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This Ain't Rock & Roll: A Tour Diary by Andrew Mueller part 2
Andrew Mueller , August 12th, 2008 15:35

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. This week the 'carnage' reaches Brighton and beyond.

Since I Wouldn’t Start From Here was published in my Antipodean homeland last year, I’ve received a bemusing, if flattering, number of emails from folk younger than myself soliciting advice. I have been unsure what to offer by way of reply, as the only utterly infallible contribution I’ve ever felt I can confidently make to the sum of human wisdom is this: if you go home with a woman, and discover, in your survey of her CD shelves, that she possesses more than one album by Joni Mitchell, climb out of a bathroom window at the earliest opportunity, and run like the fucking wind.

To that pearl, I can now add this: don’t invite your friends to your book signings. This because that when you do invite your friends to your book signing, and no other bugger shows up, you forfeit the consolation of subsequently lying to your friends that the event was a riotous outpouring of adulation next to which Barack Obama’s Berlin speech looked like Gary Glitter’s homecoming parade.

Which is to say that the spectre of Artie Fufkin finally manifests properly at Borders on Charing Cross Road, and he’s about the only one who does. I’m parked by the till, next to a cardboard marquee bearing my name and the book’s cover, and a stack of volumes awaiting purchase and signature. It’s a set-up that might well work were I a much-garlanded literary titan, or at least a gormless, ghostwritten halfwit who plays football or is otherwise on television occasionally. But I am neither of these things. I am a semi-retired rock journalist who has written a strange book about screwed-up places, and I have neither admirers nor fans, just an agent and a bunch of mates making helpful morale-boosting comments, like for example “How much longer before you pack it in, Mueller? We’re getting thirsty.” Eventually, though, three honest-to-goodness members of the book-buying public appear. In the circumstances, attempting any sort of reading would just seem odd, so we have a chat, instead. They seem nice, and I stomp into Soho with my friends, attempting to make my improvised soliloquy about the advantages of quality over quantity audible over their sniggering.

The Brighton leg of the tour was supposed to be the basis for a proper old-school, wacky Summer Holiday-variety travelogue. My publicist at Portobello, Hannah Marshall, owns a bright orange Zastava 750 – a more or less automotive relic of Yugoslav communism about which she recently wrote a lovely piece for The Guardian outlining the difficulties of driving such a thing back from Slovenia. We had intended to drive to Brighton and back in it. However, it’s raining, and because the car is – as I understand it – constructed largely from paper mache, straw and turnip peel, she doesn’t fancy our chances. We get the train. I spend the trip half-heartedly inventing prima donna rider demands – bowls of blue M&Ms backstage, a polar bear cub to stroke during the reading, etc. Hannah spends the trip ignoring me.

Don't crowd the author!

After the Charing Cross experience, I pitch up at Brighton’s Borders store willing to regard anything north of total humililation as a result. A pleasant surprise awaits. The manager, Neil, a grinning, shaggy-haired sort in a Nirvana T-shirt, gives every impression of being someone motivated to work in bookselling by a fizzing zest for books, and he’s made an effort. There are signs, posters, displays, and though the dozen or so punters who fill the seats seem a meagre return for Neil’s heroic labours, it’s a dozen or so more than I was expecting. I give a short talk explaining myself and the book, and read from the chapters about Albania and Gaza. The latter – in which I do, I fear, imply that the state of Israel is in some respects imperfect and fallible – provokes a brief moment of controversy. “Nazi!” snorts one punter – the one who seems to be storing a considerable percentage of his worldly chattels in the plastic carrier bags he is clutching to his chest – and shambles off; another satisfied customer.

But there are good questions from the floor afterwards, and some books are sold, and I head for Bristol two nights later suffused with an optimism which, it proves, is as hilariously misplaced as an air horn at a chess tournament. Despite the interview I’d done with the local BBC Radio station, my audience at the Borders branch on Bristol’s handsome Clifton Promenade consists, in its entirety, of the parents of an ex-girlfriend. I add the entire populations of Somerset and Gloucestershire to the burgeoning list of people who’ll be sorry when I’m famous, sign all the copies of the book the store has in stock so they can’t send them back, and at least get taken out to dinner, and to meet my ex’s parents’ new dog, so it’s not a complete write-off.

Next week, in neither hope nor expectation, I head north.