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Never Meet Your Heroes

Mark E Smith Bit Down on my Throat Like a Rottweiler on a New-Born

In a new feature, we ask some of our favourite music journalists to cast their lager-braised minds back to the times they met their musical idols.

by Mark Beaumont
19 February 2014, 10:00am

In a new feature, we ask some of our favourite music journalists to cast their lager-braised minds back to the times they met their musical idols. We find out whether they ended up making a new best friend or scurrying back to the office in humiliation.

Last time we saw Mark Beaumont he was lying on a couch in a Reading hotel lobby, fiercely debating what was better: words or pictures. Mark is the funniest person we know who still listens to the Courteeners. He once claimed that Radiohead’s Kid A “propels us to a whole new sphere of self-indulgence: post-bollocks.” He’s written for everyone from The Mail On Sunday to Loaded, while his ongoing stint at NME has seen him outlast four prime ministers.

Illustration by Josie Turnbull

Lying on my back on the floor of Filthy McNasty’s, Mark E Smith bent over me biting down on my throat like a Rottweiler on a new-born, it strangely wasn’t the old cliché about meeting your heroes that ran through my head. Instead it was something more along the lines of ‘thank Christ my actual heroes aren’t total sociopathic lunatics’.

See, I was always more of a Wedding Present man than The Fall, and David Gedge, in my experience, has always been a thoroughly charming and amenable chap. If Gedge had ever got bored in the middle of a round-table pop star discussion on current affairs, thrown me to the floor and tried to give me a tracheotomy with his teeth, I’d have been devastated. When Smith did it, it was hilarious.

It’s all about who you choose to idolise. It’s sheer common sense. Pin your fanaticism on Van Morrison and you’re asking for an accordion in the balls. Worship Pete Doherty as the pinnacle of free-thinking auteurism and one day you’re going to wake up with an armful of Cif and your cash card cloned from here to Taipei. Sidling up to Crystal Castles muttering epithets of ceaseless devotion? You might as well try to be mates with a morgue.

I’d read so many articles in which hacks have their lifelong adoration dragged – still beating - from their chests, stamped underfoot and openly drenched in acrid piss by a cackling Lou Reed. To go into my interview with him with an ounce of reverence in my soul, no matter how much I love Songs For Drella, it made the inevitable bawling out so much more bearable. You don’t go meet John Lydon assuming flattery will get you anywhere, you go expecting to be run out of the interview room with a winkle-picker up your arse for bringing up The Clash. And, in my case, you wouldn’t be disappointed.

No, the trick is to avoid hero-worshipping those people who require or expect your awestruck fawning to shore up their vastly inflated opinion of themselves before they engage with you, and only then on the level a demigod might regard a nagging hemorrhoid. Admire the artists that appreciate it. Elvis Costello? Charm incarnate. Robert Smith? Total pussycat. Kevin Shields? Slightly embarrassed bundle of modesty. Paul McCartney? Exactly as brilliant as Paul McCartney is supposed to be, and as you would be too, were you Paul McCartney.

Of course, in this business, that doesn’t stop you being the twat instead. Having those moments when you walk into a dressing room to suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself five yards from one of the formative musical loves of your childhood can be a disaster. Especially if, before your sense of dignity has a chance to remind you that you’re no longer twelve years old, you’ve blubbered something about breaking a sofa dancing to their music as a teenager. Sometimes things get so awkward that, in a clearly emotional wobble, you ask your girlfriend to take you away as though she was your carer (true story).

The job doesn’t help at times. Any chance I might’ve had of developing a mutual critical respect with Noel Gallagher was blown out of the water when the first assignment I was given to meet him involved trying to shake his hand for as long as possible at the NME Awards, like that bloke off of Banzai. And I will be forever mortified that my first words to Frank Black, when he called me up early one evening for a phone interview, were a flapping, stuttered apology that I’d got the day wrong, I didn’t have any questions prepared and could he call me same time tomorrow? And that, at his end, my cock-up was caught on camera for the Pixies reunion documentary. An idiot, immortalised.

It’s also easy to make the mistake of thinking that celebrities might instantly recognise you, totally out of any context, four years after you were the 25th person in a day to ask them about their new album for twenty minutes in an Ibis conference room. How hilarious it would be I thought, wankered on the contents of the entire lager fridge of a signing tent I was working at one Reading, if I slipped into the line of fans queuing to meet Blink-182 and got them to sign my arm. Me, a man who has interviewed them at least twice! They’d see straight through the month’s stubble and it’d be splutters and hugs all round! I definitely wouldn’t be met with blank stares and get manhandled out of the tent by security with an arm like something out of Memento. It’s perhaps worse, though, if you don’t recognise them, as I found at one comedy aftershow when I spent twenty minutes rattling on about my fabulous rock’n’roll exploits to a pleasantly nodding bespectacled random, only to finally ask him his name and what he did. He was Adrian, he told me, and he was a comedian. I might have seen him in The Young Ones.

Worst of all, though, is if the unimaginable happens and you get on so well with your idol that they embrace you as part of their inner circle of hedonism, give you the pin number to their global cashpoint network of limitless free sex and narcotics, and you flake out like the weediest Jagermonster on The Magaluf Weekender. During the week I spent with Blur on their Australian tour of 1997 I was briefly privy to Alex James spunking his way through his estimated million quid on high living, a hefty few grand of which he racked up on champagne on my room bill, to be later signed off by a sighing band rep. This meant that I'd be guzzling Krug all night in the company of the gaggles of models Alex would ferry to my room and was officially Living The Dream. But when dawn struck and Alex insisted that he, half a dozen of Australia's Next Top Supermodels and I should carry on the party in the hotel swimming pool, I still shiver to my core when I recall that I looked him cold in the eye and said ''Alex, I need some sleep''. Then slept so long I held up the band's platinum disc presentation boat tour of Syndey Harbour by an hour the following day. I'd met my greatest hero, rock'n'roll. And I was not worthy.

Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkBeaumontUk

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