Peter Madsen will be at the B+B Newsroom tomorrow to join director Will Robson-Scott in a post-screening discussion about “Chi Raq,” Robson-Scott’s documentary about Chicago gang violence. Today, we spoke to Madsen about his new book, “Dealers.”
Peter Madsen’s Dealers collects interviews with 15 New York City drug dealers including a weed-peddling bike courier who doesn’t even smoke the stuff and a coke dealer with a penchant for losing his vials and coming up short — plus a favor-granting doorman of a luxury building in Flatiron. Madsen, who lives in Williamsburg, has also compiled hundreds of man-on-the-street interviews he conducted starting in 2010 that you can check out on his blog, Word on the Street New York. Here’s the B+B Q+A.
How did you meet these people, you said you were a bike messenger? How did you manage to get ahold of the drug dealers?
I knew it was going to be a book and I was really up-front with that. I didn’t want to ask anyone to speak to me if they didn’t totally understand what my intentions were. So by being up front and transparent, I gained their trust, and I was surprised that so many people were willing to talk to me. I think like anybody drug dealers want to be understood—or perhaps a bit more, due to the fact that what they do is illegal. I don’t think all drugs should be legal but I’m totally for pot being legal. I think the federal and state governments should just tax the hell out of it, and pump it into public school systems, for example.
Probably 20. And 4 didn’t make it because they got cold feet, which I totally understand. They’re safe being included in my book, but I didn’t want to argue with someone and try and persuade them if they didn’t want to, and if they weren’t totally committed to being involved.
I talked to a guy who was reluctant to work as a drug dealer, despite the fact that a lot of his friends do, and make decent livings doing it. I didn’t include it because he wasn’t a dealer. I wanted every interview to deal with dealers. I knew it was only going to be 150 pages, and I wanted to give every subject enough breathing room.
They definitely defied my expectations, and I think they will defy those of the reader too. And it’s great, that’s something that I realized while doing Word On The Street New York. It’s a game I would play. I would see someone on the corner, and they’re flying their sign and I would try and guess what their story was. And when I stopped to interview them, I was always wrong about what I thought — how their voice would sound, the words they would use, their story, their attitude on things. So that’s the barometer I have when I do interviews. If it confirms what I initially suspected, then I know I did a shitty interview.
The way they talk about it is, it’s a matter of not fitting a profile the cops have and it’s a matter of not looking like a bike messenger. As I describe in the book — it’s like, what’s a bike messenger doing on the Upper West Side on a Sunday at 7 p.m. coming out of a building? Cops know that messengers work office hours, because they’re serving offices.
I think probably the best cover would be if these guys were riding Citi Bikes. It’s the most supremely dorky, anonymous way to go about doing something like that.
Well, one is. Alex is a reoccurring subject in Word on the Street New York, and he talks about how people will approach him and ask him to score heroin for him. He describes the great variety of people that would ask him –people in business clothes and college kids, like NYU kids — it’s weird that some people see a homeless person as an advertisement for good heroin.
I would like to get Word on the Street New York published. That would be wonderful. I would definitely start up the blog again. I stopped after doing like 250 of them. I just needed to focus on something new. I would love to do 15 cop interviews. I did this interview, and the cop’s story was just fascinating. I’m working on a short, choose-your-own-adventure book. It’s based on some of the experience I encountered while doing Dealers.
It’s something I would love to do — the cop subject. I have to be very careful when I talk about these subjects, so I don’t give away any details they didn’t want included. The cop is interested in writing a book, a memoir, and I would love to help in any way to make that happen. I think it really speaks to the power of the interview — someone like you or I who does lots of interviews, if we work with someone like that, it would help a writer tease out a lot of their stories, by doing interviews and giving them back to them, and helping them work with their words. You go back and forth.
Oh yeah. What is it the blue wall? Again I gotta be careful when I speak about the approach. I found the cop the same way I found the dealers. Just through friends asking around, we’ll put it that way. And it was through that casual kind of route that I was able to find a cop who wanted to speak.