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By Andrew Eaton (09 April, 2004, The Scotsman)
David Byrne is in Edinburgh tomorrow. I was supposed to be meeting him but now I'm not. I've been pretending the reasons are professional (our sister paper, Scotland on Sunday, ran a big interview a few weeks ago and we're told to avoid duplication) but the truth is I was scared he wouldn't like me and wussed out.
It's all a bit silly and embarrassing. The point, surely, of writing about pop music for a living is that you get to meet people whose music you adore and ask them interesting questions. Some pop writers spend their entire careers trying to meet their idols; it is, the cliche goes, partly because they would like to be pop stars themselves, have no talent for it and this is the next best thing. This cliche is almost always true. It makes for an endlessly peculiar, love-hate relationship, stalking as a profession, but sometimes the results are worth reading. Very occasionally they are brilliant, such as Lester Bangs's insane head to head with his idol Lou Reed, once famously described by an irate, disappointed Bangs as "a completely depraved pervert and pathetic death dwarf".
I am no Lester Bangs (as you may have noticed). And I have reached the conclusion that sometimes the more you like someone, the less qualified you are to write about them. One of the happiest moments of my life so far has been my hour with the charming, witty musical genius that is Paddy McAloon, whom I have worshipped ever since I heard Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen album for the first time and then played nothing else for several months. I thought it had gone very well, until I listened to the tape and realised that 90 per cent of our hugely enjoyable chat would be of no interest whatsoever to the readers of the Big Issue in Scotland ("Paddy, why does the word 'rollmo' always appear on your album sleeves?" Well, I had always wondered).
With Bill Drummond, another hero, the problem was slightly different, in that my penetrating questions about the hidden meanings in KLF records were so obscure that even he had no idea what I was talking about. Now I think about it, he looked a bit scared, especially when I gave him the sheep.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, there was a humiliating encounter with Stephin Merritt aka the Magnetic Fields, a man whose intelligence and talent so far exceeds that of most pop music writers that they should really stop wasting his time. I was. Here is a brief extract. It helps if you do Merritt's lines in the voice of Eeyore and mine in the voice of Piglet.
Me: What makes you laugh?
Merritt: Two mornings ago a woman got on the tube platform and dangled her legs over the side until the train came and chopped them off.
This was, I gather, typical of Merritt, the most deadpan man in pop. I have no idea whether he meant what he said, but I am fairly sure that he was deliberately messing with my head, possibly out of sheer boredom. This is the worst of all scenarios, that you meet your idols and they think you're an idiot.
In other words, however the encounter goes it will always let you down in some way. I still have Paddy and Bill's numbers in my address book, but only keep them there because they look good next to "Mum" and "Dentist".
Much better to stay at home and listen to the music. There, a forever youthful Paddy McAloon still has a floppy fringe and rides a motorbike with his angel-voiced girlfriend Wendy on the back, singing "la la la" in his ear. David Byrne is wearing an absolutely enormous suit, jogging in circles. And Bill is kind of the same as he was when we met, except with better teeth.
I'll never quite get over those teeth and will never hear What Time Is Love in the same way again. Kids, if you see your favourite pop star on the street, cross to the other side where your dreams are safe.
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