Phil Gyford


Thursday 4 September 2003

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Tuesday night I went to see Douglas Coupland talk at the Bloomsbury Theatre. The prospect of seeing someone read from a book has never made me part with cash before, but this was Douglas Coupland! I was worried he’d be a disappointment, uncool and mean beyond the saviour of any irony. But it was fun. I wasn’t expecting him to walk onstage wearing a grey pinstripe suit, and he looked surprisingly like a cherubic Quentin Wilson.

He was a calm and precise speaker, squinting into the lights, sometimes closing his eyes, moving a little stiffly, like a Gilbert and George performance. He read questions interviews had asked him in the past and discussed the answers, told anecdotes, and eventually moved on to reading from Hey Nostradamus (US, UK). This was the least interesting part of the evening, as he didn’t seem a great reader; the tone was the same as when telling an anecdote only less engaging. But otherwise it was a fun event. Oh, and he also asked the whole audience to set their mobiles ringing at once, which, unfortunately, didn’t create my hoped for moment of Coupland-esque postmodern beauty, and just sounded like a lot of mobiles ringing. Worth a try though.

I just noticed there’s a short fiction competition running at the moment, based on some photos Coupland has chosen as inspiration.

Last night I went to see Newsnight: The Opera at Battersea Arts Centre. Yes. It was only a “scratch” performance, so a work in progress, and progress is something it needs. Currently, it’s a few news stories from the last few years (few from Newsnight, oddly) set to music. I was hoping for more narrative; I thought it would be like a Newsnight show but in the style of an opera, rather than separate songs performed by singers standing or sitting at microphones, with no link between them. There was also a pointless screen displaying “video art” (you know, badly executed, animated photomontage) which added little and distracted from the performance. But it was an entertaining experiment and it could become much better. The final song, a tennis-match of an interview between Paxman and Michael Howard was good fun, having a little more action and life to it.

Seeing Newsnight meant I missed out on Gillian Welch playing at the Shepherds Bush Empire, but one can’t, yet, be in two places at once. A shame though, as I’ve been listening to her most recent two albums an awful lot of late.

The other big event I’ve missed this week was Burning Man. Even though it’s a long and expensive journey, a hassle to get the equipment (not to mention cleaning it after), and, once there, I have moments of severe tear-tinged depression, I still miss the place. The rest of it makes up for all that.


I couldn't help wondering if Coupland's excessively monotone reading was deliberate: either to induce you to buy the book and replace the memory with your own internal voice or to prove so unmemorable that it wouldn't be a spoiler.

You neglected to mention his sound-sensitive shirt!

Posted by Owen on 4 September 2003, 3:15 pm | Link

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