Meeting People Isn’t Easy

I envy people with great stories about meeting people they admire. Benny has his about meeting DJ Shadow in a London newsagent. Jordan at said the gramophone has this lovely twopart tale about his odyssey to see Cat Power at a festival somewhere in Switzerland (he didn’t actually know where in Switzerland, though, which is what makes the story even cooler).

I, on the other hand, am unable to interact with people I admire without appearing like a complete idiot. I chickened out of saying hello to Zadie Smith the time I saw her on Torrington Place on my way home from the supermarket. I stammered something excruciatingly inane to Malcolm McLaren when he came to speak at a UCL Debating Society event the time he was considering running for London Mayor. In front of Neil Gaiman my mind went blank, and it didn’t help that he was drawing me a rat because then all I could think was NEIL GAIMAN IS DRAWING ME A RAT OH MY GOD.

Even my brushes with almost unknown indie musicians descend into humiliation the moment I try to tell them (sincerely) that I like what they do. I am aided along this expressway to embarrassment by Alec, who either makes things worse or laughs at me.

Take, for example, the time we went to the Arts Cafe for a Ladybug Transistor gig, and were extremely impressed by the (unadvertised) opening act, Bart Davenport. Emboldened by alcohol, we approached him later to buy his CD. Alec, whose memory for names leaves much to be desired, had forgotten the guy’s name but inexplicably decided to try and address him as something anyway.

Glancing quickly at the CDs on the merchandise table as he extended his hand in greeting, my favourite Alzheimer’s patient saw “BART DAVENPORT” but only the first four letters of the surname registered. Hence – “Dave!” said Alec enthusiastically to Bart Davenport, “Great performance Dave, I really enjoyed it!” etc. and with every “Dave!” more and more bits of my composure crumbled into a little mortified pile on the floor. Luckily, “Dave” was so sloshed that I’m not even sure he noticed he was talking to a pair of nimrods, and thank God for that.

I accomplished the next indignity all by myself, and this still smarts so much I’m not even going to name the band. It was the first time we went to the Water Rats, and I was really impressed by one of the opening bands. They looked really young – they were wearing the sort of clothes I associate with teens who desperately want to scream their indieness to the world – but they had catchy songs, strong vocals and lots of energy. Sadly, only about 15 people were watching them, and most of the people who weren’t us looked like their friends from school. This upset me a bit, as it always does when people don’t get the appreciation I think they deserve, or the credit they’re due. I thought they had real promise, and I was hoping they weren’t discouraged by the tiny audience. I wanted to tell them I thought they were great. I didn’t want them to give up on music.

So later on, when I was on the way to the bar to get my third Snakebite (you see the problem already) and saw the band hanging around, of course I went up to them and started a conversation.

Me: Hey, I really enjoyed your set.
Band (different members each time, we’ll just call them Band): Thanks very much!
Me: You sound great, how long has your band been around?
Band: About three or four years.
Me: Cool, no wonder you sound so good. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you guys?
Band, giving me the first of many strange looks: Late twenties, mostly.

(This is where it all started to go pear-shaped for me. Late twenties??! Their dressing screamed 17!)

Me, thrown off now, clearly gobsmacked: Oh, right, right.
Band: You look surprised.
Me: Oh, er, no, I, uh, thought you looked a bit younger than that.
Band: Oh, really?
Me, gabbling stupidly while I tried and failed to move on: Oh, er, it’s nothing, I must have been mistaken. I was, uh, just noticing the people watching just now looked really young, I thought maybe they might have been your mates. (Inner monologue: What the fuck are you saying, Michelle? WALK AWAY NOW.)
Band, giving me the second of many strange looks: No, we don’t know them.
Me: Oh, right. Heh. Hmm. But anyway, you guys sounded really great!
Band, smiling tentatively: Thanks, we’re glad you enjoyed it.
Me, clearly possessed by some demon of dorkness: Do you have a good sound guy, or is the venue sound system just really good? (Inner monologue: WHAT THE FUCK??! WHAT THE FUCK?! Ground, swallow me up now, I mean motherfucking NOW!)
Band, giving me the fuckteenth strange look: Well, the venue system’s pretty good.
Me, now completely in bits: Right, right. Okay, gotta go deliver the drinks. Best of luck and all! (Walking away rapidly, not daring to look back.)

So I walked back into the other room, plonked the drinks down, grabbed Alec and started banging my head repeatedly on his chest.

Every day I thank every deity that could possibly exist in this world and the next that I haven’t met Sonic Youth or Salman Rushdie yet, and I hope I never do.


  1. I have a similar problem with job interviews and behaving like an idiot. I once got lost on the way out of a shop where I applied for a saturday job. Needless to say I didn’t get the job. Thay were really desperate for people as well!

  2. I actually met Salman Rushdie. Got Midnight’s Children signed by him. While I enjoyed the reading he gave at the book signing, it was an ultimately an uninspiring encounter because I just felt like one of the many in the line and he signed my book in 2 seconds with just a glance and polite smile that probably didn’t register in his mind.

    I can’t remember being star strucked by anyone famous…probably because I’ve hardly met any. Saw Kumar in Carrefour, looking at toilet supplies with his boy toy with the most diva-air I have ever saw anyone look at toilet supplies. I didn’t go up to say hi. I must have been star struck.

    Patrick will always have me laughing at him running away from Bjork, who giggled at his ‘fro at the airport in Iceland.

    I would probably still do or say something really stupid if I ever get to meet Michael Jackson tho’…no matter how screwed up he is now.

  3. I saw Miss World in a clothes shop Dublin a month ago. I just looked at her. She looked back and gave this big smile..

    I don’t know how long I stood there.

    Thousand bad chatup lines swimming round in my brain.

    Then I ran away.

  4. of all the cool things i could have asked, i asked james iha whether he liked the weather in singapore. so lame.

  5. You’re all making me feel better, people, please keep it coming.

    Kelly: It’s interesting you say that, I don’t know what I’d say to MJ if I met him either. These days I just want to tell him everything I think he’s doing wrong. :(

    James: Sleazy lines about you being “great for one hit, just like her dad!” are in my head. I probably shouldn’t go any further with them.

    Peishan: Yes, that is rather at odds with what my inner monologue would have been, i.e. can I please have your babies?

  6. Don’t worry michelle, meeting boyzone is stressful for most people!

    i once met a spice girl (by “met” i mean saw her across the street)and nearly re-introduced myself until i realised i didn’t know her, i just recognised her from the saturation coverage they were getting in the press.

  7. My (anonymous) friend met the Pet Shop Boys at a party in the Great Eastern Hotel. She didn’t know who they were so just sat down next to them and chattered to somebody else for an hour or so. Eventually she turned round to them and offered them some coke. They said “no thanks, darling, I think we’ve got enough of our own”, she insisted, they refused again. The host eventually hustled her out of the room and hissed at her “don’t you know who that is?”.

    Talk about opportunity wasted! Of course she couldn’t possibly go back in after that…

  8. “Yeesssssss, there’s a lot of opportunities, if you know where to take them, you know…”

    I can just see myself meeting the Pet Shop Boys. I would probably say something moronic like “Oh, I was expecting you to sound more like a vocoder.” And then I would give them a blow-by-blow account of how much I love their entire back catalogue, and how I loved them even before I loved Michael Jackson, and then they would run away.

  9. Someone I know was on a plane and he was bumped up to first class (or it might have been business, I’m not sure), so he gets to chatting with this woman who seems familiar, but he can’t for the life of him place who she is. He’s the one the way to a big family wedding, she he assumes perhaps she is a distant relative whose name he has forgotten.

    So the conversation continues, and things start going a little like… I’m a student, what do you do?, oh, you act?, that’s cool, you live in California?, that’s a great place for acting, is it stage or screen?, silver screen work, how interesting, do you have any big films?

    All the while she’s looking at him funny, and he figures she’s trying to remember which relative of hers he might be. Then her friends comes along and she’s all like, hey, I want you to meet my friend Justin.

    As they’re parting he says, it was nice chatting with you, uh… oh, I never did get your name. I’m Jonie.

    Uh. Oh. Uhm, it was nice meeting you, Cameron…

  10. This happened to me in an academic sense at a conference last year. I’d thought the lecture by Terence Deacon was so fantastic I kind of just sat there in a daze thinking “wow, this is the cleverest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life”. After it, in the drinks reception I went over to introduce myself and ask a question about his presentation: and then I remembered that I _couldn’t_be_sure_that_the_specific_point_I’d_thought _of_he_hadn’t_dismissed_whilst _I_was_in_a_daze. Thus me showing this fact would disclose my status as an utter tool. So, I kind of sidled about, grinning like a fucking idiot.

    I am a cock.

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