This Ain't Rock & Roll: A Tour Diary by Andrew Mueller part one
, August 5th, 2008 11:49
After years of following artists such as Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and U2 round the globe, our man Mueller has decided to turn his attention on his own tour. A book tour.
There is no aspect of the rock & roll life more mythologised than touring, and I should know. Having given rock & roll the proverbial best years of my life, writing for Melody Maker, then assorted others, I did my little bit towards furthering the idea of touring as a splendid and enviable mobile Saturnalia. Which is to say that I lied. Not lied as in related palpable untruths, but lied in failing to pass onto readers the whole truth, which is this: tours are only fun when they're someone else's tour, in which case they're about the most fun you can have. When they're your own tour, as most people who undertake such things will confide after a few drinks, they're an excruciating, dignity-destroying process which will steadily cause you to loathe, in this order, your most recent work, your audience, yourself, everyone, everything.
I once interviewed Harry Shearer, now best known as the voice of much of The Simpsons, but a genuine rock & roll immortal due to his portrayal of bass player Derek Smalls in This Is Spinal Tap, the purest essence of the touring experience ever distilled. While wrangling my tape recorder, I remarked that I'd first seen the film as a teenager, and thought it amusing satire. "Well, thanks," said Shearer. And then, I continued, I became a rock journalist. "And now," grinned Shearer, "you know better, right?"
I embark on my own tour, therefore, with some trepidation. In order to interest the reading public in the UK edition of my new book, I Wouldn't Start From Here - an account of one peripatetic hack's bewildered stumbling around the political, philosophical and actual frontlines of the 21st century - my publisher, Portobello, has arranged for me a series of manifestations in bookshops and associated establishments. My first reaction, naturally, is to become gripped with visions of Artie Fufkin, the hapless press officer from Polymer records, penitently inviting Spinal Tap to "kick this ass for a man" after organising an in-store appearance at which even the two men and a dog of fable have failed to show. Nobody, I reason, knows who I am. My book contains no boy wizards, no excruciating accounts of childhood hardship, and isn't by someone who is on television.
Nevertheless, I agree, largely out of curiosity - always both the best and the worst reason to agree to anything. And in fairness to all concerned, it starts well. At London's Frontline club - a haven for foreign correspondents, and similar - I do an onstage interview with my good friend James Brabazon, a reading and a Q&A session. A decent crowd show up, some of whom I don't know. James is a kind and thoughtful interrogator, despite the patent truth that he's survived any number of adventures much more interesting and alarming than anything I'd even attempt. During the readings, one about Gaza and one about Albania, people laugh when I hope they will, the questions from the floor are smart and pointed, and we sell all the books we brought along, and there's no point in even trying to be smart or glib or self-deprecating about the feeling of people asking you to sign a book you wrote: it¹s fucking great.
The following night, I appear at the Corner Club in Oxford, and contrary to all expectation - this is, after all, a university town in August - a reasonable gathering awaits, which is to say less than twenty, but more than a dozen, which is enough that reading aloud and fielding questions doesn't just seem weird for everybody.
Nevertheless, I reflect, on the way home, the economics of it are insane. If I sold half a dozen books tonight - the most optimistic of estimates - that's a gross return of about fifty quid, of which about a fiver goes towards defraying my advance (although the Corner Club did throw in dinner, which was very good). The outlay to accomplish same was £19 in rail fares, and about that again on books, newspapers and coffee. I understand that it's about generating word of mouth, building an audience, and all that, and I don't mind doing it - again, it's fantastic that people turn up, and listen, and ask questions, and stick around for a drink afterwards. But a jolt of perspective is provided within 48 hours, with the broadcast of the episode of Radio 4's Excess Baggage in which I'm interviewed (again, vexingly, by someone who'd regard the most hair-raisingest moments in it as a rest cure - in this case, Benedict Allen): within minutes of it airing, I Wouldn't Start From Here is 10th on amazon.co.uk's travel chart.
It doesn't last. At time of writing, not that I'm checking every hour or anything, I Wouldn't Start From Here is clinging grimly to the Top 100 travel books, digging in its nails while Charley Boorman's Race To Dakar stamps on its fingers, and so the road beckons. After recording Excess Baggage, Benedict Allen remarked that he'd just done a reading in Bristol, in the same shop I'm due at. I asked what sort of crowed he'd pulled. "Eight," he beamed. I can't wait.
Part two next Tuesday. Andrew Mueller's lovely tome I Wouldn't Start From Here is out now via Portobello