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 two–part 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.