Friday, 24 January 2014

24/01/14 - Celebrity penpal

Communicating with celebrities is very easy these days. This is largely a positive thing, as it allows fans to run their fingers through the astral trails of the stars they so idolise, and it can also be helpful to famous folk to have an open dialogue with their fans, knowing what interests and engages them. It makes the previously compartmentalised concept of ‘celebrity’ more of a blurred line – following an actor or musician or comedian on Twitter shows us that they’re just people; they have expired milk in the fridge, they have plumbing issues, they watch EastEnders, they got stuck in traffic this morning. It’s all very real.
The flipside of this, of course, is that a lot of people are arseholes. Some fall under the clich├ęd banner of being unsatisfied with their lot and jealous of the trappings of celebrity (money, big houses, widespread admiration and so forth) that throws the mundanity of their own lives into sharp focus, causing them to digitally lash out. But some people are just arseholes generally, who like being unpleasant to people because, well, that’s what they do. And there’s a huge number of people shielded by the anonymity of teh internetz who define the term ‘keyboard warrior’; they say rude things that they’d never say to your face because, hey, you’ll never find them.
An open forum is, to horribly mix a metaphor (and split an infinitive there, sorry), a double-edged sword. But for better or worse, the likelihood of a famous person actually reading something you’ve written is higher than it’s ever been.

Let me tell you about how I interacted with a celebrity back in the nineties, before all of this social media chicanery; the story of how I made friends in an analogue sense with the guitarist from The Saw Doctors.

Now, first of all, shut up, The Saw Doctors were properly famous. They were on Top of the Pops and everything. I know I spend a lot of time banging on about music in JuicyPips and I like to think my musical tastes are pretty cool (of course, you’d only agree with this if your own tastes are pretty similar – that’s how music works), and I acknowledge that The Saw Doctors may not have been considered conventionally cool by my teenage peers back then – that’s kids for you - but nevertheless the story stands.
For the uninitiated, The Saw Doctors are an Irish folk-infused rock band from Tuam, County Galway. They’ve been going with various line-ups since 1986, and achieved bona fide international fame in the early nineties. I hate the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ (if you like something, you like it), so instead I’ll say that they’re a band I listened to when I was a kid as well as being obsessed with the likes of Green Day, Offspring and Terrorvision. Diverse tastes, etc.

My parents were big fans of theirs, so we went to quite a few Saw Doctors gigs when I was young. My dad’s friend David is a kind of John Peel character with an encyclopaedic knowledge of countless genres of music – plus a house full of records – and he somehow knew the band, so we usually ended up backstage after the show, our parents enjoying a pint with the lads while us kids pestered them for autographs.
Over the course of these various meetings, I became penpals with Leo Moran, guitarist and founding member of the band. He was just a nice, friendly bloke, happy to spin a yarn and shoot the breeze. (And no, there was nothing of the Operation Yewtree about it, get your mind out of the gutter. Innocent times, these were.)
David and his family went out to Tuam to have a little holiday with The Saw Doctors one summer, the band happy to show them proudly around their hometown, jam a little with them, make them welcome. All very wholesome and pleasant.
Leo and I were penpals for years. I used to ask him questions about what it was like to be famous. I asked him about how it felt to be on stage, and on TV. I asked him what he liked about being in a band. (‘Making a living doing what I love, with my best friends,’ he replied. That’s the dream, right there.) I asked what car he drove. I seem to remember it was a Rover 200. In his letters he was friendly, humble, cheerful and chatty, and always said something along the lines of ‘well, come on, we’re not that famous really. We’re just some guys who play songs.’ Removing the fame element, he was just a man in a different country with an interesting job, which was enough in itself to spark a conversation. But what I really loved about the whole interchange was that every now and then I’d come home from school to find an envelope with an Irish postmark on the doormat, a handwritten letter inside offering a glimpse into an alternate reality.

It’s easy to collar a celeb on Twitter these days. Back in the nineties you had to put a bit more effort in, using pens and that. People don’t write to each other very much these days. We really should. When was the last time you checked the post and found something other than a bill, a bank statement, or something you ordered from Amazon…? And when was the last time you received a handwritten letter from an Irish guitarist? They were good days, they were.

I’m old enough to buy Leo a pint now. I’m going to tweet this to him and see if he remembers me.

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