Getting Off ‘Famously’

Three days before the exam, and my revision has hit a predictable level of intensity.  I’m now pretty much living inside the exam texts, to the point where I have the books and laptop with me in bed at night, and I just keep working until I literally fall asleep mid-sentence. Come the morning, I wake up, still surrounded by the laptop and the books, so it’s straight back into the revision. It’s an immersion of work. But I actually like this approach, and particularly enjoy the luxury of being able to work in bed. ‘It’s not laziness, it’s being like Proust!’

I’m not writing this in bed, by the way. I’m at my desk, fully dressed & showered & shaven (a detail one feels compelled to add in these days of working-from-home beardiness), plus shirt & tie and suit, because I had to leave the building to buy groceries.

Current grocery of delight: Twinings’ herbal tea selection box: ‘Mixed Berries’. Five different flavours, five tea bags each. My recent stomach pains turned out to be due to a food allergy or intolerance or general unhealthiness. So I’ve been trying to wean myself off dairy and caffeine and gluten and excess calories as much as possible, and these herbal teas  actually provide a level of sweetness and pleasure that makes the abstention worthwhile.


Current petty language bugbear: the usage of  the qualifying adverb ‘famously’.

As in, say: ‘Proust famously wrote in bed.’

The implication is that the writer assumes the reader knows this particular fact. If the reader doesn’t know that Proust wrote in bed, the use of ‘famously’ is at best, debatable, and worse, redundant.

And if the reader does  know this fact, the statement feels cheap and shallow, even desperate. The writer is saying ‘Not only do I know this fact, but it’s important to add that I know that it’s well-known.’

Why is it important? And how do you define ‘well-known’ anyway? Who is this General Knowledge, and what time is the mutiny?

(And I think of the time when I was in a room with Pete Doherty and Peter Blake, and I overheard a young man from Mr Doherty’s party asking Peter Blake who he was, and I thought of my parents, who may not know who Pete Doherty is, but who definitely know who Peter Blake is, and I think about how this matters, and to whom it matters)

(And I think about the people who sign into comments boxes on the Internet, purely to add ‘who cares?’ And I think about the solipsism of the Internet, and how that’s affected discourse)

(And I think of the common Twitter phrase ‘Is it me, or…’ And what that means)

In fact, I think it all comes down to wanting to connect, and the fear of feeling alone. Well, cheer up! Someone is reading your sentence, in a world of texual saturation! You have already made a connection! So you can drop the ‘famously’ – it makes you look needy.

Fame connects. But it doesn’t connect uniformly. So ‘famously’ in this sense tries to assume what cannot be assumed. At worse, ‘famously’ panders.

Where ‘famously’ can be used is in the other sense, as in ‘excellently’. As in ‘getting on famously’.

But I’m worried that the other usage is becoming more, well, famous.


The Hubristic Booby

A mention of me in Kieron Gillen’s blog, recounting his time manning a stall at the San Diego Comic-Con. He refers to the Phonogram tribute zine for which I wrote a short story:

A particularly broken period happened when we were slumped on the table, talking about the Zine and how much we liked Dickon’s contribution. This turned to how well he rocked a suit. A woman passing the table thinks we’re talking to her. We say we’re actually talking about Dickon, then proceed to explain to this clearly bemused and uncaring woman exactly who Dickon is. As she headed away from the table towards the Top Cow booth, we were shouting facts about Dickon after her (‘HE HAS NICE HAIR!’ ‘HE WAS IN A BAND CALLED ORLANDO!’). This reaches an apex when I inform her ‘I ONCE SAT ON THE SAME SEAT AS HIM’ – pause – ‘AFTER HE HAD STOOD UP’. Because right then, it seemed possible that she would think that I was sitting on the same chair as him whilst he was sitting on it, and wanted to make things perfectly clear.


I was lightly interviewed the other day in The Guardian, as part of an article by Dave Simpson on music scenes, specifically scenes that tried and failed. I was initially wary about contributing, as Mr S had featured Orlando once before in a piece on Bands That Were Hyped But Failed, an unflattering label which one hardly wants to reinforce. He’d also written an entire book about tracking down all the umpteen members of The Fall who were sacked (or forced to quit) by Mark E Smith. So I can’t help thinking of a quote by his cartoon namesake:

Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. So the lesson is, never try.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a piece about How Dickon Edwards Tried And Failed To Be A Pop Star, The Hubristic Booby, Now Let’s All Have A Good Laugh. It was more about the scenes Mr Simpson had selected, of which Romo was one, and could I talk about that. This time I was feeling Happy To Be Of Use, whatever the agenda, and did my utmost over the phone to stress the positive aspects of Romo, along with being realistic and honest about its shortcomings. And especially, on how 1996 really was the wrong time for it: the singer of La Roux is very much a glorious Romo child of Tilda Swinton in my eyes. May she pout long and prosper.

Most of all, I tried not to sound like those aging ex-band members who speak as if they were going through some silly little phase, stressing that they’re all right now, they’ve grown a beard and got a proper job and, yes, aren’t bands stupid. Those who feel it’s far better to point and sneer and feel superior and no longer be creative.

Matt Everitt, once the drummer from Menswear, is a BBC 6 Music news reporter these days. His biography on the station’s website mentions Menswear as ‘a third division Britpop band of no fixed ability – which paid the bills until a chronic lack of ability caught up with them.’

This gets me so annoyed. Why editorialise? Why not just mention the band, and leave the judgement side to others? Menswear had fans. They even had fanzines. Whatever the received opinion is these days, and I admit they were hardly the most innovative group around, they did inspire passion, devotion, love, and they sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire. That’s an achievement, not a silly youthful phase to play down for the rest of one’s ever-greying life, just so one can feel timidly superior with the try-nothing crowd.

Between creating original primary material (however derivative, forgettable or juvenile) and safely mocking the creativity of others; between trying and sneering at those who try, I’ll always side with the former. God knows there’s so many truly awful bands out there, but I still support them for trying and sticking their heads above the parapet.

Unless they were that band in the adjoining room who were going through ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ over and over again during one particular Fosca rehearsal in Camden a few years ago. They can, well, go to hell.

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