I watched our friends' wary, intelligent faces droop at our tale. Their shock was a mere shadow of our own, resembling more the goodwilled imitation of that emotion, and for this reason it was a temptation to exaggerate, to throw a rope of superlatives across the abyss that divided experience from its representation by anecdote.
I'm certainly very influenced by what you would call 'contemporary headline horror,' stuff that is true crime or for one reason or another catches our attention in the media, those strange cases that we end up obsessing about. I'm always influenced by weird anecdotes and news.
Leonard Cohen can give you "Leonard Cohen" - the self-deprecating wit, the slow, considered speech, the perfectly-honed anecdote - Tom Waits is far more comfortable giving a journalist "Tom Waits" the character, whose conversation is really a series of strange tales, learned or ad-libbed.
I tell this anecdote with tongue in cheek at the start of my book William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination, but my academic involvement with Burroughs was entirely due to my tutor at Oxford, Peter Conrad. I was discussing with him the idea of staying on to do graduate work and when I tossed the name of Burroughs into the conversation - well, he let it fall loudly onto the floor, and proceeded to cross himself as if warding off an evil spirit. Since I was very ambivalent about an academic career in any case, that decided it for... Read more »
A famous anecdote concerning Cuvier involves the tale of his visitation from the devil—only it was not the devil but one of his students dressed up with horns on his head and shoes shaped like cloven hooves. This frightening apparition burst into Cuvier's bedroom when he was fast asleep and claimed: 'Wake up thou man of catastrophes. I am the Devil. I have come to devour you!' Cuvier studied the apparition carefully and critically said, 'I doubt whether you can. You have horns and hooves. You eat only plants.
If there be a mind that, not perceiving in the narratives we have compared the fingermarks of tradition, and hence the legendary character of these evangelical anecdotes, still leans to the historical interpretation, whether natural or supernatural; that mind must be alike ignorant of the true character both of legend and of history, of the natural and the supernatural.