Vanity Fair December, 1993
Planet Geezers
by Henry Alford

Hired as the activities director at the Duplex Nursing Home in the suburbs of Boston in 1979, David Greenberger started interviewing the home's residents and publishing their strange and sometimes visionary answers in a magazine he called The Duplex Planet. Filled with aphoristic aperçus such as "If you are an old man, and you go into a bar in pajamas, people will buy you drinks," the publication has, in its 15-year history, drawn a cult following, including among its subscribers Jonathan Demme, George Carlin, Allen Ginsberg, Penn & Teller, and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe (who asked one resident/contributor to do artwork for the R.E.M. album Out of Time). Indeed, Greenberger's gambit has spawned an entire industry -- a Duplex Planet CD collection, a set of Duplex Planet collector's cards, and, yes, even a Duplex Planet coffee mug. (Can the Duplex Planet tote bag be far off?)

Next month, Faber and Faber will publish the Duplex Planet book -- Duplex Planet: Everybody's Asking Who I Was, a collection of the more poignant and amusing interviews from the magazine's history. "I try to avoid oral history," says Greenberger, whose interview questions put a premium on reaction rather than reflection, tending to run along the lines of "Why do people spit?," "What do you think George Washington's voice sounded like?," and "What is embarrassment?" Intent on eroding our societal fear of aging, Greenberger -- who, now that the Duplex is closed, is interviewing nursing home residents in the Boston area and upstate New York -- is making cult heroes of his magazine's recurring characters. "I'm trying to recast them," he says, "as individuals."