Never meet your heroes? Pshaw and phooey!

Not so very long ago, I compiled a list of “Twenty-Five Things I Want To Do Before I Die“, a list which included, in position #4, “Interview one of my heroes“.

What I had failed to do, of course, was list such heroes as I have. If truth be told, it wouldn’t have been a very long list, as I don’t really “do” hero-worship. And once made, the list would have been quickly whittled down still further: John Peel is departed, and Nelson Mandela isn’t much given to hiring PR agencies who liaise with regional print media, shall we say.

Nevertheless, and to my great surprise and deep satisfaction, the deed is done – and as it turned out, all I had to do was ask. But by crikey, it was strange timing, as only a few days after interviewing one of my sister’s heroes, I found myself on the phone with none other than the towering musical figure of my adolescence, Kevin Ayers.

I could write screeds about the experience: researching for it (by listening to the entire Ayers back catalogue, more or less in chronological order); preparing for it (my initial list of questions ran to over 2500 words, for crying out loud); stressing up over it (Ayers is a reluctant interviewee and his career has been a chequered one, with unhappy wilderness periods to navigate); actually conducting it (the poor line to Southern France causing me to hunch uncomfortably over the speaker-phone, trapped in a gawky parody of whispering in a lover’s ear, with the computer microphone as our pesky interloper); the strange dynamics of interviewing someone as a fan (rather than as someone who merely takes an interest); the equally strange dynamics of two nervous people (for very different reasons) having to construct a dialogue (with two very different approaches, as my extended gabble-fests covered for Ayers’ wary reticence); the initial post-interview euphoria swiftly yielding to excruciating self-doubt (greatly alleviated by the sweet de-brief e-mail from Ayers’ manager, which suggested that I hadn’t made quite such a gushing prat of myself after all); the subsequent transcription exercise (all 36 minutes’ worth, spread over several epic laptop-bashing sessions) slowly revealing an altogether different encounter to the one that my reflex paranoia told me I’d had…

…and finally the editing process, the key to which dawned on me late last Friday night, in an advanced state of refreshment: namely, that it needed to be a process of taking myself out of the conversation.

(Which, now that I came to think about it, is something that I’ve been doing with all of my freelance work, and hence forms a large part of the reason why I seem to have virtually stopped writing old-school me-me-me blog posts. For having focused so hard, for so long, on erasing myself, it feels rather retrograde to start painting myself back in again.)

OK, so Kevin may not have been the most voluble of interviewees – something that I was fully prepared for – but none the less, I found myself quite won over by his laidback, laconic charm, and ultimately grateful that he tolerated my nervous fanboy gabblings with such good grace and humour.

The Stylus interview can be found here, complete with a brief introduction to the man and his work.

If you’re interested in reading more or less the full transcript of our encounter (minus the worst excesses of the aforementioned fanboy gabblings), which gives much more of a sense of the conversational flow, then you can find it here.

See also:
Whatevershebringswesing: an excellent Yahoo discussion group (set up by my mate Dymbel‘s brother Percy The Ratcatcher), dedicated to all things Ayers (and Robert Wyatt, Syd Barrett, Kevin Coyne, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, etc etc.)
Kevin Ayers on Myspace, including a track from the new album and three classics from the back catalogue.
Kevin Ayers’ official website.
Why Are We Sleeping: a jaw-droppingly comprehensive online fanzine and archive.

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