For NZ peeps: There are two shows starting tonight that I’d love you to watch. One is Coverband, made by The Down Low Concept - who were responsible for one of the most brilliant bits of comedy I’ve seen, Hounds. The other I selfishly want you watch is Short Poppies, which I was involved in because Rhys Darby thought it would be funny to cast a reporter as a reporter. It was made by Augusto who I love to bits and have done a tonne of cool stuff including that brilliant ad were Lydia Ko turned pro. They also do lots of thing with the All Blacks (which I don’t understand because I don’t understand rugby) and once made me a birthday cake that looked like a peacock. Anyway there’s some trippy shit in there, including the bit were FUCKING JUDGE DREDD agreed to play a hairdressing stereotype. OK, bye.
This is an example of a “Jane O’Brien Media” briefing email, sent to those that have agreed to take part in a “competitive tickling” shoot in Los Angeles. I have removed sensitive names and numbers:
——- Original Message ——-
Please familiarize yourself with the following information related to your upcoming trip to Los Angeles for participation in my Endurance Tickling Reality Project.
1.) Arrive at your local airport no less than 90 minutes prior to your plane’s departure for LAX on [DATE REMOVED] (USA)
Arrive at that airport no less than 2-3 hours prior to a departure from an airport outside of the USA on [DATE REMOVED]
Be sure to have proper ID, which is a valid passport for non-citizens of the USA and a Valid Passport with Visa Exemption (not required of Canadians) that is obtained online at the web address below for $14.00 USD. Get it now! It may be obtained online only. https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Be sure, also, that your stated purpose for entry into the USA is travel and tourism, not anything related to business or commerce.
2.) Upon landing at LAX, please contact Mr. Kevin Clarke at [NUMBER REMOVED] to confirm your arrival. Kevin is the producer of the shoot and will also be staying at your hotel, always available to assist you at any time, especially in the event of a problem or concern. YOU MUST CHECK-IN by phone before doing anything else on the ground.
You must have a working cellphone with you that will operate within the United States and is set-up to contact phone numbers here.
3.) After calling Kevin, go outside of your airline’s arrival terminal at LAX and take a taxi ride to the [NAME REMOVED] Hotel. The taxi fare will cost about $60-70 USD. Be sure to bring that amount with you..
4.) Upon arrival at the hotel, please contact Kevin once more. Kevin will greet and provide you with the amount of US Dollars specified in your contract as Expense Money, in cash. Those funds will more than cover all travel costs (i.e. taxis, meals, and additional travel to come) Kevin’s also been a long-time resident of LA and can tell you everything … EVERYTHING …..about the place. Of course, you’ll be on your own to the degree desired except for the shooting interval, after Kevin assists you with check-in to your private room.
5.)The shoot will occur on the days after your arrival [DATE REMOVED]. Please arrange to be at the studio (whereabouts to be announced) when asked. Promptness is everything. If you are late — you hold up an entire process. Usually, all guys go together from the hotel (resulting in a massive cabfare savings) and Kevin will tell you when to leave and where the studio is located.
6.) It is very important that you shave your face and wax off any chest hair (mandatory, if you have visible chest hair) before the shoot. Be sure that your hair has just been washed and styled, as well. There is no wrong or right look beyond this criteria. Do not get a haircut prior to this project. Basically, I’m hoping that you will look as much like your MM pics as possible (or, in some cases, a way that we’ve discussed). Let your hair grow-out as long as possible. A great look also includes some natural arm veins and arm hair.
After completing the shoot, as promised, you will receive the additional USD salary, again in cash, as your participation fee (salary), according to your individual contract, as soon as it is verified that you have not charged anything to your hotel room bill prior to check-out. Any questions concerning shoot payment structure (not process) should be directed to me. Also, the amount of money that you receive as participant (even if you have been a prior participant called back to participate again) is confidential as a matter of contract and must not be discussed with other participants. Payments differ for varous reasons and have nothing to do with the importance of your contribution. Your contracts are confidential documents between you and Jane O’Brien Photography. This has never been a problem.
All cellphones, etc must be shut-off on set. Do not bring a laptop computer, etc., to the studio. This is so that my copyright to any and all materials produced is not in any way compromised. Do not bring friends, girlfriends, rides, etc. Believe me, you’ll have very little “down time,” as in, “nothing to do.”
7.) On [DATE REMOVED], you will be returning home from LAX. Depending on how much time you have between the end of the shoot and your plane’s departure (and this will vary tremendously from guy to guy), you may want to talk to Kevin about what to do, where to go or not go, etc. One thing is a must: know where you need to be for return pick-up and transportation to the airport. Be sure you allow enough time to arrive at least one hour from your flight’s departure from LAX and receive your final payment. You are reminded again that you must complete all episodes required by the Work clause in your contract to be eligible for any payment.
You will find working with my crew and I to be efficient, honest, uncomplicated, and, above all, positive!! I look forward to working with many of you again.
You will also have an opportunity to spend time with legendary staff photographer, Marko Realmonte, (who works in-season with the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball). We’ll provide finished and branded imagery for the extension of your own still portrait portfolio, all free of charge. Bring clothes with you that are “casually sexy” for the ladies; shirts, hats, jackets and attire that help to portray your essence and individual identity. They will enhance greatly your stills experience as Marko helps you to truly bring out your uniqueness, both subtle and / or larger than life, on camera. DO NOT bring so-called “tank top,” muscle top, or “wifebeater shirts” as they are inappropriate for a professional stills portfolio.
Jane J. O’Brien (Jane@JaneOBrienMedia.com)
Kevin J. Clarke [EMAIL REMOVED]
Louis Peluso [EMAIL REMOVED]
Marko Realmonte [EMAIL REMOVED]
http://JaneOBrienPhotography.com (SEE THE NEW DESIGN !!!!)
reznor talks with me about the re-issue of the fragile, finding 40 unreleased demos, the grammy experience blow-by-blow, his upcoming new zealand tour, david fincher’s gone girl, and what it’s like to be incredibly, incredibly busy.
Hi Trent, how are you?
I’m good, how are you?
Good. Hey, thanks for taking the time, I really appreciate it.
No problem, thank you.
There’s a lot of excitement about you coming down here to do three dates in New Zealand. I saw your show at the Staples Centre late last year, and obviously it was a huge production that looked amazing and sounded amazing. I’m just wondering - are you guys looking forward to letting loose, being freed up from a lot of the technical stuff, and being able to just rock out a bit more?
Yeah, that’s a great observation actually. You know, the by-product of doing a show like the one you happened to see, and that was following another one that was designed for festivals, was they become very kind of rigid, and you kind of have to perform in a certain order and a certain - there’s a plot that has to be followed. The end result is after you do that for several months, you know - I’m not saying it’s not great to be on stage - but you can start to battle boredom. It just starts to get into a routine.
We knew that we’d be ready for a change at the end of that. So what we’ve got for the next few months is the band has changed from an eight-piece lineup to a four-piece lineup, and that frees us up to explore a lot more of the aggressive and electronic music that we haven’t played for a while. And it feels fresh again. We just spent a couple of weeks rehearsing and you know, there’s a level of being unsure that’s actually exciting.
That is exciting.
We’re very present and it’s much more interactive. It’s easy - more nimble, because there’s less people to try and lead down the path. So ‘yes’ is the answer. We’re excited to start this new phase, really.
Obviously the set with Hesitation Marks was pretty heavy over in LA, and all those songs sound great live, are there any other albums or tracks you are looking forward to? You mentioned getting stuck into some other stuff. Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to delving into?
Well the band I put together that we just had with Pino [Palladino] and our background singers and whatnot…
…Those background singers were amazing by the way, beautiful.
Well, thank you. It was really an honour to work with them. It was fun having a new weapon in the arsenal that I hadn’t had access to before. That did naturally lend itself for that band to be new-album focused, and also exploring the new funk, or deeper groove elements of older material.
But now we’re excited about being able to get into more Fragile and Year Zero stuff, more electronic, deconstructing some things that felt a little inappropriate for that band. It also allows us to get, as I mentioned, some of the more aggressive material that didn’t need eight people on stage to execute. There was a burden that came with that many people, which was, ‘OK, what are you going to do in this song? Ah, well…’ The new material is pretty easy to fit new people into, having all that extra horsepower. But to answer your question, yeah, there’s a lot of Year Zero material we hadn’t been able to play, and again a deconstruction of some of the older material with a different set of criteria. It’s a lot more electronic / aggressive this time.
Well that Year Zero stuff works well live. ‘In this Twilight’, it was a pleasure to hear that stuff [in LA during the Tension tour]. It just translates so well. Something else I was curious about - I’ve been doing some stories around The Raid 2; I know you lent some music to that particular film, and obviously you’re back with Fincher again for Gone Girl. Is that stuff floating around in your head now, or are you just going to do this tour, and then get your head into a different space for when that film comes around?
Well, uh, the timing isn’t ideal this time.
Yes, you’re f**king busy!
Well I booked this tour when David [Fincher] was going to do a different film, he was going to do 20 Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, which would start fall of 2014. So that worked out perfectly. Then things changed, and Gone Girl came up, and it happened to land right in the middle of the touring cycle that I’d already committed to. So Atticus [Ross] and I have been working - we essentially had the month of January off, so we spent that whole month together working on Gone Girl stuff, which was a shift - you know it always takes me a bit to shift from ‘playing live mode’ to the kind of quiet, different part of your brain that’s used sitting in a quiet studio, trying to think more, ah, compositionally.
Plus with this one, always the first part of any work we do on a film isn’t so much traditional composing as it is trying to decide what instruments to use, what kind of sonic power to dive into. Is it more organic? Is it more electronic? Is it clean and crisp, is it decayed and rotting? Is it happy or sad, or what degree of tension is it? How prominent a role is the music going to play in the film?
So a lot of that time was spent trying to answer those questions. We’ve written a pretty good sized first batch of stuff that we’ve turned over that they’re excited about. But we’re very early in the proceedings. You know, just as my mind was getting into that and excited… time to go on tour.
Yeah, right. It must be a crazy shift, mentally and everything - geographically, the whole thing.
Yeah, it’s a little disruptive, but I’m trying to spin it as a positive, where I think inspiration can come from different places and being thrown into different situations. And now it’s just up to the discipline of me to take that extra hour or two that I might have off, and putting it into setting up a rig in a hotel room and working on an idea. We’ll see how it goes; it might end up with great results or it might be a failed experiment, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with David [Fincher] again, so.
You probably can’t even say, but is it mellow stuff you’re making for that, is it noisy?
So far it’s a little bit of both. You know the film - I’ve seen bits of it - bits of what’s been filmed, um - and it’s - it won’t disappoint. It’s David, who brings an intensity to the material, and a conviction and integrity that is always exciting to work with, so it’s kind of going in two directions right now, at the same time, both, in terms of the music, and I think it’s going to be great, we’ll see how it goes.
I’m curious, do you ever find that you’re just too busy? I mean obviously - you do things in sections: You take time to do the How To Destroy Angels stuff, then you’re touring, then you’re writing, then this album came out, you’re doing all sorts of TV show performances, you’ve got a family! Do you ever wake up and just go, “God, I wish I had a day off!”
Yeah, I mean lately it’s felt like too much. It’s felt like I’ve bitten off a bit more than I can chew, and I think it’s a combination of really wanting to be as present as I can for my family, and at the same time - the other thing you didn’t mention which has consumed a lot of time - I’ve been the chief architect of Beats Music which has launched in the States here, which has been two years of effort.
Of course, you did all the user interface and everything for that right?
I actually designed how it is, and oversaw the user interface, and oversaw the hirings and made sure that the tone of it is right, and the spirit of it is right. And an enormous amount of effort went into that, in an interesting way. It’s something that feels outside of what I would have done in my normal Nine Inch Nails life, and composer life. And it’s been creative in different ways.
It’s been exciting to take an idea and then see it through to execution, and the pain of actually building it and finding the right team and managing people and governing it, and keeping the feel and tone of it right, and then launching it out into the world. And realising that, okay, this is step one of a thousand! This is an evolving thing.
But it’s been very well received here in the States, and I think what we’ve come up with is something that needs to be out there, it’s not just a ‘me too!’ music streaming service or marketing plan, it feels different. It’s from people who love music and want to turn you on to great music, and it thinks about the concept of streaming in a different way. Rather than just about access, it’s about the quality of what you’re getting, and a trusted voice, and blah blah blah. But anyway, the launch happened to land right in the midst of this tour, and the album cycle, and when I’m starting a film…
… and collectively it’s been a lot of stuff happening at the same time.
Well it’s great, from the perspective of someone who likes your work, there’s nothing better. But make sure you get a few days off. I hope at least in New Zealand you get a day off to relax.
I can’t wait to go on tour so I can relax!
I was over in Los Angeles covering the Grammys, because one of our musicians, Lorde, was over there up for some awards. And I saw you had the launch party - very hip-hop orientated - for Beats. And that looked like an amazing place to be.
Oh the party, oh yeah that was amazing.
I just saw vicariously on Twitter that was going on, and thought of any of the parties to be at, that would have been a good one!
It actually was pretty fantastic, you know I wish I had more to do with it, I sat with my mouth open, one [performer] after another… fantastic.
Well it probably was great that you could just sit back and relax, you’d worked on it for a couple of years, so it was probably nice to just have some time out and just enjoy something to do with it. Now, my Grammys night was incredibly stressful, I was working the whole thing…
Really? Me too!
Yeah, you too, man!
That ended in an insane way for you guys. Do you feel any differently about that - would you ever go back to this ceremony? I mean I was in the middle of it working and didn’t enjoy myself very much… how was it for you on reflection?
No, it was an utter waste of time. And I’ll speak for a second on this. When this came up as an option, ‘Hey, the Grammys would like you to play,’ you know, quite frankly it was flattering. I’m not a fan of the Grammys, as I’ve vocally expressed in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an entire broadcast. I know I’ve never attended one.
But the way my head works is, to try to approach it from, ‘Okay, if we did do it, what could be the upside?’ And Josh [Homme, Queens of The Stone Age] and I spent a long time talking about the pros and cons. You know, ‘Do we want to be on a shit show on TV? No, not really. Do we want to be affiliated with the Grammys? No, not really. Would we like to reach a large audience and actually do something with integrity on our terms? Well, yeah. Let’s roll the dice and go into it with the best intentions, with a performance we think is worthy and might - you know - stand out from the crowd. Or it might not!’
But what we weren’t expecting was that level of insult [laughter]. In fact we walked off stage and I thought, ‘Hey, that actually went pretty well’, and I look at my collaborator Rob Sheridan, who I run into, and he’s like, ‘Oh my god man, you won’t believe what they just did,’ and… ‘What?’ ‘They cut this thing off in the middle and put a Delta commercial on.’ ‘What?’ We had no idea.
You know, and it was just… I can look now and say I should have expected something like that, you know? But, more than anything it was just insulting. I invite my friend Lindsey Buckingham to come up on stage and it’s just ‘You know what, you’ve invited me into this place, f**k you. F**k you guys,’ you know? So, lesson learned. And the other thing is if we hadn’t have done it, I’d be thinking, ‘Well, what would have happened it we would have done it?’ You know. So I don’t regret that we did it, but would I ever - in any situation - ever consider possibly patronising that event in any form? Absolutely not.
Well - what aired and stuff - looked and sounded great - but, yeah…
It was an amazing minute and a half, wasn’t it?
Oh god. Look, thanks for talking on that. After this tour - I am wondering what other projects you are waiting to get your teeth sunk into. I know there was talk of a The Fragile re-issue at some point - is that still on the cards?
Yeah, we’ve done a lot of the work for that. Really what it’s come down to is with all the other stuff going on, the Fragile thing in particular, I want to make sure I get it right. You know, we’ve mixed everything in surround, it sounds amazing, we have a great package ready to go. I just stumbled across 40-or-so demos that are from that era that didn’t turn into songs, that range from sound effects to full-fledge pieces of music, and I kind of feel like - something should happen with that.
And I think it has something to do with that package, and I just need the bandwidth to kind of calmly think about it, and decide how much effort I want to devote into that and what to do with it. I have a lot of ideas that could eat up immense amounts of time and I’m trying to weigh out - just think it through. I don’t want to pull the trigger on something and go, ‘Man, I should have done it in this way.’ And I just haven’t had a chance to be in a calm place where I can think it through completely and make that decision.
Fair call. That’s exciting. Just finally Trent, there’s a New Zealand guy, Simon Maxwell, he directed I believe the ‘Hurt’ video, he’s coming along to one of the shows in New Zealand…
Oh great, great, great! It will be good to see him.
Do you remember him or the experience of that pretty iconic video, whose visuals you’re still using?
I do remember him and I remember fondly, I just remember the experience with warm colour around it. I watch the videos and I don’t always feel that way, it’s a very rare occasion. So it must have gone well.
Well look, I appreciate your time, I hope the flight to New Zealand is good. There’s a great New Zealand filmed called Boy, if that’s on the flight, I’d recommend it to you.
Alright, I’ll look for it. Thank you.
Some classic Herne Bay behavior here. So as not to annoy the neighbor, I moved from our shared parking space to the road for the weekend, as I was away. Parked directly behind another car. Then this note when I came back (car has Tauranga plates as that’s where I bought it):
I hosted an event with Dan Aykroyd last week. He was impossibly cool.
This article originally appeared in the Herald on Sunday.
I never fully grasped how big pop music was until Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. I arrived in the TV3 newsroom to find cameraman Grant Findlay in tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Michael’s dead,” sobbed Grant. He had taken out an extra mortgage on his house so he and partner Patsy could get to one of Jackson’s O2 Arena comeback shows. Now his hero was lying dead at an LA morgue.
I found myself on a plane to Los Angeles to cover the story, discovering Grant wasn’t the only one sobbing.
Whether I was outside Jackson’s house in Palomino Lane or the main gate at Neverland Ranch, people were grieving. Loudly. Publicly.
"He didn’t deserve this. We didn’t deserve this," gushed one plump woman called Geraldine. I remember her clawing into my forearm, her weight threatening to send me toppling.
Michael Jackson’s death made me understand that pop wasn’t just popular, it was a huge, uniting force that we rely on. Once we had myths, then we had religion, now we have pop. And this summer sees a sort of pop pilgrimage taking place in New Zealand. The thing is, we’re not going to them, they’re coming to us.
Melbourne-based mega-promoter Michael Coppel says pop in general is the strongest genre in music.
"What’s happening is that pop is such a big phenomenon these days, it’s such an inclusive church. You look at the numbers we’re seeing, 30 to 40,000 people coming out in Auckland."
This summer is particularly full on. At last count, 25 shows by major artists are taking place between now and Christmas. Rihanna, One Direction, Beyonce, One Republic, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Jack Johnson, Fleetwood Mac, Leonard Cohen, Alicia Keys. Then there’s Bruno Mars kicking things off in 2014.
So why summer? Well, while some of us are sick to death of the place, to them New Zealand might as well be Pandora.
The simple fact is, New Zealanders are mellow and while our weather warms up, the parts of the world inhabited by pop stars (think London, New York, Los Angeles) are cooling down.
If I was Justin Bieber, this is exactly where I’d want to be. Once a cute, innocent, Christian musician from YouTube, he’s now making headlines for all the wrong reasons. His most recent piece of publicity involved a photo of him walking up the Great Wall of China. Except he wasn’t walking, he was perched atop the shoulders of two burly minders. A commenter on website reddit.com said what many of us are thinking: “I kinda like the complete and utter sociopathy that defines Bieber. It’s like watching some corrupt monarch treat everyone like s***, but as a goofy-looking Canadian teenager. Absolute fame corrupts absolutely?”
As well as having one of the best names in New Zealand, Sam Sargeant runs a business called Blak International, what he calls “a luxury events and experiences agency”, meaning he looks after rich people who come to New Zealand.
Here calls working with Lady Gaga’s crew who, like many acts, simply choose to stay here.
"They will come and tag on for five days or a week after their show. And no one will never know about that, as it’s our job to keep it secret."
I like to think of Sargeant as some kind of secret agent. His website is always talking about the latest black helicopter he’s added to his fleet. “What stars tend to come for is some peace and quiet, which isn’t normal for them. Normally it’s paps climbing fences and cliff faces to see them,” he says. “They can do a gig, then in four to five minutes we’ll have them on a chopper from Mechanics Bay.”
Where do they chopper to? “If they are younger, say, Rihanna, who want a bit of the nightlife, they will stay in the city in a private penthouse suite in a hotel or apartment, or Mechanics Bay will get them to a location six to eight minutes away from Auckland. There’s a 12-minute rule to move them: they don’t like being moved a lot.”
I think to myself that pop stars sound like cats. Cats hate being transported from place to place. I’d know, because I used to show cats.
Of course, not all the pop acts coming here this summer are descending into madness or looking to party at the viaduct. This is the summer of Leonard Cohen and Fleetwood Mac.
I found myself talking to Mick Fleetwood on his last visit, a kind man who displayed a wisdom and richness of spirit I’ve rarely experienced in the world of pop. Mick is a man who’s been the one constant in the band since 1967, a band that’s sold more than 100 million albums.
I tell him I think it’s a sort of miracle he’s still here. “It is some miracle. If you go through the grinding machine of not only what we psychologically became - certainly speaking for myself I was the king biscuit … one who did everything he could to make sure he was not going to make it!” But Mick did make it, and he’s coming back again: his third visit to New Zealand in four years. He says he enjoys the quiet that our country brings, and our wine. The whole time we talked, he was enjoying a glass of red.
Michael Coppel tells me he’s answering hundreds of emails that came in overnight. Some of them are finalising details on the acts he’s sending down our way.
"They love the country, the audience response and the natural environment. It’s just a feel good visit. Often when artists drag themselves around countries and cities that aren’t as attractive, it’s a highlight to come somewhere they enjoy going to."
It works out for us, too. As well as seeing our favourite pop stars gyrate about, it’s a chance for New Zealand to make some cold, hard cash. According to the rather clumsily titled Auckland Tourism, Event and Economic Development, last year’s Coldplay concert injected $3.2 million into Auckland’s economy.
Pop stars are in it for the money themselves, of course. Beyonce isn’t going to come all the way here if it’s not worth her while: she has clothing lines to run, charity events to open, and Jay Z to cuddle. And promoters like Coppel aren’t going to promote a concert if it’s not going to make them some money, too.
"Geographically, you’re right next to Australia which is a big market, so it’s easy to include you in a touring circuit. I think if New Zealand was in the location of Tahiti, you’d see a lot less touring activity."
I ask him whether it’s worth hauling all the dancers, lights and costume-changes down to New Zealand. “It’s a little bit more challenging as there are additional costs in terms of air fares and freight to get a tour there. But New Zealand is a very strong market. The last two or three years we’ve seen a real growth in the number of shows that artists can do. Multiple shows make a huge difference to the economics of coming. You cover your setup costs for the first night,and it becomes much more attractive for them to do multiple nights.”
For many pop stars, multiple nights are a wonderful, money-grabbing end to their world tour. While their concert is your one special night out this summer, for them it’s simply the end of an ordeal that started back in April with a giant tour of America (perhaps it’s a European tour if they’re that way inclined). From there, they’ve gone to Asia for a month or so and eventually ended up, disoriented and sweaty, in Australia. Finally, exhausted, they stumble to the arse-end of the world, the last stop. To put it in language the average New Zealanders can understand: New Zealand is their Friday night.
With so many acts to take in, I ask my friend Duncan Greive who I should go and see. Greive is one of New Zealand’s best music writers, but I mainly remember him from university where he insisted on wearing stubbies practically every day. He tells me Rihanna is a must. “Last time she came, she was one tenth the star she is today, and it still felt like you were witnessing an indomitable pop cyborg, the future of music as imagined by Paul Verhoeven in the early 80s.”
Grieve also says that Beyonce is on his list: that, all credit to MJ, she’s taken his spot as the new king of pop. Unlike Taylor and Rihanna, these are her first shows in New Zealand which always adds a strange, end-oft of-the-world edge to an event pop show like this.”
And speaking of Taylor, Duncan seems to agree with the idea the final leg of a tour can be the best one. “Taylor Swift’s last three-night stand at Vector was extraordinary, and rather than the last drops being wrung out of the concept, it felt like everyone involved never wanted it to end. It was a ludicrous teenage dream of a show, a naive imagining of love, small towns, friendship. But its hokiness was precisely its charm.”
Hearing Duncan rave on like this, I feel a bit sick. I must confess I don’t particularly like pop music. I should probably see a psychologist about this (and I’ve been told I need to see one), but happy music brings me down. Jack Johnson is my idea of a terribly boring coma. Rihanna mystifies me. I was offered a place on her infamous 777 promo trip, in which her music label hired a 777 aircraft, filled it with music journalists from around the world and took them to watch seven Rihanna shows, over seven days, in seven countries. It sounded like a terrible idea and I was right. The Independent carried this headline three days into the flight: “Rihanna’s 777 tour descends into anarchy and chaos.” No, there’s something in my brain that gravitates away from pop music.
I saw Grant Findlay the other day, that Michael Jackson-loving rascal. He and I are going to go and see Justin Bieber sing in November. He still orders Michael Jackson memorabilia from the internet. I told him to find a babysitter for October 30 as Cirque de Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour is coming to town.
Even the King of Pop will be here for our summer of pop.
Random bag search at LAX. My hardcover copy of DIANETICS is revealed. Discussion ensues. I give him (Mark) some application forms I happened to pick up from the Scientology Celebrity Centre. None of this is real. But for Mark, it is real. What is the point? No idea. I feel quite a bit of my life is like this interaction.
Sometimes it’s important to look back. To turn around, look over our shoulder, and go, “Hey, look at that!” In looking back, we see where we came from, and in doing so, we see where we’re headed. As a famous person once said: “To look to the past is to see the future!” And if we look back hard enough – if we really strain ourselves – we see one thing and one thing only: Mr Blobby. Or as he’d say, “BLOBBY! BLOBBY BLOBBY BLOBBY!!!”
Mr Blobby was regular guest on a TV show called Noel’s House Party, which ran from 1991 to 1999. I suppose it was a little like The Graham Norton Show of its time. Noel Edmonds, a small ginger-goateed man (also a licensed helicopter pilot and former president of the British Horse Society) would interview celebrities and run competitions. And occasionally – when the live studio audience was in full hype mode - a creature called Mr Blobby would bust onto the set and wreak havoc.
Mr Blobby was basically a big blob. He was pink blob covered in yellow spots, like something sicked-up by a malnourished dog. He had a huge, unfaltering smile with eyes that would incessantly wobble about on his face. His only way to communicate was to repeatedly shout his name, “BLOBBY! BLOBBY BLOBBY,” his tone distorted and warped by a computer.
The popularity of Mr Blobby was unparalleled. As well as launching a series of popular specials on VHS tape, Mr Blobby also released a radio single, simply titled “Mr Blobby”. The song involved some singers singing about how great Mr Blobby was, interrupted at random times by Mr Blobby saying words like “blobby” and “blobby.” Released in 1993, “Mr Blobby” by Mr Blobby went straight to number one on the British charts, knocking Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” off the top spot he’d been holding for seven weeks straight.
The man inside Mr Blobby was Barry Killerby, previously a Shakespearean actor. Today Barry is 51, and recently told the Mirror that being Mr Blobby was a difficult task – even more difficult than performing the words of William Shakespeare. “People think it’s easy bouncing around saying, ‘blobby’, but they should try it. It was exhausting and demanding,” he said
The thing is, Mr Blobby was never meant to be real. In his original form on Noel’s House Party, he was a fake children’s show presenter. He’d be introduced to celebrities as such, before they were forced to interact with him. He was a bit like the Borat of the nineties, as celebrities revealed their true selves as Mr Blobby became increasingly irritating, constantly falling over and becoming impossible to work with.
But every hero has his day, and Mr Blobby’s day eventually came to an end. His demise was predicted in 1995, when he released yet another single. It was a Christmas song this time, “Christmas in Blobbyland” and saw a guest appearance from Mr Blobby’s wife, “Mrs Blobby”. Unfortunately for the pair the song debuted at number 36, and quickly dropped from the charts entirely. It would appear the world was tiring of Mr Blobby.
The previous Christmas, Noel Edmond’s had opened a Mr Blobby-themed theme park in Morecambe, a depressing seaside town in Lancashire. It all turned to shit (no one went) and 13 weeks later it shut down, losing 2.5 million pounds. A report into the park wasn’t kind, describing Crinkley Bottom as “imprudent, irrational and even unlawful”. Around the same time the weighty New York Times weighed in, saying Mr Blobby was, “a metaphor for a nation gone soft in the head”. Years later, fellow BBC personality Michael Parkinson would remark, “I really didn’t get it, to be honest. Millions of people just loved Mr Blobby, but he was far from amusing to me.” Today, Crinkley Bottom (including Mr Blobby’s own area called “Dunblobbin”) lies in ruins. A Mr Blobby themed bed sits in a trashed Mr Blobby themed room. Used needles and beer bottles litter its stained, decaying sheets.
This wasn’t the first time host Noel Edmonds had one of his characters die. In 1986 he was working on The Breakfast Show. One of the segments, called “Hang ‘Em High”, involved a man called Michael Lush bungee jumping from an exploding crate suspended from a crane. Unfortunately he became unclipped from his bungee cord and Lush hit the ground at full speed. He died. The show died with him, pulled off the air.
As for Mr Blobby, Noel’s House Party wrapped up in 1999, leaving Mr Blobby homeless. He limped on, appearing on various game-shows where he’d fall over yelping, “BLOBBY, BLOBBY BLOBBY!” But even this eventually came to an end. It was over for Mr Blobby.
His time had come.
Until 2012, when Mr Blobby made a truly triumphant return on Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz of the 90s, delivering the final bonus question. During the segment his distorted voice was turned up to 11, his appearance years after his demise solidifying in people’s minds how truly bizarre this character was. “How the fuck were you allowed near kids?” mused contestant Jack Whitehall. Another contestant, after getting a question wrong, responded with, “I don’t give a fuck, this is the happiest day of my life”. The quiz ended with Mr Blobby crashing through the set, eventually returning with the winner’s trophy, before finally stumbling and collapsing on the floor, dead. Whitehall got up and poked him. This was the real end of Mr Blobby (except it wasn’t because Mr Blobby got up again after the credits started rolling. Fuck).
It’s been fun looking back in time, hasn’t it? What have we learnt? We’ve learnt that a character invented to trick celebrities could land a number one single. We’ve learnt a thing whose vocabulary is restricted to one word can be on a TV show for eight years. And we’ve learnt that a giant pink blob covered in yellow spots can continue to make seemingly infinite comebacks long, long after it should have died. Who is the Mr Blobby of the moment? Is it Justin Bieber, Kanye West, or that guy from The X Factor? Is it John Key or Kim Dotcom? Maybe Blobby himself has the answer: “BLOBBY! BLOBBY BLOBBY!!!”