Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Feckless Chutzpah

As a kind of subset of the general question, “why do I write this blog?” is the secondary question, “why do I write these long posts about humiliating episodes from early in my career?”

Well, like all terminal procrastinators I have a paralysing fear, not so much of failure itself, as the contemplation of failure from some point in the future when it is all too late.

These posts then, serve to remind me that I needn’t have worried.

Not that I wasn’t destined to fail, merely that, the contemplation of my failure from some future point (i.e. now) is only bleakly amusing, not adding all that much to my already apocalyptic sense of self-pity.

Sometimes I picture my younger self, cruising the streets of London, skinny, amoral and full of cunning. I was working for a night club, I slept all day, gradually I lost touch with my friends, and my complexion turned a fetching blue/green. My sister said I looked like Zammo – it was a proud moment. With my near-fluent English I quickly rose to the level of assistant manager. That meant I had to make sure we had enough ashtrays and that there was toilet roll in the ladies toilets. I was assiduous in all my duties, as I’m sure you’ll believe.

I also wrote press for the club and I quickly worked out that all DJs needed a “biog”, a CV in long copy, and that, with very few exceptions, they weren’t capable of writing such a thing themselves. In fact, there seemed to be some kind of inverse proportion at work, between probability of becoming a professional DJ and one’s ability to recount one’s own career using words. I also discovered that if you wrote one of these puff pieces and then offered it to a DJ, he would pay virtually any amount of money to get his preening little hands on it.

I started getting a few clients (two clients), and took to hustling for business in the record shops of Soho. No one else was doing it – which I interpreted as a sign that I had “cornered the market”. I got a mate to do me some cards – I’d wanted to have a business card from the age of 8.

(This is the one surviving card that I have – in mitigation please remember that Paul Smith’s first company was called “Vêtements pour hommes”. The words on the pen/stylus hybrid are dentate, plangent, plexor, allipsis and synodinal – for years afterwards they served as bookmarks, from the absurdly obscurantist vocabulary I reckon up until at least 2004 when David Foster Wallace released Oblivion. Five years on I score 2/5 on those words)

On one of these trips I met an aging house DJ called Tiny. He told me about the National DJs Union. The NDJU was a start-up, begun by this bloke Tiny and his friend Dane. Tiny drove a tiny black VW Polo, but was huge. Dane had been a successful child actor, and as an unsuccessful adult carried about him a whiny air of aggrieved entitlement. They were borrowing a minute office space off a mate who ran a web design company in the Truman Brewery (web design company? That feels like period vocabulary). There were usually several people borrowing the same space, including a man who supplied weapons for films. This basically meant there was an insane man in the office, with a large cache of weapons. It was something of a world centre of weirdness of all kinds.

They had this idea that people would sign up to join the DJ Union via its website, and that every DJ would be given his own page, which he could then use to promote himself and his music in whatever way he felt best suited him. I thought this was stupid idea. That the resulting cornucopia of styles and layouts would make the whole thing so ugly and confusing that no one would ever go there.

They had this other idea, which I thought was just as stupid, of a kind of streaming video channel, where people could just post whatever they wanted – a kind of online talent show they said. Who would watch a load of amateurs doing a lot of unscheduled beatboxing and low-production-value party-tricks? I thought.

I did several hundred pounds worth of work for Dane and Tiny, I hung around for days, writing their business plan, buying the coffee, before I realised that Dane was a pathological liar, a fantasist and serial bankrupt and that Tiny had some really spectacular anger management issues. Predictably the two of them fell out, threatened to have one another killed, squabbled over the single share in the company, the domain name of which had been deliberately and unhelpfully bought by the web designer, also unhelpfully called Dane. I was just one victim of the company's ineluctable collapse.

Dane (see) was able to offer me expert advice on the procedure for filing a small claims case against him as well as its evident futility.

I kept travelling back and forth between W12 and Brick Lane, until eventually the girl who answered the phones took me aside and explained that she was only employed on a Prince of Wales Trust subsidy, and that her job was to stall creditors.

Obviously I couldn’t get a penny out of Dane or Tiny, but it gives me some satisfaction to think that they had actually invented both MySpace and YouTube in 2002 but were too busy bickering about selling insurance to DJs to recognise the two multimillion pound ideas floating around amongst all the shit ideas they had.

Maybe one way of viewing these posts would be as the opposite of Scamp’s helpful Tuesday tips. Not as a series of tips, but a single tip, the meaning of which becomes more and more luminously evident, the more of them you read. Less helpful hints, more disheartening warnings.


Anonymous said...

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Paul Saxton said...

If I weren't a 41-year-old advertising professional with children, responsibilities and a certain standing in the community, I'd write some gushingly fanboyish comment about this fantastic post and your blog as a whole.

As it is, I'll merely say something like: keep up the excellent work.

Gordon Comstock said...

a) this story
b) my description of it
c) my belief that this might be of interest to anyone outside my head


Gordon Comstock said...

Paul: Thank you. Your self-restraint is quite unnecessary here I can assure you.