You may think that a wire-walker has little or nothing to do with jazz or art. But to me, wire-walking is all about rhythm, balance and expression. In the case of Philippe Petit—perhaps the world's most famous wire-walker and juggler—there's also poetry and philosophy.
The mere idea of the walk was sheer insanity—the vulnerability of being on a wire so high up without a net and the downside risk were terrifying and unimaginable. But when Philippe was out on the wire with his balancing pole and black bell-bottoms, the feat became defiant art and wound up a humanist valentine to buildings that no longer exist.
In today's Wall Street Journal (go here), I interview Philippe on life at home with his companion Kathy O'Donnell. What is their house like? What's important to Philippe? And why is his basement workspace so tight— considering he spends most of his time in thin air.
I asked Philippe one question about his famous Twin Towers walk (not for the article) [Photo above by Jim Moore]:
Marc Myers: When you crossed the wire connecting the Twin Towers, was there ever a moment when you felt even a little unsteady?
Philippe Petit: No, I never felt it. The world of the wire-walker is the constant dance between the solidity of the wire and the great fragility. I test gravity's flavor in the air when I step on the wire. When I start, I refuse to feel the negativity—which is to lose your life. I enjoy living, so I make sure I am prepared and rig the wires myself.
To me, Philippe's 45-minute walk between the Twin Towers remains the greatest work of performance art in our lifetime—and there won't likely be anything else like it again. As Philippe himself said afterward about the famed walk: "There is no why." And there's the philosophy.
JazzWax pages: Philippe's new book is Why Knot? How to Tie More Than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Lifesaving, and Secure Knots! (Abrams).
JazzWax DVD: If you've not seen Man on Wire, the documentary on Philippe's death- defying and illegal walk between the Twin Towers in August 1974, rent it at Netflix. Or to own the DVD, go here. His sheer courage and determination in the face of unfathomable risk remains one of the most breathtaking artistic acts.
JazzWax clip: Here's the trailer to Man on Wire...