Meet the band

I hate name-droppers, but I’m also a terrible hypocrite.

So if I sometimes vanish from view, it’s just because I’m bending down to pick up names I’ve scattered throughout the blog. But don’t worry: all of these stories just indicate what a total fuckwit I am, and how I hold onto opportunities like a post-nailing Jesus holds onto marbles.

For years I’ve been dining out on the story that I was at school with Mick Hucknall. Well, not dining out exactly, because I doubt there’s a person alive who’s actually impressed by that, but I’ve certainly mentioned it, and people have said “Oh God, I can’t believe I used to actually like Simply Red”. Full disclosure: I own Stars. I haven’t played it for about 15 years, but I own it.

I know: I sicken you. I sicken me too.

When I decided to write this, I went to Hucknall’s wikipedia page to find out what years he was at Audenshaw School with me. And it turns out he’s 10 years older than me: I went to the same school, but not in the same decade, which means there must have been another ghastly ginger twat in my year who I assumed was Hucknall. They must breed them where I was brought up.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ginger people. But there is a lot wrong with Mick Hucknall, not least his alarming resemblance to Charlie Drake.

So that’s my first brush with fame utterly rubbished. But it was a rubbish brush to start with, so I’m not too worried. However, now it gets more and more rubbish…

When I was around 20 or 22, I worked in a bar just around the corner from a rehearsal room used by a barrage of hopeful, short-lived, talentless nonentities. You know the type: 4 students who know 5 chords between them, and think they’re going to conquer the world. I’d been in plenty of these bands, because I play the drums a bit, and am crap enough at it to be making a living designing websites instead. Even good drummers are changed more often than underpants, and I’d probably played (badly) in a couple of dozen bands, mainly in garages or school music rooms.

Into the bar one day came a couple of likely lads who were using the rehearsal space, and complaining about their drummer. We chatted across the bar, and after a while I got asked to try out with them. So I did. We severely damaged couple of Beatles and Kinks songs, it went reasonably well for a first attempt, and nobody was killed, disfigured or sued, which is a pretty good result for a novice band.

But I didn’t like them. I’d read several books, whereas all this lot seemed to have read was several invitations to attend court dates. The singer was a gibbon looking for a fight, and I knew it wasn’t going to be fun playing in a band with him. And all I wanted was some fun. You don’t become a drummer if you want fame and money: you do it if you can count to 4, don’t value your hearing, and are crap enough at getting girls to gratefully accept those rejected by the bassist.

So I never went back after than first try-out, and didn’t give it another thought until I picked up a copy of Q Magazine 18 months later, and there they were in all their monobrowed, estate-chic, coked-up, precinct-monkey glory: Oasis. The band I turned down.

Not that it matters (I keep telling myself). I hated Liam on the first day, I’d never have lasted 18 months (I keep telling myself). The idea that I might have played drums on a seminal album is a nonsense (I keep telling myself).

I keep telling myself this stuff, but I’m not persuaded. Dammit. Dammit.

I used to work with a guy called Mark, whose claim to fame was that he’d come second in the 1995 Stars In Their Eyes final, performing as R.E.M’s Michael Stipe. Due credit: it might be cheesy, but he was uncannily good.

In around 1999 R.E.M. toured the UK and Mark, myself and 2 other colleagues got tickets. The gig was on a Saturday night, and that afternoon I got an excited call from Mark: he had incredible news. He told me he’d been shopping in Manchester and bumped into Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who he knew to be a friend of R.E.M.

Having little or no shame, Mark had marched up to that well-known chirpy-chappy Yorke, and told him about Stars In Their Eyes. I’m trying to imagine what Thom Yorke thinks about cheesy Saturday evening Karaoke. I can’t imagine he’s a fan.

Anyway: Mark explaind how he’d always wanted to meet R.E.M, that he guessed Yorke was in town to see the gig; and bold as brass he asked if Yorke could arrange for him to get backstage and meet the band.

“Yeah, sure”, came the amazing reply, “I’ll organise backstage passes, just ask at the box office.” And with that, Thom Yorke ran away to write some inpenetrable music and destroy the reputation gained by OK Computer.

(Sorry, I’m still bitter about Kid A.)

When Mark called to tell me this story I began to wonder whether he’d had a stroke, I’d had a stroke, or Thom Yorke had had a stroke. There was no way on Earth that we’d have 4 backstage passes waiting at the box office. Couldn’t be true. Mark was being patronised.

But he insisted, and when we got to the gig, Mark leaped up the stairs into the MEN Arena 4 steps at a time, and bounded up to the box office while the rest of us stood back laughing. And then he returned, and we stopped laughing as he showed us 4 passes under his name, and a little handwritten note from Thom Yorke asking the passes to be given to Mark.


So we went to the gig, and it was fine for a band on the wane in a vast, charisma-free cattle-shed, and we sang along and had a jolly good time, and became increasingly excited about the after-show party. Gig over, encores completed, religion lost and man put on moon, we made our way to the stage-door to gain access. We showed our passes to a gaggle of bouncers the size of Ayers Rock, and we ushered into a large echoing room. It was just a massive, bare-brick box with a silk rope across the centre.

One one side of the rope were the Manchester glitterati. All the usual suspects: Tony Wilson, Noel Gallagher, some Happy Mondays and a Stone Rose. A few football players and actors.

And on the other side of the rope were us four, trying hard not to look like we’d blagged our way in, and feeling incredibly uncomfortable next to a line-up of people with increasingly severe disabilities. Every one of them was in a wheelchair, and some of them had drips and huge battery packs powering lifesaving hardware. And us: four perfectly healthy computer geeks.

In came R.E.M. to a burst of applause, wiping themselves with towels, and walking down the line of people in wheelchairs, politely shaking hands and saying hello. Michael Stipe looked like he had no idea what was happening, just totally otherworldly. He shook hands with us all without really connecting or focussing. But the querulous, puzzled look of the bassist Mike Mills will stay with me forever, as will the way he subtly looked up and down our bodies trying to identify what was wrong with us. Nothing Mike: except for the Stipe-impersinator at the end, who had clearly led Thom Yorke to believe he was mentally ill.

And then they were gone, across the silk rope barrier into That Other World where we didn’t belong. And 25 wheelchairs were trundled out, leaving the four of us to meekly sneak away, hoping nobody would confront us about our deception.

Reasons to be cheerful

I’m delighted to discover Katy Red has found true happiness, even if it does seem to have only lasted about half the time it takes to write a blog about it.

I don’t know if happiness makes for great reading. No, scratch that: I know it doesn’t. It’s one of the reasons literally everybody in the known universe wants to stab Matthew  McConaughey in the face. He’s unfeasibly pleased with his life, and it makes me want to end it for him. I ache for him to become famous for a terrible-yet-hilarious accident involving an industrial threshing machine and a loose shoelace, which results in him missing a foot. In fact, I’m investing in a company which delivers poorly maintained threshing machines to Hollywood stars right now. It’s the type of thing that should be encouraged.

Did you know that if you take some of the letters away, replace them with others, and rearrange them a bit, Matthew McConaughey is an anagram of “smug bastard”?

Even when I’m happy, I try hard not to let it spill over into my online life, because there’s little that’s more depressing that hearing how bloody wonderful somebody else feels.

Won the lottery? Fantastic news, now share half the winnings or shut your flap. Or better still, share half the winnings and shut your flap.

Got a great relationship? That’s wonderful news, now ask yourself why nobody ever made a great movie about people who are ecstatically happy all the time. And while you’re asking that, shut your flap.

Just found a new job? OK, I’ll let you have that one. Jobs are pretty thin on the ground, and if you’ve got one and it makes you happy, I’ll let you shout about it without judging you. But it won’t last. In 6 weeks you’ll hate it, and that’s when I’ll be more interested. Tweet that you’ve got a job. Briefly tell us how happy you are. But don’t you dare to blog about it until you loathe your boss and believe you’d be happier working as the guy who combs the crusty bits out of the fur around Michael Winner’s hairy ringpiece.

Yes, I just put that image in your mind. That’s how much I hate your happiness.

I had a recent unfortunate slip. I accidentally let people know I was pretty happy. I still am, and long may it continue, but I promise you this is my last reference to it. You don’t care, and I don’t share. So back to moaning about life.

Katy lists the things that make for a happy life. Here’s the list:

  • Be healthy. Yeah, cheers. 40 years of boxing, rugby, little drinking and no smoking, and bingo: cancer. How are we meant to “be healthy” when the world is full of shit, delivered at random?
  • Live with a partner who loves and respects you. Genius. Why didn’t we think of that? I’ll just pop down to the Post Office and pick mine up, they’re 10 a penny.
  • Have a child. Tricky if you don’t have a partner, even trickier if nobody will have sex with you because you look like a strategically shaved baboon. I’ve tried stealing an urchin from the park, but their parents get so ruffled by it. Apparently their happiness trumps mine. Some people are so fucking selfish.
  • Get a cat/dog. Next door’s cat moved in. He regularly attacks my extremities. He wakes me at 5am to eat tuna, and 10 minutes later regurgitates it in a warm, watery pile on my duvet, then glares balefully at me because he hates the sound of me washing my bedding. I’m not sure either of us is happy with the relationship.
  • Spend less than you earn. I’ll just have a word with George Osborne about this, I’m sure he’ll help by instantly solving the global economic crisis.
  • Don’t use your credit card to pay for your expenditure on a monthly basis. This one has become easier since my bank insisted we go back to the old arrangement, where I paid my bills now and again. Credit cards are a thing of the past, like dignity.
  • Don’t borrow. Presumably meaning don’t get a mortgage, or a car, or start a business. In fact, for maximum happiness, live in your mum’s basement forever.
  • Don’t lend money. I won’t lend unicorns either, which are just as prevalent in my life right now.
  • Don’t gamble. Are you kidding me? My entire future planning consists of hoping for a lottery win. So does yours. Go on, admit it! If I’m wrong, and you actually have savings and a pension and an ISA, then you’re a bastard and probably responsible for the parlous economic state we’re in now. I’m sure you’ll be happy while you stride over the bodies of the rest of us sprawling destitute on the streets.
  • Surround yourself with pleasant smells. I have anosmia, which is the nasal equivalent of blindness. It’s caused by being punched, and reading this is bound to make you appreciate why punching has been a factor in my life. I can’t smell flowers, or fruits, or perfumes. But I can smell bullshit, which brings me to…
  • Keep a gratitude journal. I’m grateful to the education system, and public transport, and the environment, and investment in our national infrastructure, and the welfare state, and the NHS… what’s that? Oh, they’ve all gone. Cheers.
  • Make arrangements to donate your organs on your death. I’m one step ahead of you: one of mine is gone already.
  • Be realistic. Like this list is? That kind of realism? Brilliant.

A contented cat

Dangerous things, words. They have so many meanings.

Here’s a prime example: the word theory. You know what it means: you have a theory that Google are in cahoots with your other half, because no matter how often you clear your browser history, they always seem to spot the porn you were looking at. There’s no proof about Google, it’s just a guess at an explanation. It’s not a fact. It’s a theory.

But you’re wrong. Theory doesn’t mean that at all. It means (and I quote):

a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct

So essentially, theory means a set of demonstrable facts. Google are innocent, you’re just inept at hiding your masturbatory habits.

(This is why I hate the gormless, flat-headed argument against the Theory of Evolution – that it’s “only a theory”. Gravity is “only a theory” too, so go jump off a cliff and see if you can pray your way into a soft landing.)

Words are dangerous because their meaning is slippery. They change, sometimes doing 180° turns.  When George Galloway won his recent election I watched in horror as his vast, unwieldy ego rampaged around the news like Godzilla on a charm offensive (more offensive than charm, I think). And then I realised I was wrong: George doesn’t have a big ego at all. The common meaning of “ego” is the polar opposite of what Freud defined as:

the part of the mind that… is responsible for reality and a sense of self

So let me be the first person in recorded history to say George Galloway has a tiny, tiny ego. He has absolutely no sense of reality.

But his powerful sense of self is still a problem. It’s a problem for all politicians, because most of them make laws based purely on personal considerations. Most of them have too narrow a personal experience to know the effect their idiotic decisions have on the rest of us. So they legislate in ways which only improve their own reality.

If they were bright, they would be able to abstract. This is a really good definition of intelligence: the ability to create abstract laws from real-world examples. Real world is “I found an apple under a tree”. Abstract is “apples grow on trees”.

Politicians need to be better at using personal experience to construct abstract rules which apply to us all. But they’re not bright people, really: they’re just fluent and good at maneuvering themselves into powerful positions.

You see, I like abstracts. I think they’re important. And that’s why I rarely mention anything about my private life. It’s too specific.

Q: What do you learn when I mention specific stuff about my sex life?
A: You learn about my sex life.

Q: How does that apply to you?
A: It doesn’t!

So when I do mention my private life, it’s just as a litany of failure for you to laugh at. Nobody wants to read about success. People succeeding makes for very poor comedy, and I like to make people laugh. So I’ll very quickly and quietly mention this…

I’ve met someone. I’m as surprised as you are. She’s very nice.

And that’s all you get.

But even if she was awful, and the whole experience had been a hysterical farce which could only lead to a classic comedy blog, I would still keep my mouth shut. I’ve made mistakes in the past, by mentioning things which I thought were sufficiently abstract, but which appeared to be recognisable. I can’t take it back. I wish I could, because it turns out it was hurtful. It’s never intended that way.

I’m really uncomfortable with blogs which tell all about dating, at least in specific ways. Drawing general conclusions is fine. Having 3 bad dates, identifying the common factors, and establishing rules and guides for avoiding it again – all fine. But telling the world about Date number 2’s terrible teeth – I just don’t know what anybody gains from that. Date number 2 feels awful. You gain no friends. Your readers learn nothing. It’s a hat-trick of own-goals.

And that’s why I may be very bad at a “relationship” blog. I hate to discuss others specifically, and when I try to be abstract it seems I fail – my abstractions are still too personal. Maybe this is why I’m not a politician: I’m no better than Galloway! But at least when I spend my time crawling around purring like a contented cat, I don’t do it in public.