Excerpts from Upcoming Oral Histories

by Glenn McDonald

2 March 2009

The use of unfiltered direct quotes gives a veneer of authenticity, and the writer doesn’t have to do much actual writing.

oral history
– noun
1. information of historical or sociological importance obtained usually by tape-recorded interviews with persons whose experiences and memories are representative or whose lives have been of special significance.
2. a book, article, recording, or transcription of such information.


The oral history is one of the hottest areas in publishing right now. The use of unfiltered direct quotes gives a veneer of authenticity, and these books are often totally unauthorized, so the reader gets the sense that they’re getting the real story. Also, as a writer, you don’t have to do much actual writing. —Deborah Kaling, publishing industry analyst

Guys, Where Are We? An Oral History of the Making of Lost
Lloyd Braun, Chairman of ABC, 2002-2004” It all started as a dare. We were at an industry event, and I was pounding the vodka-and-Red Bulls, you know? So me and some CBS guys, we started this thing to see who could come up with the most ridiculous idea for a new TV show. I said, “I got it: I’ll pitch them on a cross between Lord of the Flies, Survivor, Gilligan’s Island and Myst. And we film it in Hawaii, the most expensive place on Earth!” We laughed so hard I literally burst a blood vessel on my nose. Guys start putting up money, you know, double-dog daring me and so forth. So I scrawl out a treatment on the back of a napkin and bring it in Monday. Next thing you know I’ve got a $14 million dollar budget. God, I love this business.

Carlton Cuse, executive producer” Here’s our dirty little secret. You know what keeps the viewers coming back? Clavicles. Seriously, we’ve done the focus group testing. Kate’s clavicles, when she’s all sweaty and wearing those tank tops? Money. Sawyer’s clavicles—that’s why we keep taking his shirt off. Double money. My God, what a torso that man has. And Juliette? The most glorious clavicles in the history of creation. We’ve got special cameras and lighting rigs just for that women’s chest. That’s it, man. Telling you. Clavicles.

Damon Lindelof, executive producer: By the end of our third season, many viewers—even longtime, loyal, very attentive viewers—were still getting confused about the various plot threads we had going. When we introduced the flash-forward device in Season Four, that only further muddied the waters. So in Season Five, we made the decision to introduce the time-traveling element, so that viewers wouldn’t have to keep track of just one linear narrative, but dozens upon dozens of alternate universes and cause-and-effect paradoxes. Why? Because screw ‘em, that’s why.

iCompany: An Oral History of Apple, Inc.
Geoff Reed, longtime Apple investor: All you Windows guys used to totally ridicule me for being a Mac guy back in ’89, ‘90. You couldn’t get decent games or software for Mac back then. Well, while you clowns were playing Quake I was investing in Apple, and guess what? I’m stupid rich now. So you monkeys can suck it.

Teresa Schmidt, former Apple executive” When the iPod was first being considered—this was way, way early in the conceptual prototype phase—I sent around a memo saying this iPod idea was a real loser, and that we should be putting our efforts into resurrecting the Newton personal digital assistant. Clearly, this had a negative impact on my career. Did you want a Tall, Grande or Venti?

Ethan Young, retired Apple manager: You know, Jobs has this reputation as a real bastard. But in my experience, he was fair in his own way. He treated everyone the same. Whether you were a new guy or someone like me who, you know, put in 80-hour weeks for years, sacrificed his marriage, health and sanity for the company, and never made it past middle management. Actually, come to think of it, Jobs can go to hell. Bastard.

A-Hole: An Oral History of Alex Rodriguez’ MLB Career
Greg Waterman, little league coach” I remember when he was playing in the junior travel teams in Miami. Even then he seemed to have a prescient sense of his destiny. He’d say things like, “Someday I will be league MVP.” Or, “One day, I’m going to have 50 homers and 200 hits in a season.” Or, “One day I’m going to silently burn in jealously and rage while f—-ing Jeter gets all the glory.” It was incredible, really. He knew just where he was headed.

Jim Higbert, trainer, Texas Rangers: He’s a great ballplayer, no doubt about it. But he’s got a big head, you know. No, literally. His head is huge, totally ‘roided out—we used to watch it grow between innings.

Paul Lowman, sportswriter: Oh, it’s a lot worse than people think. The PED’s are the least of it. Ever wonder why the guy seems so wooden, so devoid of personality? Cybernetics, man. He’s more machine than man now. In fact, I once saw him remove his faceplate before a double-header in Cleveland. Freaky.

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

Messing with Texas: An Oral History of the South by Southwest Music Festival
Dean Manning, bassist, Attack Pattern Delta” [March, 2008] This used to be such a great scene, now it’s all corporate and co-opted. It makes me sick.

Gary “Bean” Fellows, lead singer, Carload of Drunk Teenagers” [March, 1998] This used to be an actual, real thing for music people. Now it’s totally co-opted, sold, played out. Makes me sick.

Josh Heltzel, drummer, Sammy Davis’ Other Eye” [March, 1988] Last year was great. Now it sucks. Makes me sick. I’ll tell you who’s the real deal, though—Terence Trent D’Arby. I guarantee you he’ll be making awesome records 30 years from now.

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