Five-minute memoir: When in Rome

Douglas Coupland was all set to interview Morrissey. And then the sleeping pills kicked in…

In 2006, I flew to Rome to interview Morrissey for the weekend supplement of a UK paper. I flew from Vancouver and to buffer the time-zone change, I was taking the latest in sleeping tablets and then… and then it all went horribly sideways.

I'd never done an interview before. Did I have enough questions? Too many questions? Stupid questions? I was going to be meeting with someone notoriously hard to interview, and 15 years of being interviewed myself was of no use.

The thing about interviews is that they tend to be done by writers on the fly, in a rush, and often not fully-prepared, as reading a book or absorbing an entire new album takes time, something most people no longer have. The interviewee, meanwhile, is wanting to get things over with so they can go back upstairs and do drugs, party, binge-eat and dismember hitchhikers. It's a perfect storm for miscommunication.

In my case, advance CDs of Morrissey's new album Ringleader of the Tormentors (great album, by the way) were so heavily watermarked by the record company that I was unable to listen to it before arriving in Italy. In Rome, around two in the afternoon, I was able to listen to the album just once, on a publicist's borrowed sound system. By then I'd taken, I'm guessing, six little blue pills over 18 hours. ("They're foolproof!" they said. "They have no side effects!" they said.) My phone then rang, and it was a publicist saying that Morrissey was bored and wanted to do the interview right away. This wasn't an ideal situation. I was hoping it might be like having a drink with a long-lost friend. Instead, heading downstairs into the bar, I felt like I was filling out a car-licence renewal form and I couldn't find a pen and everyone in the line-up was glaring at me for having a life that was obviously in shambles.

So I enter the bar and… why, yes, that looks like Morrissey. Wait, what's happening to his head? It looks like it's perhaps inflating. Why, yes, his head is most definitely inflating. That's unusual. Oh wait… he's speaking to me… I'd best say something in return.

We sat down and… this is where things totally disconnected. I started talking about The Monster from the Lost Lagoon (I think) and… and then it was six hours later and I was speaking with my editor in New York and… what the hell??? Yes, that is correct, my sleeping pills blacked out my entire Morrissey interview.

I now try to be philosophical about it, but at the time I was frantically looking for notes, sketches, something, anything offering evidence of our conversation. My snappy new digital tape recorder failed dismally. I tried going online to see if I'd emailed myself something, but the wi-fi was down. I went into the streets of Rome in pursuit of a cybercafé – in 2006, still rare. I found one, checked my email and… nothing. I was wearing the journalistic equivalent of a plastic cone of shame your dog wears when returning from the vet.

Walking back to the hotel I stopped and looked in the windows of the Prada flagship store and saw a set of black and maroon bocce balls encased in leather-daddy bondage strapping. Its weirdness poetically crystallised my pill-rattled state of mind, so I bought them as my souvenir of Rome. The next morning I flew home.

I've made a box entitled When in Rome – it's a kit for interviewing Morrissey in Rome the next time you're there and features in a group exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery called 'do it 2013'.

It riffs on a text piece written by the artist Nam June Paik who visited a Roman internet café years before me. His title was Antique Rome is Everybody's Memory. It critiqued the internet – Paik felt that browsing it is like watching late-night TV, and he believed that with an "optimistic view: someday countries will disappear, maybe 50 years". For me in Rome it felt like reality had vanished and was now replaced by quickly erased transient existence lost inside a system of global nothingness.

So, my box contains six sleeping tablets, a CD of Ringleader of the Tormentors, a crumpled-up image of Morrissey and some bocce balls. The thing is, it's all sealed in Plexiglas. You can't access anything inside it without destroying it, and you'll never be able to properly see Morrissey's face. The box is a crystallisation of globalisation, media culture, the frailty of biology, the fleetingness of memory, the massiveness of collective memory and not a small whiff of shame. A part of me was and is a fan: I wanted to meet Morrissey, and now I kind of dread it. (As always, if you're reading this, Mr Morrissey, my sincere apologies.)

Douglas Coupland's piece 'When in Rome' is part of 'do it 2013' at Manchester International Festival, to 21 July, mif.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory