author and it seemed at first Ingrid and I would relate on new footing.

She was paying me more per day than I had earned in a week when I first began working for her. I was amazed that after all those years and a battle with cancer, she was still keeping the staff at the office until 1 a.m. to revise captions.

I stood up to her once, during this era, and she shocked me with her reaction. She cried. We were alone in the office, and for the first time I saw her vulnerable side. The next day I brought her some ginseng in a fancy cognac bottle from Chinatown to make up. But I still wanted to quit.

Ingrid and I were in her office for an early meeting at 8:30 a.m. on September 11th, and we both saw the planes hit and the towers drop from our offices which were only a short walk from the World Trade Center. That was certainly a bonding experience. The last time I saw her was a few years ago, right in front of my apartment on west 72nd Street. I know her friend Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, lives nearby at the Dakota, but I got the sense she was seeing a doctor or a shrink as she seemed reticent about what she was doing in the area (she lived in the west village).

You never know when you'll see someone for the last time.

A few hours ago, when I heard she died, my reaction surprised me. I felt really saddened, and shocked that a person who contained that might life force could be extinguished like that.

As Yeats put it: The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity. And now I'm trying to figure out where Ingrid fit in.