10 Questions with Bob Guccione Jr.

Well, not really.  16 questions, it was too good to stop!   One of our favorite media moguls, Bob Guccione Jr., recently launched WONDERLUST, a new online travel magazine which is heavy on the relevance with a healthy dash of irreverence.  With articles such as “What to Pack for Mars” and “The World’s Worst Beaches,” the site’s hilarious take will be one to watch. We are pretty sure that Guccione’s unconventional approach will do to travel writing what he did to music journalism when he launched the uber successful SPIN magazine in the 80s.  Here’s what he had to say about travel, music and why the Pope has the best job in travel.

TC: What was your favorite SPIN cover and what was the most popular?

BG: The Kurt Cobain cover, after his death, was by far our biggest seller.  We couldn’t print enough copies. I have a couple of favorites; you never forget your first – Madonna.  The stars aligned on that one.  It was our first cover, Herb Ritts’ first cover and her first cover with Herb Ritts and I think her first national magazine cover.  It was such a great shot, very different to anything out there. We put a floating black and white logo in a box on the cover  – no one did that.   We did some sensational covers with (then) staff photographer Anton Corbin, including Alice in Chains and Sinead O’Connor.

TC:  What interview do you wish you had done in SPIN?

BG: I don’t think we left much on the table; we did just about everyone but the one I really wanted to do was Bruce Springsteen.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to interview him, we thought he was very cool—certainly in the beginning—it’s just that I never had an opportunity to meet him. It just never came up.

The other is Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician thrown into prison for opposing the government, which lead to Amnesty International making him their number one cause.  When he got out of prison he came to the States and I got him on the Amnesty Tour.  I called up the tour promoter, Bill Graham, who said, “he won’t sell tickets”, to which I said, “it’s not about the tickets, it’s about prisoners of conscience. Is he not the ultimate prisoner of conscience, isn’t that exactly what you’re all about?”  He was the biggest hit of the tour.

TC:  WONDERLUST has come out of the gate with some binge-worthy articles.   What’s next on the greatest hits list?

BG:  Funny you should ask.  We just posted “The Mafia’s Greatest Hits,” a rundown of mobsters that got whacked in Las Vegas.  Another one we are working on is “Flagships” — Hotels from quintessential midmarket brands.  From the roadside HoJos and Holiday Inn to La Quinta, all whom have identical hotels which would be easy to walk right past but surprisingly, they all have a flagship.  It might be their first, or maybe their last, but we have tracked them down.  Upcoming pieces include the Saudi Arabia’s women’s movement and the old spy world —“Cities of the Cold War” – Vienna, Berlin, Washington DC and the like, before the wall came down. I would have liked to interview Lord Forte, one of the industry’s great innovators and James Sherwood, the founder of Orient-Express (now Belmond), which also owns the 21 Club in New York -– a great pioneer in so many ways.

TC:  Who make the best travel writers?

BG:  Crime writers, and I’ll tell you why.  The environment is a character in their story, unlike most other novelists where it’s on the periphery.  Where a crime takes place is very much part of the fabric of the story – where they are, the weather, the locals, where they eat.  All great crime writers are natural travel writers.

TC: Favorite non-travel magazines

BG: National Geographic is still the winner in my book.  What do you subscribe to at home? Nothing.  For forty years I’ve been in the business of reading everything and now I just ‘drop-in’ and read a little of everything.  The fact that I don’t subscribe to anything is a sad reflection on the deterioration of print media. I used to subscribe to at least 100 magazines when I was in the business.

TC: Which politician has the most interesting job when it comes to travel?

BG: The Pope.  He is the head of the smallest, yet possibly the most powerful country in the world.  He travels the most and he always improves everywhere he has been by the time he leaves, and no one else can say that.

TC: What is the most overdone story in the travel industry?

BG: How to fucking pack. Is there anything more moronic than telling people more than a few tips on how to pack?  And the most over used word right now, which I won’t allow my writers to use, is the word ‘hack’ —  it’s a product of intellectual laziness.

TC: Best headline you’ve read that made you think ‘genius’

BG: The classic “headless body found in topless bar” always springs to mind.  The New York Post at its best!  Headlines have to be intelligent.  They are like an aperitive before dinner and should stimulate your desire to be there, and too often they do not.

TC: Travel porn.  Explain.  

BG: First of all, it’s a nonsense phrase – just because you like looking at pictures doesn’t make it porn.  It’s ironic because travel media is utterly muted and not at all sexy.  Catalogues you get from Liberty Travel are sexier. Travel is sexy and I’ll tell you why it’s particularly sexy.  Other than the fact most people go away on vacations as couples, (and have sex, presumably—and hopefully), you have no choice but to be liberated when you travel.  You surrender your sense of control and when you go somewhere, you are at most often the whim and largesse of other people. So you are liberated and free, and you float and enjoy where you are.  And that is sexy.  It’s like the afterglow –- you are weightless.

TC: Olympics.  Who do you think should have it?

BG: Give it to Iceland!  Summer or winter?  Give them both!  Amazing country.  Extraordinarily beautiful.  They would have to scale it down to fit into the country, but I think a scaled down Olympics is actually a great idea -– take away some of the suffocating commercialism.  Give some of the events to the nearby Faroe Islands.

TC: Boxers or briefs

BG: Wow, ha ha ha.  The heavy questions!  I have to say boxers.  You can answer the door in them.

TC: Favorite Beatle?

BG: George Harrison was probably the best musician in the group.  The second-best musician was Ringo, one of the absolute great drummers. He just didn’t play all he could have for them, he played what they needed.  He can play jazz, he can play anything.  He was no John Bonham, but he can play.  The others were rather ordinary.  Lennon and McCartney could keep beat but neither were/are virtuosos.  But they were great song writers and the Liverpudlian accent was great for rock and roll.

TC: Pink Floyd or The Who?

BG: That’s impossible to answer as they are both so supremely great and so different.  The Who was the ultimate rock and roll.  They may not be the best, but they were the ultimate.  Being the best in rock and roll is never about being the best musicians or best selling artists, it’s about rawness and they had that rawness. PF was the most creative group of its time.

TC: Wonderlust in 5 years?  Sold to the highest bidder and we will be visiting you on your yacht?

BG: It’s funny, creative ventures like WONDERLUST are from our souls, and so utterly the product of our personalities, and they are like your children, yet we sell them in the end! I think in 5 years WONDERLUST will be like the VIRGIN Group of media.  I think we will be a brand that will go into hospitality and food and we will definitely be an e-commerce platform selling travel.  By then, we will have a credibility and integrity that people will trust and go with us on other adventures I believe.

TC: Private Jet or Mega Yacht.  

BG: Yacht without a doubt.  Because I’m lazy, ha-ha! I never want to get anywhere! Ironic, right?