Interviewer: We’re here today with Albert Knox, the famed diarist who made his living documenting the day-to-day lives of high-profile celebrity clients. Hundreds of people, from pop stars to presidents, can rest easy knowing that their mundane emotional moments were preserved for posterity by Mr. Knox and his ubiquitous spiral notebook. On the eve of his retirement, Mr. Knox was kind enough to grant The Diary Journal an exclusive interview reflecting on his career accomplishments, his plans for the future, and his own dear diary. Mr. Knox, thank you for joining us.
AK: It’s a pleasure to be here.
I: Let’s begin with some softballs. Can you describe a typical day with one of your long-term clients, say Katy Perry?
AK: Katy hired me to write her personal diary for her California Dreams Tour [2011-12]. She told me that she’d kept a diary as a child, then got too busy to maintain it, so she was thrilled to be able to delegate the job. On a typical day I’d start by writing down her dreams and what they might signify, then we’d eventually move into thoughts and feelings on musical performances, meals, social interactions, and outfits.
I: Did you ever have trouble gaining access to the talent?
AK: I was always competing with photographers and film crews for access [Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour was the basis for the documentary Part of Me], but as a diarist I usually developed a more intimate relationship with my clients than most full-time staff members. For example, Katy liked seeing pretty pictures of herself, but by the time we reached Japan she was even more addicted to reading about her complex emotions, as captured in my longhand prose. Only I could offer her that. They say a photo tells a story, but I told actual stories about Katy’s mental trajectories as she coped with the ups and downs of everyday life on the road.
I: Did the talent ever object to the way you depicted them in diary entries?
AK: If I couldn’t wrangle a client’s vanity, pettiness, insecurity, cruelty, rage, and selfishness into an endearing diary entry, then I wasn’t doing my job. I would not be where I am today if I couldn’t turn a celebrity tantrum into a profound existential crisis through my gift for language. I remember Justin Bieber throwing a fit on the tail end of his Believe Tour because he found out there was no coconut water within a 100-mile radius and his hydration depended on the unique chemical properties of the coconut. I sat in that armchair in Iceland with my spiral notebook in my lap as Bieber hurled whiskey bottles at his hotel wall, and I wrote, “I feel sometimes as if I’m living in a desert of my own design. It might seem from the outside that I don’t understand the vapidity and ephemerality of my fame, but I thirst for genuine human contact, a relationship to God that isn’t beset by panoramic ego challenges, and the liquid warmth of a nut.”
I: When I think of Justin Bieber, I think of those words, and they are precisely why I own eleven of his albums.
AK: The power of the diary can’t be underestimated.
I: As our readers know, your ample skills were put to the test by more than Caucasian pop singers. Political figureheads came to you as well when they needed someone to articulate their hopes and dreams in a diplomatic and easily digestible format. Let’s talk about the former President of the United States.
AK: He was committed to our collaboration more than any client I’ve ever had.
I: Why do you think that is?
AK: He thought about his family more than most world leaders, and many of his geopolitical and military decisions came from a place of anxiety about how his father might judge him. So that conflicted pattern of wanting to please a parent, wanting to rebel against a parent’s expectations, wanting to exceed a parent’s accomplishments, etc., was particularly conducive to the diary medium, for obvious reasons. And tear stains always lend authenticity to the page.
I: Whose tears were they, if you don’t mind my asking?
AK: Sometimes his. Sometimes mine. It was a long eight years.
I: Did you ever feel limited as to what territory you could cover in a client’s diary?
AK: The parameters were usually dictated by the client, but my expertise and literary finesse got me through most doors. When I first started working for John Travolta, for example, he was skeptical about my work. I think I was originally his publicist’s hired gun, meant to squelch some scandal or another. But once John saw what I could do, he began dragging me into the bathroom with him. He told me I was a fecal alchemist. I spent hours in there, sitting on the edge of the crystal bathtub, just jotting down notes. He still calls me sometimes when he’s shitting.
I: Do you keep your own diary?
AK: I did for a while, but when I was working I realized that I was just writing a diary about writing other peoples’ diaries, and then their diaries became about what it was like to be in my diary, and it became this weird sort of ouroboros literature, so in my meager free time I just focused on my poetry.
I: You’re a poet, too?
AK: Like diary entries, poems aesthetically temper experience so you don’t despise everything.
I: Do you despise everything?
AK: Let’s not talk of hate. I’m in love with elevating life to the uppermost reaches of linguistic activity. Does a photographer try to reproduce exactly what he sees, or does he try to filter the image through his particular aperture, and in so doing make the world seem like a more beautiful place? Do the right words make people more likable and humanity less bland and disgusting? Be honest with yourself: would you rather be purple or periwinkle?
I: A few final questions. Would you ever write a novel?
AK: Fuck no. I have to draw the line somewhere.
I: Are Jay-Z and Beyonce really headed for divorce?
AK: They’re considering a personal unpeopling, but their erotic energy will forever be united on a cellular level.
I: Were you ever starstruck on the job?
AK: If anything, my celebrity clients were starstruck by themselves. They were often moved to tears by the impact of their own words. As transmitted through my hand, of course.
I: Do you think your position will soon become obsolete because of video diaries and Vine and the like, or will the famous continue to need professional emotional translators?
AK: The inner world is in less demand every day. I don’t think anyone would care to read Kim Kardashian’s diary when he could see a photo of her bare bottom instead. But I continue to hope that other people like me exist in the world. People of great depth who yearn to know what Kim dreams about, and what she desires in her heart of hearts, and where her deepest doubts reside. People who value psychological substance over superficiality. But between you and me, the older I get and the fewer diary entries I write, the more I just want to see Kim’s ass and leave it at that. You could bounce a pencil off that ass.