As a much younger, much less war-damaged journalist, I would have been able to live up to en encounter with Andrew Wakefield–would have had all the right questions, and all the wrong ones. This would have been some time between 1989 and 2006. As I always did in those days, I’d be wearing something OAT colored. I would still be in the sway of The Big Mirage and still be certain it was so close one could virtually touch it.
The machine to absorb the conversation would have been a Marantz tabletop with 4 fresh C batteries. I’d have cared so much about this interview I would perhaps freeze and be unable to speak, or shatter a thick glass door with my fingertip, as I did when assigned too interview my idol Pete Townshend, for SPIN, in 1993.
I would have wanted to be the one who brought Wakefield’s detangled and now by me clarified story to the imaginary frontline of medical journalism, full of conviction and subconscious suicidal ideation. This was before everything finally dawned on me, and before everything went into static. In 2016, Vaxxed: From Coverup To Catastrophe exploded.
Now the truth is out.
In 2012, I met, and interviewed Andrew Wakefield on assignment for a Swedish documentary team.
I mainly wanted to watch him from a distance–see what I could pick up. My beloved friend, now passed away, the raving lunatic and genius known in earth form as Fiona Eberts, had met Andy Wakefield at The Sundance Film Festival that year, and shortly thereafter she and I had lunch near Lincoln Center.
I was a cloud of bewilderment, obsessed with the gory details. How could such a person exist? Was he like…Zeus or something? I did not understand it at the time. Where did all the knives and bullets go? Rather like those magicians who saw themselves or others in half but never explain why they are ok at the end.
I stared at Fiona, over soup, and finally said something: ” Jesus Fiona. You met him. What is he like? I mean…Jesus. Is he alright?”
Fiona (also British) tilted her head and said with a throaty laugh: “Well. He’s British.”
“YOOOUUU HAVE BEEN ATTACKED BY A MONSTROUS ENAMEEEE BUT YOU NEVAH FLINCHED OR WAVAARED…” (Churchill.)
However he is or isn’t, it would be another year before I understood that he had utterly rejected this whole train of thought. “I don’t have a problem. The children with autism have a problem.” *
Fiona connected us via email, and lo and behold, he was gracious, responsive, and in a much friendlier mood than most people who have not been crushed under the “million pound shithammer”** of the pharmaceutical Reich.
The interview we did, some weeks later, in a NYC Hotel room, on camera, was excellent, on his part, OK on my part. Competent. But I had failed.
A journalist wants to get something nobody else got from a subject. Wants there to be something exchanged that was unique to the encounter. And like I said, my fangier days were behind me. And the Marantz had been stolen. And I couldn’t wrap my head around Brian Deer’s malicious red ant tight little accusations–just could not get a feel for how to ask anything about a ball of wax so obviously constructed in the wax ball factory where they make precisely these balls of Nothing to look HUGE.
Dr. Wakefield, meanwhile, was a walking library of his own case, his own story, and the various stories his fate was origami-ed inside; He was Olympian, lucid, detailed, and comprehensive. But I could have been anybody.
Much later, some time in 2014 or so, I finally got what I wanted.
Wakefield and the Autism Media Channel Team were in NYC to screen their latest film, Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis, and they invited me to attend.
That evening, I was in a loud, fairly dreary midtown bar, with Andy Wakefield and Polly Tommey, and Polly went to the restroom. Andy and I got to chatting, and when I mentioned Bob Guccione Jr., he said that in the 1970s, one of the Gucciones (he could not recall which) had stolen his girlfriend. He laughed at the memory. (I later asked Mr. Guccione if he remembered stealing Andy Wakefield’s girlfriend, but as usual, he said it must have been his father.)
Then all of a sudden when I least expected it–the jewel.
The subject turned, incredibly, and inexplicably, to (wait for it) Deep Purple.
The 70s rock group.
Dr. Wakefield said he felt they had been terribly under-rated, and I wholeheartedly agreed. I DO think that. I always did.
He laughed heartily. “They were a great band.”
In the dark, my elation was not palpable. Polly Tommey returned and wondered, “What are you two talking about?”
It was so loud and miserable in there I evacuated us to another, (slightly less miserable) place without further ado.
But I held in my mind’s ear the butterfly, the hilarious thing that I had been given, the scoop I always wanted.
Oh my God, I thought silently. Andy Wakefield just told me he thinks Deep Purple were under rated.
Nobody will ever believe me but I don’t care.
He said it.
And now that I have revealed Wakefield’s deepest darkest secret, Brian Deer can get behind me, cause I got him beat.
Wishing Andrew Wakefield the happiest of birthdays, as September 4th dawns over the Baltic Sea.
* [Quote from our 2012 interview. Made me think of Pete’s line from Quadrophenia:‘I see a man without a problem.’]
**From Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail, Hunter S. Thompson