Interview with Rhodri MarsdenFebruary 7, 2012
I’ve known Rhodri Marsden for about six or seven years. I don’t remember how we met. He’s a journalist and ace keyboard player with bands including Scritti Politti. His new book, Crap Dates, is out now. He’s doing a Crap Dates Workshop at the Big Green Bookshop on February 9th.
Here’s my interview with Rhodri, done in the little text box at the bottom of Skype:
Greg Stekelman: Hello Rhodri.
Rhodri Marsden: Hello Greg. Are you OK?
GS: I am ok. Theoretically I am not drinking for a few weeks but I’ve just had a sip of Talisker and I’m quite pleased with it. How are you?
RM: I’m fine. I’m drinking some red wine called Palo Alto. It’s from Chile. I thought Palo Alto had something to do with Californian technology, which shows what I know about shit.
GS: Shall we do the interview? Just typing. I’ll bung it on my blog sometime soon.
RM: I thought we’d already started.
GS: We had. It was a trick question.
RM: I knew that. (I didn’t know that.)
GS: Most people will probably ask you about the crap dates you’ve been on. I’d like to try a different angle. How disappointed are you by England’s series whitewash against Pakistan?
RM: I’d be more disappointed if I’d actually bothered watching the humiliation. I pay god knows how much money each month for Sky Sports and then England go and ruin it all by making me turn off the TV in disgust.
GS: I was a bit disappointed but I didn’t really care. It seemed an odd series. In Dubai or somewhere. I like listening to the cricket on the radio but I don’t really care that much whether we win or not unless it’s against Australia.
RM: I care quite a lot.
GS: Like an English Faith No More.
RM: At one point I convinced myself that I could control the movement of the players using my mind. You must get that with Spurs. I ended up writing a column about it. It comes out tomorrow. I mention Allah at the end and I’m worried about reprisals.
GS: Yes. I do get that a bit. I like fooling myself that I have control over the players, when in fact I am powerless. I do the opposite in life: I pretend I am powerless when in fact I could change things if I wanted to.
RM: You take your trousers off to affect the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur. I’ve seen you do it. I mean on Twitter.
GS: Yes. I do it. But now it’s more of a comedy conceit than anything else. I do it to please my followers rather than change the game. I’m a terrible whore.
GS: So, tell me about your new beard. What inspired it?
RM: The short answer is vanity. Do you want the long answer? Please say yes.
GS: Yes please.
RM: Because I do gigs with Scritti Politti I invariably end up being sent photographs of myself on Flickr and so on, looking like a massive baldy potato head. That’s actually what made me start wearing a hat.
RM: Then just before Christmas we did two gigs in Dalston, and because of the angle I hold my head at when I play the keyboard, I just displayed a massive double chin.
GS: I’m also receding and somehow found myself growing a beard. We cling to hair, wherever it may appear.
RM: As we all know, beards cover up all MANNER of double chin issues. And so it has proved.
GS: Yes. Beards are good like that. I haven’t seen yours so I don’t know where the cut-off point is. Some men let their beards run all the way down their neck. I prefer a straight line just above my Adam’s Apple. You?
RM: I’ve kind of fashioned a graduated approach under the chin. It’s working quite well.
RM: But the reason I did it now was because Simon & Schuster said that they might end up getting me on BBC Breakfast to promote the book. As far as I know that’s not happening, but were it to happen I wanted a beard to hide behind. Because I’d be terrible.
GS: I think you’d be good on TV. I’m always impressed by your poise when you’re on stage. You snap into Johnny Showbiz mode.
RM: I’m fine talking to rooms full of people, and I’m fine on the radio, because I can REFER TO NOTES. You can’t do that on the telly. You’re just there. I’d panic. I panic on the radio when I don’t have notes. It’s embarrassing. I just laugh nervously and say “Yes, well, there you are then.”
GS: Ok. I thought I might use some the old “dating” questions I came up with last year.
RM: I think you should.
GS: What is your favourite pair of shoes?
RM: Maybe you should explain where these questions originated. Or maybe you can interpolate that into the NARRATIVE.
RM: Anyway, I’ll just answer the bloody question.
GS: Ok. I’ll quickly do the narrative. “Rhodri and I were in a pub full of people and I started randomly interviewing people, asking them silly questions. Rhodri liked the idea of it, and asked me to send him a list of silly questions. I did it. The end.”
RM: My favourite shoes are plimsolls from ASOS. They are £12 each. They last approximately one month of pounding the streets ofLondon. I bought six pairs just before Christmas and I’ve just got through the first pair. Slung them in the bin yesterday, and put on a nice fresh pair.
RM: The reason I bought six pairs is because they were reduced to £6 each.
GS: That’s very good. Romantically, I thought everyone should have a much-loved, well-worn pair of brogues. But you’ve shattered that and shown me that shoes, like memories or love letters, are disposable.
RM: I’m a chucker. I don’t hang on to anything.
GS: I’m a clinger. Like the guy in MASH.
RM: I recently shredded a big folder full of letters I exchanged with my wife in 1995, before we got married.
RM: I hung onto them 10 years after we divorced, which is pretty good going for me.
GS: Theoretically, you’re right. It’s good to let go of things. I just find it very hard to do.
RM: Can I tell you why I shredded them?
RM: It’s interesting.
GS: Yes. Of course. I’ll tell no one except the people who read this.
RM: Well, she was (and is) Hungarian. And while her English was perfect, when I was writing to her it was kind of important that the meaning was explicit, you know? I couldn’t slather on layers of stupid irony because she’d have written back saying “Not sure what you mean on page 4.”
RM: So I was reading these letters back, and it just didn’t sound like me. And I got to a bit in one of the letters where we were talking about having to get married, for visa reasons. And I said “I think this is the best chance for our love.” And at that point I decided to shred them. I was wincing more than I was reminiscing. I can never spell reminiscing.
GS: You got the spelling right. That’s quite a sad story… onto the next question: Do you have a nickname?
RM: Not really. A lot of people call me Rhodders. I can handle that. My ex-girlfriend calls me “bobble”, but that sprung out of our mutual loathing for baby-talk and pet names. So of course we ended up doing it.
GS: I have on occasion called you Rhodders, but I feel bad because it reminds me of Rodney from Only Fools and Horses and no one wants to be compared to Nicholas Lyndhurst.
GS: What was the first single you bought?
RM: “Club Tropicana” by Wham!
RM: It meant a lot to a 12-year old boy, this depiction of excess in some sun-drenched holiday resort.
GS: Does the song still mean something to you? Sometimes a song hits you at just the right age and despite not being a particularly great song, it owns you for the rest of your life.
RM: Of course it does, yes. I love it. I can’t think of anything I used to like that I disown now.
RM: There’s stuff I like LESS. But nothing I’m embarrassed about. Guilty Pleasures my ARSE.
GS: I think the first single I bought was The War Song by Culture Club. Or rather, I pointed at it and my mum bought it for me. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since I was 10. But enough about me.
RM: War is stupid. People are stupid. Love means nothing in some strange quarters.
RM: Or something like that.
GS: It’s simultaneously quite profound and fairly shit. Like a lot of art.
GS: Have you ever vomited on someone?
RM: No. I had a 21-year vomiting drought, which lasted from 1990 until just before Christmas when I got that bloody norovirus.
RM: I was very proud of not having vomited for 21 years, and now I can’t say that any more.
GS: Still, that’s a very long period. I’m impressed. Most of my vomiting has been through drunkenness. Are you a good drunk? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you properly pissed. Only slightly tipsy.
RM: I’m careful to only drink not-very-strong beer and limited amounts of stronger stuff. I know my limits quite well. I’m quite a jolly drunk, but in bad times I get very weepy. Bawling my eyes out on the tube and all that. Sheesh.
GS: Which tube was it? Do you remember? I bet it was the Northern Line.
RM: Of course it was. I’ve lived in Tooting for 15 years. I’ve spent most of my life on the Northern Line.
GS: Paul Simon wrote a song called The Northern Line, but I don’t think it’s very well known. You should write one. Hang on, I’ve just realised that Barnet to Tooting song of yours is about the Northern Line. I’m a bit thick.
RM: That’s not really about the Northern Line. It’s more about going out with someone that you’re in total awe of. A dangerous business.
GS: Yes. But let’s pretend it’s about the Northern Line.
RM: When I wrote it my girlfriend at the time said to me “Er, that’s not about me, is it?”
RM: I said “No.”
GS: As a writer or songwriter you obviously draw from the people around you and it can be a bit awkward. Both when you’re saying good things and bad things.
RM: Yeah. I do this weekly thing in the Indy about MY LIFE and it’s difficult. I can’t write about the things I want to write about because I know there’ll be a knock on effect. Not because everyone’s reading it – just cos it’s indiscreet and rude.
GS: You’re quite established as a journalist these days. Do you ever yearn to write a novel or a play?
RM: I can’t do it, Greg. I’ve not no imagination. The Indy asked me the other day to write a 200 word fictional scenario to illustrate the concept of online behavioural advertising. I couldn’t do it. I just froze.
GS: I ask that out of misguided snobbery. People sometimes think I’m a journalist and I’m at pains to point out that I’m a writer – as though I’m a tortured artist. Also, I’d be a terrible journalist.
RM: I’m good at observation. And being coherent. That’s about it.
GS: Those are excellent skills. And anyway, a lot of fiction is just observing things and changing people’s names.
RM: I’m totally envious of your imagination, without wishing for this to descend into mutual masturbation.
GS: No. Because we’d have to be in the same room to do that.
RM: And have our willies out.
GS: I think everyone is jealous of what other people can do. Skills that other people have – music, maths etc – seem like magic to me. When I see someone play a musical instrument it’s as impressive to me as them levitating or mind-reading.
RM: DRAWING. People who can draw. I faint. Oh, that’s you again. We should probably just get married.
GS: Yes. They have a place for us these days.San Francisco.
GS: Your mention of the word “willies” made me think. What do men call their penises these days? Have new words evolved since we were children?
RM: I know a woman who went out with a man who referred to it as his “ziggurat”.
GS: Wow. What a twat.
RM: I’ve just looked up a picture of a ziggurat, and all I can say is that I’m glad my cock doesn’t look like that.
GS: It’s like that early stage of a relationship when you and a lady are trying to work out the best words for your bits. Because you can’t whisper sexily “I’m going to put it inside your womblehole.”
RM: That would be difficult to pull off, I agree. Avoid all childish words while engaged in the act of love. That’s my hastily constructed motto.
RM: “Guffed” is another word best banned from the bedroom.
GS: Yes. There’s normally a good six months when farting isn’t mentioned at all. A wonderful period in any relationship.
GS: So, about the book. Shall we talk about the book?
RM: Might be a good way to round off, yes.
GS: Yes. Have you had a good response to it from the people quoted in the book?
RM: Well, I asked everyone if I could use their tweets, and all but three said yes.
RM: 300 yes, 3 no. Not a bad result.
RM: And I’ve written more words for the book than other people have, which makes me feel marginally better about piggybacking on their wit.
GS: Yes, but the whole point of the book is that it’s wide… it’s lots of people’s experience of crap dates, rather than just your own experiences.
GS: After reading it all, who do you think comes off worse in the dating game? Men or women?
RM: Men, by about 3000 nautical miles. Arseholes.
GS: Yes, that was my impression
RM: Oh, maybe I misunderstood the question.
GS: No. You understood it perfectly.
RM: Men are arseholes and women have a great deal of misery to bear.
GS: Yes. That’s probably one of life’s lessons. I wouldn’t patronise women by claiming they can’t be as monstrous as men, but men do seem to me more consistently insensitive and monstrous than women.
RM: Yep. I’d be interested in stats about whether more men dump women than women dump men. But regardless of that, men would do it in a more annoying way.
GS: This is true.
GS: Do you have any last words before we both go to our (separate) beds? Any statement you’d like to leave us with?
RM: I’ve just spent 20 seconds trying to think of something profound, and have failed completely, so the answer is probably “No.”
GS: No. That’s a good way to end.