Celebrities who have been interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR) — and there are many — can be certain their archived interviews will be re-aired should they ever die.
That’s what happened after the recent deaths of two well-known Americans: Kate Spade, fashion designer and business woman, and Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and author. Both deaths were ruled as suicides.
I can’t say I was a fan of Bourdain, but I knew who he was and I always admired the way he mixed global culture, storytelling and food into one conflated and intertwined slice of humanity. So, in a morbid way, his death made me curious and also regretful that I had not made the time to watch his show, “Parts Unknown,” which I thought was a cool concept for good television.
To get a feel for what I may have missed and would never really know, I listened to a 2016 interview with Bourdain on NPR’s Fresh Air, which re-aired on June 7. And then I listened to Marc Maron’s conversation with the renowned chef, which was originally recorded on Maron’s WTF podcast in 2011.What I didn’t expect was to hear Bourdain speak about hunting and the emotions he felt after killing an animal he planned to eat alongside villagers in Malaysia.
Surprisingly, Bourdain also shared his impressions of Red State America and avid hunter and rocker Ted Nugent. I should also note that both podcasts are liberal-leaning shows that attract largely urban, left-of-center audiences. This I found notable because both interactions between Bourdain and the interviewers of each podcast offer examples of how one might explain lifestyle choices — like hunting — not embraced by the masses.
Bourdain was deeply introspective about killing a pig.
Bourdain, as a guest of honor of the Iban people in Malaysia, was asked on two different occasions to kill a pig by spearing it in the heart. The pig is killed for a feast, the whole village eats and — in these instances — it’s done to celebrate Gawai, the village’s annual Ibanrice harvest festival.
“That first time, I don’t think I’d ever killed an animal before,” said Bourdain in NPR’s Fresh Air interview. “I’d been ordering them up as a chef over the phone … but here I was being asked to plunge a spear into the heart of a pig. It seemed the heart of hypocrisy however uncomfortable I may have been with that to put it off on somebody else … I didn’t want to dishonor the village or embarrass anyone. The first time … was very difficult for me. The second time, as much as I’d like to say that it was still really hard … I don’t know what it says about me … that I’ve become more callous … I could lie and say it tormented me forever … “
Bourdain wrote after the second time he speared a pig, “I did it the second time without hesitation or remorse.”
He was a friend of Ted Nugent, songwriter, guitarist and avid hunter.
On the topic of what food represents culturally and how it transcends so many ideological, societal and economic differences, Bourdain cites his relationship with Ted Nugent. In the interview, and this is purely my own speculation, you can sense the podcast-host Marc Maron expected Bourdain to cite an instance where food served as a bridge between himself — an American — and someone from a wildly different foreign culture. Perhaps a culture similar to the one Bourdain introduced us to in the village in Malaysia, where the pigs were speared for feasts. But that’s not what Bourdain did.
Editor’s Note: Keep in mind this interview was first aired in 2011 when the Tea Party was emerging as a dominating influencer of the Republican Party and conservative ideology. The year also marked the Egyptian revolution.
Bourdain: I felt kinship with people with whom I have almost nothing in common. It’s something I bring up a lot when talking about the Tea Party. Because, as a lefty Democrat, it’s really easy for me to see all of the things I find scary and offensive about the Tea Party. But as I realized, because I film in places like Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, mainland China, dictatorships, I’ve broken bread with ex-KGB officers, ex Viet Cong Cordray, with people from very fundamentalists Muslim sects, I started — when traveling around my own country — to say, listen, why can’t I be friends with Ted Nugent, why can’t I find some common ground here? They feel like the government has let them down. I definitely understand anger, disenfranchisement. I mean, if they were Egyptian, we’d kinda be rooting for them, you know?
Maron: And Ted Nugent will go out and kill an animal with ya.
Bourdain: He’s a buddy.
Maron: Is he?
Bourdain: Largely built around food and … uh … we don’t have much else in common. What do I have in common with the Tea Party? I’m guessing we both like beer and we both like BBQ. That’s something. Hopefully, it can be the beginning of some kind of conversation. To sneer at each other relentlessly seems counter productive.
But I’m guessing, in fact I know, because I spent a lot of time in gun country, in hunting country, in Red State America, I can have a good time with those people.
Maron: No, of course.
Bourdain: And I even like them. And I respect them. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but you sit down at someone’s table and there they are with their kids, feeding you biscuits … it’s hard not to find something to love. I don’t know I guess, by traveling around the world … how come I’m giving all these people a pass? There are a lot of countries that I love where they have … (look at) southeast Asia … their attitudes toward race and skin color are more extreme and unforgiving than the Ku Klux Klan, how come they get a pass? Well, it’s just this moral cultural relativism that I practice around the world with foreign cultures, (but) how come I got to bend everyone around to my way of thinking here to have dinner with them? I’m trying to cut my own country a break a little bit.
As Bourdain talks about diverse views and ideologies, religious practices and cultural differences in both America and around the world, he says this:
“I like doubt, I abhor certainty. Anyone who is absolutely sure of anything, I’m already very weary of.”
And then he ask himself a question, which he also answers:
“How do you be a good person and travel? The best I can do is to be a good guest.”
Nugent tweeted a tribute to Bourdain after hearing of his friend’s death. He wrote, “Adios & Godspeed my kill it & grill it bloodbrother Anthony Bordain.”
Bourdain hunted pheasants with Josh Rogan, the American stand-up comedian and martial arts color commentator.
In 2015, Bourdain went on a Montana pheasant hunt with Joe Rogan. The hunt originally aired on Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown,” Season 7, Episode 5.
The entire Parts Unknown series can be found on Netflix.
Last week, Montana’s KRTV.com posted a story where locals shared their impressions of Bourdain when he filmed in the area in 2015. Most featured in the story spent time with Bourdain drinking whiskey at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Butte.
At the end of the post, the network’s reporter John Emeigh posted the write-up Bourdain did for the CNN episode filmed in Montana, which also featured legendary writer, poet and outdoorsman Jim Harrison. Harrison, best known for writing “Legends of the Fall,” passed away shortly after filming ended. So the world-renowned chef concluded his show synopsis with this Harrison poem, which is now also the perfect tribute to Bourdain in light of his own death:
I leave you with a poem Jim wrote. We use it in the episode, but I want to reprint it here. It seems kind of perfect now that Jim’s finally slipped his chain.
The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside world
but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.