Friday, March 20, 2009

Mr Writer

There's a moment in Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity where music geek Rob Fleming lists his five dream jobs. His top choice is to have been a journalist for the NME during the punk era.

For some reason, I never remember that passage correctly (in fact, I just had to look it up on Wikipedia). What sticks in my mind is his number two choice: Being a house producer at Atlantic Records in the 1960s, working with Otis Redding, Booker T and Wilson Pickett.

Don't you think the order of that list is odd? Why would anyone choose writing about music over creating it?

I suppose Hornby is, by nature, a writer, which explains why he'd feel more at home working for the NME than being in a band. But if the rules of the game allow you to travel in time, surely it's okay to give yourself a Grade 8 in piano, too?

Maybe the real problem is that Hornby has a romanticised view of rock criticism. It's not like Almost Famous, where a junior reporter gets to travel with the band, take their drugs and fall in love with the groupies.

In the real world, you're lucky to get 10 minutes on a sofa with a D-grade pop star in an uncomfortably posh hotel room. These 10 minutes are usually scheduled for 9:30am and you will be allowed "access" a good two hours after you have missed lunch. When you enter the room, someone will have conveniently placed a half-eaten superstar's burger in your eyeline - just to drive home the fact that your quarry has been doing nothing while you were in the lobby, trying your best not to look like a terrorist with a Bic biro.

You do not hang out with musicians, and they certainly never become your friends. If they remember you at all, it's because you wrote something vaguely negative about them in 1997 and they still want to pull your legs off with eyebrow tweezers.

Don't get me wrong. I love writing about music, and I can't complain about the people I've met and interviewed (I'll never forget Keisha Sugababe kicking off her shoes and curling up on the sofa for a chat). But if the choice is between penning a review of Purple Rain or playing it in Madison Square Garden, what would you choose?

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