Lunch With Sean Parker
The Napster co-founder arrives late.
While we wait for our food, he describes the house he has bought, which he has rented for the past year. It was built in 1820 to serve a nearby mansion. "I can only imagine what the mansions of Fifth Avenue must have been like. I'm living where they kept the horses," he says. His former landlord, the Italian drinks heir Enrico Cinzano, owned it for 20 years and had distinctive taste.
Parker has kept the entrance hall, which Cinzano lined with the sides of an old New York subway train, complete with taped subway noises. "I love the subway cars," he enthuses. "Enrico said to me [Parker adopts a slightly menacing Italian accent], 'Sean, you know, at some point I'm going to have to take back the subway cars.' " Long rhetorical pause. "'But Sean, I'll find you new subway cars."
I have been laughing along with Parker's stories since he turned up, feeling as enjoyably caught in his wake as the characters in The Social Network. So it seems a good time to mention the film. When I do, Parker turns serious for the first time. "Mmmm," he says ruminatively, pointing at my tape recorder on the table. "That thing's on, right?"
He thinks for a while. "There is no simple answer to what I think. It is a long conversation and you can easily take one quote out of context and frame it in one way or the other, so I have to trust you." I nod, wondering what his definition of "a long conversation" might be, given the length and detail into which he has gone about his knee, his house and the trout.
He warms up with an anecdote. "Sony screened the film for me and a couple of friends, which was nice of them, given that they knew I'd hate it. My friends were up in arms at the end. They were screaming and one of them got drunk and started yelling at the woman from Sony, 'He's going to sue you! He's going to sue you!' and I'm like, 'Shut the f**k up! Be quiet please. Let's be dignified here.' " He imitates his frantic efforts to keep the peace.
While he is talking, the trout arrives. "It's like a whole other ball game. It's not even like fish, it's like butter," he says. I taste the trout as he watches me intensely. The taste is dense and creamy. "It's amazing, isn't it? You like it?" I agree that it is delicious and he makes a two-fisted punch of delight. "Yes!" he cries. "I've done something right today."
Parker asks if I would like a glass of wine and the waitress suggests a pairing of Cantalupo Il Mimo, an Italian rosé made with the Nebbiolo grape. The news sends Parker off at a tangent. "The Nebbiolo grape is the most underrated grape," he enthuses. "The Barolos and Barbarescos, all the great Italian wines, are based on the Nebbiolo grape. It is versatile. You get these really spicy minerally wines, you get earthy tones and leather and then you get these fruity wines."
He returns to his reflections about the film. "I'm watching it and thinking this is really interesting. This character is definitely not me. It is a plot device created by Aaron Sorkin to tell the story that Aaron Sorkin wants to tell. At the same time I'm looking at David Fincher's work [the film's director] and saying this is brilliant and this guy has an obsessive devotion to accuracy."
Parker and Sorkin clearly did not get on. "My interactions with Sorkin were agonisingly weird. He is by far the weirdest person I have ever met. I had dinner with him and a few hours before I got an e-mail from his assistant saying, 'Sean, this does not need to be a long conversation. Aaron is only going to use it to win your trust.' " He laughs loudly. "I went, 'What? What is this guy thinking?' "
The dinner turned out to be "like the most phony, stilted conversation ... It was as if he had scripted our conversation and when I deviated from the script, he came back to it." I am laughing too much to eat as Parker builds up to his story's punchline. "He was also twitching through the entire meal. Like uncontrollably twitching. Shaking in fact ... I don't think he won my trust."
The film did make him famous, I point out. Surely that has its uses? Parker contests that. "If you Google me, every five minutes someone will talk about me and they will say, 'That guy is a jerk', or 'He's an asshole' and then strangely every once in a while someone will say, 'That guy's so awesome'. I'm, like, Uuuggh. I was perfectly capable of doing what I wanted in my life without this."
The main course arrives and Parker, who is allergic to nuts and must carry an EpiPen, asks our waitress about the hazelnuts that were supposed to come with his lamb—he is allergic to nuts. It turns out that, although he had forgotten to mention it before, she has told the kitchen not to put them in. He is obviously, as he said, a regular.
John Gapper is the FT's chief business commentator.
Photograph of Sean Parker by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.