19 September 2008

Yowp! Only Not Quite.

My milk has gone sour.  Well, not exactly.  It's turned into a kind of thick gunge, and even though it smells as if it's not quite on the turn, I'm not risking drinking that in a cup of tea.

By rights I should be in a youth hostel down by St. Paul's right now, but in the end I decided that it actually made more sense to return home from London, then turn round and go in again tomorrow.  Unfortunately, I didn't come to this realisation until after I'd made the non-refundable booking at the youth hostel.  In this case, however, I decided to take the loss and make it an L.E. Now I know that it's easier (and actually cheaper) to make two returns than to stay overnight - you can't make an omelette without breaking an egg, and the lost money will be that egg.

So I'm back from Bill Drummond!  And it turns out...Bill Drummond is a scary man.  He came into the room; he told us how the talk was going to go; when someone came in late he demanded that the doors be locked so no one else could come in; he told us that when he was done talking he'd be asking us some questions; and then he told me off for saying "flagship store" instead of "flagship shop"! Okay, maybe I shouldn't have said anything, but he did ask the audience the general question, "Is that what you call those main stores?  Flagship somethings?" And the only reason I know it's flagship stores is because an English person called them that to me.  But I was hardly going to argue with Bill Drummond, who said to me "Shops.  We don't call them stores in this country; we call them shops."  Bill Drummond was a scary man.

Only not, exactly.  For one thing, he has a hunch.  Bill Drummond has a hunch!  I felt like doing that thing where you put one hand on the person's chest and one on their upper back and straaaaaiighten them up, but then it occurred to me that he's 54 - maybe it's early old age hunch.  Or maybe he leans over a desk a lot.  In any case, it reduced his 6'4" to conceivable size, and it also made him less scary.  Moreover, Bill Drummond is going bald.  I had high hopes from the recent publicity photos, but it turns out he's got that "bald on top and again at the back, but not at the front" thing going on, and he's also got a longish buzzcut.  To be honest with you, he looked more like a farm hand than like a guy who'd shoot blanks at you from a stage and then terrorise you with a dead sheep. In fact, I wondered to myself if Bill Drummond only owns one long-sleeved shirt, because he was wearing exactly the same shirt he was wearing in the earlier blog entry's photo, which is exactly the same one he's wearing here:

and apparently here, and this photo was taken eight years ago:

(incidentally, this picture is cunningly titled, "Bill Drummond puts up a shelf."  Nothing like truth in advertising.)

So here came this one-shirt fellow with a hunch and some patchy baldness, favouring his left leg, and when he requested that the doors be locked you could sort of feel the air in the room become taken aback, and then he roughed me up about the whole shop thing, but then he turned out to be quite sweet!  I don't mean he handed out chocolate and asked us about our problems, but he was good at being self-deprecating, and he made the occasional small joke, and he had an enjoyable Scottish accent. And after he snapped at me about the shop/store difference he apologised, which was nice.  At the end, however, he became Stern Bill again, and informed us that he would take questions from us, but only five.  Fortunately, I was one of those five (I think he felt he had to make it up to me).  Unfortunately, the question didn't work so well.  I noticed throughout his talk that he persistently set himself deadlines, or created certain parameters for his work:  there'll only be 17 people per choir!  I'm just going to listen to artists whose band names start with B for a year, then C for a year!  I'm going to implement a complex project, but not until I'm 50!  I'm going to finish my book in a year!  So I asked, "Why are you so rigorous?  You seem to place a lot of strictures on yourself; what's with that?"  

Alas, it turns out that Bill Drummond possesses an attribute that I find very irritating, one that seems to be limited to people who are used to having things their own way:  he turns around questions and comments that he doesn't want to deal with so that the asker looks foolish.  The most common way of doing this - which he employed - is to answer very quickly, not asking the questioner to clarify but rather acting as if the question is confusing in its essence.  That being said, I didn't phrase the question well, and I suppose it was too complex for a book signing and, again, he was quite sweet at the end of his response, asking me if he'd been unclear.  And then he did get me a new book when the one I picked up for him to sign turned out to be torn inside.

What I found exceedingly curious about this event, looking back, was that it was a completely KLF-free zone.  When he set up the question parameters Drummond did say we could only ask him "about what I'm doing now," but that was the only indication on his part that he'd ever done anything other than make art, conceptual or otherwise.  A couple of people brought KLF singles to be signed when he signed their books, and he signed them, and about 1/2 the audience were men of an age such that you could guess they were there because they'd been KLF fans, but those were the only indications on the audience's part that he'd ever done anything else.  Even while I was sitting listening to him, this seemed odd to me.  For one thing, that was probably the biggest public experience of his life.  For another, he WAS a musician, and he made recorded music - indeed, music that couldn't exist in any way other than as recorded music, music that in some cases he dismissed with contempt and in some cases he strove to give deep meaning.  So there was something a little odd about everybody simply ignoring this hugely important part of his life, and, to an even greater degree, about him disapproving of recorded music, or shallow music.  God, that should have been my question: how do you reconcile your current attitudes about recorded music with your career recording music, much of it nakedly capitalistic?  Bugger.  Okay, you know what?  I'm going to write Bill Drummond a letter when I get back from Paris.

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