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

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?