Christopher John Farley knows he has a plum gig. As the pop music critic for Time magazine, he has interviewed personalities including the "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, rock legends Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and some of hip hop's most accomplished artists, such as Outkast and Dr. Dre. Hobnobbing with music icons and, inevitably, some one-hit wonders, 36-year-old Farley has emerged as one of the premiere black music writers in the country. In fact, Farley was one of the last journalists to talk to the late R&B songbird Aaliyah before a fatal plane crash off the coast of the Bahamas claimed the life of the 22-year-old singer and eight others last August.
An author of a moderately received novel, My Favorite War, about a Washington reporter's experiences covering the Gulf War, last year Farley wrote his second book, a full-length biography titled Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, based on his conversations with the young singer. The book capped Aaliyah's life and achievements in the wake of her tragic death, and the subsequent backlash surrounding the horse-and-carriage procession that accompanied the singer's funeral through the streets of New York City.
Nevertheless, Farley sees Aaliyah as more than just another pop star with a pretty smile and some catchy tunes. After conducting more than 50 interviews with her friends and relatives, he was able to portray a maturing young artist who was both protective of her personal life, yet highly motivated and determined in her professional aspirations.
A Harvard grad of Jamaican descent, in his latest project, Farley is returning to fiction; it's something he says allows him to flex his own imagination instead of mining the musings of others. He is busy putting the final touches on The Chocolate Gale, his next novel, which is set in the Caribbean during the 18th century.
Recently, Black Issue Book Review sat down with Farley to get his take on writing about music and fiction.
BIBR: Why was it important for you to write a biography about Aaliyah?
CJF: I interviewed Aaliyah not long before she died. I did a profile of her for Time magazine, and her album was my favorite R&B album of the year 2001. I'd been to a party that she'd thrown. I met her mom.... And then suddenly she was dead. So I thought, this is something I really have to write about.
I'd seen other artists come and go. I remember going to Curt Cobain's [MTV] "Unplugged" concert with Nirvana, and not long after that, he was dead. I hooked up an...