David Lister: The lucrative business of being a nearly-man of rock music

The Week in Arts

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When I met Neil McCormick, the rock critic of The Daily Telegraph, a while back, he told me a rather good story about how he was in a band with some school friends, then left it to form his own teenage band.

The one he formed was called something daft like Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers, though I only vaguely recall the name. I do recall the name of the one he left. It was U2.

I had a feeling that I wouldn't be the last one to hear that story, and sure enough, Neil has written a book about himself and U2, and now it is a film on general release called Killing Bono.

When he told me the tale of his wrong choice of bands, I asked him how it felt now. He replied in his lilting Irish accent: "I feel like I've had my nose up against the window pane of everything I've always wanted." I hope that memorable phrase made it to the movie.

As window panes go, though, this particular window pane has clearly proved quite a lucrative and productive one. There's more scope now than ever before, I suspect, for the memoir of the nearly-man or woman. Back in pop history, in the days of the Beatles and Stones, there were also poignant tales of nearly-men, but no one really wanted to hear them. The focus had to be on the stars, not the drummer booted out of the Beatles or the pianist and co-founder of the Rolling Stones who was judged to be a little too normal-looking to join the studiedly less than normal Stones on stage.

Even now we generally ignore the nearly-men. We get films like Nowhere Boy, the much told story of John Lennon's early years rather than, to me, the more interesting story of sacked Pete Best's descent into depression.

There must be no end of nearly-men: a stray Arctic Monkey, a forgotten ninth or 10th member of Arcade Fire, a hidden Jedward triplet whose hair wouldn't comb into a sufficiently ridiculous shape. And nearly-women too. Somewhere there's a forgotten Spice Girl with a wonderful voice but no defining character trait for a nickname.

Artistically and financially, as far as a print or screen memoir goes, it can be better to be a "nearly" than a star. Celebrity memoirs are two a penny. Of course, McCormick's wouldn't sell as well as one by Bono or The Edge. But it might do better than one by the other guy in U2 , and certainly better than one by the other other guy in U2.

The advantage of an age in which we are saturated with celebrity memoirs, celebrity interviews and celebrity pictures is that these Diary of a Nobody memoirs of the nearly-men and women seem rather refreshing. There has never been a better time for them to come out of the woodwork. We were all at school with somebody. We have all had our noses up against the window pane, however briefly. You don't remember that playground discussion about making a film, forming a band, a theatre company, starting a group of Young British Artists? Think hard.

Barenboim's not so new audiences

Daniel Barenboim was last night due to stage a free classical concert on the bridge of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. It was, he said, a way of bringing classical music to a new audience, an audience that doesn't go into the conventional concert hall. I hesitate to argue with anything Barenboim says or does; his legendary talent and determination to use music to make political change are matched by a charisma that is evident to all who have met him. But I do wonder if his concert will have achieved its aim.

From the moment he went on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday to publicise the event, it ceased to be a surprise occasion which would have caught a new audience unawares. It would, instead, have been packed with Barenboim fans. And though Tate Modern certainly has a younger clientele than you find at most classical concerts, it still caters to people already interested in, or passionate about the arts.

Perhaps Barenboim should put on a mini-classical concert at Glastonbury or at half-time at a sporting event or at the culmination of a student demo. There are newer audiences than those who attend Tate Modern.

I think I missed my chance with Moby

"Never meet your heroes" goes the old adage. In my experience this should be amended to "Never meet anyone you remotely admire". Too often it can be a disappointment. But this week I found an exception. I attended a lunchtime showcase concert for a small audience in a bar given by Moby. He, a singer and a cellist performed some of his most popular songs and a few from his excellent forthcoming album. Chatting to him afterwards, I found him one of the most self-deprecating, amusing and charming rock stars, or any sort of star, that I have come across. But it's annoying. If I had just kept the conversation going I could have proposed doing some work together, become a nearly-man, and got a novel, film and probably an avant-garde dance piece out of the encounter.

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