There is a show-biz strand in our family. Both my father and grandfather played drums in local dance bands, and Dad could hold a tune quite well at a microphone, in a Tony Bennett-ish kind of way. My great-uncle had been a trumpeter in the Dragoons and, after retiring from the regular army, went on to be a Wardrobe Master at Ealing Studios in its heyday. His daughter married an ex-Royal Marines trumpeter, Ivan "Buzz" Trueman, who became a professional musician with the Edmundo Ros orchestra. The presence of Uncle Buzz added a grace-note of glamour to any family occasion.
For a time at college, I did rehearse with a band, but lacked the necessary sense of mission. Unlike another singer who was rehearsing at that time in Oxford with his band Ugly Rumours, two of whose members were friends of friends. It has always baffled me why I don't remember ever meeting our Dear Leader; I'm sure he is similarly baffled*. I'm told we were in the same smoky basement room when, on the day of release, a copy of Born To Run was ceremonially removed from its shrink-wrap and laid on a turntable, but my memory is terrible these days and, besides, everything Blair-related is smothered under a litigious blanket of silence, and I'm sure I couldn't comment, m'lud.
My big opportunity for a show-biz career came when I was approached by a future kingmaker of comedy, Geoffrey Perkins. His name may not mean much to you, but if I say he produced The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and held Douglas Adams' feet to the fire to get those brilliant scripts delivered on time you get the idea. As a writer and producer, he was central to a whole generation of influential British radio and TV comedy.
When he died in 2008, pictures of him in his university days were shown on the news, and it all came back to me: how, one evening in 1974, the very same slightly goofy lad, wearing the very same silly tank top, had come knocking on the door of my college room.
"We hear you're quite funny," he said, "Would you like to write some stuff for the Oxford Revue?"
"Not really," I said. It all sounded a bit establishment to me and, you know, poncy.
"Are you sure?" he said, "It could be a real opportunity!"
"Yes," I said, "Quite sure".
And that was that.
Thankfully. It could never have worked. By now, I'm sure, I'd be on my my fourth relationship and third course of rehab, struggling to find work, depressed and anxious about the pressure from younger, funnier, hungrier competitors. Heard the one about the comedy writer who led a contented, productive, useful life, took early retirement, and had no regrets about the choices he'd made in life? No, neither have I.
It is odd, the way we glamorise the Darwinian street-scuffle of show biz. Like any conjuring trick, we are misdirected and mesmerised by the illusion (ever seen this video?), failing to see the heap of used-up lives, broken promises, and exploitation on top of which any successful performer is standing, occasionally stamping on the hands reaching up to pull him down.
I recently watched the films Man On Wire and My Architect, and it seemed to me that the lesson of both was that, if you value your ordinary life, you should stay well away from people committed to a personal vision, whether it be of high political office, grandiose architecture, wire-walking, or just the needy pursuit of laughter and applause.
Such people will hurt you without regret -- destroy you, even -- if they feel they have to. Life has few fates more precarious than a walk-on support role in some monomaniac's personal drama. If it doesn't seem to be working out -- not funny enough, not the right narrative arc -- they'll simply write you out of the script.
Show biz kids making movies
Of themselves you know they
Don't give a fuck about anybody else
Steely Dan, "Show Biz Kids" **
* One of those Ugly Rumours friends-of-friends subsequently became a civil servant, and tells the tale of encountering Blair in a Number 10 corridor. He was about to high-five and wassup Mr. Tony when he realised the dignified old chap accompanying him was Nelson Mandela.
** If you have never heard the album "Countdown to Ecstasy" by Steely Dan, you really should get hold of a copy. For me, it is one of the supreme achievements of the 1970s.