Idle Eye 154 : The Twin Algorithms of Fame

I met someone famous last week. I’m not saying who, that would be beyond vulgar, but the reason I bring it up is to highlight the broader issue of celebrity and the effect it has on those within its orbit. For example, I like to think of myself as a man of the world, perfectly able to hold my own in conversation with people I don’t yet know, and the odd sprinkle of wit and charm adequately greases the wheels for the recipient to feel they haven’t totally wasted their time. It’s a game of badminton, in which the shuttlecock of decorum is gently rallied back and forth until someone cracks and heads off towards the canapés.

Throw in the curveball of fame, however, and these unwritten rules of polite discourse go straight out the window. Any joy to be had from chasing a sentence to wherever it may lead is countered by the suffocating fear of coming across as a bit of a tit. The celebrity in question can usually spot this, helpfully discussing themselves until you are able to regroup, but by now you’re already on the back foot and the vocabulary of gibberish is all you have left to draw from. The more you try to address it, the worse it gets. I often witnessed this with my father, who loved to ‘drop in’ to his local and chat away with verve to those brave enough to approach him. It more often than not culminated in a bizarre face-off, kicking up the following complex algorithm:

Shameless self-promotion plus apparent good nature divided by loss of will to live if he talks about agriculture one more time plus please don’t buy me another pint, I hate beer and I’ve got an expensive bottle of Pouilly-Fumé open at home which I’ll tuck into after you’ve shut up, is the square root of continued local and/or national prestige minus face if I bail too early

Obviously, this is subjective. If I were to be so bold as to suggest an pertinent alternative for those soon to meet and greet someone in the public eye, perhaps it would be something along these lines:

Anonymity plus alcohol plus neutral meeting place equals bolstered confidence minus mutual reference points minus self-awareness plus alcohol plus alcohol divided by inability to remember celebrity’s focal work is the square root of something to talk about in the pub later divided by time taken to achieve same*

A more accurate formula probably lies somewhere in between. Something to do with the synthesis of courage and generosity from both active parties, the onus being on the former. For he/she may still recall a time spent on the other side of the tracks, whereas the latter is single-handedly navigating terra incognita and trying not to blush. And adding another alcohol to the above.

*algorithm does not apply to current Duke of Edinburgh

Idle Eye 86 : The Pixies

One of the reasons I bailed out of the music scene in 1998 was down to an overwhelming fear of becoming one of those ancient ponytailed rockers who never learned when to throw in the towel. For me it was get in there early, shine while you have the limelight, then hand over the baton to the next in line. It’s usually a brutally short career path, as for footballers and athletes, but rightfully so: You need the stamina and the recklessness to bend your body and mind to the outer limits of excess in order to advance the cause, and these are the exact qualities that tend to retire with every advancing year (unless you are Sly Stone).

But never mind all that. I got an email from the Pixies a couple of weeks ago saying they were doing a secret show in Brixton and would I care to join them? How very thoughtful, I thought, and as each and every Pixie is a tad older than myself, I figured it would be churlish to refuse. It’s manners, innit? Like when your nan asks you over for tea. So off I popped on Friday night with a few chums, having enjoyed a few statutory light refreshments beforehand.

And hats off to them, they really were jolly good. Mr Francis, or Black now apparently, was shouting and screaming like my mother in the 1970’s, with not a jot of hair on him. Which was brave. His old chum Mr Santiago (on the guitar) was particularly splendid, and guess what? He was follicularly-challenged too, neatly getting around it with the cunning use of a flat hat. Mr Lovering on the drums was thinning a bit, but we forgave him for it as he pounded it out like a headmaster before New Labour got in, and then there was New Kim on the bass (Old Kim had stopped for reasons most probably outlined in paragraph one). And oh my stars! New Kim had masses of hair! And she wasn’t afraid to move it about, neither. In fact, New Kim probably had more hair than all the other Pixies combined. And I loved her for it. These are the things that matter when you’ve been out of the loop for a while.

We retired to an old-skool boozer on Coldharbour Lane for a swift digestif. Some boys with trainers the size and shape of Beirut flat blocks were unattractively spitting into their microphones, whilst behind them a disc jockey seemed to be having problems cueing up his songs. I know I’m going to come across all fuddy-duddy but you wouldn’t have got that from David Jacobs, now would you? At least he could put the bloody needle down in the right place, for heaven’s sake!

But I’m forgetting myself: Dear Pixies, it was lovely to see you all, and thank you for inviting me to your lovely party. I am most grateful. Now, where is my mind?