That's Me In The Corner...
Sunday, July 30
First gig with R.E.M. Mr Stipe comes in before the show to say hello. "Hi, I'm Michael. I'm really glad you could do this. I'm a very big fan." Wonder how many times I will run this through my brain after today. I've never believed in hero worship and so on, but I have to admit to myself that I'm fighting for breath. I've had moments in the past two years when time has completely curved and space became a Hitchcock camera trick. At these moments, barriers seem to break in my head and I never see anything in the same way again. And for days and days all I want to do is run around jumping into people's earshot waving my hands up and down like Bjork and pulling faces. This is one of those moments.
Monday, July 31
Video shoot for Just. It's being directed by a guy called Jamie Thraves. He's just sent us this idea on an A4 piece of paper. It's about a character who collapses in the street and then all these captions appear on the screen as if the song's been translated. Apparently. But, there are three days of shooting and we're only here for one so it's pretty much out of our hands. That's cool. Go stand on film set. Strut around like a peacock making faces. Not a pig in sight. Good therapy.
Tuesday, August 1
We're playing in this beautiful amphitheatre built as part of the 1936 Olympic games for the boxing. I lie down in the sun.
R.E.M. arrive. We say hello. I'm cool. This happens all the time. Bertis Downs, their lawyer, comes up and says, "Hey man, you got the stuff." I have no idea what he's talking about. After the show, R.E.M. have this record company thing in an old army barracks set in the hills. The entrance is lined with inflatable dinosaurs. They get awarded all these specially commissioned bonkers discs. Just for being R.E.M., basically. They all pose and smile and do the whole political bit and are extremely nice. I'm shocked. It seems you have to be nice to people forever. I may as well get used to my cracked smile now.
I'm just completely hyper in the presence of all this. Find myself gurgling like a baby who is being tickled. Kick an apple around the floodlit garden until I can string a sentence together again. Feel 50 feet tall. Shit, shit, shit. This is R.E.M. and they really like us. No, I mean they REALLY like us. They're not just being nice. When someone you really admire gives you something like that, your shoulders get a little lighter, you feel a little stronger. Forever.
Wednesday, August 2
Realise that I have seen nothing of Berlin except for the statue from Wim Wender's Wings Of Desire. And I only glimpsed that from the van window. Even the gig was surrounded by trees. Typical. On the flight to Oslo, Mike Mills shows me a note he's just received from Bill Clinton offering sympathy for his recent stomach troubles. Both of us are too hungover to know quite what to make of it.
Thursday, August 3
See Kurt Cobain's suicide letter on the back of someone's T-shirt for the first time. Follow the girl around various shops trying to read it. Something about being moody. Everybody here is blond and good-looking. And they all wear orange, which is my favourite colour.
I'm really proud of the way we play tonight. There's a new song called Lucky and I think it's the best we've ever played it. The room has this immense sound and the words just bounce around it. I get the shivers virtually all the way through the song and just grin like an idiot.
Watching R.E.M. tonight makes me think how huge they are and how much they have gone through. Now, of course, Bill Clinton writes them letters and they play stadiums. Not that this is my definition of an idyllic future. Briefly consider just how long Radiohead can last. I still get days when I want to clock in all my billions of utterly useless executive air miles and fuck off forever to a shack in Kare Kare in New Zealand with its alien plant life. But then what?
The R.E.M. machine is astounding. How is it possible to redress the balance in your head between all this stuff and being some guys with drums and guitars and a couple of mikes? I guess the answer is with songs like Strange Currencies or a brand new one called The Undertow. Songs that would make me jam on the brakes in the middle of the motorway and veer into the hard shoulder until they had finished. What else is there to life except moments of honey like this? Listening to Finest Worksong makes me feel like I'm 10 feet tall and can crush anything in my path.
I play everyone a new song in the dressing room (which is a toilet). It's called No Surprises, Please. Colin goes nuts. Afterwards, I try not to get blind drunk but fail miserably. Go out dancing and locate my aggressive streak on encountering a couple of Nordic males who are flexing their impotence in tracksuits. Dance it out to the Beastie Boys' Root Down. Feel much better.
Friday, August 4
I buy a toy helicopter with "Ambulance" and "Emergency Service" on it. When I see it at the airport it reverberates in my head and I just had to have it. The show is fine. I get hugged a few times by people who have come just to see us. A journalist here apparently believes his mission in life is to tell the world how ugly I am, but that's OK. At least it beats being called suicidal.
After the show I play the role of pop star with a much bigger pop star. I have deliberately been avoiding Mr Stipe because I didn't want to make a fool out of myself. Or get mistaken for a stalker. But, tonight we end up playing with Kinder toys and talking about when he met Patti Smith so I feel much better about it all. Go out 'til morning. Do cartwheels and Elvis impersonations.
Saturday, August 5
Stuck at Stockholm airport. I find airport lounges traumatic and extremely lonely. Try to use the time constructively writing letters to fans (I carry this dejected old satchel around full of them), reading a book on the Situationiste International and the Paris Riots of 1968 (I am proud of my pretensions) and the Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying by Sogyal Kinpoche. R.E.M. have already taken the Stones' private jet. Now, THAT'S cool.
Sunday, August 6
Spend the morning proudly displaying my lily white body and red hair to gawping Sicilian populace. The show is at a sports stadium. Utter chaos permeates every corner of the proceedings. I soak up the burning Mediterranean sun and wait for the first murmur from Mount Etna. Briefly wonder how you say, "Fuck me silly, but don't tell your brothers" in Italian.
One minute before stage time we find ourselves stuck in a Sicilian traffic jam. Michael Stipe tells me to "Breathe, breathe", like I'm having a baby while hundreds of police stand around and do nothing. Police walk in and out of our dressing room all night to use the toilet. And there's no vodka. I have to make do and, during R.E.M.'s set, I lie in a haze backstage staring at a star - my star - which comes out when things are bad.
Monday, August 7
5.30 am. Leave hotel for airport.
9 am. Fly to Rome. Wait around for three hours. Sober up. Pass out. Read in a magazine that it's now six months since Richie Manic disappeared.
1pm. Get on plane. Then told to get off plane as there is a three-hour delay. Throw up in toilet.
4 pm. Arrive in Tel Aviv. An hour at passport control. Drive to stadium for photo shoot and two radio interviews. Shaky. Cannot focus.
Tuesday, August 8
This is where Creep first broke. Way before America. That was well over two years ago. Fond memories flood back of being mobbed for the first time.
Do a press conference. Usual stuff. I always feel like a politician.
"Do you think you've changed as human beings since you were last here?"
"Yes. I no longer feel human."
Head off to main radio stations which is run by the army youth. After the age of 18, everyone has to join, boys for three years, girls for two. There is a sign stipulating regulation haircuts. Play some acoustic stuff with Jonny which makes the day seem worthwhile. Afterwards, I haggle with a mad old woman in Jaffa flea market over a huge floppy hat and duffle coat. In the end I buy them both. Perfect for temperatures of 110F.
Meal in the evening with R.E.M. One of the most embarrassing moments of my life occurs when a girl comes up in the restaurant and asks for my autograph and not Mr Stipe's. I hide my face in a napkin for five minutes. Then the hubble-bubble machine arrives. It's supposed to help digestion. But it just makes me feel weird.
Wednesday, August 9
The hubble-bubble is still giving me all sorts of pains. Go to the beach and a heartbreakingly beautiful Jewish woman comes up in a swimsuit and asks if I'm Thom Yorke. Given the shorts I'm wearing I consider denying everything. She looks me up and down and I feel reduced to the size of the sand. I weakly reply, Yes, and watch her disappear, curiosity satisfied.
Feel even stranger than when I woke, so scurry back to the hotel fearing sunstroke. Despite fears of possible boiled head, however, I feel reluctant to wear my Jewish orthodox floppy hat purchase of yesterday. Especially at the beach.
It IS sunstroke! I now feel like a very sick old man. I meet Mr Stipe who gives me and Jonny what he describes as an organic pick-me-up. It's not speed, he says. He's pissed off because some paparazzi guy has been following him around, photographing his every move. Backstage at the gig it seems like all the friends and families of everyone who works there have turned up. The security guards demand autographs from everyone who passes. A long-legged blonde asks me whether I know the band. She appears to be angry that none of R.E.M. have offered to sleep with her yet. I can't think of an answer and walk off.
Suddenly, during the show, Michael's stuff starts kicking in fabulously. I feel like I've been plugged straight into the mains. Then, as I walk off at the end, I realise that I can hardly move and wonder in mild panic what I've done to myself. The whole world appears to be going in slow motion. The rest of the evening is hell and I can't bring myself to do anything but moan. The last thing I remember is Jonny saying that he's off to the Lebanon in a jeep. OK, I say.